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Food Photography: My Equipment

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Food Photography Equipment from handletheheat.com

I often get questions about my food photography, what equipment, lighting, props, software I use and how I learned it all. While I am FAR from a professional photographer or even a great food photographer, there’s no doubt my food photography has vastly improved since I started blogging in 2009. See the image below to compare some chocolate themed recipe photos over the years. Some photos I look back on and cringe because they’re so terrible, but at least they prove my progress. Food photography isn’t something that has come naturally to me, it’s something I’ve had to read about and practice and I’ve learned a lot along the way.

Food photography over the years from handletheheat.com

I thought it might be fun to start writing food photography posts every now and then to help anyone out who is just starting to photograph food. Even if you aren’t a beginner, I always find it useful and inspiring to see how other people photograph food. Everyone has their own way, style, and setup and while no one way is the right way, hopefully this post is helpful to you!

Canon Rebel T4i for photos and videos

I purchased this camera in January of 2013 to replace my Canon Rebel XSi, which I had previously used since 2010. I upgraded to a newer model of the Rebel because I wanted to start incorporating videos onto Handle the Heat and wanted to use a DSLR to do it but didn’t have the money to fully upgrade to a full body camera.

What’s the difference between a crop sensor and a full frame sensor SLR cameras?
To answer this question briefly, full frame sensors are cameras like the Canon 6D, Canon 5D Mark III or the Nikon D600 or Nikon D800/e. In addition to being significantly more expensive and physically larger, these cameras have larger sensors that are the size of 35mm film. Crop sensors can have a crop factor of 1.3x or 1.6x, meaning they have a smaller angle of view. Generally, full frame sensors perform better in low-light conditions, can accomplish shallow depth of field, and have more bells and whistles overall. Full frame sensors require full frame lenses, which can generally be used on crop sensor cameras but crop sensor lenses cannot be used on full sensors. These full frame lenses are also larger and can be more difficult to find, adding to the amplified cost of using a full frame sensor. Here is a helpful article detailing the differences with photo comparisons.

The T4i has video capabilities and when I purchased it I was excited about the new-to-Canon featured called “continuous autofocus” which is supposed to autofocus while filming video. I thought this would be great for my use, since I film a lot of my videos single handedly. I’m sad to say this feature totally blows. The camera won’t. stop. focusing. It’s completely distracting visually and audible with all my favorite video lens and I’ve never used this function. I’m considering purchasing a quiet pancake lens to try to take advantage of this feature again. Beyond that the camera does a great job with my lenses in capturing food photography, recipe videos, and the occasional portrait.

My Lenses:

A quick note about all those numbers attached to the names of SLR lenses if you’re new to all this. The number in front of the mm, you would say it “50 millimeters” for example, is the focal length, or how far the camera will zoom. If it’s just one number it’s a fixed length, meaning it can’t zoom in or out. The other number, for example f/3.5-5.6, is the aperture of the lens. The lower the number the more of a background blur you’ll get in your photos. The numbers provided are simply the lowest the aperture can be set to at certain focal lengths. It sounds confusing but once you continue to read about these numbers, then mess around with lenses and see the numbers’ effect on your photos it all comes together.

Canon 50mm f/1.8 lens

This was the first lens I purchased for my first DSLR camera and I paid $100. Super cheap, you can’t get a better deal than that. This is a small fixed lens that gets nice and close up on delicious looking food while allowing for a beautiful shallow depth of field, or when the background is nice and blurred while a small part of subject is in sharp focus. This is hands-down the most popular lens among food bloggers for food photography because it is super flattering to food, easy to use, and a superb value. Yes, it is plastic but as long as you’re careful, it should last you years. Mine’s lasted 4 years.

Canon 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 lens

This is the kit lens that came with my T4i. When I bought my first DSLR, I bought it body-only because I knew I just wanted to save money and buy that prized 50mm lens. However, the difference between buying the T4i body only or with this kit lens was literally a $1 difference. I’m not about to say no to a $1 lens. I’m so glad I didn’t because I use this lens ALL the time. It is the lens I use when I film videos and especially when I shoot step-by-step photos in my kitchen because unlike the 50mm, it doesn’t have a fixed length and the low number 18 number in the focal length allows me to fit more into my shots without having to be too far away. This is perfect in my kitchen because I don’t have much space to back away from my subject.

Canon 55-250mm f/4.0-5.6 lens

This is a telephoto lens, and was a Christmas present from Jared in 2012 (lucky me!!). This lens zooms in way more than any of my other lenses and because of the focal length, you have to be far away from your subject to fit it into the photo, making it great for outdoor portraits or scenery shots but almost impossible for kitchen shots. I have taken some great images of food with this lens, but I have to stand almost four feet away, so I don’t use this one as much for food.

Camera lens comparison
Take a look at the series of images below. I took them all with my camera on a tripod in the same exact spot in my house, facing my kitchen, so you could get a visual for what those numbers in the lens name actually mean. Ignore our ugly oak cabinets. I start with the 18-55mm lens at 18mm, the farthest away from the subject, then take another shot at 55mm, the closest to the subject this lens can go. As you can see, this lens allows me to get a LOT in one picture without having to step back too far. The third image was taken with my 50mm fixed lens and as you can see, the middle images in this comparison are all almost identical. This is because at around 50mm, all three of my lenses overlap in a sense. They are all capable of shooting at this focal length, though not in the same exact way. The last shot was taken with my 55-250mm lens at 250mm, the closest any of my lenses can get. That focal length is great for scenery and other outdoor shots, but is much harder to work with indoors.
Camera Lens Comparison Guide

Slik tripod
I started out with a super cheapie tripod that I picked up from Target out of convenience and budget restrictions when I bought my first DSLR. It was fragile and entirely plastic but simultaneously stiff to use, it was difficult to get that tripod to conform to the angle I needed to get the shot. I bought this Slik tripod with panhead from Amazon in the summer of 2012 and have loved it ever since. It’s sturdy and easy to use with a wide range of heights. Although I suffered a bit of sticker shock after buying this tripod, it’s actually fairly affordable in comparison to other tripods with more features. I do not have very steady hands so a tripod is a must for me, however there are many food bloggers I know who do not regularly use tripods.

I hope you enjoyed reading about my equipment! I’m planning on doing more food photography posts so let me know what you’d like to see. Are there any questions you’d like me to answer? Any specific photography things you’d like me to discuss? Let me know!

Helpful equipment posts:
What Lens Should I Choose from Kevin & Amanda
Guide to Food Photography Gear

Did you find this interesting?

If so, you’ll probably love the new project I’m working on called Food Blog Academy. Feel free to signup just below to receive more blogging articles, tips, tricks, and tutorials straight to your inbox. If you want to go a step further and enroll to receive exclusive training on how to transform your blog into your dream job, be sure to check it out here. Happy blogging!



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16 Responses to “Food Photography: My Equipment”

  1. #
    Leah — January 12, 2014 at 6:09 am

    I am so excited you’re doing this! Can you show us your setup – like how you have your food positioned next to your light source? Also, tips on food styling, and what aperture do you like to shoot food shots? Can’t wait to learn from you, your photos are gorgeous. Thanks!

    • #
      Tessa — January 12, 2014 at 8:51 am

      Thank you!! Yes absolutely, I think my setup will be my next post, along with breakdowns of my images 🙂

  2. #
    Paul Scivetti — January 12, 2014 at 8:03 am

    Hey, Tessa – great post – thanks. If you’re looking for more subjects for food photography posts, your insight into staging food for a shoot, direct/indirect lighting, etc, would be most interesting.

    • #
      Tessa — January 12, 2014 at 8:51 am

      Thank you! I definitely plan on posting something about lighting. Stay tuned!

  3. #
    Edward Antrobus - If You Can Read, You Can Cook — January 12, 2014 at 5:38 pm

    Your 2009 photo is around the quality of styling that I’m just starting to achieve in my third year of food blogging.
    Here is my question. My father has an old 35mm Ricoh that uses the Pentax k-mount. If I picked up a new Pentax DSLR, I could use his old lenses, The only problem is that the newer cameras can’t read the exposure data from the old lenses. For somebody just starting out, do you think that is a major issue to justify the cost of buying lenses?

    • #
      Tessa — January 15, 2014 at 8:56 am

      I have no experience with old lenses or even any Pentax cameras. I would say to try out the old lenses before investing in new ones first! Many camera shops allow you to rent lenses too so you could give the new ones a test drive before buying.

  4. #
    Jean Michelon — January 12, 2014 at 6:30 pm

    Hello from Brazil 🙂
    Although the post is about photography i wonder if you could send the link with the cookie recipe that appears in the “2009” photo.
    Thank You !

  5. #
    Sharon — January 12, 2014 at 9:15 pm

    Thanks, Tessa,

    I just bought a Nikon, as my little Kodak digital camera has such a slow shutter speed that I missed all the cute expressions on my grands’ faces and many of the pics were blurred with their movements. It’s intimidating, and I look forward to your tutorials.
    Thanks for the info on the I Slik tripods. I’ll return a lightweight tripod that I rec’d for Christmas, which is still in the box to invest in a better model.

  6. #
    Dana — January 13, 2014 at 6:01 pm

    I’d also be interested in your lighting set-up, as well as the lenses and settings you use for particular photos. My house is south facing, so I try to shoot my pictures in the afternoon for best natural light, but it causes a lot of shadows as well. I have a light tent table that I use occasionally and haven’t really mastered yet…do you use anything like that?

  7. #
    Dan from Platter Talk — January 28, 2014 at 9:34 pm

    Nicely covered, Tessa!

  8. #
    Jodee Weiland — January 31, 2014 at 2:14 pm

    Another great post on photography…very useful. I need all the inofrmation I can get!

  9. #
    Dearna — April 22, 2014 at 9:38 pm

    Great post! I am a novice when it comes to photography too and learning along the way. Question – I am thinking about investing in a tripod but I have no idea what to look for – any suggestions as to basic features I would need for food photography only? I shoot with a Canon 100. Thanks!

  10. #
    mary.eri — January 13, 2016 at 1:08 am

    Hey Tessa! I would like to ask what font you’re using in your blogs and videos? Thank you!

  11. #
    Kathy — March 1, 2016 at 12:35 pm

    So, I am obsessed with your blog!! The content you post is invaluable! Can you tell us what laptop you use to edit your photos? When you first started and now? Every where I read it’s the Mac Pro with Retina that is recommended but that’s just not in my budget.

    • #
      Tessa — March 1, 2016 at 3:08 pm

      Thanks so much! I currently use a Macbook Pro with Retina 😉 😉 but I didn’t always have one. I had one of the older white macbooks. What editing software do you use?

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