how to set up a home photography studio

by jenna on June 4, 2011

Hey there!

It’s a totally icky day here—pouring rain, wind and 50 degrees. My butt has been glued to the couch all morning and exercise is the furthest thing on my mind. However, any day is a beautiful day when your boyfriend goes to a baseball game and before he goes, hands you his credit card, kisses your forehead and says “go birthday shopping”. (my birthday is a week from today)

I think I’ll keep him around awhile.

But before I gather Ashley and her daughter and head to the mall (seriously, what else is a girl supposed to do?), I wanted to write a post about my photography “studio” since I’ve had a lot of requests!

For this little DIY project, you’ll need:

  • a card table from Wal-Mart (I got mine for $20)
  • three pieces of large white foam board
  • 4 large painting clips from Home Depot*
  • a window in your house
  • camera
  • “props” (think old bottles, glasses, bags of flour, textured fabrics like burlap)

Not to kill the dream, but NONE of the food photos I take for the blog are actually shot in the kitchen. Crazy, right? For each and every photo, I transport items to my “studio” in my bedroom. That’s where the magic happens!

To build your own studio, set up your card table next to a window and place clips at the bottom of your foam boards so they can stand up and bounce the light like this:

I went out and got these clips from Home Depot after my food photography lesson from the highly talented (and amazing!) White on Rice Couple. The clips each cost about two dollars and work wonders, creating background for photos such as this:

and this:

And while I have two Lowel Pro lights, I usually prefer to use natural light whenever I can.

Set up your foam boards with one as the background and one directly across from the light source (window). Then, set your props where you want them in your background and shoot away! I get most of my props from thrift stores, such as that amazing retro mixer I featured yesterday.

As for the chalkboard shots, I bought a large chalkboard from a teacher’s supply store for only $15! When I do my ingredient shots on it, I lay the chalkboard down on my bedroom floor and assemble everything perfectly before standing up on a chair and shooting straight down.

The hardest part is keeping Dexter off the chalkboard while I’m shooting!! I guess it doesn’t help that I teased him by placing his mouse on there….

I have to say, chalkboard shots are my very favorite. I love how all the ingredients look on it!

So fun.

I take all my food photos between the hours of noon and 2:00 because that’s when the sun is the best coming through my bedroom window. The most key thing I’ve ever learned about photography is that IT’S ALL ABOUT THE LIGHT!

Good cupcake light:

Crappy cupcake light:

While I do have Photoshop on my laptop, I usually just edit all photos in iphoto because it’s easiest. I’ve heard Lightroom is great but for me, iphoto does the trick!

Since starting this blog in 2007, my passion for photography has grown exponentially. I usually spend at least three hours every single day taking shots and editing them and love every minute of it. As far as lenses go, my go-to lens is a Canon 50 1.4 but I also use my Tamron 60 mm macro lens to take up close and personal shots like this:


So now y’all know all my secrets and I better get to the mall before Adam changes his mind. If you have a request for a post, do send it my way and I’ll work my way through them.

Hope your Saturday is less rainy than mine!


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{ 92 comments… read them below or add one }

Errign June 4, 2011 at 12:54 pm

love this post! my saturday is filled with packing for my roadtrip/move to asheville that’s happening in a few hours (eeeekkk!). Any Asheville tips? :)


Cheri June 4, 2011 at 12:54 pm

I know you’re talking about food photography here, but holy crap, your tips are going to make my amateur etsy pictures exponentially better. Ah, the many awesome things I’ve learned from this blog – thank you!


Cait @ Beyond Bananas June 4, 2011 at 12:56 pm

Ahh… I love this post.. thank you soo much for sharing this information Jenna. I’ve been trying different things to get better photos..and Ithink I am just going to have to make my own little at home studio!


Gina @ Running to the Kitchen June 4, 2011 at 1:02 pm

Thank you for explaining all your tricks! This is super helpful. Kinda want to run out to walmart and home depot now to play :)


The Texas Peach June 4, 2011 at 1:04 pm

What a great post! I shoot my final food pics in my bedroom because that is where I have the best natural light. I will definitely have to check into getting the foam board and those clips. Your chalkboard shots are really neat!


Alysa (InspiredRD) June 4, 2011 at 1:05 pm

This is so great! I struggle with getting enough light for good photos. Thank you so much for sharing your secrets! :)


Chelsea June 4, 2011 at 1:08 pm

I’m loving those chalkboard shots! Such a great idea and super cute! Hope you have fun shopping! :)


Lauren June 4, 2011 at 1:08 pm

Such a great post, thank you for sharing your secrets with us! I am falling in love with food photography more and more every day, it’s so much fun! I love your chalkboard shots, they are so beautiful and playful!


Averie (LoveVeggiesAndYoga) June 4, 2011 at 1:20 pm

I love this post, Jenna!!

I was bitten, big and hard, by the photography bug in the past 6 mos or so. I am actually taking a trip to CO with White on Rice later in the summer and I cannot wait! I’m also going on another photography-based trip to the interiors of Mexico with another legendary and amazing photographer coming up in a month and I am like a kid in a candy store. So excited!

two Lowel Pro lights = I still dont own any but I do own white boards and did a DIY tutorial for how to make light reflectors/light bounces after I spent a wonderful day with Matt of Matt Bites and his partner Adam at a real food styling and photography event. For about $2 bucks and 2 mins, I showed people how to make light reflectors and as your post shows…it’s all about the light!

And the chalkboard. SO CUTE and thanks for the behind the scenes, that yep, you really just hand write it all out on the board.

And you would LOVE LR 3. I used iphoto for awhile but you will be BLOWN AWAY with what LR can do and it’s easy. I have tried PS before and was so overwhelmed that I didnt put in much effort but with LR it’s easy and you can be “up and running” with it within a few days if you tinker around.

Sorry for the long comment but I am passionate about photography. And my newish Canon 24-70mm lens. :)


Evan Thomas June 4, 2011 at 1:27 pm

I do the same thing for my photos, especially during the months I’m living in a dorm. It’s crazy how the kitchen is NEVER the room with the best light. I need to get better at using props; they make such a great difference.


Jill June 4, 2011 at 1:30 pm

I love your website. I’ve been reading the older blogs. I’m reading 2008 right now. Can’t wait to see how you get to where you are right now. It’s like reading a novel.
I especially like you’re blog today. You have great photos. Now I know how you do it. I was wondering how you did the chalkboard photos. That was so interesting.
Keep up your good work.
P.S. I love all your book reviews. I’ve read quite a few of your recommendations and planned on reading more.


Heidi @ Food Doodles June 4, 2011 at 1:36 pm

Awesome! Thank you so much for this post! I love the chalkboard idea. I don’t want to copy you totally, but I might try to think up my own way of doing that because I love it! I really do love those shots too. I don’t usually shoot in the kitchen either, I have a table set up in my living room but I have to take it down after I use it. Kind of annoying but it works for now. Also, thank you for the prop suggestions, I always need suggestions. When I do use the ones I have I feel like they’re awkward so I’ll try out some of your suggestions 😀


Allison @ The Delicious Life June 4, 2011 at 1:43 pm

i LOVE that chalkboard ingredient shot. I am still getting into photography but these are some great tips, and good to know that you aren’t able to capture such amazing photos in your kitchen. i can’t either!


kaila @ healthyhelper blog! June 4, 2011 at 1:44 pm

This is so helpful!!! Thanks so much! I can’t afford a real high tech camera but I can certainly make my own photo studio…..thanks to you!!!


Justeen @ Blissful Baking June 4, 2011 at 1:47 pm

Thank you so much for this post! I’ve been wanting to improve my food photography skills, so these tips will definitely come in handy. When I move into my new apartment in a couple of months, I will make sure to invest in the materials and make the space for a photography studio. Your pictures always look amazing!


Molly @ RDexposed June 4, 2011 at 1:54 pm

Girl, go buy an engagement ring! If he’s giving his credit card to you for birthday fun, he’s a keeper!


Cathy June 4, 2011 at 2:10 pm

Thank you so much for sharing! Photography is a huge part of blogging, so I’m always looking for ways to improve. And I might have to snag the chalkboard idea :)


Natalie @ Point the Weigh June 4, 2011 at 2:10 pm

This is such a great post! I love seeing the “behind the scenes” of ELR, and I definitely need the tips for the photography!



Pam June 4, 2011 at 2:16 pm

Thank you! Very helpful post. I love the chalk board addition, looks awesome!


valerie June 4, 2011 at 2:20 pm

Thank you so much for this post! I love the chalkboard! Any and all photography tips are very much appreciated. :)


Alyssa June 4, 2011 at 2:54 pm

eek thank you so much!
love your blog, and your work. seriously i can’t come drop in for a visit without drooling a little. it’s kind of a problem.


amy walters, aDESIGNdock June 4, 2011 at 3:05 pm

Thanks for the tips Jenna! LOVE this post 😉


mom June 4, 2011 at 3:12 pm

I absolutely love the chalkboard pic’s too ~ especially Dexter’s mouse tail :)


Amy June 4, 2011 at 3:15 pm

great tutorial!! i wish i had a place in my townhouse to set up something like this!! however, i’m never home b/w good light hours (except in the summer, when it’s like till 8pm) so it’s hard on weekdays for me to get good shots in normal cooking hours. but your photos are great!! i think i could at least get some sort of cardboard back drop. b/c now i have props like our salt shakers and napkin holder, that really…aren’t that great.


Em June 4, 2011 at 3:15 pm

Super helpful post, Jenna.

Hope the birthday shopping is fabulous.


Liv @ The Salty n' Sweet June 4, 2011 at 3:31 pm

Happy early bday! I’m guessing you’ll be buying a cute outfit to go with those even cuter sparkly shoes??

Thanks for the tutorial, and one day I’ll get my lazy butt to build a light box 😉


Sarah K. @ The Pajama Chef June 4, 2011 at 3:36 pm

great tips! i’m learning photoshop in a grad school class right now, it’s fun that it applies both to my program & to real life. :)


Angharad June 4, 2011 at 3:46 pm

This is a great post, Jenna and very helpful for aspiring food photographers! I really need to set something like this up to help with unwanted shadows and to achieve a consistent background. Thanks for such an awesome tutorial.


French Heart June 4, 2011 at 4:00 pm

Great post! Amazing how little tips can make big difference. I loved design school for that reason. We used foam board for building architectural model–fun!

Speaking of tips. Am having a free giveaway thru Monday for the bestselling ‘Summers in France’ by designer Kathryn M. Ireland. Tips and recipes from her country farmhouse in France that she renovated with vintage flee market finds. Giveaway includes artisan chocolate from local Carmel-by-the-Sea chocolatier, Lulas. Just hit my blog above and post the #1 thing you’d most like to do
in France in the summer.

Pouring rain down here, too. So cool re Prince Charming & the credit card!!


Laura @ LauraLikesDesign June 4, 2011 at 4:05 pm

This was really helpful! Would you ever be interested in doing a video to demonstrate some more photography techniques such as this one?!


Chelsea @ One Healthy Munchkin June 4, 2011 at 4:10 pm

Thanks for this post! I’ve been really wanting to improve my photos, so this was incredibly helpful! :)


Jess June 4, 2011 at 4:11 pm

Wow, Thanks so much for doing this! I always am impressed by your photos and think it’s so funny that you don’t take them in your kitchen. My kitchen photos always turn out dull, so I may have to set up a bedroom photo lab (just what my hubs wanted I’m sure!)

Have fun with that credit card!


Baking 'n' Books June 4, 2011 at 4:11 pm

Whoa – credit card? This sounds serious…this is like the next thing to a ring for me!

Do you prefer to photograph just food or other things?

And I’m confused – if you photograph b/w 12 and 2 p.m, what about the dinner meals you showcase? Do you prefer dinner that early in the day?! Or is it leftovers?


Sana June 4, 2011 at 4:48 pm

Awesome post, your pics look BALLER!


Aja June 4, 2011 at 5:03 pm

Great post! I totally need to take notes on these for AP Studio Art next year. Haha. I’m seriously gonna do my concentration on food.


Krystina (Organically Me) June 4, 2011 at 5:17 pm

You officially have the best boyfriend ever.

Great photo tips!


Karen June 4, 2011 at 5:24 pm

This is all a bit beyond my skill/interest level in photography, but I have to say, Jenna, your eye/talent for styling/capturing food is just the best that I’ve seen. Your skills have indeed grown by leaps and bounds and your photos are so uniquely cool and stylish (without looking staged in any way.)


Moni'sMeals June 4, 2011 at 5:37 pm

bless you Jenna for this post. I am almost there in my photography and meal bloggin. Great motivation Doll.

BTW~I loved the Cookies from yesterday. I made them (almost exactly) this morning and we are all lovin em. :)


Kay @ The Church Cook June 4, 2011 at 6:17 pm

Oh,Jenna! Thank you! I really needed this! Since I take most of the food photo in the basement church kitchen, I have been wanting to set up lighting system. This is so inexpensive and easy. THANKS so much!! :)


laurie June 4, 2011 at 6:19 pm

Marry Adam!!!! Who’s with me on this???


Ashley June 4, 2011 at 7:00 pm



French Heart June 4, 2011 at 8:57 pm

They do seem M.F.E.O. 😉


Lee June 4, 2011 at 6:26 pm

I do all my edits in iphoto too. I am really thinking about buying lightroom though, especially since it’s only $80 if you have a student ID. And while I’m not a student, my sister has generously scanned her ID for me for this purpose.


chelsey @ clean eating chelsey June 4, 2011 at 6:55 pm

Great tips! I never take any pictures in my kitchen either. The lighting is horrible, and I agree – lighting MAKES the picture!!


Jil @ Big City, Lil Kitchen June 4, 2011 at 7:16 pm

I use iPhoto, too – a nice enhance and an adjustment of contrast usually is just what my photos need to look more alive. I love this though – easily the easiest (and cheapest) light box I’ve seen.


Kate June 4, 2011 at 7:48 pm

Thanks so much for this awesome post, I’ve been dabbling in food photography for my nutrition blog but haven’t been able to master it yet, this gives something practical to do. Love it!


Laura June 4, 2011 at 8:50 pm

thanks for the great tips – I have been meaning to set up something like this for a while. Love your blackboard idea too – makes the ingredient hunting more fun


Jessica @ The Process of Healing June 4, 2011 at 8:53 pm

Thanks for the tips! It’s SO hard to get the light juuuust right with no help..


Jaime June 4, 2011 at 10:35 pm

Maybe you have mentioned it in a previous post, but what camera do you use? I love your photos and its so neat to see a “behind the scenes” on how you get your great shots! :)


Katrina June 4, 2011 at 10:54 pm

Thanks for taking the time to go through this! Awesome tips.


Joanna@DrizzleofSunshine June 4, 2011 at 11:13 pm

GREAT tips Jenna! So helpful! I can’t wait to try it out. Seems simple enough and definitely makes a BIG difference in your pictures!


emma June 4, 2011 at 11:46 pm

Thanks so much for posting this. I really need to work on my photography skills – I will definitely be using some of these tips starting today! :-)


The Teenage Taste June 5, 2011 at 5:19 am

Thank you SO much for sharing some of your tips and tricks. Your photos are beautiful, Jenna!
I must admit, I’m loving the chalkboard backdrop too! So cute and whimsical!


Paige @ Running Around Normal June 5, 2011 at 5:54 am

Thank you so so much for this post! This is so much easier than a lot of light boxes I’ve seen floating around the blog world:)


Jessica @ Stylish Stealthy & Healthy June 5, 2011 at 6:56 am

Thanks for sharing, and it looks like I need to do some shopping today for supplies… :)


Nakia June 5, 2011 at 8:14 am

Thank you so much for sharing your tips. I’ve got some supply shopping to do!


Faye June 5, 2011 at 8:38 am

I am Absolutely speechless!!!! Thanks for sharing the tips!


Aggie June 5, 2011 at 9:50 am

LOVE the chalkboard! How cool is that!


Heather @ Get Healthy With Heather June 5, 2011 at 10:10 am

Great post!!! So cool to see the ‘behind the scenes’ of your pictures. They always looks amazing.


Holly @ The Runny Egg June 5, 2011 at 10:17 am

I love the chalkboard — and thanks for the tips!


christa June 5, 2011 at 11:17 am

Yeah, make sure you tell us what he ‘bought’ you for your bday!


Mary @ Bites and Bliss June 5, 2011 at 11:22 am

This one looks SO much easier to set up than the tradition light boxes. Thank you!!


Liz @ Tip Top Shape June 5, 2011 at 11:31 am

Loved this!!! Now I need to make my own studio just like that! btw- the chalkboard ingredient thing is such a great idea! But then again, your blog is full of those 😉


Mellie June 5, 2011 at 11:48 am

Thank you! I’m not really into photography but photos are important to a blog.


Meghan @ StruggleMuffins June 5, 2011 at 11:55 am

Ooo very helpful! Photography seems complicated to me but you’ve simplified it here – thank you for the tipskis!


Stephanie @ The Travelling Tastebuds June 5, 2011 at 1:32 pm

Thanks for sharing some of your photography tips… I especially love the chalkboard idea! Think I’ll try that one out for my own blog :) And happy early birthday! My birthday is June 4th {I’m 30! *gasp* Need to stop farting around & get my crap together!}… Anyways… I treated myself to a FREE brow shaping at Benefit Costmetic’s brow bar. It’s free on your birthday… just be sure to have an appointment beforehand :)


Julie - StressStories June 5, 2011 at 2:09 pm

I love the chalkboard! It looks kinda retro in a really cute way.
I think it’s great that you spend so much time on your photos, ’cause I really love them. I collect beautiful pictures and I must say, that some of your pictures from the farmer’s market are in my folder. I love, love, love produce photos (and chocolate ones as well…).

In Denmark the sun has been shining from clear blue skies – I’ll send some virtual sunshine for you :-)


JanetM June 5, 2011 at 7:02 pm

Go birthday shopping with the credit card? Hmmm ….


Liz @ IHeartVegetables June 5, 2011 at 7:57 pm

Ahhh such great tips! I had a light box which worked wonderfully but now that I’ve moved in with roommates, I don’t have anywhere to set it up :( I’m so sad! I need to figure out somewhere to keep it!


Tiffany the Dietitian June 5, 2011 at 8:22 pm

Great tips!! Thanks so much for sharing!!


Maria June 5, 2011 at 8:46 pm

Genius! I totally love the use of the chalkboard you featured recently. Thanks for the tut :)


well in l.a. June 5, 2011 at 9:23 pm

The tips are outstanding! I’ve been looking at additional lens types for my camera and the Tamron is on my list. Thank you for sharing your knowledge. The photos are the icing on the cake when a blog has great content! And your chalkboard – super cute!


Lindsay @ Pinch of Yum June 6, 2011 at 4:16 am

Awesome! I always feel weird taking my food photos outside of the kitchen, but I’m glad to know I’m not the only one. Because I take some photos outside, I have a feeling my neighbors think I’m kind of a nutcase. :)

I’m not sure if I understand the purpose of the clips? What do you use those for?


d.liff @ yelleBELLYboo June 6, 2011 at 7:14 am

We definitely have the same birthday – June 11? :)


Carissa June 6, 2011 at 8:12 am

Thanks for the info! I love the chalkboard photos, too. My problem is patience! Especially when I’m photographing dinner…I’m always ready to eat right away.


Alejandra @ June 6, 2011 at 8:15 am

I’ve always wondered how people get that amazing lighting in their food pics and a friend (just yesterday!!) mentioned the white foam board box. I’m SO glad you posted a “how-to”!!! Greatly appreciated!


Beth (Well I'll Be) June 6, 2011 at 9:15 am

Wow, I’ve got a long way to go with photography. I hope you found some fun stuff shopping. p.s. My dog’s name is Dexter :) is your cat named after a serial killer too?


marisa June 6, 2011 at 10:32 am

Yeah for Portland! A foodie like you would for sure fall in love. :) I ate at Clyde Common last night and it might have been my favorite meal so far. (I have lived here for 4 + years.) Also, we have a bit of a food cart obsession here as well! Come visit!


Prerna@IndianSimmer June 6, 2011 at 11:57 am

What a fabulous post! So nice of you to share all those little tricks that people usually forget to mention while their sharing “how to shoot a good photo” secrets. I’m sure this post will help so many in taking a better photo without changing a lot or spending bug bucks. Thanks for that :-)
BTW, I’m SO stealing that chalk board trick. LOVE it!!


Gina (Yogattude) June 6, 2011 at 1:14 pm

Yay for fantastic boyfriends!


Ashley June 6, 2011 at 1:53 pm

This is so simple but I think you have changed my life! haha Off to the stores for supplies I go…


Lauri ( June 6, 2011 at 5:51 pm

Thanks SO much for sharing this!! This looks like the easiest and most pocket friendly way to set up a ‘light studio’! Can’t wait to give it a try!!


Lauri ( June 6, 2011 at 5:54 pm

Oh, and your chalkboard idea is GENIUS!!


Iris June 6, 2011 at 6:17 pm

Thank you for this post! I’m finally moving into a room where I’ll have a big window and I can’t wait to set up my photo area. This post was exactly what I needed to help me figure out all the little details!


Lauren C. @ FocusedToBeFit June 7, 2011 at 1:02 pm

Very informative, thanks!


Stacy June 9, 2011 at 5:49 am

Love this post! Thank you! Can you tell me what type of comment widget, or hack, or whatever it’s called this is?! My comment section is driving me nuts!


Laura Hegfield June 27, 2011 at 4:34 am

GREAT post…excellent suggestions, thanks so much!


Fallon July 15, 2011 at 1:46 pm

What a great idea!! I already have a table, just need to pick up the white cardboard.


Samantha April 21, 2012 at 8:09 am

Just wandering around your blog this morning. So glad I found this post! Thanks for all of the tips! This will help me not only with my blog, but with my etsy shops, too! You rock :) And are those blondies in the pic? Um, yum!



Lauren A. @ Newest Obsession June 7, 2012 at 5:59 pm

This post is very helpful for a new food blogger! I was just curious…do you shoot in RAW or jpeg? I found that uploading RAW files to my computer really bogged it down, so I shoot in jpeg.


zoey April 10, 2013 at 9:12 pm

this is amazing! thanks a lot. I have been having issues with taking pictures of jewelry. They are so gorgeous in person but it don’t reflect in the pictures. Will try out this setup and hope the images look way better.


Alyssa D'Amore May 7, 2014 at 12:12 pm

Hi Jenna! Love the blog! I have a question! What about your dinner meals. How do you photograph those? I work all day and then when I come home I sometimes cook my best meals that I want to photograph for my blog but the lighting definitely isn’t the best at 7 pm at night! Any advice?? Thank you :)


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