“Photography is not about the camera.”
I couldn’t agree more. Photography is not even about the beautiful images we create. It is about telling stories through your eyes. No matter what genre you are shooting, be it landscape, portrait or even food, the beauty of your photographs should lie within story telling. If you have read my previous post, then you would have known that I started by doing a lot of street and documentary photography before shooting food. When I am curious and passionate about a certain subject, bodybuilding for instance, I will try to find out more and learn about the subject as much as possible, I will then go and shoot it, and tell the story through my lens. It is exactly the same when I am shooting food, if there is a recipe that I am interested in and would love to give it a crack, I will spend a whole day in the kitchen cooking up a storm and documenting the whole process with my camera at the same time. Sharing the step-by-step process on how you create that beautiful dish with your audience is your own way of telling a story from the kitchen. And people love that, as if they have been invited into your kitchen.
I’ve been playing around a fair bit with these four lenses provided by Canon,
I had a quick test run with them during the workshop, and I also photographed the Night Noodle Markets by using these four different lenses to capture the essence of the festival. All lenses have their own capabilities and what not, and when you change your lens, you change the perspective of your shot and it gives a different angle to your story. Can you imagine by shooting the whole night noodle markets by just using the wide angle lens? I think people will get bored quite quickly after looking at few shots when everything becomes one dimensional.
And this time, I am going to invite you into my kitchen. While I was baking these irresistible lemon curd cupcakes, I documented the whole process with these four lenses. Here I would like to talk about these lenses in depth and also share a few tips on what you can do with them.
EF-S 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 IS STM
A reasonably priced wide angle lens perfect for entry level DSLR users. With Image Stabilisation and a built-in STM for smooth focus, the image quality is sharp. It is a great lens for travelling, especially for those who are into landscape and food photography. I normally carry a wide angle lens with me while travelling, I use it when I want to capture the vast size of a wet market or the interior of a restaurant or a group of people dining at the table. When I am at home preparing a recipe for my blog, I use a wide angle lens, especially when I want to shoot from overhead (top view). But one thing you should aware of that is this is a EF-S lens, which means it will not work with a full frame camera, like a 5D camera body.
EF 70-200mm f/4L USM
A white L-series is always so sexy. This lens is a professional L-series telephoto zoom lens. It may not be the fastest lens in the market at aperture f/4, but it has one of the finest in L-series lens optics with 4-stop Image Stabiliser built-in to deliver stand out optical performance and operability. This is a popular lens amongst the photographers who are into wildlife or sports photography. I myself normally use a telephoto zoom lens like this when I feel like walking about on the street and taking some pictures of passersby without being too intrusive. Sometimes the best photos are spontaneous and not too staged. For instance, I prefer to step back and observe, if I am at a cafe, I like to shoot people while they are having a great time chitchatting while having their brunch; or if I am at a farmers’ market, I can zoom right into the vegetables while shopppers are browsing, so I don’t have to get too close with my subject or step on anyone’s toes, that would be awkward and embarrassing. This lens works well during day time with natural light, but if you happen to shoot in a low light situation, I would suggest you to use a tripod. When I use this lens at home to shoot food, I normally do mount it on a tripod to make sure it steady.
EF 50mm f/1.4 USM
For those who know me well, you would know the EF 50mm f/1.4 is my favourite lens of all time. It is the default lens that is always attached to my camera. This lens is small and easy to carry around in your camera bag, it is a robust lens for everyday use. But most importantly, this is a fast lens at a very attractive price. What does fast lens mean? Fast lens basically means the lens itself has a fast aperture which will be able to cope with low light situations. For instance, if you are shooting in a dimly lit restaurant, or shooting at home without a lot of natural light through the window, or perhaps even a gloomy overcast day, this lens will be your savior. Bet you always wonder how other photographers are able to capture the photos with a soft blurry background while the subject in the front stays sharp, well that’s what we called ‘depth of field’. And you will be able to achieve those results with this lens.
Macro photography is not something I use very often, but this lens definitely gives the photographer another perspective to look at food photography.
Macro photography is all about picking up the finer details in your shot to tell a better story. Usually after shooting the big picture of my subject, say the hero shot of a cake, then I will start focusing on certain parts of the cake to show the finer intricate details by using this macro lens. This lens creates superb images that are sharp and vibrant in colour. Again, this is a EF-S lens like the wide angle lens which is incompatible with a full frame camera body like 5D.
Now I bet you want to see some photos taken from these lenses, so here let me take you through behind the scene of this delicious lemon curd cupcakes.
Fresh ingredients are one of my favourite subjects to shoot. I always encourage people to shoot the ingredients before shooting the finished product on a plate. Especially those who are learning about food styling, as you can take time to play around with the ingredients and they will stay fresh for a long period of time. Shooting the ingredients first before the final dish is also part of the storytelling process. When you have lots of ingredients spread over the table, it is best to use a wide angle lens to capture the abundance of it with an overhead shot like this one above.
I love Diptych. Diptych, in photography term, is when two images that fit together which can be from the same subject or totally different to show the opposition or contrasting idea. So here I have two images, one with a bowl full of lemons and another that focuses on one single lemon; it is a play on juxtaposition where I show the “bigger picture” of my subject before drilling down to the “individual” for finer details. As you can see the subjects aren’t really cover a wide area, so there’s no need for me to use a wide angle lens for these shots but the portrait lens 50mm will do the trick perfectly.
Since we have covered all ingredient shots, is time to move on to the actions. The lemons are now sliced, juiced and grated; all shot handheld with the 50mm f/1.4 lens. As you can see, the lens’ aperture can go down to f/1.4 which will give you a nice shallow depth of field by blurring the background to accentuate the subject in the foreground, for e.g. the cut innard of the lemon wedge and also the zest.
Love a good overhead (top view) shot using thewide angle lens of the baking tray filled with cupcake batter ready to go into the oven. It is not uncommon that sometimes you do have to stand on a chair to actually capture the whole area of the shot. Because we want everything to stay sharp in the shot, we need to bump up the aperture to f/6.3 or higher. In this scenario, it is best to use a tripod to avoid blurry images as the shutter speed will be slow.
While the cupcakes are in the oven, is time to prepare the lemon curd. This diptych are two photos on the same subject but using two different lenses. Imagine this, if you are only looking at the right photo on its own, it probably won’t make much sense to you; but once we put two and two together, you can immediately tell what I am trying to convey here. The macro lens is a great way to show the finer detail of the subject to tell the story better.
Cupcakes done, lemon curd done; is time to assemble them. The 50mm lens is the master of shallow depth of field. As you can see in the photo above where there are only a couple of centimetres in the shot that have stayed sharp, which accentuate the action of lemon curd being piped into the cake.
Done and dusted, let’s do the hero shots! Normally I would go with the 50mm lens, but I thought I would give the telephoto lens a go and see how it flares. There is definitely no way I could stabilise the lens handheld if I am shooting indoor with insufficient light, so I had to use a tripod. With the zoom lens, it allows me to shoot it from a good distance which is a good thing because fragile props and big tripod simply don’t mix, is best to step back and zoom into the subject.
I placed more cupcakes and some lemons and did another hero shot, but this time with my favourite 50mm lens. You can see the result is almost exactly the same as with the telephoto lens; except I was a lot more closer to my subject this time, I would have almost got smeared with icing if I wasn’t careful. The advantage of using a 50mm lens is that you don’t have to worry about tripod, it is much lighter, and you will still able to capture a sharp photo handheld because of a much faster aperture on the lens.
It’s time to cut the cake! I would like to capture the curd inside the cake, however the 50mm has a closest focus distance of half a metre, which means I will not be able to get close enough to the curd and still stay in focus, hence the only way is to use a macro lens. The 60mm lens is sharp and able to capture every single details on the curd.
As part of my Lemon Curd Cupcakes baking story, I even have a model to pose for me! When I showed these slides during the Canon Good Food workshop, the audience started to giggle. That was the exact response from the audience I was looking for. These shots triggered emotions in the audience and made them laugh. They were connected with the idea behind the images and understood the story behind them. Despite the cupcake itself being out of focus, it was ok because it is important to see the man enjoying the cupcake with icing stuck to his moustache as part of the overall story.
Left – EF-S 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 IS STM wide angle lens | Shot at ISO250, 1/100sec at f/5.0, 14mm; Right – EF-S 60mm f/2.8 Macro USM lens | Shot at ISO250, 1/100sec at f/5.0
And everything has to come to an end. Don’t dismiss those empty plates, ripped cupcake case and the loose crumbs on the table, it is all part of the story. Food photography is not always about that “perfect shot” that belongs to the glossy cover of a magazine; a half eaten cake or the leftover dirty dishes – it conveys human presence, it shows that someone must have really enjoyed the cake and you wish you had a slice of it too. You want your audience to be part of your story, as if they were in your kitchen, baking these cupcakes with you.
Well, I hope this post inspires you to take your food photography a step further. If you are still only carrying the lens kit in your camera bag, then perhaps give these four lenses that I featured here a try. No matter what you choose, I said it and I will say it again – when you change your lens, you change your story.
Here is a video where I talked a little bit more about the four lenses that I featured during the workshop and how I used them to tell a story. Hope it will inspire you to take your food photography a step further.
So, keep shooting!
[A Table For Two teamed up with Canon Australia on this project.]