When asked what camera I use to shoot my food photos, I always end up redirecting the conversation towards lenses instead, as I think they’re the single biggest factor when it comes to determining photo quality. As a food photographer, my go-to lens is the Sigma 35mm F1.4 Art; it’s my favorite so far for sharpness and versatility. In terms of build, the lens feels solid and durable in my hands, but not distractingly heavy. Many food photographers advocate 50mm lenses, which works if you have a tripod or a larger space, but I’ve found the 35mm more useful for my preferred style— shooting hand-held in natural light. Especially for table spreads and flatlays/overhead shots, having a wider angle ensures I don’t have to shoot from precarious heights, since I’m not a very tall person (a step-stool next to the table is sufficient with a 35mm.)
Regarding depth of field, I like shooting with a wide aperture/low f-stop, as it focuses the viewer’s attention on the subject (the food) and provides a nice creamy background blur. I shoot in manual mode, typically in f/2-4, but sometimes I go down lower (see lentil soup photo), where only one bowl needs to be in focus, or to draw attention to one item out of the spread (see Chinese sticky rice cakes).
I also use a wider aperture for more macro-like shots that showcase the texture of the food, like with this pasta dish.
Below is the lighting setup that I used for this socca flatbread. The background underneath the wooden cutting board is the reverse side of metal baking sheet, which has a nice metallic/stoneware look. The source of natural light is the window. For positioning the food, I went with backlighting, which creates dramatic shadows and imbues the food with an almost glowing quality.
Here’s another setup, this time for muffins. I used lightweight surface boards from Replica Surfaces for the backdrop/surface. For three-dimensional images featuring items with more height, side lighting is the most effective.
Generally, I’ve found the colors from the Sigma 35mm F1.4 lens to be rich and accurate. They do tend towards the cooler side in temperature, but this is easily adjustable in editing, especially if you shoot in RAW. Since I always shoot under-exposed, the RAW format also keeps all the data from the image, and offers the flexibility to adjust white balance, exposure, blacks, fill light, contrast, etc. in Lightroom later, as opposed to having an image that’s bright from the start. For the moodier food photography I do, the Sigma 35mm F1.4 lens is a wonderful piece of gear that gives me the freedom to shoot effectively in low light.
About the Author
Hannah Che is the photographer and recipe developer behind hannahchia.com, a vegan food blog. She is based in Portland, Oregon.