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Food Photography Setup For the Ugly Kitchen

Are you a food blogger or looking to become a food blogger but worried about your ugly kitchen? No worries, I have an ugly kitchen too! We are going to go over food photography setup when you don’t have a picture perfect kitchen.

Setting up your ugly kitchen. Image of food prepped on a backdrop setup that was set up on the stove top with a lightbox for artificial light.

Now I know you may be thinking, well my kitchen isn’t really ugly. Yeah I get it! People that come to my house tell me that my kitchen isn’t ugly and well it’s not something I dread cooking in. It is just something that does not look good (at all) in pictures.

What do I mean by ugly? Picture ugly is a bit different then just plain ugly. Sure you may love the colors of your counter tops or your brown cabinets may look nice when you walk in the room. But when you take a picture of your delicious food, is it an off color? Or maybe the counters don’t look great in the pictures.

This is where a good setup comes in. You do not have to have a beautiful kitchen to be a food blogger!

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Picking your location

Ingredients prepped on a backdrop set up that was setup on the stove. A lightbox is about 2 feet from the stove to use artificial light.

For me, it has to be in the kitchen. It is the only room besides that has the lighting I need for natural light. When using artificial light it doesn’t matter as much, but I try to use natural as much as I can! But for times that I cannot, I use a lightbox setup like in the image here.

I have 3 places in my kitchen to set up. We have an eat in kitchen with no dining room so our table takes up a bit of space.

My favorite spot is on top of my stove like in the picture above. This is not ideal if I am using my stove or oven to cook, but I use it any time I can.

As a note about the stove top, be sure to use a thin piece of plywood or solid wood under any expensive backdrops so you do not scratch them or warp them since the stove tops are not flat unless it is induction. If you have induction, you may not want to use your stove without protection on the stove as well. We have a gas stove top with cast iron burners and I don’t know much about induction stoves.

My next favorite spot is on the counter by the window (you will see it below with my vodka sauce image.) It is perfect for when I need my stove or if I am doing video using a single electric burner or an Instant Pot.

Lastly would be my kitchen table. It sits across from the window and can sometimes have some really good light, but the counter usually does provide a better lighting without weird shadows.

I am sure that there will be a place in your house where you can take great pictures! It doesn’t have to be in the kitchen, but please do not let an ugly kitchen discourage you from a great food photography setup!

Using back drops

When we have an ugly kitchen, there is no way around using back drops in your food photography setup. I wish I could say there was, but sorry. Now you don’t have to spend a fortune on them, you can even use easy DIY food photography backdrops when starting out! I made my own for pretty cheap when I first realized my counters were ugly.

My favorites are Vflat Duo boards, I have 5 of their double sided boards. They are easy to clean, not reflective and always look great in pictures! I started with them right around Christmas 2021 and they are my go to boards.

Your backdrops will be your fake kitchen so the colors you use need to match your props and food, not your kitchen.

The Food Photography Set up

Backdrops and props set up on a stove top with a plastic corrugated board filtering the light.

Setting up is pretty easy once you know where you want to have it and what backdrops you want to use. You will need to evaluate the light to see if you need to filter any. In this set up the light is to the left and was a bit too much without having this filter.

This white board on the left in the picture was actually from a craft store for a few bucks. It is a plastic corrugated board we got at Michael’s craft store. They have them on Amazon too, but at a craft store you can usually get just one for around $5. Are there other options? Yes! You can use sheets or even certain paper over the windows. I just love the board here.

Many professional boards come with little feet or stands that you can use to set them up. I always put plywood down under my boards. My house is old and no matter where I do my food photography set up, the surface isn’t perfectly even. I use the plywood under the boards to give it an even surface so I don’t ruin my boards.

If you need artificial light, be sure to set the lighting up with something like a soft lightbox. Do NOT use your kitchen lighting! I have been trying to find the perfect lights to put in a kitchen for photography but I am convinced that it doesn’t exist with lightboxes. If you know of any great light bulbs and fixtures to put up in the kitchen to avoid needing lightboxes, please share in the comments!

Overhead and video

Left is an overhead setup of vodka sauce on a backdrop on a messy countertop to demonstrate how well you can fake your kitchen setup. On the right is a picture of the vodka sauce closeup to show how the picture turns out closeup.

I feel like overhead is the easiest food photography setup! There are a couple of things to lookout for in overhead shot setups. For one, if you have any digital clocks by your counter, be sure they are covered. Also the light may need to be filtered still or you may have some strong shadows.

The numbers on our stove’s display are blue and while you don’t see it reflecting normally, you will see it show up on food or plates. So if you have something like this, you will need to setup a board or backdrop behind the food – or where ever the light is to block it.

I use my cell phone for video so I use a different kind of “tripod”. It’s a goosehead mount and you can clip it to the top of your cabinets! It is flexible so you can aim it where you need it. This is perfect for me because a tripod and lightbox setup on the floor leads to me tripping over things and knocking things over.

When I am doing video, I quite often use my DIY backdrops for my food photography setup. I don’t want to damage my expensive boards with the heat of a burner. The picture above shows how we setup for this video and then a picture taken from the video – don’t judge the messy counter haha! From the finished picture you probably had no idea how much of an ugly mess my counter is, right?

As a note – this picture was taken with a DIY backdrop painted on plywood because I did a cooking video on it and didn’t want to ruin my nice boards.

Conclusion

You can have a nice food photography setup no matter how “ugly” your kitchen is. All you have to do is figure out a space of 2-3 feet by 2-3 feet (we use the 2 foot by 2 foot boards here) with enough light and beautiful backdrops to fake your kitchen.

Also be sure that your props compliment your food and do not over power your food. While a nice prop will add value to the picture, you do not want it to take over the picture.

How do you setup your photography shoot? Let us know in the comments below!

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