Need gear to start shooting with flash?
The basic items that you will need will be a light (speedlite / speedlight / studio strobe..more on the differences between them below) and a trigger/transmitter/transceiver that will attach to your camera to set off the light when it’s positioned off camera.
You'll also need a light stand and a mounting bracket so you can position your light where you want it. If you need visual references of these things, check out this video at the 15:45 mark.
Finally, you'll need something to modify the light. A great place to start is with a simple diffuser, but as you dig further into shooting with flash and practicing in your own space, you might want to add additional modifier options to your setup.
The following are simply suggestions, but I highly recommend seeking out a professional camera store resource to confirm compatibility with your camera, budget and plans. A great place to go is B&H Photo Video and visit their LIVE CHAT feature during business hours. They'll be able to answer all of your questions and get you the right gear.
Speedlight or Studio STrobe?
Not sure which type of light will work best for you? I have a video HERE on youtube that walks through and shows the differences. Here are a few questions to ask when considering your selection:
What’s your budget? Generally speedlights are less expensive
Are you on the go or limited on space? Speedlights will be more portable, smaller and easier to store for anyone shooting on-location or with limited space.
Looking to do high-speed action shots? Speedlights are great for most general action shots, but if you’re looking to do the super fast “splashes and crashes” studio strobes are generally more effective.
If you are doing splashes and crashes and looking at studio strobes, be sure to take into account the watt/seconds (aka, how powerful the unit is) and also consider something with a fast flash duration of at least T.1 of 8000/sec. The spec sheet for the unit should list the “Flash Duration”.
How long are your shoots? Speedlights generally run on AA batteries which is great for several shoots that last a couple hours.
If you're shooting 8+ hours at a time or shooting frequently, studio strobes can be an advantage. They have their own battery packs that can stay charged longer or can be powered via AC power, plugged into a standard outlet.
If you're shooting on locations that may not have AC power, make sure you select a strobe that can be operated without direct AC power.
What’s your aperture? If you’re generally shooting with a wider aperture (F5 - F1.2) speedlights will be plenty powerful to cover this range.
If you’re generally shooting a smaller aperture (wider depth of field) (F7+) you might consider a studio strobe with enough watt/sec (600ws recommended) to acommodate the impact a smaller aperture has on your exposure.
Do you need High Speed Sync (HSS)? High Speed sync is a capability in a variety of speedlights and studio strobe units that is especially helpful for shooting in unpredictable (uncontrolled) environments, primarily as a function that allows you to override bright light from the environment. This is not an everyday need for most food photographers but certainly can come in handy, especially if you’re not shooting in controlled environments.
Do you need TTL? E-TTL and TTL (Through The Lens) is an automatic setting for your light, trusting your light to gauge the appropriate settings for exposure based on your environment. As food photographers, we generally have the time to plan our lighting (we’re not shooting on-the-fly like at a wedding reception) so I advise shooting in manual. So, if you’re exclusively shooting food, TTL is not required.
Speedlights / Speedlites
Mid-range budget Canon user: (will last longer than the Yongnuo and has HSS) Godox VING V860IIC TTL flash with X1T-C Trigger for Canon
Mid-range budget Nikon user: (will last longer than Yongnuo and has HSS) Godox VING V860IIN TTL Li-Ion Flash with XProN TTL Trigger Kit for Nikon Cameras
Nissin Di700A with Air1 Commander for Sony
PANASONIC / OLYMPUS
If none of these seem right or if you're worried about compatibility with your particular camera, visit the B&H Photo Video Help Center and they'll steer you in the right direction.
There are tons of options in this arena, but if you’re purchasing a studio strobe for general food photography work, my top recommendation is the Godox AD400 Pro or the Godox AD600 Pro. You’ll need the XProC Trigger for your camera that is compatible with these flashes. They’re competitively priced and stack up well against other studio strobe devices. Not sure if you need the 400 or 600? If you’re generally shooting wider depth of field or outdoors, opt for the 600 for the additional power. Otherwise, if you’re typically indoors and a more narrow depth of field, go for the 400.
Stands & Accessories
For food photography, we shoot with the speedlight off the camera. So, in order to position it in the spot where it will light our food, we need a light stand and a mounting bracket. I have found this light stand to be generally sturdy, though you might already have light stands and those will do just fine.
If you’re shooting with a speedlight, you’ll need a bracket to affix it to a light stand. I have found this one to be universal for most speedlites. If you want to use a softbox with a Bowens mount, you’ll want this bracket instead which serves as an adapter.
Speedlights generally take AA batteries and I suggest getting re-chargable batteries. I own this Eneloop set that comes with the charger and also has AAA batteries for my trigger.
I would very first start off with just a basic diffuser since this will also be useful for natural light photography, in case you don't own one already. Eventually, you'll want to invest in other modifiers based on the look and feel you’re going for in your images. These are a few that are great for food photography:
Shoot Thru Umbrella - Super compact and easy to use, though isn’t super large so if you’re planning larger scenes and looking for super soft shadows, this may not be a good selection for you. This is my favorite modifier for quick, easy on-location shooting and shooting action shots in a busy restaurant kitchen.
Strip Softbox with Bowens Mount - great for the dark and moody and constructed to be mounted on a studio strobe light with a Bowens mount - however, you can use it with a speedlight by purchasing an adapter.
Large Octagon Umbrella Softbox for Speedights - this is my top recommendation for food general food photography with speedlights when starting out. It’s easy to assemble (and disassemble and store) and creates nice soft light thanks to a 47’’ diameter and reflective interior. It can also, technically, be used with a studio strobe, but it’s intended for use with a speedlight.
35’’ Square Softbox with Bowens Mount - a quality general softbox for food photography, and constructed to be mounted on a studio strobe light with a Bowens mount - however, you can use it with a speedlight by purchasing an adapter.
55’’ Large Softbox with Bowens Mount and Grid - a go-to in my studio for super light and airy shots. The larger the modifier, the softer the shadows and this one’s huge. But, fair warning, it’s not easy to assemble, so not great for transporting.
Speedlight Snoot - used more in multi-light setups and creative shoots. It modifies the light to create a concentrated spotlight.
Rogue Color Gels for Speedlights - These are helpful if you’re shooting speed lights and mixing color temperatures of your speedlight with a different colored ambient light.
Need help figuring out this new gear and how to create beautiful food images with it? Flash for Food Photography is an online course that can get you up and running with flash and comes with support through a private online community. Enroll today!