The Essential Elements of Better Food Photography

Food–it’s the thing to tugs at the hearts of everything that lives and breathes; especially when it’s presented in a beautiful way. Food photography is mostly done these days in a lifestyle format and with a normal human perspective to appeal to our senses. It’s all about the familiar; and for that reason a 50mm lens can do just the job that you need. Combine this with the colors and contrast that a Zeiss lens can give you right out of the camera, and you’ve got yourself an image making combination that is bound to make someone very hungry.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Zeiss 50mm f1.4 Milvus lens review product images (8 of 8)ISO 4001-200 sec at f - 4.0

 

Editor’s Note: This is a sponsored blog post from Zeiss. It’s all about food photography, but this is how you’d do it with a Zeiss lens. 

“It is often said that food is art. And so food photography must be art as well, evoking emotions through light, shadows, reflections and transparency. Far from contradicting this view, Ming Thein qualifies it: “In my opinion there is too much focus on food as art. For me, it’s rather simple: I take pictures of products for my clients, and I have to make sure the product looks good.”

Via Zeiss Lenspire

Set Design

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Zeiss 50mm f1.4 Milvus food photography (4 of 5)ISO 2001-80 sec at f - 3.5

There are a number of ways that you can do food photography; and while some of it involves just a plain white background, that isn’t what’s often the most familiar to us. So with that in mind, let’s think about what’s familiar to people:

  • Tables: people often eat at tables.
  • Work desks: many of us eat while working at a computer
  • Streets: Not to say that you should throw that beautiful hot dog down on the street but maybe there is a small paper boat that it goes into

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Zeiss 50mm f1.4 Milvus lens review photos (22 of 23)ISO 4001-100 sec at f - 2.2

This is one of the reasons why it’s often really good to shoot food photos on location, but it can be done from home with just a bit of imagination. You don’t need to buy a big table or anything really crazy either, simple boards or large pieces of wood that can be stored away can work effectively enough.

When doing this though, ensure that you choose colors that contrast with one another just enough so that the food can really stand out. Zeiss lenses can help you here just enough, but remember: they can’t put something in the scene that isn’t there.

 

Need some inspiration? Pinterest is one of the best ways to find ideas for food photography; so is Instagram and EyeEm. Instagram is a larger platform where everyone and their mother creates food images; in contrast, on EyeEm you’ll get a smaller and more curated feed of incredible food images.

Lighting

Lighting is everything in photography! It’s especially important in food photography. One of the biggest lighting sources that food photographers try to mimic is window light. The reason why is because when you’re at a restaurant, it often has very nice window light and in the kitchens where we eat there is often quite a bit of window light illuminating our food. To that end, it creates the homely, familiar experience that food photographers try to create in a scene.

As you’ve probably noticed, creating is a very big part of food photography–not just capturing.

Zeiss lenses are able to help you capture lots of details because of just how sharp they can render images. But you can make your images even sharper by using effective lighting and a couple of techniques including the use of oil, water, reflectors, etc.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Zeiss 50mm f1.4 Milvus lens review photos (12 of 23)ISO 2001-160 sec at f - 5.0

You also don’t need to shoot during the day when there is a lot of sunlight! Bouncing a flash’s output off from a window can deliver the safe effect.

What a lot of food photographers tend to do is use wide open apertures to get a very shallow depth of field to get some of the food in focus and blur out other details like an overall scene, a wooden table, etc. Other photographers try to have more of a scene in focus because that’s how the human eye sees; to reach their own really, but it all depends on the creative vision you’ve got.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Zeiss 50mm f1.4 Milvus food photography (5 of 5)ISO 16001-160 sec at f - 2.2

The Zeiss 50mm f1.4 Milvus is great for achieving either one of these creative visions. Not only is the lens contrasty and saturated enough for most food work, but it’s also very sharp no matter what the aperture is.

Textures and Details

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Zeiss 50mm f1.4 Milvus food photography (3 of 5)ISO 2001-160 sec at f - 5.0

One of the other aspects of an image that plays well into both lighting and set design has to do with the textures and details in a scene. Textures are best delivered with specular highlights that end up giving us more details simply by how they work–and the sharper the lens, the more you can render. For example, the Zeiss 50mm f1.4 Milvus lens has high sharpness, saturation and contrast. These are all aspects of an image that help certain areas pop out more to the viewer.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Zeiss 50mm f1.4 Milvus lens review photos (23 of 23)ISO 4001-100 sec at f - 2.2

In the food world, textures are very important and can sometimes completely kill a meal. Granted, textures are through the mouth feel; but through imagery you can translate textures. The difference between a rocky mountain and calm field are quite stark (pun not intended.)

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Zeiss 50mm f1.4 Milvus food photography (1 of 5)ISO 2001-160 sec at f - 2.8

Getting the textures in a scene often has to do with the food itself and figuring out what looks a specific way. For example, in the image above you can tell a lot about the mint leaves and how they’ll feel if you touched them. They won’t be anywhere as smooth as licking ice cream: instead they’ll have ridges and veins.

Careful Placement and Use of Colors

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Zeiss Milvus 50mm f2 Macro image samples (4 of 7)ISO 4001-160 sec at f - 4.0

Explain this topic and how Zeiss lenses render their own specific types of colors that are very saturated, punchy, and beautiful. Plus talk about the extra contrast your lenses deliver. With this, also talk about the point of view and what a 50mm can do. Also talk about how placing objects in the frame closest to the center area keeps down possible distortion.

As we’ve stated before, one of the strongest qualities of Zeiss lenses are the colors that they can render. Zeiss Milvus lenses have a bit more saturation and contrast than many first party lenses. But just because they can render phenomenal colors doesn’t mean that you should overwhelm your viewers with colors!

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Zeiss Milvus 50mm f2 Macro image samples extras (1 of 2)ISO 1001-160 sec at f - 3.5

If you study the work of Steve McCurry you’ll learn that lots of the images he takes emphasize the use of simplicity when it comes to colors in a scene. He often works with a main color, a color that complements that color, and a background color. The three work together very well in a scene–and it’s what many of the world’s best food photographers do. Even though food photography is all about color, there are ways to make it all easier on the viewer and direct the eyes to a specific point.

This is a big reason why much of modern food photography is about putting food on plates, directly on table surfaces, etc while also keeping the variation in colors overall down to a minimum. When it comes to editing, it also makes things simpler.

To take the most advantage of a lens like the Zeiss 50mm f1.4 Milvus and what it can do for colors, be very specific about your lighting. If you’re working with ambient/natural light, then use a reflector to put extra light back into a specific area. Also it’s a good idea to generally use lots of soft lighting.

The Mentality Behind a Manual Focus Lens

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Zeiss 50mm f1.4 Milvus food photography (2 of 5)ISO 2001-160 sec at f - 2.0

Last but not least, one of the best things that a manual focus lens like a Zeiss Milvus offering can do for you is force you to pay more critical attention to the details in the scene. With typical autofocus lenses, one often uses a focusing point and tells the camera to focus on a subject. This is all done very quickly and the photographer takes the photo and moves on. However, this isn’t really the case with manual focusing

When a photographer manually focuses a lens with a Nikon or Canon DSLR, then they need to be very careful about where they’re focusing. The photographer often composes the image very carefully, selects a spot, and moves the focusing ring back and forth until focus confirmation is given. While doing this, the photographer is very carefully considering variables such as the shutter speed, flash output, ISO, depth of field, etc. There is naturally more effort put in by the photographer and that results in them shooting less images but with a higher rate of each photo being a keeper due to harsher analysis by the photographer.

It’s a whole thought process that only lenses like the Zeiss 50mm f1.4 Milvus can deliver.