The photos on my blog are taken with an SLR camera Canon 350D/500D and a Canon 50 mm Prime f/1.4 USM lens. The older photos in the posts from 2007 were shot with the kit lens 18-55 mm. A few photos were also shot with the small Canon IXUS 900is, which I use when it’s not possible to bring the big camera with me.
I decided to create this page to gather all the camera comments here so they are easy to find in the future. Feel free to add any comments or questions about photography here!
“As Trine’s unofficial photo advisor, I’d love to explain how the photos are made. Forgive me for getting a bit geeky here, but – as I try to tell Trine – an understanding of a few basic photo principles is necessary to get good shots. Her goes:
Trine uses a Canon 350D [Update: Now upgraded to a 500D]. It’s a consumer end digital SLR, but a great, rugged camera that’s not too big to carry around. The new version, the 450D, would be the one to go for at the moment. The more “pro” Canon 40D is a very nice camera but a bit bigger and thus heavier to lug around.
She also has a small Canon IXUS 900is for emergency use – but it’s no good under low light. It simply hasn’t got the lens or the chip for it.
But even when talking about SLRs, the camera itself is really not the issue. It’s the lens that does the trick and that’s why SLRs are the ones to go for: You can change the lens.
Too avoid using flash (and you don’t want to use flash when shooting food) you must have a lens that lets as much light trough as possible – that is: It most have a wide aperture .
The lens’ F-number denotes the relationship between the lens’ focal length and the aperture (the width of the pupil, so to speak). The lower F-number, the bigger the opening (in relation to the focal length) and the more light gets through your lens. You want as much light as possible, as you want to expose your film (i.e. your chip) in the shortest amount of time possible – to avoid shaken images.
To control these settings, Trine runs the camera in “P”-mode. That means that the camera controls the aperture and the shutter time, but that she can set the ISO herself and turn off the Flash. Personally I prefer the “A”-mode, so I can control both aperture and ISO while the camera controls shutter time. Full auto mode (on Canon cameras the auto symbol is a green square) is a no go, as the flash will pop up all the time and instantly ruin your photos, not to mention your relationship with the waiters and the other guests.
The kit-lens (an EF-S 18-55 mm zoom) that comes with the 350D and 450D is an ok lens in good lighting conditions, but not a great one when shooting at low light. It’s got a max aperture at 18mm of f/3.5 (and that’s too wide an angle for food photos). There is an IS version of this lens that will probably do better under low light – I haven’t tried it, though.
So Trine uses a Canon EF 50 mm f/1.4 lens instead of the kit lens, to get as much light into the camera as possible. It’s a fixed lens (that is, no zoom).
When using an aperture as wide as f/1.4 the depth of field (DOF) becomes very shallow. That’s why it’s only possible to focus on a bit of the dish, and that makes the photo look “macro”-like. Fortunately a shallow DOF has been made quite popular by professional food photographers during the nineties, so what is basically a shortcoming of optic laws is now considered a nice touch
The EF 50mm is not a macro lens – in fact that’s a bit of a problem as you’ll need about 45cm or more of distance between you and the dish when shooting with the 50mm at f/1.4. That is sometimes hard to achieve at a restaurant as you’ll have to get up from your chair or lean back. Be careful not to fall
The best photos on this blog are shot at lunch time when light is good. Even when using a f/1.4 lens, the light at restaurants at night can be tricky. So it’s often necessary to step up the sensitivity of the camera’s chip to ISO 800 or ISO 1600. Even on a camera like the 350D, which is quite good at avoiding too much pixel noise, images shot at ISO 1600 will show some noise. Besides, the colours may often be too warm due to artificial lighting.
Too improve on the most problematic images they are run through Photoshop. Noise may be removed with the plugin Noise Ninja that can eliminate some of the pixel noise. Contrast and colours are adjusted with levels and sometimes a cooling “photophilter” or some manipulation of the Red, Green and Blue channels is needed. [Update: Since this page was written Trine has abandoned shooting JPGs and now all images are shot as RAW and adjusted in Photoshop's RAW Import. Absolutely recommended.]
Be careful, though, when removing noise with plugins like Noise Ninja – the crispy details may disappear too. Sometimes this may be counteracted by applying a sharpen filter, but the general rule is: The more you fiddle around with the image in Photoshop, the more quality you loose.
I guess that a great photo solution for food photography would be a fast, high-end zoom lens fitted with an Image Stabilizer (like this one). The IS will allow using a narrower and thus sharper aperture and shooting at shutter times well below the magic 50th of a second without any signs of shaking. But such lenses are typically more bulky than the 50mm and it’ll probably cost’ya the mean buck.”