Six Tips For Better Food Photography

food photography
You can't do this at your local restaurant - By Elke Wetzig

I once visited what I thought was an industrial machine shop, but turned out be a professional food photographer.  He employed metal supports, chemicals like lacquer and linseed oil, compressed air, and scaled down stage foggers.

You probably won’t want to go that far, but food photography is suddenly in vogue.  From Flickr groups like I Ate This with over 240,000 pictures from 24,000 members and so called food porn sites like Tastespotting and Foodgawker, photographing your food is no longer reserved for professionals, we’re all becoming food paparazzi now.  If you’re going to do it, do it right.

1) Take a camera.   While many people are buying the latest iPhone just for food pictures, even a low end digital camera will do a better job.  Cameras like the Nikon Coolpix P7100 are popular for ease of concealment and their fast start up time.  Some users have upgraded to cameras like the Nikon D90 because they want better pictures of their food.

2) Be fast.  Cold food isn’t going to look good, so try to shoot while it’s still steaming and before anything melts, wilts or changes color.

3) Use natural light when possible.  Side lighting from a booth window is going to be better than a pop up flash.  If you’re buying an SLR for food pictures, then take the next step and get a diffuser for the pop up flash for those times you can’t avoid using the camera flash.

4) Use a low angle.  The big mistake a lot of food photographers make is shooting from too high of an angle.  Most people don’t view their food from straight down, so don’t shoot it from that angle.  Get down as low as you can without drawing too much attention to yourself.

5) Get close, go macro.  Getting a shallow depth of field on macro settings will put the focus on the food and blur out the table in the background.

6) Style it.  Many chefs spend an entire year in school just on presentation.  Most local restaurants will not have that training, so don’t be afraid to dress up your food a little.  If you get lettuce on the side it won’t wilt by the time it gets to the table.

Canon T3i Review

Canon T3i
The T3i packs high end video capability in a consumer point-and-shoot - photo Canon

I realize a review of the Canon EOS Rebel T3i is a bit belated, but it’s only been out since February and wanted to see what kind of market buzz it would generate.  So far, the buzz meter over the summer has been near zero.  The T3i is a camera that can best be described as “odd” in a number of ways.

In spite of the lack of enthusiasm and a few design quirks, the camera gets good reviews from owners.  Canon seems to be trying to hide the fact it comes with an 18-megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor.  They’re all about mentioning the megapixel rating and the fact the T3i is packing the Digic 4 image processor, but I had to dig through the detailed comparison specs to get Canon to admit to the APS-C chip dimension.  A strange oversight considering how many fine cameras in the Canon line use that particular chip.

Outside that the T3i is a consumerized version of the 60D, with more features for people who spend most of their time shooting on auto.

Another surprise in the T3i are the video specs, which are similar to their higher end models.  1080p HD at 24, 25 and 30 fps.  Maybe Canon envisioned the T3i as a “B” camera for an independent filmmaker using a Canon 7D with a PL mount so they can drag out their cine glass. Odd that Canon would put so much video capability into a mid-range DSLR.

At $700 for the body only, I’d be tempted to lock one for a wide coverage shot on a video shoot and keep in the bag as a spare body for weddings.

Here’s a hands-on review:

For more info check our the T3i on Snapsort, or check out these comparisons.

Top 5 Portrait Lenses

canon 100mm
The Canon 100mm f/2.8 makes a great portrait lens for full frame DSLRs

When buying a new camera most people, unless they already have lenses, will get it with a decent kit zoom.  Their first lens purchase will almost inevitably be a portrait lens.There are so many great lenses out there for portraits, it’s hard to pick winners.  So my compromise is to pick my five favorites.

Nikon Nikkor 85mm f/1.8 D

Coming in at just under $500, the 85mm f/1.8 is one of the of the most highly regarded lenses in Nikon’s arsenal.  Not a great choice for low-light situations, but portrait photographers swear by it.

Specifically that would be head and shoulders style portraits or close-ups.  If you want to take full body shots, you’ll have to step back quite a bit.

Nikon makes a f/1.4 version of the same lens, but at twice the price it’s hard to justify the cost.

Nikon Nikkor 50mm f/1.8G

Criticized lately on build quality, it’s still a fine portrait lens for around $200.  Maybe a tad less sharp than the 85mm, but it takes better eyes than mine to see much difference.

Mounted in front of Nikon’s APS-C, a slightly larger sensor than the Canon APS-C, it yields an effective zoom of 75mm.

Canon 100mm f/2.8 Autofocus Prime

This lens might be a tad long for APS-C models, like my Canon 7D, but matched up with a full size sensor on a 5D, this is a killer portrait lens.

Fast enough to provide good performance in low light, and snaps to focus nearly silently.  Work a stop or two under wide open and it’s sharp enough to slice paper.  Priced around $600.

The only downside to using this lens all day is the weight.  It’s one of the heavier lenses of the top picks.

Canon “Nifty Fifty” 50mm f/1.8

You knew this one was coming.  It’s one of the finest portrait lenses Canon makes.  Priced around $100, it’s the first lens most Canon shooters purchase and the one that ends up spend the most time on the camera.

Newer models have developed a noticeable buzz in the auto-focus.

Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 XR Di-II

This is my personal favorite.  A little more expensive than some of the others and the only zoom on my list, I love this lens.  It’s a great performer in low and mixed light and delivers razor sharp quality.

The auto-focus is noisier than you’d expect for a lens at this price point and it can act confused and slow hunting around for focus.

Priced in the mid-$600’s, it’s still my choice for portraits or weddings.

Top 4 Lenses For Nature Photography

The Nikon AF-S 600mm in the wild with photographer Al Haley
In nature photography it’s not unusual to see someone drive up in a beater car that barely runs only to have the shooter pull out an $8,000 lens.  It is not a hobby for the financially faint of heart.
Getting enough light at those magnifications means a big barrel, and a big barrel means a lot of expensive glass.  For these lenses most photographers buy a dedicated body to use with them.  The cost of the camera is almost inconsequential compared to the lens.These are my four picks for the best in nature photography.


Quick and accurate auto-focus driven by high precision, ultra-quiet motors.  You’ll need a quality tripod to hang this bad boy but it’s worth it sit at a comfortable quarter mile away to get your shots. The color and clarity can only be described as amazing.

Canon ef 500mm
With ultra-fast and rock steady focusing that almost jumps to the subject, you’ll see this lens on a lot of the sidelines of sporting events as well as nature photography.500mm with a 4.1 degree horizontal angle of view for full frame sensor models like the 5D MKII.
If you’re not into brand names, you can save some money looking at brands like Sigma, which run closer to half what the Canon and Nikon glass costs.  There are concessions like weight and weather proofing you’re giving up, but you won’t have to trade your car for one, either.

Sigma 500mm
A little heavier than its more expensive cousins, but not that difficult to pack around and still delivers high quality images.  You’re giving up weather sealing at the lower price point, so carry a bag cover with you at all times.

Sigma 50-500
This zoom is heavy, but offers a long, flexible zoom range.  You are giving up a fixed aperture on the zoom, but considering the price point, that’s an inconvenience I can live with.

How camera lenses are made

Have you ever wondered how camera lenses are made? Discovery Channel’s “How it’s Made” produced a segment a few years ago on the process of assembling a lens.

According to the video it takes 6 weeks to make an lens and optical glass can costs up to $1000 per kilogram, no wonder lenses are so expensive.

Image credit: Photographs by Duncan Meeder