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Thread: Prime lens for food photography- Advice please

  1. #1
    Hazeb1's Avatar
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    Prime lens for food photography- Advice please

    My son being a chef, is working on starting a resturant. In trying to help him put together his menu, I've been doing quite a bit of food photography and I actually really like it. Currently shooting with a Nikon D5100, So far, I've been getting pretty decent results with the 18-55 kit lens, but would like to take it to the next level. Currently I'm looking for a versatile/fast prime lens. I realize I'll be doing some macro work in this effort, so ATM I'm torn between buying the inexpensive Nikkor 50mm f/1.8G (and set of good extension tubes) or the Nikkor 60mm micro f/2.8 (over 2x the price). Both lenses have been reviewed very well as being very sharp and versatile. I'm wondering if you fine folks can give me some advice that might help me break the deadlock.

    -Is there much advanatge to the dedicated macro lens over using extension tubes?
    -Should I consider other options?

    Any advice would be appreciated ;-)

    Cheers.
    Warren

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    Re: Prime lens for food photography- Advice please

    Hi Warren,

    The first thing that springs to mind is "why are you thinking prime lens"?

    Also, what will the images be used for (and in what form)?

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    Re: Prime lens for food photography- Advice please

    Hi Colin,

    I've been shooting using natural light, which seems to make the food look better. I would like to be able to use the extra couple of stops for better DOF and low light shots. With my kit lens, I need to crank up the ISO or use a fill light (which I can't always do) to get the exposure settings I want. (I shoot full manual and sometimes can't use a tripod)
    I've been intersted in the primes because, my understanding is, that they should be sharper than the zoom overall and much better in low light. Also, I've found that the majority of my food shots are right around 50mm +/- 10mm.

    The various images will be used for full color printed menus, adverts, signage and web.

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    Re: Prime lens for food photography- Advice please

    Hi Warren,

    Thanks for that.

    - The couple of "extra stops" makes DoF "worse". If trying to get more of the image in focus then you need to be stopping down (usually in the F16 region). If (for some reason) you're wanting a narrow DoF then yes - wide apertures are the way to go.

    - In "real-world" photographs, a quality prime isn't any sharper than a quality zoom; both are more than adequate. A correct sharpening workflow will have 10x the effect on the final image compared to the minuscule difference in sharpness between a prime & a zoom.

    - Tripod is mandatory (there's always a way!)

    - If natural light is "making the food look better" then it's probably due to the colour temperature and the softness. If you have any flash equipment then you might like to look at ways of diffusing it more. Most would use an umbrella

    - I wouldn't say that primes are "better in low light" per se ... they may well have much wider apertures that lets more light in (and thus lets you have a higher shutterspeed for a given ISO), but the trade off is lack of DoF.

    - Cranking up the ISO is usually a good first step if you're between a rock and a hard-place. So long as you don't under-expose the shot or crop it excessively then noise won't be a problem (and regardless, diners want to see the food, not evaluate photos).

    Off memory, Joe Glyda has some great instructional videos on food photography at www.kelbytraining.com

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    Re: Prime lens for food photography- Advice please

    Warren, as for the difficulty of using a tripod I suggest to consider a tabletop one.

    If you want to get a new lens for maximum sharpness and resolution bear in mind extension tubes operate the lens outside the focusing range it was designed to, so to degrade resolution and sharpness, through how much and whether it's acceptable should be evaluated for each lens. Also, it's worth noting that sharpening algorithms merely increases our perception of the image but adds no additional information. Details not imaged by a lens in some way can't be recovered by any algorithm. The ability of an optical system to image details is resolution and it's related but different to the perceptive parameter sharpness.

    As an illustration to the difference of sharpness and resolution let's consider the case of the initial images from the Hubble Space Telescope. The main mirror was ground to an incorrect shape so the images were blurred in a known and well behaved way, enabling the use of deconvolution (I.e: deblurring) algorithms to make visible the detail resolved by the telescope. The HST had good resolution back then and of course still does, but it was unsharp; subsequently corrective optics were added, making it sharp too.

    Good luck!.

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    Hazeb1's Avatar
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    Re: Prime lens for food photography- Advice please

    Colin, Mario,

    Thanks, lots of "food for thought" , pardon the pun

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    Re: Prime lens for food photography- Advice please

    Quote Originally Posted by Photon Hacker View Post
    Also, it's worth noting that sharpening algorithms merely increases our perception of the image but adds no additional information. Details not imaged by a lens in some way can't be recovered by any algorithm. The ability of an optical system to image details is resolution and it's related but different to the perceptive parameter sharpness.
    Quite right of course, but these days most of the information captured isn't used (especially in the context of photos used for web & brochures where a good 95% of it is either sampled out or can't be resolved by the human eye) - so "the perception" becomes "the reality" in the eyes of the observer.

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    Re: Prime lens for food photography- Advice please

    Quote Originally Posted by Hazeb1 View Post
    Colin, Mario,

    Thanks, lots of "food for thought" , pardon the pun
    You're welcome Warren -- and BTW - I never met a carbohydrate that I didn't like!

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    Re: Prime lens for food photography- Advice please

    -Is there much advanatge to the dedicated macro lens over using extension tubes?
    If someone were to ask my opinion, I would say absolutely go to your local camera shop and check out some Kenko extension tubes. I just got a set a couple of weeks ago and I am very impressed. You could probably bring your camera to a shop and they should be able to let you test them out right then and there. You will be amazed at how close you can get. A good macro lens is probably going to set you back 3-4 times the cost of the extension tubes.

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    Re: Prime lens for food photography- Advice please

    Quote Originally Posted by Hazeb1 View Post
    My son being a chef, is working on starting a resturant. In trying to help him put together his menu, I've been doing quite a bit of food photography and I actually really like it. Currently shooting with a Nikon D5100, So far, I've been getting pretty decent results with the 18-55 kit lens, but would like to take it to the next level. . . I've been shooting using natural light . . . The various images will be used for full color printed menus, adverts, signage and web.


    Should I consider other options?
    Yes, you should very seriously consider another option.
    Canon TS-E 45 F/2.8

    WW

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    Re: Prime lens for food photography- Advice please

    Quote Originally Posted by William W View Post
    Yes, you should very seriously consider another option.
    Canon TS-E 45/2.8

    WW
    Bill - I'm not quite sure why a Nikon shooter would want to buy a Canon lens...

    Warren - That being said, your current 18-55mm kit lens should be adequate for the type of photography you are trying to do. It gives a reasonable wide angle to a short telephoto range on the D5100.

    I assume you are looking at the overall food arrangement, rather than shooting the individual grains of rice (i.e. true macro work). The depth of field in macro work is very shallow, and probably not what you are looking for in the type of photography you are doing.

    If anything, I would have thought that a longer lens (I'm thinking something like the Nikon f/4 - 5.6 55-200mm, if you are looking at the lower cost range lens) , to flatten out the perspective might be more what is required, rather than a macro. It would be a good companion to your 18-55mm lens (I own both of these lenses, by the way) You will still have to stop down, but if you are shooting using a tripod, shutter speed should not be much of a concern. You might want to consider investing in a cable release for your camera if you go that route.

    Most food photography tend to be more like studio shot, where proper lighting to enhances the appearance of the food arrangement. If you are using natural lighting, you might want to look at using a diffuser if the light is at all harsh and reflector; i.e. a piece of white board that sits just outside of what photographing to provide more even illimination and something to reduce shadows. Shooting in the early morning or late afternoon is going to give you some interesting natural lighting, if you can find the right indoor location.

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    Re: Prime lens for food photography- Advice please

    I watched a couple of days of the taping of this presentation http://www.creativelive.com/courses/...-de-los-santos and Penny used a number of different lenses. Her go-to lens was the 24-70. During those days I watched there was far more time and effort put into the arrangement of the food than there was to the actual photography. She even had her own "food stylist" set up and place every shot. Penny spent a good deal of the time managing the ever so critical lighting contribution. She is mostly known for her on-location type of food photography but also does studio work as well. Take a look at her and other food photographers results and see if there is a style you like. Looking through their websites or blogs will give you lots to think about. YouTube also has a great many videos on the subject as well.

    http://www.pennydelossantos.com/

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    Re: Prime lens for food photography- Advice please

    If the "natual light" makes the food look better, that is a serediptious happening. Most often, food looks better when you light it or even when you just add suplemental lighting. Of course, that can be a two edged sword and if you don't know what you are doing, you can screw up the image. But that is true in any photography and is not specific to food illustration.

    As far as a macro lens, IMO, that is not at all necessary for 99% of food photography. After all, how often will your food subject's size be smaller than 14.8 x 22.2mm (that is the area covered by a 1.6x format at 1:1 image ratio)? I don't really think that you need extension tubes either for the same reason that you don't need the macro lens.

    Most lenses (even your kit lens) will work for food photography if you use a tripod and shoot around f/11 or so.

    A lot of food photography I have viewed in magazines recently (which is a dangerous thing for me to do because it invariably leads to a trip to the Fridge) shows the food in the environmental context - either the restaurant or home. This incorporates a whole new set of problems and is akin to architectural or still life photography.

    As I see it, there are two problems that you face in photographing food.

    The first problem is not just a problem which rears it's ugly head when shooting food. Often the distortion makes the subjects; such as plates and or table look awkward with a keystone effect. Using a longer lens and being judicous in your camera angle can reduce this distortion to an aceptable limit. You can also adjust perspective when post processing in Photoshop or Elements. Finally, distortion can be reduced significantly by utilizing one of the Canon TSE lenses. However these lenses are fairly expensive and the learning curve when using them can be quite steep.

    Secondly, many foods do not photograph well if prepared for eating. Doing magical things like faking the sear marks on steaks with liquid shoe polish, using canned shaving cream in lieu of whipped cream and filling the cup with a cola beverage instead of coffee will result in better imagery but, will spoil the food and make it inedible.

    Here are some links for food photography information.

    O’Reilly Digital Media
    http://www.oreillynet.com/pub/a/orei...od_photos.html

    Silverace Photogrnic Food Photography
    http://www.silverace.com/photogenic/...otography.html

    Making Food Look Good
    http://www.media-awareness.ca/englis...nderForPrint=1

    Professional Photography 101
    http://www.professionalphotography10...graphFood.html

    Michael Ray – Food Photographer
    http://www.foodportfolio.com/

    Often DOF is a significant problem when shooting foods. Focus stacking is one way to get around this problem...

    ONE FINAL TIP.... The slightest disfigurement on a food subject, such as a bruise on fruit will be very noticable in the image. Additionally the slightest element marring a clean plate (such as a spot of grease or gravy) or a fingerprint smudge on a crystal glass will also be readily noticable.
    Last edited by rpcrowe; 17th May 2012 at 03:00 PM.

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    Re: Prime lens for food photography- Advice please

    Thanks Guys! Lots of great input.

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    Re: Prime lens for food photography- Advice please

    Quote Originally Posted by GrumpyDiver View Post
    Bill - I'm not quite sure why a Nikon shooter would want to buy a Canon lens...
    It was a genuine suggestion: the OP wrote "would like to take it to the next level"

    The TS-E 45 is arguably the best and most flexible "Food Lens".

    The OP could consider buying a camera to go with that lens - a second hand 5D or 5DMkII would be ideal.


    WW

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    Re: Prime lens for food photography- Advice please

    Quote Originally Posted by William W View Post
    It was a genuine suggestion: the OP wrote "would like to take it to the next level"

    The TS-E 45 is arguably the best and most flexible "Food Lens".

    The OP could consider buying a camera to go with that lens - a second hand 5D or 5DMkII would be ideal.


    WW

    I suspect that a Nikon shooter would go for the Nikkor PC-E f/2.8 45mm instead and go for a second hand D3 or D800. There is always the fabulous Schneider-Kreuznach PC-TS 2.8/50MM Super-Angulon for double the money of the Nikon (or Canon) lens. But why stop there; a 4x5 view camera would be better than any DSLR...

    All of which would be overkill.

    A D5100 and a 18-55mm kit is a great place to start. Working with what you have and working with a tripod, and learning how to light is the right place to start

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    Re: Prime lens for food photography- Advice please

    Quote Originally Posted by GrumpyDiver View Post
    I suspect that a Nikon shooter would go for the Nikkor PC-E f/2.8 45mm instead and go for a second hand D3 or D800.
    I agree that would be a sensible idea to consider the Nikon Lens:
    But IMO the TS-E 45 is a better lens and slightly easier to use: I had Nikon gear previously.

    The OP has not revealed any large investment in Nikon Gear and with that in mind I maintain that the superior Canon TS-E Lens and for example, a second hand 5D is a reasonable suggestion which answers the specific question the OP has asked.


    Quote Originally Posted by GrumpyDiver View Post
    I suspect that a Nikon shooter would go for the Nikkor PC-E f/2.8 45mm instead and go for a second hand D3 or D800. There is always the fabulous Schneider-Kreuznach PC-TS 2.8/50MM Super-Angulon for double the money of the Nikon (or Canon) lens. But why stop there; a 4x5 view camera would be better than any DSLR... All of which would be overkill.
    I disagree that a TS-E (or PC-E lens) is over kill.

    The extension of the argument to the extreme by suggesting a Scheinder Lens or View Cameras does not change the fact that a TS-E or (or PC-E lens) is a worthwhile consideration.

    The OP already has a kit lens and wants to take it to the next level: that is the question which has been asked.

    Using Macro Lenses and or Extension Tubes will not take Food Photography to “the next level” – in many ways it could be more restrictive – the shallower DoF possible stopped down metering and such like.

    And although the OP states:
    “I realize I'll be doing some macro work in this effort”

    I cannot envisage how that statement can be true.

    Having had a Studio which did a fair proportion of “Food Photography” over a period of about twelve years for Brochures, Menus, Restaurant and Vineyard / Cellar Door Display Prints – I never once shot any Macro Work for those Clients: I did however very often use a Tilt / Shift
    Lens on 135 Format cameras.

    A Second Hand Canon (or Nikon) TS-E (or PC-E) would not be that expensive.


    Quote Originally Posted by GrumpyDiver View Post
    A D5100 and a 18-55mm kit is a great place to start. Working
    with what you have and working with a tripod, and learning how to light is the right place to start
    Yes that’s the point!
    The OP HAS ALREADY started there.

    And has come here and asked for suggestions to . . . “take it to the next level”

    And note also the OP specifically asked:

    "Should I consider other options?"

    Which a careful re-read of Post #10 will, reveal is exactly what I specifically answered.


    I agree that learning to use light well is important.


    WW
    Last edited by William W; 19th May 2012 at 03:43 AM.

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    Re: Prime lens for food photography- Advice please

    Thank folks for ALL the advice! (including switching from Nikon to Canon gear )

    I borrowed a friend;s Nikkor 35mm 1.8 prime to play around a bit. I tend to think the results aren't that much different from the kit lense at the same focal length. The results may not be "top commercial quality", but I think for my current project, I should do OK with my existing gear. As I've mentioned before, this niche of photography seems to have struck a chord with me, and I definitely intend to develop my skills to obtain "top commercial quality". (and get the top quality gear)

    This effort has also gotten my son intrested in photography. (who would make a better food photographer than a chef?...) Here is an example of the results. Let me know what you think.


    Unfortunately only one of the three photos would upload.

    I'll try again later....

    1st photo (Banana tapioca)
    EXIF:
    ExposureTime - 1/15 seconds
    FNumber - 4.0
    ISOSpeedRatings - 400
    MeteringMode - Spot
    LightSource - Auto
    FocalLength - 35.00 mm
    ExposureMode - Manual
    White Balance - Auto

    2nd photo (saki rice sesame shrimp)
    EXIF:
    ExposureTime - 1/1500 seconds
    FNumber - 5.6
    ISOSpeedRatings - 400
    MeteringMode - Spot
    LightSource - Auto
    FocalLength - 35.00 mm
    ExposureMode - Manual
    White Balance - Auto

    3rd photo (pork chop)- kit lens
    EXIF:
    ExposureTime - 1/750 seconds
    FNumber - 5.6
    ISOSpeedRatings - 400
    MeteringMode - Spot
    LightSource - Auto
    FocalLength - 45.00 mm
    ExposureMode - Manual
    White Balance - Auto
    Attached Images Attached Images
    Last edited by Hazeb1; 20th May 2012 at 03:50 AM.

  19. #19
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    Re: Prime lens for food photography- Advice please

    You say you have a kit lens . use it to figure out what mm lens you need . BUT remember that macro lenses are for close focusing and have very small DOF .
    Take a cookie , turn a plate upside down and put cookie on it . shoot it at like 18 mm and at 50 mm - you will see the difference in depth of field .
    Really good advice is to rent any lens costing over 300 1st .
    For DOF , shoot at f 5.6 or f 8 . Watch out for shadows . If plate is white , put on a colored napkin or dark table - to many whites make food look bland .

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    Re: Prime lens for food photography- Advice please

    Mmmm..........mouthwatering. These look delicious. Apart from photography, I also do a bit of cooking and would like to try some of these, especially that shrimp rice. How much will you be charging for these dishes?

    Ok, the photos look a bit over-exposed to me. Did you check the exposure before pressing the shutter button? I'm not an expert, but would have tried the following:

    ISO: 100 (this is the base ISO of my Canon 550D and this gives the best IQ) Increasing ISO is always my last option and since there is plenty of light, I would not touch it.

    Aperture: F/8 or above to increase the DoF. See the tapioca dish: only the green leaves and the banana pieces are in focus, rest everything looks totally out of focus.

    Shutter speed: Adjust by looking at the EV slider (before pressing the shutter button) and check the histogram (after pressing the shutter button). Alternatively, you can set Av (Aperture priority mode) to set the shutter speed automatically.

    As said earlier, I'm just a beginner and trying to get my exposure correct all the time. There are many experts in this forum who will definitely help you with their suggestions regarding lighting / composition / POV etc.

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