I often get emails from readers wondering what camera and lenses I use to take the photos on this site and I thought I would take a minute to describe the equipment and process I use here.
Canon Rebel XT
Many of the photos on Simply Recipes are taken with a Canon Rebel XT 8MP Digital SLR with a Canon 50mm f1.4 lens or a 60mm macro lens. As of April 2007, most of the shots on Simply Recipes are now taken with a Canon 5D and a Canon 100mm macro lens.
Canon has recently released the newest version of the XT, the Canon Rebel XTi 10.1MP with even more mega pixels than the Rebel I have. The Canon Rebel and Canon 5D are digital SLR cameras; the SLR standing for “Single Lens Reflex“. The main advantage of an SLR is that you can swap out the lenses depending on your needs. With the Rebel I use a Canon 50mm f1.4, and a Canon 60mm f/2.8 Macro lens for the close-up shots. With the Canon 5D I use a Canon 100mm macro lens. If you are considering buying a digital SLR camera, I recommend getting the body only and a separate, good quality lens. Almost all of the shots are taken with auto-focus. The adjustment I do most often with the camera is playing with the aperture setting, which alters the amount of light coming into the camera and the depth of field of the focus. I’ll also adjust the ISO setting upwards when I’m in particularly low light conditions.
Photos for some of the older recipes were taken with a cheapo FujiFilm digital camera whose main advantage was that I could take macro shots without a flash. For example, this photo was taken with the old camera. The shot is okay, but doesn’t compare to the photos I’m taking with the Canon DSLRs.
A tripod is necessary for most photos taken with a macro lens. The 50mm lens is so fast (wide aperture, or lens opening, so faster shutter speed, less blur) that I rarely need to use a tripod if using that lens. Lara Ferroni of Still Life With… has written a comprehensive post about tripods which I highly recommend.
The secret sauce of the photography on this site is Adobe Photoshop (Windows) (Mac). Photoshop allows me to take a photo that is dull for whatever reason (usually not enough light) and adjust the color balance and contrast, so that the resulting photo comes alive.
Left – before Photoshop, Right – after Photoshop
Photoshop also can help one take an underexposed photo and reveal what is in the shadows.
Left – before Photoshop, Right – after Photoshop
Photoshop is a professional tool, with a steep learning curve. Years ago I subscribed to the tutorials at Lynda.com to learn this software. Lynda.com’s tutorials are self-paced and very well done. For $25 per month you have access to a library of thousands of tutorial videos, and many are provided for free, just so you can see how useful they really are. Lynda.com also has tutorials for Photoshop Elements, a more basic photo editing tool.
Another resource is Photoshop expert Jan Kabill’s Photoshop Online video podcasts.
Lighting and Staging
A few years ago now, when I was first starting this site, I asked the lovely Clotilde of Chocolate and Zucchini for advice regarding taking photos. I hated what my photos looked like, and hers always looked so gorgeous. She recommended that I use the macro setting of my camera, never use the camera’s flash, and use indirect natural light whenever possible. I have since learned that lighting is pretty much everything.
Whenever possible, I take photos in the middle of the day, outside in our covered porch. I use a lawn-furniture table and put a background on top of it, depending on what I want the background to be. I have a couple of marble tops, a large piece of slate, and several colored poster boards. For a long time I used an old white sheet. When I use a white background, it reflects back the ambient indirect sunlight of the afternoon, creating almost a white-box effect. Lately I’ve taken to using various wooden cutting boards as background. The wood is warm and works well to show off the food.
Left – the background; Right – a photo taken using that background
Taking photos indoors is much more challenging. This is where the 50mm 1.4 lens comes in handy. It shines in low light conditions. (By the way, from what I hear, the Canon 50mm f/1.8 lens does just as fine as a job as the 1.4 but for only $70, instead of hundreds.) Following Clotilde’s advice from years ago I never use a flash. It washes out the food too much. If the photo is underexposed, I bring it alive in Photoshop.
When I started taking photos of food a few years ago, the results weren’t all that stellar. However, with some decent equipment, and a lot of advice, I’d like to say that the photos around here have been improving. If you are interested in food photography, here are some terrific resources:
- Still Life with… – Lara Ferroni’s highly informative food photography blog including Lara’s Guide to Food Photography Gear
- Notes about Photography from Matt of Matt Bites
- Food Blog School’s photo tips, also Food Blog School has a list of posts that are all photography related as a category in the right sidebar of the site
- Heidi’s food photography tips
- More advice from Clotilde
- Photoshop Online Video Podcast
- Inspiration from Keiko of Nordljus who takes breathtaking photos, and who uses a Canon Rebel with a 50mm f/1.8 lens
- Adobe Photoshop Lightroom – what’s next from Adobe, available for free as beta software until Feb 28, 2007
- Food Photography Tips from Pixar’s Sharon Calahan an inteview with Sam Breach of Becks & Posh
- Food Styling and Photography – tips from Béa Peltre at the 2007 BlogHer conference
- Food Photo 101-1 – Great tutorials from Nikas Culinaria, including tips for point and shoot cameras
P.S. I eat the food I photograph, usually right after the photo is taken. So, no fancy food styling with glue and glycerin for me, thank you.