Beginning food photographers are often curious what other foodies are using for food photography equipment. I can admit scouring the internet in search of ‘the best tripod for shooting food’ or ‘what lens is best for food photography’. In my opinion, it isn’t the gear that creates your amazing image, it’s the foodie behind the camera, but that doesn’t mean some good gear can’t hurt, right!
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Food Photography Equipment
No.01A dSLR (any one, seriously)
It’s common for new photographers to get caught up into which is the best camera maker. The more important question should be, which brand makes the best camera for you. Because we are all different, it’s really important to get the camera in your hands before you invest in one. I have very strong opinions on why you should buy your body separate from the camera ‘kit’ lens & you can read more about that in this post, Looking to Buy a dSLR?. I started with a Nikon & that’s where I’ve stayed. I think another important thing to consider is how you’ll be using your camera. If you are serious about learning manual mode (& you should be) make sure that all your setting buttons are easy to access outside of your camera. My very first dSLR had one setting that could only be accessed from the internal menu, which made adjusting my settings a bit of a pain & caused me to upgrade much sooner than I planned. I also wouldn’t suggest dropping thousands to have the camera ‘all the pros use’. In my opinion, it’s better to gradually grow into your camera than end up with a beast that intimidates you. I currently shoot with a Nikon d800.
No.02A Good Lens (or Two)
Again, it’s very hard to recommend ‘the best food photography lens’ because it all depends on what you primarily shoot, your style & your budget. For a very long time I shot with a prime lens only, my Nikon 35mm f/1.8. I thought it was the bee’s knees & nothing could be better. I’d hear of foodies shooting with zoom lenses & think, ugh, who could do that!? Until I upgraded to a new camera & didn’t want to use my crop sensor prime lens on my full frame camera. By default, I reluctantly put my zoom lens on my camera & something magical happened! I fell in love. Now I shoot almost exclusively with my Tamron 28-74 f/2.8.
While some people really love to get that f1.4 aperture on their prime lenses, I’m not as sure if it’s worth the cash. When shooting food, you will rarely (if ever) shoot wide open. I keep my aperture somewhere around f/3.2 & rarely need to shoot any more open that that.
No.03A Good Tripod
You may disagree with me on this one, but a good tripod is where I’m gonna tell you to spend a little more money. If you’re prone to sticker shock, maybe wait to look up prices of tripods right now! After years of shooting with a cheap, $30 tripod (that I eventually stopped using because it was seriously, such a pain & not worth the headache). I almost passed out when I started researching a new tripod. If you’re still having trouble coming to terms with the price tag of a new tripod, just consider this: you are expecting this tripod to be in charge of holding up (& not falling over or crashing into the ground) your thousands of dollars worth of camera & lens, right? So maybe a couple hundred bucks isn’t such a big deal after all? Personally, I use a Manfrotto tripod & love it.
The big things to consider when investing in your tripod are first, how much gear do you need it to hold up? Take into account the weight of your camera, lens & anything else you might need to attach, like a tripod arm & counter balance (more on that next!). Now add up all the weight of those items & make sure your tripod will be able to handle your weight load. Secondly, the weight of the actual tripod alone. I’m assuming you won’t be lugging this thing up Mt Kilimanjaro, right? In that case, it shouldn’t bother you if it’s a little heavier than other tripods. The minimum height is something you should also consider. Do you want to place the tripod directly on a table top & shoot? You’d want one that will have a smaller minimum height. In my case, I sacrificed minimum height for a heavier load capacity but that’s something you’ll need to consider for your shooting. And probably the most important factor is what kind of head your tripod has. A quick release ball head tripod means you’ll be able to swing & swivel your camera (within reason) to your hearts content. You’ll find yourself less frustrated than if you were using a pan head.
Probably my most favorite ‘toy’ for shooting is my tripod arm. If you love arial shots but don’t love bending over at the waist or precariously positioning your feet on different pieces of furniture then you’ll also love a tripod arm. Simple to attach to your tripod mount, it allows for arial shots at any height. Make sure you find an appropriate counterweight as well to keep your tripod for tipping.
A wireless remote can be such a handy thing for shooting on a tripod. It allows you to essentially be hands free from your shot. You can stage your frame & never worry about if you may move your tripod as you’re hitting the shutter button.
Shooting while tethered to a cable can be really beneficial. I personally don’t do it but I know a lot of people who prefer it. One reason is that it puts your images straight to your laptop or computer. You can see the images on a screen as opposed to in your viewfinder, you’re not dealing with any cards & your images are automatically backed up onto your computer. If tethered shooting is something you’re hoping to do at any point you should make sure your camera & editing software is compatible with doing so.
I do all my editing in Lightroom 5. I personally think most editing systems can be useful, some more beneficial than others. The biggest things you’ll want to be editing when shooting food will be fixing your horizons, white balance (if you haven’t nailed it in camera) & exposure. It’s also nice to able to digitally remove a crumb or two if something is out of place in your frame.