Food photography tips

Smartphone, compact camera or DSLR?


Being a food blogger is not very difficult. You prepare a recipe, take photos of the food and uploaded on the blog, but if the photos are not very good most people will not spend time to read the recipe.

You need very good food photos. Most of the food bloggers have a phone with a good camera or a compact camera, and, some, have DSLRs.

A modern smartphone has a lot of apps for better photos without a lot of effort. A smartphone does take very good photos in very good light, but, anything less than ideal outdoor lighting conditions, an expensive DSLR with great lenses can produce amazing photos. Add some post-processing and you will get some stunning images that will be nearly impossible to pull out of a smartphone.

You need to know what you want from your blog. If you want amazing photos like the ones in commercials, you will need to have an expensive camera with great lenses.

There is a universal truth: the bigger the image sensor, the better the image. A bigger sensor will capture more detail with wider dynamic range (the detail in dark and light areas), offer superior low-light performance, and focus more sharply on moving objects. With very small exceptions, all the phone cameras have a small sensor.

Controlling the zoom is an invaluable tool for composition and a way to capture a remote subject for all photographers.

Almost all compact cameras have a minimum 3x optical zoom, but so called ‘travel compacts or superzooms’ can go as high as 30x, offering the photographer a huge amount of creative control.

Compact cameras are also better at shooting close-ups – many have Macro modes that can shoot from 1cm away.

Smartphones tend to run out of power by the end of a day, but compact cameras can typically take between 300 and 500 photographs per charge.

If you are a more serious photographer who wants to experiment with shutter and aperture and develop your photography skills, it is worth buying a compact camera, particularly with manual control and a versatile lens.

If you are the kind of person who simply wants to take photographs and share them digitally a smartphone is for you.

If you already got a nice compact camera but got tired of it you may want to upgrade to a DSLR.  Once you buy a DSLR you will buy a more than a camera. You will buy lenses, change your camera body every few years, buy filters, tripod, a small studio, etc. In time, you will invest a lot of money in your gear so you need to make money from your photography. (This is my way of thinking).

But the photos from a DSRL are just the best. With a DSRL and a decent knowledge of its features, you can create different effects that can bring a location to life, you can enhance a portrait or food.

The battery is great. You can take so many photos that you forget to recharge it. Interchangeable lenses give you more option (macro, tele, wide), the image has great quality, you have more options for shooting in low light situations, better dynamic range and color accuracy,  faster shutter speed for shooting action or sports and other great advantages.

But before changing your gear see if you can improve your photos from another point of view (Tips for beginners), because photography is more than a camera.

If you already know all this and you want more from your camera (every camera has a limit), then you will think about upgrade. So go from a camera phone to a compact camera or an entry level DSRL. Read lots of camera reviews. People will explain the cons and pros of each camera. Check their blogs to see why they have problems. Maybe is not the camera is the blogger. Study, because you will make an investment in your future.

There are no bad cameras. Cameras differ in how well-suited they are to the types of photos you like to take and how easy they are to use. So you need to see which camera is best for what you’re trying to accomplish and how much money you are willing to invest.

Make small steps and less expensive. If you have a compact camera and buy a DSLR, keep the compact as a backup camera. You never know when you might need a really light and small camera.

GAB_6841_res_mix cheries chia seeds pudding watermelon juice





105 thoughts on “Smartphone, compact camera or DSLR?

  1. My biggest problem is getting good pictures of my food. I try and try but I seem to have the worst eye for photography. I’m going to check out your tips and pray I get better!

    1. I am a Nikon user so I will suggest Nikon, but it all about what you like, what are comfortable with and how much money you have. Everytime I bought a camera I hold it in my hand first, took photos with it and read reviews about it.

  2. Fantastic, informative post for the beginner (I started my blog on June 1). Question: Is there a reason you size down your photos to what looks like 300 px wide? Just to save space?

  3. I’m a user of all three camera formats – if I want professional looking photos, I will use my DSLR. Otherwise, if it’s raining or wet outside, I’ll use my iPhone or my compact camera. I primarily use Olympus cameras – my DSLR is a E-620 and my compact is a TG-310 Tough. I can also use the TG-310 when I am swimming as it is waterproof as well. It also does video as it has a video mode

  4. Interesting article but I have to argue slightly – obviously an expensive DSLR can be worlds above in quality but the camera and functionality of my smart phone is far superior to any compact camera I have ever owned – I think it’s worth noting that not all smartphones are created equal and that researching the camera when purchasing one is worth it. I have a Samsung S7 and for the first time ever, I’m super chuffed with some of my pics, even the ones that I point and shoot in seconds and tidy up later. My compact camera is going in the bin (although I do appreciate the point about battery life!).

    1. I know what you say, but S7 is a very expensive smartphone. A cheap smartphone doesn’t have a good camera. There are a few smartphones with great camera, but they are so expensive. I have a Nexus 5 and I like the camera on my phone, but it is very limited. In low light is like a cheap camera phone.:)

      1. I think from a quick squiz that you’re in the US? I’m in the UK and top level Samsungs and iphones are quite common here, we get them free or nearly free with our phone contracts so I wonder if maybe we’re a little spoilt?! I remember some years ago finding out that you had to pay for incoming calls as well as outgoing and that you pay far more than we do for basic bank account transactions etc! Swings and roundabouts tho, your car insurance and driving costs are a delight compared to ours!!

      2. I am from Romania. I lived a few years back in London. I had a Samsung with my contract, but was never so good at photos. But in 2006 phones were just phones. 🙂 Now is different. In my country they are very expensive even with phone contracts. I Keep most of my phones for 4 to 5 years even more if I don’t loose them.

      3. Ah I see, Romania! – your use of cup measures confused me! Phones have certainly moved on, even the difference between my S4 and S7 was a huge leap, just in 3 years!

  5. Great advice. But I think gear is just gear without human passion, you have talent and passion of photography too then you always have wonderful pictures. Great job. 🙂

  6. Great post. I learned a lot! My blog doesn’t rely on great photos as yours, but it’s always good to know how and what I need to take the best ones. I LOVE your photos and blog!

  7. Thank you so much for this post – I found this so helpful. I struggle terribly with taking good photos and it is a steep learning curve for me.

  8. My partner is a photographer so has a range of cameras, lenses, gear etc and he’s shown me a few techniques for getting food at the right angle etc but he still always gets better results than me! However we just bought a mirrorless back canon M10 and I am having a play with that as it has a “food” setting which seems to work really well, as its small and light and easy to use I’m finding it promotes me actually taking the pictures rather than thinking “I can’t be bothered to get the camera out!” as I can just grab it 🙂

  9. Great post, you can speak from experience, your photos are always amazing! I admit my smart phone camera which is 4 years old now, can sometimes suffer in low light as I do the research for my Food Reviews, but seeing as my focus is more on writing than photography (I still appreciate it) I will simply be updating my smartphone really soon! Thanks for sharing 🙂

  10. Great article! Thanks so much for suggesting a compact camera. I used to be the lead market editor for a food publication and restaurants insisted on sending their cell phone photos when I told them right off the bat we needed hi res photos at least 300 dpi. Just because a photo appears to look decent, when you’re talking about reproduction in a high end magazine, people really need to up their game.

    I love my Samsung camera! 🙂

  11. I think the best camera is the camera you have. Having expensive tools will not make you an artist, developing your talent will. Study what other food photographers do (just as you would study the Masters if you were learning to be an artist). Look at the lighting and composition, practice. Try the basics; shoot close and fill the frame with the food, one flash or bright window and a white bounce board on the other side for 3:1 lighting or a black kill board for a more Rembrandt effect (16×20 sheets of colored foam core are great). I shot both my books with a Nikon 5100 (<$1000 with 2 lenses) and some with a Nikon P600 (<$300). I found that my biggest problem wasn't the camera but coming up with ideas on how to shoot 50 different ramekin views.

  12. I’m working backwards. I used to use my Canon 5D with lights, etc. Then a lot of editing with Lightroom. Now I use my iPhone 6S. True, the control is not as good, but the resolution on a website is only 70 dpi anyway. Very interesting tutorial. Thanks.

  13. Great post! i’ve just started my blog and I am starting the process of getting a nice camera, this was super helpful!

  14. Great post! I just started my blog, so your tips were helpful. I’m just using my smartphone camera, but may get a better camera down the road. Do you have any tips on lighting?

  15. Good photography tips. I like how you stressed the importance of sensor quality over pixel count, which means little. If you think food’s hard to image try shooting rocks and minerals-the reflections drive you mad.

    Contrary to what some have said, cell phone picture quality is generally poor, its only excuse being that you have it in your hand.

    I used a Sony underwater/shockproof point-and-shoot compact camera for years until the screen got too scratched and I still use it, as you suggested, as a backup and bad weather camera.

    Last year I bought another Sony camera, the A3000, a mirror-less DSLR with an APS-C sensor at 23.2mm x 15.4mm, nearly full size. Its sharpness, resolution and color are hard to beat and at just over $300USD it is pretty cheap. Here’s a review:

  16. Great Tips! People tend to be visual creatures. Using a combination of a good tool and some creativity to portray a dish can definitely draw people in. Your photography is brilliant and I look forward to reading through your recipes.

  17. Hi. If your ideas on cameras don’t work, nothing will. The professionals know the tips it takes. And your pictures are very sharp and clear.

  18. I will eventually need access to a decent camera. I’m learning web development and design right now and want to eventually make great web pages. My camera knowledge is 10 years old so this helped. Thanks.

  19. Great blog😊 Could you check out my latest blog it’s about my DSLR camera, maybe give it a like? Thank you!

  20. Having “retired” from being a professional photographer, I just want to thank you for sharing the very useful tips with your fellow readers. And yes, for anyone blogging with images, I want to chime in and suggest a good DSLR. The control one has is far greater than a compact, or cell phone camera. Although my pro model DSLR is currently on the brink (12 years old), I’m forced to use my compact for my blog and the quality just isn’t there. I edit those shots with Photoshop, but even still when I have no control, I have no control.

  21. Thanks for such a helpful article I am also a new blogger and doing a lot of food posts but don’t have a great camera and really want to learn to take better photos and to get better equipment. Your photos are so beautiful throughout your blog thank you for sharing them.

  22. Your pictures are stunning. I aspire to do better with my photography. I took a few classes this summer, but having the time/money to invest has been a challenge…

  23. Even if you don’t have a DSLR camera but you still want to have good quality food photos do you have any tips and tricks take take photos on say the iPhone 6s?

      1. You can use all the tips about lighting and styling even when you use a phone. I heard that iPhone has a very good camera for a phone so that is a plus. Use the tips and I think you will get good photos with your phone.

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