My First Attempt at Food Photography

Inspired by the the beautiful Photographing Food e-book by Taylor Mathis, I decided to try a little food photography of my own.

First, I had to obtain a suitable subject.  So I went downstairs and around the corner to Extraordinary Desserts, which is a dangerous thing to have next door.

There I obtained one Strawberry Shortcake.

After carefully carrying it home, I set the shortcake on my kitchen counter and took a photo with the default camera that most of use for our food photography: the iPhone.

 iPhone 4, with flash

iPhone 4, with flash

Not very impressive.  We can do better.

This photo was taken on my kitchen counter as you can see here:

 First photo: Kitchen counter.  It's dark back here and required flash.

First photo: Kitchen counter.  It's dark back here and required flash.

I wanted to keep this simple, without getting into off-camera-flash or fancy lighting gear, so I took the obvious first step:

Move the subject to better light.

So I put the shortcake on my portable workstation near a sunny window, with the blind down to make a diffused soft light.  If I were in a restaurant, I would have moved my plate over near a window.

Here’s the setup.

 Setup 2: Near a sunny window with the shade drawn for diffusion

Setup 2: Near a sunny window with the shade drawn for diffusion

But before shooting with the real camera, I took another photo with the iPhone.

 iPhone 4.  No flash.  Sunny window location number 2.

iPhone 4.  No flash.  Sunny window location number 2.

Huge improvement!

But the iPhone’s tiny lens can’t render a shallow depth-of-field, so the background is annoyingly sharp.

Time to pull out the big guns.

I used the Canon 5D Mark III with the 24-105 f/4 lens to take basically the same photo, using the setup you see above, although in reality I did it handheld. (I didn’t think of using a tripod until it came time to shoot the “behind the scenes” view). The white foam core board is just there to provide a clean background.

 Canon 5D Mark III, 24-105 f/4 lens, 105 mm, 1/320 sec, ISO 800

Canon 5D Mark III, 24-105 f/4 lens, 105 mm, 1/320 sec, ISO 800

The ISO is high because I wasn’t actually shooting on the tripod, and I needed a fast shutter speed to avoid camera shake.  If I were doing it over I’d take the actual photo using the tripod and reduce the ISO.

I liked this one a lot, but I wondered if I could do better with some fill light on the shadow side.

So I moved the setup over to a different window, in open shade, and I folded a piece of white poster board to make a quick reflector.

Here’s the setup

 Setup 3 with folder poster board creating white fill 

Setup 3 with folder poster board creating white fill 

And here’s the result

 Canon 5D Mark III, 50 mm f/1.8 lens,  1/2000 sec, ISO 200

Canon 5D Mark III, 50 mm f/1.8 lens,  1/2000 sec, ISO 200

That also looks pretty nice, but I prefer the previous one with a little more darkness on the shadow side. I think the fill light, in this case, makes the lighting all just a little too even.

So here’s my final result:

It took about 20 minutes to go from “before” to “after” thanks to Taylor Mathis.

Learn How to Photograph Food

If you haven't downloaded your copy of Photographing Food yet, just use the link below.  

This massive 294-page PDF ebook can be viewed on your computer, iPad or other device and you can have it in your hands just seconds from now.

Download Photographing Food Here


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