Should I buy a full frame camera or stick with aps-c? This is a dilemma I’ve been struggling with for awhile. Unlike most photo nerds, I hate buying new gear. It rarely improves my photography and doesn’t add value to my business. When I need full frame gear for a big job, I simply rent it. Read More…
In this continuation of part 1, I expand on the photo gear needed to setup a food photography studio.
This is the one area that people always cheap-out on so DON’T! A good tripod will outlast your digital camera and most likely you. My dad purchased a lightweight aluminum tripod in the 1960’s and guess what? He still pulls it out of the closet every Christmas.
Manfrotto tripods are the industry standard and I use the 055xprob because of its lightweight and durability. I paired it with the Manfrotto 322RC2 grip head, but it’s been problematic. Over the past year it’s lost all of its tension and I’m likely going to replace it with the 498RC2 ball head.
If I had to start a new system from scratch, I wouldn’t choose Nikon or Canon. A million other food bloggers swear by these full-frame systems, but compact mirrorless systems like the Panasonic GH4 are the future.
In 2014, with the convergence of image quality across all sensor sizes, photographers don’t need the weight or expense of a full-frame system. The image quality from these various sensors is nearly identical on a computer monitor where 99.9% of work is displayed, so why not choose the superior ergonomics of a compact system camera. If you need a full-frame DSLR for a job, just rent one.
For the typical food photography studio kit you’ll need 3 lenses: a fast standard zoom, a macro, and a standard prime. Focal lengths vary across sensor sizes, but in full-frame digital this equates to a 24-70mm f/2.8, a 90mm f/2.8 and 50mm f/1.4. For the advanced photographer, I would also recommend a lens or an adapter that facilitates tilt/shift movements.
The compact camera systems and the respective lenses I like for a food photography studio are as follows:
One other camera to consider is the Sony A7r. This is a full-frame mirrorless camera that has created a paradigm shift in the industry. It combines the benefits of mirrorless with the superior image quality of a large sensor. The only problem is that the system lacks lenses. When the system matures, the A7r should definitely be a consideration.
Lighting for a Food Photography Studio
This is the big one that a lot of people get hung-up on. If you’re just starting out, natural light is your best bet. These are a few of the natural light sources I like to use:
Window with indirect light
Open door with indirect light
Window with a sheet of white ripstop nylon to diffuse the light
Open door with a sheet of white ripstop nylon to diffuse the light
Outdoors under the shade of a tree (watch out for the green color cast)
Outdoors under the shade of a tree with a white or silver bounce card
Some photographers fall in love with the look of natural light and base their careers around it, but I prefer strobes due to their flexibility and value. Before I outline the ideal strobe kit, here are a few products to avoid:
Lowel Ego Florescent Light – This has a nice quality of light, but it’s a little small to be a main all purpose light. In addition, it can’t be mounted on a light stand to facilitate maneuverability.
Flashes – Everyone got the strobist religion a few years back, but these are lousy for a food photography studio because they don’t have a modeling light. It’s best to have a least a 250w modeling light in the strobe so you can see how the light is hitting the food.
LED panels – These look good on paper, but LED panels don’t provide a full spectrum of light.
Umbrellas – These are cheap and can be used with flashes and strobes, but the light goes everywhere. To achieve control, a light modifier should have a solid straight edge.
If you plan to go out and do a lot of video in addition to photography, forget the strobes and buy some Kino Flos along with a few Arri Fresnels. For strobes, I like the products from Paul C Buff because they’re cheap and durable. This is my kit:
I like this setup because it gives me a soft editorial look with the option to go harder with grid spots. The White Lightning strobes have a powerful modeling light and the controls are basic analog sliders.
For lighting equipment, I always prefer simple gear that will stand up to abuse.
To complete a food photography studio, you’ll need a lot of little things like black cards and white cards for additive and subtractive light along with a few small mirrors. In addition, a light meter like the Sekonic L-758DR always helps as does an 18% grey card to correct the color.
All of this gear may seem extensive, but you don’t have to buy it all at once. You can take amazing food photos with just window light and a bounce card. As your skill grows overtime, you can start to experiment with a strobe or two and figure out what you really need. The wonderful thing about food photography is that it doesn’t depend on gear, just talent.
Setting up a food photography studio can be a serious challenge. With all the marketing directed at photographers, it’s very difficult to make an informed decision.
This guide is intended to alleviate some of the confusion and provide a clear path to setting up an inexpensive food photography studio. If you’re a food blogger or a photographer starting a food photography business, then this guide is for you.
You have to put the food on something and using a regular table can be awkward and inconvenient. Most food photography studios simply use a piece of plywood and a couple of saw horses. The best part of this combo is that everything can be folded flat and put in a closet. I like to use a sanded piece of plywood that’s approximately 4’x6′ and a couple of compact sawhorses from Home Depot. It’s a cheap and simple.
Acquiring surfaces can be expensive, but with a little DIY it doesn’t have to be. I like to use stained wood and Formica, but every photographer has their own style. Here are some typical options:
wooden cutting boards
wooden serving trays
used baking pans
reclaimed wood from abandoned buildings
old painted metal signs
wooden fence planks
wooden floor boards from the hardware store
brown paper bags
This list could go on forever, but surfaces should either be neutral or work as a complimentary color with the food. It’s also important to remember that the viewer should focus on the food and not the surface. Busy surfaces may look good in person, but typically look out of place in photos.
These are the same as the surfaces but with a vertical orientation. Depending on how you shoot, backgrounds may not be necessary, but for hero shots, you need them.
I like to hang my backgrounds from light stands with grip arms and super clamps, but a variety of solutions exist. It’s just as easy to use foamcore or an empty picture frame with a fabric wrap. I’ve even seen photographers use gaffer tape to stick wallpaper on a white wall.
It isn’t a big deal how you hang it, just as long as the background is separated from the table and doesn’t create a color cast.
It may seem counter-intuitive, but the plates and bowls on a tabletop set should be small. Large items overwhelm the food and make it exceptionally difficult to compose. Large plates also affect the field of view and can force the use of wide angle lenses.
It’s also important to select neutral plates with a low rim. I frequently like to shoot from a low angle and hate it when half the frame is dominated by a thick rim.
Once again, Sur La Table, Crate & Barrel, and Ikea are great places to pickup dinnerware, but my favorite places for this stuff are the local estate sales. Cheap is always good, but cheap and unique rules.
All that talk about your one new year’s resolution and here it is, April 17th and you’ve only written 4 All Things Thursday posts…for shame!
And you’re right. I had a pretty decent start and then things started falling apart-all-things-thursday wise. Then Dave left his studio, we stopped working on the site, and things got a bit worse. I’m not going to lie to you. I wasn’t into I bake he shoots at all. For me, it was a non-entity…something I used to do. I compartmentalized the experience because it just made me sad.
Recently, about 2 weeks ago, Dave and I got back in the game. Dave started shooting again and the results have been amazing! If you put him in the right environment, he will do incredible things-like these Waffles of Insane Greatness. I’m just glad that we’re back; and I feel lucky to be able to work with such a fantastic photographer.
What I’m trying to say is…I’ll do my best not to leave you hanging in the future.
Now…onto the food.
Apparently, you can get amazing Chocolate Mousse with just chocolate and water. Are you freaking kidding me? Food52