It is safe to say that the world of barbecue (and food in general) has been shaped by the photographer’s lens. More and more it is an outstanding photo of a well-crafted platter of barbecue or glistening slice of brisket held in a gloved hand or a soot covered cook standing next to their massive pit that inspires one to get in their car (or on a plane) to visit a specific BBQ joint.
Below are 18 BBQ photographers (in no particular order) that you really MUST follow on their social media (or visit their website to see their vast portfolios) to keep up to date on the barbecue world, get hungry, and moreover get inspired by their other work that isn’t barbecue related. These photographers range from professional to ones that shoot for their blogs or social media. All have produced photos that have moved me and warranted my reaching out to bug them to assist with this project.
I’ve asked them about the gear they use, which is completely and wonderfully all over the place brand, lens, and lighting-wise as well as provide any advice or words of guidance for those just getting into photography, simply curious, or to really improve their photos.
Wyatt McSpadden – Wyatt McSpadden – Follow him on social media HERE (he’s not on Instagram). See his website HERE and shoot him an email if you’d like to purchase a print. You can see my interview with Wyatt HERE where he not only talks about his craft, but shows a lot of never before seen photos. Order his MUST HAVE Texas Barbecue books HERE and HERE.
My first book which came out in ‘08 and was all shot with medium format film cameras & an assortment of color & B&W film.
Book #2 is all digital. I’m a Nikon guy. Have been since the ’70’s, but most of the work I did for 3 decades was shot on large or medium format film. The switch to digital made the Nikon the go to camera. I’ve used Nikon D-700, D-800 & D-850’s for the last 10 years or so. I don’t claim they’re superior to other brands. There are numerous cameras in the digital realm that deliver beautiful files. My most useful lens is the Nikon 28-70 F/2.8 zoom. It is rugged, has use full range of focal lengths, & sharp as a tick. I keep a Nikon 35mm F/1.8 for low light hand held action as well a 60mm macro for real close work.
As far as advice I’d suggest being aware that folks at BBQ joints have work to do, don’t get in the way. If you’re serious about what you’re shooting put your camera on a tripod, slow down & watch then shoot.
Ken Goodman – Ken Goodman Photography – Follow him on Instagram HERE. See his website HERE to see his work AND shoot him an email if you want to order a print. You can catch my interview him him HERE too if you want to learn more about his journey.
For food photography, a piece of gear that I can’t live without is a light diffuser. I shoot mostly in natural light and sometimes it needs to be tamed.
Here is a rundown of my gear:
Camera: Fujifilm GFX100
Lenses: 110mm, 50mm (although I almost never use it), 45mm, & 23mm. I favor the 110mm whenever I can use it.
Occasionally I have to use neutral density filters and I happen to use Tiffen.
Camera: Sony Ar7iv
Lenses: 100mm-400mm, 135mm, 35mm, & 24mm.
Camera: Fujifilm XT4 w/27mm (This one is new and I just started playing around with it. It can almost fit in my pocket.)
As you can tell, I heavily favor primes. I’ve never used my Sony zoom lens in the BBQ setting–only for intimate landscapes, and rarely even then.
Gear I love:
– Profoto B10s. Superb lights, but they are professional so I’m not sure they’re the type of lights someone buys to make their brisket look better. – Really Right Stuff tripods. I think these are worth their weight in gold. I had two tripods before this one and I’ll never buy another brand. – A remote control trigger to fire my camera. I don’t use it that often, but I think people underestimate how much they shake the camera when they push the button. I think people would be surprised how much I use a remote trigger. Definitely helps me maintain critical focus.
Kelly Yandell – Kelly Yandell Photography – Follow Kelly on Instagram HERE and learn about her path during our interview HERE. See Kelly’s work via her website HERE and shop for prints HERE. Contact Kelly for gigs HERE. She’s also has a quintessential Texas, food, and travel blog called the meaning of pie HERE.
My favorite camera is the Canon 5D Mark IV right now. I’ve had the 2 predecessors and I am a true believer. I use it not only for food, but portrait and landscape work in some fairly dirty conditions. I love it. For food photography I always begin with my Canon 100mm macro lens. It is a wonderful lens. It is probably ten years old and still makes wonderful photos. But it is more useful in the studio or kitchen. If I need to have a little more flexibility, I take a Canon 24-70. It is just hard to beat. I have also started using my 50 mm macro more. It gives a little more for shooting scenes and also can transition into portrait. They are all good. But my 100 will always be my favorite lens to get a beautiful shot of one dish. It is not, however, an all-purpose lens. If you can only buy one lens, buy the 24-70. Now, these are the things I generally take if I am shooting for someone else. But if I am just running out to get BBQ and may or may not grab a few photos while I’m there, I usually pack my Sony a7II. I consider it my travel camera and it has taken me from Mexico to Bhutan. It is lightweight, has a great variable kit lens, and has a pop out LCD screen. This is priceless for the over the table shots and over the head photos when you are in a crowd. It is smaller and doesn’t scream “I’m a photographer” the way that a big Canon does. You can be a little less obnoxious with it, a little more stealthy. So often, I use my Canon when I’m being a photographer, and the Sony when I want to be a person who happens to be able to produce great photos. With either body, Lightroom is my best friend for editing and file management. A little tweak can do a world of good. BBQ joints are notoriously fun to shoot, but often have incredibly difficult lighting. Or no lighting. Like a cave.
And this is all fun, and I love gear as much as the next person. But, the majority of my casual BBQ shots have been taken with whatever iPhone I’ve had in my back pocket at the time. If the food is beautiful and the light is nice, you don’t need a bunch of gear to grab a great shot. In most BBQ places, the challenge is finding some nice light for the shot. I think some better than average BBQ joints would benefit from thinking about whether there is any decent light to be found at windows or outside at tables. For people who just casually share BBQ pics on social media and are happy to spread the love for their favorite places, being able to take a nice photo in nice light makes a lot of difference. While I’m not saying that restaurants should plan their lighting choices and window placement for casual photographers, people eat with their eyes first and there are some places that are so orange or so dark that unless I’m getting paid I don’t even try. I’m hungry and I don’t want to spend fifteen minutes finding a ray of decent light. But there are places with great natural light coming through the window that can make marginal BBQ look like it tastes better than it actually does and those photos get shared amongst friends, near and far. Social media seems to be a necessary evil in a lot of ways for all of us. One can reject it outright and have my admiration. But if you want free advertising that makes your food look beautiful, providing nice light or a few tables near windows makes a difference. If people never share pretty photos of your food, and you wonder why, look at your lighting.
There are enough great online tutorials and cameras are good enough that just about anyone can learn to take good photos food. The issue will always be reading light more than what camera you use. Given the right lighting and background and awareness of angles and focus, you can certainly take great photos with this generation of phones, or a far less expensive camera than professionals work with.
And the one thing I really can’t live without is my Peak Design Everyday Bag. I use it for everything, but mainly to haul my camera gear and laptop in.
Advice: Learn composition, exposure, and all the settings that go into a picture (shutter, aperture, and ISO), then practice until you can shoot in manual mode with zero effort.
That’s the only way to get better.
I don’t really have a “go to” kit for shooting BBQ. Most of the time, when I’m visiting new joints it’s when I’m on the road for location shoots so I have a lot of gear with me and I have access to a full complement of cameras, lenses, lighting & grip. We’re usually just there to get some good bbq and the photos are kind of…not really second fiddle, but a bonus if you will –I just love photographing things I’m passionate about and I definitely have a passion for Texas BBQ and the people and culture surrounding it.
If I’m going specifically to shoot a joint, I gear up for what I think I might need. But then again there’s times when I just have a body and 50mm lens. Some of the best stuff has been very quick, simple, serendipitous and relying on natural light, whatever camera I’ve got on me and the atmosphere afforded by the joint. Sometimes heading back to the truck to grab another piece of gear would kill the moment or take too much of a subject’s time. One of my favorite photos of Tootsie I took with a camera I borrowed from my assistant because the camera I had on me had a dead battery. Another favorite of Arnis Robbins was taken with my cheapest camera and a zoom lens. So, I guess my advice would be to make sure & learn the equipment you have inside and out and use it to best effect. After all, hopefully these are all just tools and the making of a good photograph is the product of experience, expertise and most of the time…..a whole lotta luck! Heck Nat Geo Traveler online ran a BBQ photo of mine that I took with my Iphone!
Having said all that, at the moment my favorite lenses are probably my Nikkor 105mm f1.4 and my Nikkor 70-200mm f2.8 E. The bodies I use the most are my (2) Nikon Z7 mirrorless and my Nikon D850. If I were wanted to pack light, I would probably just take 2 bodies one with a telephoto option and one with wide angle, like the 70-200 on one body and my 24-70 f2.8 on the other and maybe a small speed light kit for lighting
Lighting wise I try to rely on available light as much as possible, but I have a big complement of reflectors & lights to choose from when I need it.
Of course, I have a few commercial clients that specialize in meat products and for them we’re usually in the studio and have access to just about anything we need including crew such as assistants, food stylists and prop stylists.
Mark Champion – MarkChampionTX – Follow him on Instagram HERE. Check out his portfolio on his website HERE. See my interview soon with him HERE. Check out The Ninth Inning Texas HERE. Contact Mark for gigs and to purchase prints HERE.
As you probably know I shoot a lot of different stuff, so usually when I get hired to shoot food or BBQ there is usually a portrait or story telling element in addition to the food shots.
I think all of the different major camera brands make great stuff at the pro and semi-pro level. The phone on your camera is probably better the the first DSLR that I owned. I shoot Canon and have had 5D’s mark1 – mark4, but both Sony and Nikon are great as well. For lenses I actually like the versatility of a zoom lens. I shoot with a 24-70 or 24-105 most of the time. Like 80% of the time. I just find it really valuable to shoot a variety of different lengths with out having to stop and miss the moment. Canon also makes a 100mm that I really like, it has a clean look and nice bokeh.
My advice for new photographers or ones looking to improve, is to shoot a lot and always try new things. If you are trying to improve it helps to be on assignment and have a list of shots you are trying to get. So if you are just starting out try shooting for your friend with a blog, or small business, or do work that is self-assigned, write the types of shots you want to get before hand and attempt to get those shots. Have fun and be nice. Assist other photographers if you can.
Advice: Get after it!
In terms of gear, I’m kind of all over the place; most of my “food” photography is done with a smartphone since I’m sitting down in the restaurant and what I shoot is what they gave me–they don’t know what I’m doing and if they they want to make a good-looking tray or sandwich and they’d do that for anybody, then so much the better. I try to find the best light I can (which usually means sitting outside in the shade). I used to use an iPhone X but now I do the vast majority of that kind of stuff (trays, sandwiches, etc. with very minimal, if any, of what you’d call “styling”) with a Sony XPeria Pro or an XPeria 1mk2. For portraits and documentary work, that, too, depends. My workhorses on assignments are Sony a1 cameras; I like to use the Sony 135 f 1.8, 24-70mm f2.8, and adapted Leica M- 21mm f2.8 and 35mm f1.4 lenses. When I travel, I like to just carry a Leica M-240 with me and use the Leica 21 f2.8, 35mm f1.4, 50mm f1.4, and 75mm f1.4. I’m also working on a really long-term portrait project (which was made even longer-term due to the pandemic) with my Linhof Technika 4×5 cameras, and I’m currently drawing up a plan for another portrait project that I hope to start this fall/winter that I’m envisioning shooting entirely on 8×10 film.
Tips or advice? Find decent light–and that means quality and temperature. Avoid fluorescents; sit outside if you can in open shade that gives your light some kind of directionality. Or next to a window. Don’t use flash. Watch your white balance/color temperature, especially indoors. Embrace the available light in your bbq joint, especially if there’s open flame involved!
Jeff Wilson – Jeff Wilson Photography – Follow him on Instagram HERE. Check out his portfolio HERE and contact him HERE to order prints or schedule gigs. See his book Home Field: Texas High School Football Stadiums from Alice to Zephyr HERE.
I recently switched camera systems from Canon to Sony. I shoot with an A1 and I mostly use the 16-35 f2.8 and the 24-105 f4. I also still use my Canon 24mm T/S often. Probably 99% of what I shoot is done with that setup. The A1 has the best image quality of any camera I’ve ever used and Sony has finally worked most of the kinks in the software, so it feels much more like a professional tool to me than previous iterations.
I don’t want to overstate the importance of the camera, though. This particular one is ridiculously expensive. If you’re willing to forgo some of the processor horsepower of that camera, the truth is that for thousands less, you could use an Sony A7RIV or a Canon R5 and get IQ mostly indistinguishable from the A1 anywhere other than a large fine art print, and even then it would be splitting hairs. For thousands less than that, you could get something totally usable for 99% of the situations you would find yourself in.
If you are looking to provide guidance to new photographers, I would recommend they don’t get caught up in spec sheets and just choose to invest in the system that works in the most intuitive way to them, buy the cheapest camera that does everything they need, and don’t sweat buying the most expensive glass. Unless you are operating in a specific genre that requires them, you will probably never shoot something wide open at f1.2, and rarely need anything longer than 200mm. If you do, you can always rent it. Think of your gear as a business decision as much as an artistic one. Its a tough balance to strike when all that fancy stuff is so enticing, but it’s important in the long run.
The only way to improve your work is to shoot. Webinars and workshops are nice and if that works for you, then do it, but I’d be willing to bet that the vast majority of pros have never taken one. You can’t learn to think on your feet or to work with subjects who are uncomfortable in front of the camera from those experiences. Work for experienced photographers from different genres and learn all you can from them. Come up with assignments for yourself, plan them out and execute them to the best of your ability, learn from the successes and failures, and then and do it again. Build a body of work and show it to people. Feedback is great and its impossible to work in a vacuum and grow from the experience.
Gear: Camera: Fujifilm GFX 100• Lenses: 110mm / 2.0; 63mm / 2.8; 23mm / 4.0 | Camera: Nikon D850• Lenses: 105mm / 1.4; 85mm / 1.4; 35mm / 1.4; 24mm / 1.4 | Google Pixel 5 for messing around, in the moment. Peak Design for straps + bags.
Advice: Just get out there, be free. Don’t be like anyone else, be you. It’s your eye, use it.
My current favorite setup that I am shooting with is my Fuji GFX 50R, its a great medium format rangefinder. The two lenses I mainly use are the FUJIFILM GF 32-64mm and the 110mm. I am a big believer that the camera is just a tool I have run the gamut from shooting Nikon, Canon and Sony to now mostly Fuji. It’s fun to play with gear but at the end of the day it’s really about having a vision of what you are trying to get and if your system lets you get there with its features.
My biggest advice for new photographers after not getting hung up on gear is to ingest as much photography as you can, look at everything. Find out what kind of images you gravitate towards and then study the lighting. How was it lit? Are the shadows hard or soft, long or short. Take what you’ve learned about your own taste and style and then apply it to your own personal projects.
The gear I’m currently using is a Canon 5D MKIV and Canon RP mirrorless camera. As far as lenses, my go to lens is the Canon 24-70mm F2.8L. It’s a dynamic lens that could give me a wide angle (for environmental type shots) and zoom for more close up and detailed shops of the actual food. Also, I use a Sigma ART series lens 50mm and 35mm F1.4 for low light situations. Not all pit areas have the best lighting so I use these lenses in most cases.
As far as shooting, I’m usually shooting around F2.0-F5.6, I like having that depth of field or bokeh in the background. Also, my shutter speed I keep around 1/250th. I don’t have the steadiest of hands and found keeping that shutter speed almost eliminates the camera shake in the images. The ISO I set to automatic between ISO 100-1600.
In regards to improving your work, the simplest answer would to keep shooting. Understand lighting and shoot different angles of the subject. Never shoot under direct sunlight b/c the light is harsh. So whenever you can shoot in the shade or next to a window. .
I also principally use a Canon Mk IV. My favorite lens is a discontinued 50mm 2.5 macro, followed by the 100mm macro for tabletop work. Followed by the 90mm TS and the Zeiss Macro planar 50 for locked down work (both manual focus).
My main advice is to position the light source behind the subject, to understand and experiment w the incident angle of light, to go with your gut, and to shoot what you wish someone was paying you to shoot if you are starting out. The more you work the more you will learn. Instant digital feedback makes it easy to learn.
Joey Garcia – The Good Ol Boy – Follow him on Instagram HERE.
No trade secrets here, dude. I’ve got one camera and that’s the Fujifilm XT-3. For food I use the 23mm 1.4 and a newly acquired 35mm 1.5 lenses. And for portraits I use 56mm 1.2 and 90mm 2. All fujifilm. I always use a combination of a circular polarizer and UV filter.
Most of my edits are basically in-camera with a little touch-up using CaptureOne. PS. Classic Chrome is my favorite film simulation on the XT-3.
Body: Leica M240; Leica Q2 (fixed full frame 28mm lens); Fuji XT4 (for video)
Lens: Leica Super-Elmar-M 18mm f/3.8 ASPH; Leica Summicron-M 28mm f/2 ASPH; Leica Summilux-M 50mm f/1.4 ASPH; Leica Elmarit-M 90mm f/2.8 ASPH; Leica Macro Adaptor; 50mm Summilux.
Advice: Nothing technical except learnt to use your tools, don’t rely on technology, understand the principles of the exposure triangle etc. But the most important thing is to find your own voice and style. This takes time and sometimes it’s hard not to follow current trends, but it will be important in developing a long term career.
Jimmy Ho – The Smoking Ho – Follow him on Instagram HERE. Check out his BBQ blog The Smoking Ho – BBQ, Beef, & Beyond HERE. You can see my two interviews with Jimmy HERE and HERE (this one is an Austin BBQCity Guide).
Other Photography Resources:
What makes a photographer when everyone is taking pictures HERE
What makes a great picture – National Geographic – HERE