Food Photography

In my last post about the creative process behind photo shoots I mentioned that I am going to write about artificial lighting for food photography very soon. I was getting started on it when I realized there is so much basic info to go over before breaching the topic of lighting.

I want to quickly go over the basic setup that I have. If you already know the basics, feel free to ignore this post and wait for the lighting post that will come next week!

The Camera

You will want to get yourself a digital SLR camera that has a hotshoe with flash-sync contacts and tethering capabilities. Most modern DSLRs have both of these features. I personally use a Canon 5D Mark II. (I am selling my Mark II and upgrading to the Mark III. Email me if you’d like to buy my MKII!)

The Lenses

The Canon EF 100mm F2.8 L is my favorite lens for shooting food photography. This is not to say that this is the best lens for food photography. It is just the best lens for my style of food photography. I highly recommend trying a bunch of different lenses and seeing which suits your style. Before committing to a lens, I like to rent it from lensrentals.com for a week to get a feel for it. Finding your go-to lens is like finding a wand in the Harry Potter world. You just have to try them out and figure out which one suits you.

All that being said, I can say pretty confidently that these are the most popular focal lengths for food photography:

Oh, I also love the Canon 90mm tilt-shift lens. It has a cool effect.

Side note: You may notice that all of the lenses I mentioned are one focal length. In other words they can’t zoom in and out (like a 24mm-70mm lens). These are called primes lenses. Prime lenses are sharper than zoom lenses. The benefit to zoom lenses is the flexibility it gives you, but it’s a tradeoff. I personally like to stick to prime lenses.

Advanced tip: If you can afford them, I also really love to use Zeiss lenses. They are really beautiful lenses!

The Tripod

Some food photographers love tripods, some of them hate them. I personally could not do a shoot without my tripod. Well, I guess I could do a shoot without out it but I’d rather not. A tripod allows me to get the perfect composition in my frame and then tweak the light to be perfect for that composition. If I was to do handheld my composition would shift every time I take a shot simply because of hand movement.

When I first started food photography I used this tripod leg & head combination:

Manfrotto 055XPROB Aluminum Tripod Legs
Manfrotto 410 Junior Geared Head

It was a great combination to start off with! I now use Gitzo’s 5 6X Systematic 6-Section Tripod (Giant) with the Manfrotto 405 Pro Digital Geared Head. I also love this leg/head combination but it is more on the pricey side. The only reason I upgraded was because I need legs that can go pretty high (the Gitzo legs go up to 9′) and a tripod head that could support a medium format camera (the 405 pro head can support up to 16lbs). So unless you need really tall tripod legs or are planning on working with a medium format camera sometime soon, I’d stick with the cheaper ones. It’s all about finding the right tool for the job!

Whatever you decide on, I highly recommend getting a geared head for your tripod. It allows you to make micro adjustments which is awesome for food photography. It’s just the best! In my opinion. =)

Tethering

What does it mean to shoot tethered? Tethering simply means you connect your DSLR camera to a computer. From your computer you can use software to control your camera settings and view the images you take on your monitor. Most modern DSLR cameras support this feature.

It is possible to do wireless tether (even a wireless tether to your iPad and iPhone) but because this is a post about the basics, I’m going to stick with explaining the less complicated, wired tether.

Here’s what you’ll need to purchase to make basic tethering possible:

-A cord to connect your camera to your computer. Most cameras have a mini usb port for their digital terminal (check your camera’s manual to make sure) so you will want to get a mini usb to usb cable. Get one that is nice and long- at least 10′ so you can set your computer up a good distance away from your camera.

Side note: If you are on a professional shoot, be sure to bring a few of these cables with you. They can be finicky and stop working at the most unexpected times.

-Tethering software. You will need to buy a software that allows you to control your camera and images from your computer. There are a lot of tethering softwares out there. Here is a pretty comprehensive list of them.

My 3 favorite tethering softwares:

A lot of these softwares have demos. I’d recommend downloading them and seeing which you like best. None of them are perfect. Capture One has some bugs when dealing with non-Phase One cameras, Aperture 3 doesn’t allow as much control as I’d like, and Lightroom 4 is a pretty heavy (meaning slow and cumbersome) software… In my opinion.

I tend to use Capture One. It’s great for capturing, organizing, editing, and sharing images. Play around with the demos and find your favorite. Most of the softwares are pretty intuitive. Just plug in your camera and turn on the software.

So there you have it. Some of this info is pretty basic but I just wanted to mention all of it before sharing the lighting post that is coming next week. Bust out your camera, get it tethered and when I put up the lighting post you will be ready to dive in!

Disclaimer: Talking about photography gear on the internet can be a dangerous thing. Photographers get worked up when they talk about their equipment. You know who you are! Because of that, I just want to say that everything I say in this post is simply what works best for me. I’m not sharing this info to start a heated debate on all the differences between Canon vs. Nikon or film vs. digital. That being said, if you have a different process or suggestion I’d love to hear it! Just, ya know, use your nice internet voice.