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How to Practice Your Photography Skills by Getting Creative in the Kitchen

Do you ever get trapped in the marketing frenzy? Is the lack of professional equipment or fancy subjects preventing you from improving your photography? It’s easy to make excuses, but it’s better to get creative.

Keep reading to see that you don’t need to go any further than your own kitchen to practice and level up your photography skills. In this article, I’ll show you some tips and tricks to improve your shooting and lighting using things you find in the kitchen.

Improve photography skills creative food photography tutorial

Exposure settings: f/22, 1/60, ISO 4000, focal length 55m.

The basic knowledge you need to understand and master in photography is exposure. This refers to finding the correct amount of light for your photograph. There are three variables that you need to take into account when making a photograph. They are known as the exposure triangle as they are always connected; they are the aperture, shutter speed, and the ISO.

Since they are linked, when you are adjusting one leg of the triangle you have to compensate with one of the others. Having said this, you can also do the exercises I’m proposing even if you are not yet familiar with shooting in Manual Mode.

Aperture and Depth of Field

As I was saying, the correct exposure depends on three related factors, I’m going to start with aperture, but keep in mind that whatever you move here you need to compensate equally with one of the others.

If you’re not confident yet doing this manually, you can set your camera to Aperture Priority Mode (A or Av) and that way your camera will decide the correct settings to fit the aperture you want.

Aperture refers to a hole in your lens through which the rays of light come together and pass towards the sensor. Obviously, the bigger the hole the more light goes in and vice versa.

However, it also has an impact on the depth of field so you need to learn and practice how to control it.

Improve photography skills creative food photography tutorial depth of field

Left image: f/2.8, 1/2500th, ISO 1600, 55mm
Right image: f/11, 1/125th, ISO 1600, 55mm.

When you are closing the aperture, the f-number goes up (like f/16, f/11) which results in a bigger depth of field. As you can see in the examples.

Improve photography skills creative food photography tutorial depth of field aperture

Left image: f/2.8, 1/1000th, ISO 1600, 55mm.
Right: f/11, 1/60th, ISO 1600, 55mm.

Remember that the distance between the camera and the subject as well as the focal length also impact the depth of field, so try out different settings and keep practicing.

Improve photography skills creative food photography tutorial depth of field fstop

Exposure: f/2.8, 1/250th, ISO 1600, 55mm.

Exercise to practice

Try shooting different objects in your kitchen using different aperture settings. See how it looks at f/2.8 or wide open, compared to using a smaller aperture of f/11 or f/16. You may need a tripod to keep the camera steady.

Shooter Speed and Motion

Another factor is the shutter speed. As its name indicates, it’s the speed at which the shutter opens and closes when you take your photograph. This is more straight-forward to understand than the aperture. The more time the shutter remains open, the more trajectory from the moving object will be captured resulting in a blur. The faster you set your shutter speed, the moving object will be sharper as it will appear frozen.

Improve photography skills creative food photography tutorial shutter speed motion

Left: f/11, 1/640th, ISO 5000, 50mm.
Right: f/11, 1/80th, ISO 400, 50mm.

If you’re not confident shooting in Manual Mode, you can set your camera to Shutter Priority (Tv or S). This way your camera will decide the correct settings to fit the shutter speed of your choice.

Improve photography skills creative food photography tutorial shutter speed

Exposure: f/8, 1/125th, ISO 1600, 50mm.

Exercise to practice

Try finding some moving objects in your kitchen; flowing water out of the tap, have a friend pour a liquid into a cup for you, a fan blowing, etc. Shoot it at all kinds of different shutter speeds and see what it looks like at 1/30th versus 1/2000th. Remember to stabilize the camera when using a shutter speed less than your focal length to maintain sharpness.

The last exercises are about controlling the resulting image with the light that you have to work with, but the next step to level up your photography is about manipulating the light. That’s the idea for the next activities.

Quality of light: Hard versus soft

Depending on the distance and size of the light source, as well as the type of bulb or accessories (light modifiers) that you use with it you can have either hard or soft light in your scene.

Hard light is created by direct sunlight, for example. Or if you’re talking about artificial light it refers to small light bulbs with no light modifiers that are placed farther from your subject. It results in dark shadows with clearly defined edges as well as contrasted colors. It’s not necessarily flattering for portraits, but in still life scenes, it can create a very special mood.

Improve photography skills creative food photography tutorial hard light

Exposure: f/8, 1/30th, ISO 400, 50mm. Notice the hard, well-defined shadows of the kitchen tools here. This is hard lighting.

Soft light is therefor the opposite. It casts diffused shadows that fade away gradually instead of having a defined edge. When you’re working with natural light this is what you get on a cloudy day because the clouds work as a giant diffuser.

However, when you are working with artificial light there are many different ways to soften it. You can move the light closer to the subject or use a bigger light source (or modifier). But talking about hacks you can do in your kitchen, you can simply put a sheet of oven paper (also known as baking paper) in front of your light like I did here to spread out the light (diffuse it) and make it softer.

Improve photography skills creative food photography tutorial soft light

Exposure: f/8, 1/15th, ISO 400, 50mm. Notice the lack of well-defined shadows here, this is soft lighting.

Exercise to practice

Pick a subject in your kitchen and photograph it using both hard and soft light. Window light through curtains or which is not direct sunlight is a good source for soft light. A flashlight or bare light bulb can make for a hard light source – try both.

Lighting style – high key

While on this subject, there is a particular style of lighting with soft light called high key. These are images with mostly light colors and white with soft or no shadows in the image. You can also overexpose the white background a bit to enhance the effect.

A quick trick from your kitchen to achieve this look is to use the light from the extractor hood above your stove. Most stoves have one and it usually gives a diffused gentle light. I find this very useful to do high key images:

Improve photography skills creative food photography tutorial high key lighting

Exposure: f/22, 1/125th, ISO 100, 167mm.

Try creating a high key look at home with items in your kitchen.


Another way of diffusing light is by using reflectors, however, they can also serve other purposes. In this case, I was using the natural light from the window coming in from behind the bottle and placed a chopping board as a black background, this brings out the contours of glass objects.

The problem was that the lime wasn’t getting much light and this flattened the entire image. By using an aluminum BBQ-oven cooking tray I bounced the light back into the front of the lime and gave the final result that subtle, but needed punch. Look at this before and after.

Improve photography skills creative food photography tutorial reflector

Left: f/8, 1/30th, ISO 400, 50mm.
Right: f/8, 1/30th, ISO 400, 50mm.

Try it at home

So try a few of these in your own kitchen and see what you can learn by playing around and practicing.

As you can see you don’t need any professional equipment or even cooking skills, you only need to be creative! These are just some examples of what you can do but you can also work on your composition, cropping, colors, contrast and much more.

Share any other kitchen hacks or exercises that help you improve your photography in the comments section below.

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Ana Mireles
Ana Mireles

is a photographer and artistic researcher. She has been awarded and exhibited in Mexico, Italy, and the Netherlands. Through theory and practice, she explores the cultural aspect of photography, how it helps us relate to each other, the world, and ourselves. She has also a passion for teaching, communication, and social media. You can find more about her and her work at her website or acquire some of her works here.

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