I have recently got quite a few private emails asking about my photography setup. Whilst I am completely flattered, I should really tell everyone that I am quite the hack at it – and I have learnt pretty much everything I know from bugging other people!
I started taking photographs for work years ago, but these were photographs of architecture. That meant a wide angle lens. I started using the same lens for food photography, and ran into some problems. The distortion is too great, and things started to look un-natural.
So, like everyone else, I turned to the web for help.
One person has been a huge help to me, and her advice and knowledge has really helped me become a better food photographer. She has also managed to convince me to part with some hard-earned cash on a new lens and lighting setup! So who is this you ask? Well, it is Lara over at www.cookandeat.com. She also runs a great website http://stilllifewith.com/ that discusses aspects of photography. I love her food photography – it is very clean and natural. To top it off, she is a decent cook too. Darn her. So, I recommend checking out her websites. She has some great articles up on stilllifewith all about food photography. CookandEat is her food photography blog, and features her awesome photography.
So – what do I do, and what do I use?
I use an aging Canon 10D digital SLR. I think there is now a 40D out. Blimey, how quickly technology ages. I really like Canon cameras, I have used both Nikon and Canon, and prefer Canon hands down. I find them easier to use, faster to change settings on, and I personally think they have better technology. A ton of people however would completely disagree.
My suggestions for a camera is to start off with an entry level Digital SLR, and spend the money on a lens and a few things to help with lighting.
Professional food photographers like Lara really like Tilt-Shift lenses. I do too. I think they are awesome. You have great control over the focal plane (what is in focus, what isn’t). However, they are way outside of my budget.
I use a 50mm F1.4 Cannon lens, which is quite a steal at the price. For much cheaper however there is a 50mm F1.8 Canon lens, which is a really decent lens – just not quite as good in low light. The F1.4 is also a metal body, whereas the F1.8 is plastic (shaving the costs further). Personally, I like metal – seems more solid. The F1.4 produces better Bokeh (out of focus effects) in my mind too.. but that is nit-picky. The price difference is quite a bit.
Perhaps the biggest improvement you can make to your food photography is lighting. A few simple changes, and the results are 1000% better.
Natural light is king. Try and photograph by a window. If it is sunny out, buy a cheap sheet of artists vellum, and tape it over the window. Light from the sun directly is way too harsh, and will make food look too glossy, and have too strong a shadow.
For me however, this hasn’t been an option in the winter months. I take most of my food shots in the evening, when there is no natural light here in Seattle at all. So, I invested in a basic lighting setup.
I bought a basic light, with umbrella and stand from Amazon – The Lowel Tota-Pak.
This provides a great soft light when daylight is not an option.
Perhaps the best thing I got my mits on however was a couple of sheets of white Styrofoam. Thankfully we had a bunch from our kitchen remodel. You want to set these up as “bounces”. If you put them opposite (ish) to your light source, and out of shot, they will bounce your main light back onto the otherside of your food – producing even, soft light. You can also use simple sheets of white card.
Another option is the Lowel Ego Light – this too produces great soft light, is small (easy to store), and pretty cheap.
Processing of images
First off, if you own a Digital SLR and have the option to shoot in RAW format – do so. RAW is just what it might sound light – really just a dump of the photographs “raw” information before it gets converted to a lossy format like JPEG – or even non-lossy like TIFF.
What is so great about RAW? Well, no information is lost or compressed for one. Look at a JPEG image. The range of colours is pretty flat, it has compression artifacts (those pixel-blocks you see in JPEG images), and also contains information about exposure levels and white balance. It is a 32bit floating point format, which basically means that brightness information is also stored with stored along with colour information, along with a host of other things. Your images have more dynamic range – meaning more colour range, and brightness range.
The big advantage or RAW for the photographer is the amount of control you get with a RAW file once you get it onto your computer. The best thing is that you can adjust the white balance perfectly after you take the shot, if your white balance is screwed up. This is far superior to taking your photograph into Photoshop, and trying a whole bunch of color corrections to it.
You also get great control of true photographic exposure levels too – not just hacky brightness/contrast controls. This can really help if your food shots are at slightly the wrong exposure.
Software I use? I like either Adobe Lightroom or Phase One Capture Pro for RAW adjustments. I then like to use photoshop if I need to paint out anything like a rouge piece of food, dust, hair etc. I typically do very little in Photoshop these days.
If you don’t want to fork out the cash for Lightroom or Capture Pro, then even Picasa has some basic RAW editing controls.
That’s it folks. I hope that answers most questions.
Here is a list of websites that I find inspiring for food photography: