Your lens choice affects various aspects of your images, including field of view, the details in the image, and perspective. The same idea applies to food photography. The lens you choose affects the look and feel of your food photos. If you’ve ever wondered what factors you should consider before getting a lens to use for your food photography, photographer Lauren Caris is here with some guidelines:
Know Your Sensor
The focal length of your lens determines how much of the scene is being captured by the camera. The longer the focal length, the less of the scene will be in frame. When choosing the focal length for your setup, note whether you’re using a full frame camera or a crop-sensor camera.
If you have a full frame camera, the lens will perform as it is intended. For instance, a 35mm lens will form an image just like a 35mm lens should. But, if you have a crop-sensor camera, bear in mind that crop factor will come into play and the image will seem as if it has been slightly zoomed in. For instance, the crop factor of Canon cameras is 1.6, which means that the image formed by a 35mm lens on a crop body will have the look of an image formed by a 56mm lens (35 * 1.6).
Also, bear in mind that if a lens is made for a crop sensor camera, it will not perform well on a full frame body. As the image circle of the crop lens will not be able to cover the entire full frame sensor, the resulting image will have heavy vignetting.
Effect of Focal Length on Photos
The shorter the focal length, the more of the environment the camera can capture around the subject. And the longer the focal length, the more you can isolate a subject. A lens with a longer focal length creates a zoomed in effect and helps to fill your frame more. The following images were shot from the same camera and the same spot but with a different lens having different focal lengths. See how they differ:
You may think that by using a wider lens and by moving closer to the subject, you can achieve the same look as that from a lens with a longer focal length. However, lenses work in a different way. Wider lenses have a tendency to exaggerate anything that is closer to them. The subject will start looking funky if placed close to a wide angle lens.
Examine the following images, which were composed so the bread appeared to be of the same size when using lenses with different focal lengths (by varying the camera position).
Notice how the bread seems to be pushed further back in the first image while it looks much closer in the last one. Lenses with longer focal lengths also compress the background.
There is no perfect focal length. It all depends on what works best for you and your setup.
Prime vs. Zoom Lens
A prime lens has a fixed focal length. You can neither go wide nor zoom in using a prime lens. The only way to do so is by moving the camera away from or closer to the subject. On the other hand, zoom lenses have a variable range of focal length, 24–70mm for instance.
For food photography, Caris prefers a prime lens to a zoom lens. The important reason being that a prime lens is great at what it does in one focal length rather than being a good lens at a lot of focal lengths. The optical performance of prime lenses makes them a great value for their worth. If you find working at some specific focal lengths, try to get prime lenses close to those focal lengths for the best results.
Lenses with an aperture ring that can open up wide are called fast lenses. They let in a lot of light, allowing you to use a faster shutter speed. Their aperture values can go to low values like f/1.8 or f/1.4 or even f/1.2, and so on. At such aperture values, the lens will have a very shallow depth of field giving you a very blurry background. Caris likes to shoot somewhere between f/2 to f/5.6 depending on whether she’s shooting straight on or top-down.
“When thinking about the maximum aperture that you need, figure out what kind of pictures you want to take, how much background blur you think you want to create, and then pick based on that.”
Macro lenses have a magnification of 1:1 meaning that they can reproduce a full life-size image of the subject on the camera sensor. Macro lenses allow you to get really close to the subject and capture details. Although macro lenses are mostly used in nature photography, you can use them for food photography, too. For instance, you can use a macro lens to capture the details of fresh produce by getting close to it.
Although macro lenses can photograph at 1:1, it is not necessary that you photograph at 1:1 when it comes to food photography. Just get close enough to capture details where a non-macro lens wouldn’t be able to focus.
Lenses that have better optical quality have fewer issues like chromatic aberration and distortion. Choosing to get a lens that has better optical quality really pays off. Compare the optical quality of lenses from different manufacturers in different usage conditions before deciding to buy a lens.
Caris’s Food Photography Kit
Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art
- Mostly used when she’s doing top-down shots
- Not used for straight-on shots because of the perspective it gives
- Perfect for capturing big table scenes
Sony Zeiss 55mm f/1.8
- All around lens
- Used for top-down shots that aren’t too wide, for a smaller table or for a detail shot of a dish from above
- Great for straight-on shots as it has no weird perspectives going on
- Renders great background blur
Sony 90mm f/2.8 Macro Lens
- Caris’s favorite lens from the bunch
- Perfect for straight-on photos
- It renders a great perspective due to the longer focal length
- Great quality bokeh
- Macro capability allows her to take detailed shots
Now that you have an understanding of what you should look out for when selecting your lens for food photography, I hope you’ll be ready for your next project.
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