I’ve been getting a lot of emails asking me to walk them through starting a food shot. Please keep in mind what I say here is really just my way of doing things. The shot I am using as an example has very few props in it and its simply a shot of the strawberries I picked that day at the farm (and then of course I ate them). The shot is a natural light shot with back lighting.
Initial Set Up
First you have to of course figure out what you are shooting, what your props are, and what your surface is that is going with your food. After you figure that out put the lens on that you want to use. You typically do not want to use wide lenses as they distort the food. I always use longer lenses like a 90mm or a 100mm. Then put your camera on a tripod. You always have to shoot these kinds of shots on a tripod because your exposure is going to be too long to hand hold and also it frees you up to work on your shot. You have to take time to put your shot together. I set my tripod so that the head (top of the tripod) is at the table surface or a little higher depending on how I think I want the shot to be. I knew in this shot I was going to be at a low angle shooting right into the strawberry basket.
I am using a Canon 5D Mark II with a 100mm macro lens.
Always shoot with you camera in manual setting! Many bloggers don’t like this but its the only way to get the exact exposure you want. Cameras were not designed for shooting food shots. They were designed for shooting everything so there is no way that your camera set on automatic for everything will know what you are shooting and what you want it to look like. Our cameras are good, but not that good.
Here are my default settings for a natural light shot like this that is backlit:
1. I set my white balance to a daylight setting or a custom degrees kelvin setting. For more info on White Balance please see this post and video
2. My ASA (ISO same thing) is set to no more than 100. The higher the ASA the more digital noise you will be introducing into your image. The lower the ASA the less digital noise. You have to shoot on a tripod so using a lower ASA will be fine as your exposures will need more light, longer exposures.
3. I always do these kinds of shots with a small F-Stop usually about F 5.6. Why? I really like selected focus. It adds depth to the shot and it also lets me control where the viewer is looking because we tend to look at the parts that are in focus in a shot first. For more info on F-Stops please see my post on that. Remember this – small F-stop = small depth of field, large F-stop = large depth of field, more items in focus.
4. Because I know I want to shoot at F5.6 I will then let the shutter speed be set to what ever it needs to be for using F5.6. I will take a shot starting at maybe 1/2 second exposure. Basically guessing at what I think it needs to be for what I want. I could use a light meter but hey, I’m lazy now because its a digital camera and it will actually just be faster for me to take a shot. Again, you can not hand hold this exposure. You really can’t hand hold anything slower than about 1/60 of a second or even 1/125. I will take a few test shots and change my shutter speed so that it is the exposure I like.
Choose Your Background
I knew for this shot I wanted to use these painted boards as my background. If you have a few options you are thinking about for a surface then put one down and take a test shot of it to see if you like how it looks. I do that all the time. You should also put your item (plate or bowl) on your surface to see how they look together first and make sure you like that.
Build Your Shot
After you have chosen your background then start placing your props and your food in the shot. I started placing the strawberries on the surface one by one and taking a shot after each one to make sure I liked where it was.
Working with a Stand-In
If you are shooting prepared food that will not last long you have to work in two stages. The first stage is like a rehearsal of what you will end up shooting. We call this food the “Stand-In” food. This will not end up being your final shot but lets your build your shot and get ready for what we call the “Hero” food, stage two. Obviously with the strawberries here they are going to last a while so I did not have to do that for this shot. When you are working with prepared food you could end up making your dish twice. This is what it takes sometimes to get a great food shot so it looks as fresh as it can be.
Get Your Lighting Sorted with Your Stand-In Food
While you have your stand-in food on set you need to get your lighting sorted. In this strawberry shot I decided I needed more light in the front on the basket so I added a fill card. Please see my post on Fill Cards for more details about that.