Last Updated on April 5, 2021
If you’re just starting out in food photography, don’t fret. Professional photographers like myself have been shooting for years and we’ve learned a few tricks along the way. By following these basic steps, you’ll have spectacular food photos in no time.
By the way, did you know that a camera flash is a big no-no in food photography? Because most of us are shooting with natural light, this article will focus on shooting with natural light. Also, please note that I’m using professional photo equipment for my photos in this article. Don’t worry. You don’t need to buy professional equipment to achieve great food photos.
Best Settings For Shooting Food Photographs
And seriously, once you start shooting food photos, you will start taking such amazing shots that the price of your camera won’t matter any more.
Here are the top camera settings that I use every time for great food photography results. However, these are not the only settings that you should use. In fact, there are hundreds of different shooting settings out there on the Internet. And most of them work just fine for most people. Once you learn these and master it, you can begin to experiment for different effects.
Use Manual Mode
You should turn your camera in manual mode for shooting food. Shooting in Aperture Priority is also okay and that is if you’re familiar with how aperture works. If not, stick with manual mode for now and read my other article on aperture.
If you’re not familiar with manual mode, don’t worry! I’ll walk you through the steps here. But first, let me just say that using manual mode will help you to achieve more consistent shots and better control over the resulting photos.
So what do you need to know about manual mode?
For your ISO
You need to keep in mind that a higher ISO doesn’t necessarily = more quality. But it does mean more noise, which means grainier photos. If you don’t have a tripod with you, you can still shoot at low ISOs. Like ISO 100 or 200.
For your Aperture
Aperture controls the depth of field in your photograph so that means that it controls how much of the food will be in focus. The lower the number, the more of the food will be in focus and vice versa. For example, if I have an aperture value set at f1.8 on my camera, it means that when I’m shooting a photo at a distance of 1 meter (3 feet), my depth of field is less than 20cm (7.9 inches). Now you can see that the lower the number, the more of the food will be in focus and vice versa.
For your Frame Settings
Since photos can be cropped later, you should use a 35mm or full frame camera if at all possible. As far as I know, there is no need to use a medium or small format camera for shooting food.
For your Lens
Your focal length is yet another important influencing factor in the depth of field (DOF). The higher the focal length, the narrower the DOF. For example, if I have a focal length of 85mm on my digital SLR camera and I shoot at f1.8 at 1 meter (3 feet) on my subject, I get a DOF of 20cm (7.9 inches).
To avoid nasty surprises, use a prime lens instead of a zoom lens. Why? Because prime lenses are more consistent and quicker to work with because they don’t have to adjust the focus as you change the focal length or zoom in or out on your subject. Zoom lenses often come with a slower focus speed and so changing your focal length in the middle of shooting can be quite frustrating.
Aperture and ISO have the most significant effect on the outcome of your photos. So if you are new to photography, start by mastering these two settings and set aside other techniques for later.
Also, remember that whenever you change your aperture or ISO, you also need to change your shutter speed if you want to keep the same exposure. For example, if I want to use a shutter speed of 1/100 sec at f1.8 in Aperture Priority as I did previously, then I need to set my ISO accordingly.
For example, if I want to keep the same exposure by increasing the ISO, then I need to decrease the shutter speed accordingly. So if I have 1/100 sec at f1.8 at ISO 100 and change my ISO to 400, then my shutter speed should change to 1/400 sec so that I’m still getting the same exposure levels (or brightness) in my photos.
What is Aperture Priority mode?
Aperture Priority is one of the three main shooting modes available in most modern cameras and each of these modes have different settings for aperture, ISO, and Shutter Speed. Basically, aperture priority means that you control the aperture first (f-stop) and then the camera automatically chooses an ISO or Shutter speed based on your settings.
So that’s why you should shoot your food in manual mode. It’s a simple, effective, and common way to achieve consistent results. And remember that you can always do it the old-fashioned way with a manual camera. If you’re not sure about the settings of your camera and have no idea how to change them, find someone who knows how to use it and ask them! As long as the shutter speed is set to 1/100, you can still adjust the aperture manually.