How do food photographers get those mouthwatering close-up shots of their recipes? That’s the big question I continually asked myself when I first started food blogging. No matter how close I’d get to my food, I could never achieve the photo I saw in my mind. And then a camera expert at a local store explained I needed a macro lens for food photography.
Macro lenses aren’t cheap, so I waited patiently, saved my pennies, and purchased a Tamron 90mm f/2.8 for $649.00. At first I was overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of the lens and how it frames shots. But once I figured it out, my photography catapulted to new heights.
If you’re new to the concept of a macro lens food photography, then keep reading! Because once you figure out how to utilize a macro lens in food photography, your images will take on a whole new style!
WHY USE A MACRO LENS FOR FOOD PHOTOGRAPHY?
Let’s start with what a macro lens is. In technical terms, according to B&H Photo’s Macro Lens Buying Guide, “The macro lens is an optic that is designed to have a very short minimum focus distance to facilitate close-up photographs.” Simply speaking, a macro lens takes close-up shots of images far away. But it serves other purposes, too. For example, a macro lens captures close-up shots that are crisp, focused, and, true-to-size. Let me break those elements down further:
- Close-up shots from a distance. Imagine trying to take a picture of a lion. You wouldn’t want to get super-close to capture a shot. Instead, you’d use a telephoto lens that captures a close-up shot while you stand far away. In food photography, you wouldn’t need distance from a dangerous bowl of soup. But you might want to capture a close-up shot that shows texture, consistency, or individual ingredients. A macro lens will do that for you.
- Close-up crisp images. So why can’t you use a standard lens and just get right up next to your food for close-up shots? The closer you get to your subject, the harder it is for most standard lenses to maintain a strong focal point. A macro lens will let you zero in on your subject without losing the crisp focal point you desire. Additionally, as the standard lens struggles to find the focal point, the lighting may be thrown off, too.
- 1:1 sizing. Not all macro lenses are the same. However, if you use a 1:1 macro lens, then the in-focus portion of the image in the frame will be true-to-real-life size. In-focus portions of images in standard lenses are sized smaller than what they are in real life. Think about your family photos. The people in the images are smaller than they are in real life. To learn more about magnification, read Erez Marom’s Macro photography: Understanding magnification on Digital Photography Review.
In food photography, this creates stylistic differences that make it difficult to capture an image in which the food fills the frame and remains true-to-size.
So a macro lens helps pragmatically (let’s take a picture of a wild animal without getting too close). And it helps stylistically (I want crisp, detailed, and true-to-size focused images).
Keep reading if you’d like to learn more about the stylistic benefits of a macro lens for food photography.
WHAT ARE THE STYLISTIC BENEFITS OF USING A MACRO LENS FOR FOOD PHOTOGRAPHY?
In addition to creating close-up, 1:1 images, a macro lens achieves these benefits without sacrificing the quality of other camera settings. For example, a macro lens will capture close-up shots without sacrificing lighting quality or focal options. If you want bright images, then the shutter speed and ISO settings in a macro lens will provide that.
And if you want to control how much of the image is in focus, then the aperture settings in a macro lens will achieve that, too. More specifically, not only can you zero in on one chocolate chip in a cookie, but you can also determine how much of the background remains in focus. The widest aperture setting on my Tamron lens is f/2.8. That’s pretty wide, offering a blurred, airy background, if that’s what I want. By the same token, if I want a background that’s still in focus, the narrowest aperture setting on my lens of f/32 will provide that, too.
So, with all these benefits, you might wonder if there are any drawbacks to using a macro lens for food photography. And while I wouldn’t say there are serious drawbacks, I will say there is a learning curve. I will also say that, no, I don’t use a macro lens for every shot I take.
Keep reading to learn why!
ARE THERE DRAWBACKS TO USING A MACRO LENS?
Macro lens are fabulous for food photography. But there is a learning curve. Allow me to elaborate:
- The visual perception is different. It threw me off to see the food so close-up in my frame no matter where I stood. This is amplified by the fact that my photography studio is also my home office. Once the equipment and food layout are set up, space is hard to come by, and sometimes I need room to angle the lens just how I want it.
- Macro lenses are heavy. I like to free-style my shots without a tripod, but macro lenses are heavy and hard to hold without support. I often free-style my shots first, and if they’re blurry or I don’t get the angle I want, then I’ll set up the tripod and take pictures that way.
- The subjects in the frame are too close. When the subject is too close, I select a different angle, even placing the food on the floor and raising the tripod higher to create more distance. Or I’ll move my food layout farther away than usual to get the correct focal point.
- I want a wider aperture. My Tamron lens goes to f/2.8, which, as I wrote earlier, is pretty wide. But if I want an even wider aperture, for example f/1.8, I’ll need a different lens.
If you have additional questions about food photography, then you might also find the following articles helpful!
- Natural Light Food Photography Equipment
- How to Use Manual Mode Settings on a Camera
- The One Food Photography Lighting Tip I Wish I Had Known Sooner