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How to be a NYC Food Photographer

Photography Kits

When you start doing a lot of jobs on location at Restaurants in NYC and start to amass a decent amount of photo equipment it’s important to have set photo kits. These are kits that you have assembled to do everything that you need to do on a Food Photography photoshoot that you leave packed at all times even when you’re not on the job. This is a habit that I got into doing when I worked for a photo/video rental agency in Manhattan. At that company we had set kits that people could rent out. These included everything that a photographer would need on the job. A Canon 5D kit would include two cameras, lenses, batteries, battery charger, cables for tether the camera, cables for charging the camera, cards, card readers, camera straps and any other misc things that the photographer might need on the job. Mostly what I did at that company was to scan the kits in and out of the computer system to make sure that they were ‘complete.’ It was mostly a boring job but there were always people shouting obscenities in German. Ok it had it’s moments, ok I have many crazy stories to tell from that insane job but this isn’t the place to do it. But it instilled in me a good habit to keep my kits complete. When I first started out there was one job that I had to cancel because I didn’t have an extra camera battery with me and then I never did it ever again. I also was notorious for leaving camera batteries on chargers all over town and frantically running back to the restaurant to retrieve it later. Kits are awesome and also help with that too.
Camera equipment being stored in a Pelican case ring light being used to photograph food
A kit can come in many forms. My camera kit comes lives inside of a Pelican case with custom pick and pluck foam. Pelican cases are fantastic and I highly recommend them. They’re water proof, impact proof, perfect for traveling and I don’t want to say that they’re indestructible but they’re pretty close to it. They’re an ideal way to transport expensive camera equipment that needs protection. My Pelican case once fell off of the back of my motorcycle on my way home from a photoshoot, the ratchet strap held on to it and I dragged it on the ground for twenty feet. Still good! All of my camera equipment was fine and I did a photoshoot the next day.
Behind the scenes of a cocktail being photographed at the restaurant Covina.
This is what I keep inside of my Camera kit:

Canon 5d mark IV
Canon 5d mark III
Macbook Pro
Canon 24-70mm USM II
Canon 100mm USM II
Pentax 50mm 1.4 with adaptor ring
Carl Zeiss 18mm 3.5

Solid State Flash Backup Hard Drive

Macbeth Color Card

4 LP-E6 Batteries for canon cameras
1 Canon Battery Charger
4 NP-F550 Batteries for LED lights
I NP-F Battery charger

Macbook pro charger
15’ Tether Cable
Canon remote shutter release cable
Canon remote wireless shutter release
Card Reader

250w LED Light (Sometimes I’ll swap for a Canon 580ex speed light)
LED Ring Light
Baseplate and rails

Leatherman Multi Tool
Two Baby ‘A’ Clamps
Lens Hoods for 24-70mm and Carl Zeiss Lenses
Circular Polarizer
3ND Filter
Gel Filters for LED lights

Foam Core Books
Circular Light Reflector

It’s a good amount. I’m not sure if I could squeeze one more item into that kit. Pelican makes pick and pluck foam and I custom designed the trays to fit everything snuggly and tightly. Pick and pluck foam lets you pull out just a small square to make a hole just the right size for your camera. And in some cases I customized it further to take that piece of plucked foam, cut it in half and glue it back in. I did this with my laptop holder so that I could fit the cables and batteries beneath it. This also helps to make sure that every piece of equipment is accounted for. It’s easy to see at a glance if anything is missing. Recently I was going crazy because I couldn’t find my color card, it was in a pocket in my saddle bags where I usually don’t put it.
Italian food being photographed in a rustic Italian setting Japanese food being photographed at the restaurant O Ya in New York
My light kit changes more often but it usually lives in my motorcycle saddle bags. If I’m taking a cab to work sometimes I’ll put it in a Pelican case to make it easier to transport. In that light kit I keep:

1500ws Speedotron Explorer pack*
102 Speedotron Light Head
Profoto Ring Light (Modified to run on the Speedotron pack)**
Pocket Wizard Kit(contains cables, batteries, charger, etc.)***
Backup Power cable for Explorer pack
20’ Extension Cord
2” roll black gaffers tape
J-Hook + Super Clamp
Turtle Base for C-stand

Addition gear that goes in a stand bag:

Heavy duty Gitzo Tripod
Light Stand
Post and arm for C-Stand
cA Food Photographer at work in a Restaurant in NYC
Just one more bag I swear:

Light modifiers for the strobe head. I customize the lighting scheme for every job and this changes based on what is the best modifier to get the job done that day. Some examples:

24’ Beauty Dish with gridspot
20” globe lantern light
6’ octabank
Mini Strip light
Small Softbox
Medium Softbox (my least used but every photographer must own at least one medium soft box, it is required)
Umbrellas (I have a bunch of different umbrellas of different sizes and materials)

*(This actually lives on the shelf where it’s left charging the battery and I put it back in the kit when I leave for a shoot, this is the only item that ever leaves the kit unless I’m shooting in the home studio, but anything that leaves the kits go right back in.)

**Speedotron doesn’t make a ring light but Profoto does. Rather than switching brands just to have a strobe ring light I modified the power cable to accept the Speedotron power pack. Kids don’t try this at home but it is possible to run most lights on most packs cross brand.

***Yes I do keep a kit inside of a kit. This lives inside of a domke wrap. Domke wraps are soft wraps with Velcro to hold them together. They’re amazing and I have a big pile for transporting various camera equipment needs.

Now you know my secrets. And will steal all of my clients! But it’s not enough to buy the camera, you need to have experience using it. Lots and lots of experience. Please go out and shoot everything in sight. It’s the only way that you’re every going to become one of the Top NYC Food Photographers
Colorful Cocktails being photographed at Tijuana Picnic Hands making Gnocchi at the restaurant Convivium Osteria in Brooklyn
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Articles

a food photographer in a restaurant How to be a Food Photographer. - Practice. Show your work to people. Repeat.
hands food styling burgers You're only as good of a Food Photographer - as the people that you work with.
behind the scenes of food being photographed How to do lighting in Restaurants - Lighting is most restaurants is awful for food photography.
pizza chef Pics Vs. Photographs - I don't take Pics but I don't mind when other people do.
food on fire How to Shoot Fire Baby! - How to capture fire in a food photograph.
a busy street in New York City Getting to the Job. - Some days this is the hardest part.
a busy street in New York City How to shoot with a Ring Light - My not so secret, secret weapon.
Cannoli in the coffee Passport to the World - Cannoli in the coffee.
Test photoshoot with a belly dancer Test Photoshoots - Try it you might like it.
Cry myself to sleep tonight If you Hate my Photograph - I will cry myself to sleep tonight.
Cry myself to sleep tonight Batteries - A Food Photographer's best friend.
Cry myself to sleep tonight Camera Kits - Everything you'll ever need.
Cry myself to sleep tonight Focus Food Photographer - Focus.
Cry myself to sleep tonight Food Photographer's Ego - Leave your g$d d%$#ed ego at home.
Cry myself to sleep tonight Spilled Food - S*!t Happens. Sorry for all the swearing.
Cry myself to sleep tonight A One Day Photo Shoot - is NOT a 1 day shoot.

This is an ongoing project with more coming soon.

Have a question? Feel free to ask and I would be happy to help.

will@howtobeafoodphotographer.com
a portrait of Will Engelmann
Will Engelmann is a NYC Food Photographer. His work has taken him to roughly 1,000 restaurants in NYC. And somehow he's still surprised almost every day.

Check out his Food Photography Website
Thirsty? Cocktail Photography Website