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Food photography is a hard skill to acquire, but we’re here to make it as easy as pie. With this ultimate beginners guide, every food photographer can capture mouth-watering photos.
To make your food images as bright as possible, make sure you’ve taken care of the manual mode camera settings: shutter speed, aperture, and ISO.
Slow down the shutter speed to let more light hit the sensor in low-light conditions. A slow shutter speed is a go-to option when shooting on dark, cloudy days or in the fall when it gets dark early. However, with the shutter being open longer, there can be more blur, and therefore you might need a tripod. You can shoot handheld at 1/125s, but under 1/100s it’s best to use a tripod to avoid camera shake and blurry food images.
Opening up the aperture allows in more light and also creates a shallow depth of field, resulting in a bokeh effect. This effect allows you to direct the viewer’s attention to your subject. The lower the f-number, the wider the aperture. If you want a sharp focus in one area and a bokeh effect, choose a wider aperture like f/3.2 or f/3.5. If you want the background to be more in focus, set a narrower aperture: go with f/11 or f/14. Keep in mind that this doesn’t let in as much light, and you’ll need to adjust your shutter speed or ISO.
ISO is how you measure your camera’s sensitivity to light. It’s the setting to adjust last, after shutter speed and aperture. A high ISO can affect the quality of your image and create digital noise, particularly in darker areas of the photo. Try to keep your ISO below 500, but when shooting in dark conditions without a tripod and with the aperture already wide open, you can go higher.
A natural source of light is the best assistant in your food photoshoot. You can try out professional lights that can simulate natural light, but we recommend getting your hands on your camera and using natural light before spending money on expensive lighting equipment.
Most importantly, avoid indoor kitchen lighting as it projects a yellow glow. In case you have to photograph food at 5 pm on a rainy day and you have no choice but to shoot with indoor lighting, set your white balance to Tungsten. This adds more blue to your photos and minimizes the yellow.
Consider using backlighting when you face the front side of a dish placed on the table and the window lits the subject from the back side. Backlighting illuminates the subject in the most favorable way. However, try letting the light hit from various points and see what you like most.
The “nifty fifty” 50mm lens is great for every photography style, including food photography. It’s small, lightweight, affordable, and delivers tack-sharp focus and stunning bokeh quality.
What’s good about a 50mm lens for food photography is that it has a fixed focal range that offers a natural perspective and field of view that’s almost identical to what we see with our own eyes. Shoot with 50mm from a comfortable distance and you’ll minimize visual distortions.
When shooting food, we hope there won’t be a need to use photo editing software afterward. Thus, you need a sharp lens that produces a focal length similar to 50mm and has macro qualities for creating flawless pictures of food with intricate details. Go with a 60mm macro lens. It will highlight the structure of every tiny piece you shoot.
At maximum aperture, a 60mm macro lens captures light well, and its macro optics allow for a short minimum focusing distance for taking close-up shots.
A longer focal length like 100mm or 105mm allows you to step back and shoot from a greater distance. This aids in averting optical distortions for full-frame cameras and dramatically enhances the appearance of your 45-degree shots. Both of these lenses can give you the details and accuracy you need for your food pictures.
If you’re new to food photography, you may want to experiment with shooting at different focal lengths. That’s why a 24–70mm zoom lens is an all-round option. It covers a pretty wide range, so you can zoom in and out for capturing different scenes and subjects without even bringing other lenses. Fortunately, the most notable camera brands typically have this focal length.
A tilt-shift lens may seem too complex for beginners in food photography — first because these lenses are expensive, and second because they’re more popular for architecture photography. However, if you can afford it, give an 85mm or 90mm tilt-shift lens a shot. It may just end up being your favorite lens for this niche.
Manual focus tilt-shift lenses give you precise control over the perspective and plane of focus, which means you can quickly spotlight an entire dish by blurring everything else out with the shift movement and correct the perspective so you don’t distort the scene with the tilt movement.
Photo by Evgeny TchebotarevThese are five of the best lenses for food photography. But keep in mind that these are only recommendations. The best lens for you still depends on your own needs. So play around to find out which lens best suits your shooting style.
Using a photo enhancer, you can refine your food pictures with minimum effort. Luminar 3, for example, boasts a wide range of tools for enhancing images right off the bat.
Photo by Evgeny TchebotarevWith intelligent AI-driven filters, you can bring out the details of your dishes and make them truly attention-grabbing. Try out the Details Enhancer, Sharpening, and Microstructure filters in Luminar 3 to achieve an HDR-like effect and the most natural look.
Professional filters like HSL and Dodge & Burn enhance your food shots in specific areas. While HSL allows for selective color editing, the Dodge & Burn tool brightens or darkens a certain part of your culinary masterpiece.
If you prefer using different software for post-processing, you can use Luminar as a Photoshop plugin. It works seamlessly with Photoshop and can drastically improve your workflow.
A food stylist creates authentic compositions and stylizes your dishes so they look perfect. A food stylist deeply understands aesthetics and knows how to use different props and can create a specific mood, pick the best colors, and even evoke a certain emotion. But don’t worry: if you don’t have the opportunity to work with an expert in food styling, there are still tons of tips for shooting mouth-watering food photography on your own.
Try not to get all your ingredients too far in advance. The shelf life of most products is between 2 to 4 days, so the earlier you buy, the more noticeable it will be.
Playing with food isn’t a bad idea in this case. We highly recommend dedicating the day before your photoshoot to experiments. Test how your ingredients react with one another to minimize mistakes that might cost you time and money. For instance, if you’re photographing a bowl of cereal, try replacing milk with something of a thicker consistency like yogurt to keep the oats afloat. Certain products alter their color or enlarge or shrink when they become warm or cold. That’s why shooting food requires a lot of practice.
If you want to create photos with a personal style, try to incorporate props. Different accessories create different moods. Try using dried herbs, baskets, a cutting board, or even a tattoo on your hand to evoke certain emotions. Whatever you choose, make sure it doesn’t take the attention away from the main subject of your photo.
Food is great to photograph with soft, natural lighting rather than medium or hard lighting. If you can use a natural light source such as a large window, it’s even better. If your lighting is too intense, try to reduce harsh shadows with a bed sheet or tracing paper. It’s easier to achieve diffuse lighting in a studio with a good softbox and umbrellas.
There are three angles that are commonly used in food photography:
You’ve probably noticed the tendency to photograph food in a studio atmosphere, typically using dishes on a flat surface. Don’t get stuck shooting that way only. Try to think outside the box and capture food in unique conditions. Take a shot of chefs working in a kitchen in an energetic atmosphere. Other food photographers prefer photographing people with food, like a child holding an ice cream. In other words, try to tell a story about the food you’re shooting.
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