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How to Create a Budget Tabletop Photography Setup for Shooting Food and Products

It can feel like photography is a money vortex and unless you have an unlimited amount, many types and styles of photography may seem out of reach. We’re here to tell you that you can create your own tabletop photography setup on a budget and still create some amazing food and product photography.

tabletop photography setup
The white paper in this setup is used to help bounce light back ono the products as the window (the main light source) is at camera left.

All you need is a trip to your local dollar store and craft store, and you’ll have a set up ready to go that won’t break the bank. It will also let you create the images your clients will love.

What is a tabletop photography setup?

A tabletop photography setup is generally used to photograph products and food for commercial or marketing services.

tabletop photography setup
1/20 sec; f/3.2; ISO 1600 using a 50mm lens. The product is the coffee mug and to get this shot I used a table I already had, a bright window to camera right, and notebooks to give it more height.

In recent years, tabletop photography setups have moved away from the Lightbox and toward more authentic setups thanks to social media.

The basic tabletop photography setup is a table, backgrounds, tabletop backgrounds, and nice light source that you can use to light your products and food.

What you need for a basic setup

A tabletop photography setup doesn’t have to be complex or involve a lot of materials. You can have a simple setup that offers you a variety of backgrounds, looks, and setups all in the same spot, at the same table.

tabletop photography setups
There is a big window to camera left and here we can see the basic setup with kraft paper and white paper taped to the wall.

You’ll need:

  • a table or any stable surface to place items onto of
  • a few backgrounds like a white paper, kraft paper, black paper, foam boards, different types of fabric and textures
  • depending on your products/food you’ll need some stands, dishes, and plates, or other styling items
  • tape
  • a large window for window light
  • clips or clamps to hold things down
  • a tripod for max aperture and depth of field to avoid camera shake.
tabletop photography setup
1/10 sec; f/14; ISO 400 using a 50mm lens.

This basic setup will help you to create your tabletop photography setup without the need to be in a big space or rent a studio. It will also keep costs down.

Get creative with backgrounds

While a table, solid plain wall and a good light source are the basic set up, it can often get boring. As you get more clients, you’ll want to have different setups to help you get more interesting photos.

tabletop photography setup
These were just a few of the backgrounds and items we had for styling. We didn’t use all of them but get creative with what you already have in your home.

A quick trip to the dollar store can help keep costs down. You can get items that can give your tabletop the right look and style for the product that you’re photographing.

How to Create a Budget Tabletop Photography Setup for Shooting Food and Products
1/15 sec; f/11; ISO 400 using a 50mm lens. You can see the window in the reflection of the watch.
How to Create a Budget Tabletop Photography Setup for Shooting Food and Products
Here is a behind the scenes shot of the watch. Using a lace dress for the background made for a moodier photo.

Choose different patterns for backgrounds, like this shower curtain I used to give the tabletop photography setup more of a marble texture and style. The watch stands out against the colors and pattern and creates a more interesting effect.

How to Create a Budget Tabletop Photography Setup for Shooting Food and Products
1/10 sec; f/14; ISO 400 using a 50mm lens. I took photo using a shower curtain and big sliding glass doors as the main light source. Both watch photos were taken minutes apart at the same table and distance from the window.

Different placemats work really well as backgrounds and tabletops for food photography as well as product photography. Letting you change the tabletop photography setup without having to directly paint or change your table.

How to Create a Budget Tabletop Photography Setup for Shooting Food and Products
Here we used a placemat and bowl from the dollar store and a kitchen towel already owned.

Posterboard can be really useful in creating a faux cyclorama wall for products giving the illusion of a seamless background. Taping fabric to the wall also works to help keep the backgrounds in place and creates seamless backgrounds.

Placemats of various textures and prints can also be perfect for food photography and work in many different settings for products as well.

tabletop photography setup
1/20 sec; f/8; ISO 400

Kitchen towels can also serve as props for your food styling as well as backgrounds.

Find the light

The biggest concern is getting enough light and that is what a big window is for.

How to Create a Budget Tabletop Photography Setup for Shooting Food and Products
1/200 sec; f/2.2; ISO 200. For this image, I used an external flash (580EXII) pointed at the ceiling for added light. If you have a flash, you can use it off-camera to create images with more pop.

If you don’t get lots of light in your home, go outside! Take your tabletop setup out onto your patio or yard. Find some good indirect shaded light to work in.

tabletop photography setup
1/20 sec; f/5.6; ISO 400. Using a plastic dollar store plate and the wood textured placemat as a background, this photo has a different feel. We even get a little reflection on the plate. The light source is a big window at camera left.

The idea is to create an evenly-lit tabletop setup so that you’re able to set your camera to the correct settings and get the look you want.

Having enough light to work with, lets you take away light with flags or create shadows with different items. You’re also able to get different exposures to your products or food.

How to Create a Budget Tabletop Photography Setup for Shooting Food and Products
Both of these images are shot at different times of the day with the window at opposite sides of the camera. The photo on the left has the window to camera-right, and was shot later in the day with twinkling Christmas lights behind. The photo on the right was shot with the window at camera-left during the morning.

Different times of day can give different types of lighting for your tabletop photography setup too. Take advantage of the lighting changes and experiment to see what light is best for the items you’re photographing.

tabletop photography setup
This photo was created a bit darker on purpose to create a more cozy effect and to capture the twinkle lights. Taken in the same location as the bowl photo above with the window to camera left. Settings are 1/20 sec; f/6.3; ISO 400.

Using available ambient light can really help keep costs down while doing tabletop photography and can offer lots of different types of lighting.

Don’t limit yourself to a table

With a lifestyle component, you can take your tabletop photography setup on the go. Take your backgrounds, fabrics, and styling items to different locations to get different types of photographs.

How to Create a Budget Tabletop Photography Setup for Shooting Food and Products
Taken outside under a covered area with bright sunlight behind the camera. I used a found bark branch to style the product. Settings are 1/400 sec; f/3.5; ISO 400.

You can photograph in a park, trail, cafe, or in front of an interesting wall in your neighborhood.

How to Create a Budget Tabletop Photography Setup for Shooting Food and Products
Taken on my sofa with settings as 1/500 sec; f1.8; ISO 400. The window is at camera-right.

Using your creative eye, you can photograph food and product photography just about anywhere that will save you money, while also giving you amazing results.

In conclusion

How to Create a Budget Tabletop Photography Setup for Shooting Food and Products
I created this on location at the restaurant where the food was photographed. It used ambient light ,which was a combination of window light and overhead daylight lamps. I adjusted the white balance to suit. f/160 sec; f2.0; ISO 400.

As you can see, creating a tabletop photography setup doesn’t have to mean spending loads on lighting, space, styling equipment or backgrounds. With a trip to your local dollar store and craft store, you can create stunning product and food photography for a fraction of the price.

tabletop photography setup
Aluminum foil and other kitchen supplies can work great to create a background that is interesting and fun. Settings are 1/20 sec; f/5.6; ISO 400 with window to camera left.

Your clients will love their photos and you will have a setup that you can use anywhere!

Do you have any other tips for creating a tabletop photography setup? Share with us in the comments section.

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Jackie Lamas
Jackie Lamas

is a destination wedding and portrait photographer based on the beautiful beaches of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. She earned her degree in photography from California State University, Fullerton. Jackie has over 10 years of experience as a professional photographer and teacher. When she’s not on the beach, you can find her writing on her blog and spending time with her baby and husband. See more of her work on Instagram.