Food Photographer’s Guide To Camera Lenses
Understanding the in’s and out’s of a camera lens can be a daunting task. There are so many technical terms, numbers, and specifications that it makes the job down right intimidating! But understanding your camera’s lens will really help elevate your photographs from amateur to professional, which is why I’ve created this series of posts specifically on lenses.
Choosing the right lens for the job can make or break a photograph and I’ve found that this subject can be one of the most intimidating subjects for new food photographers. Now, for all you camera geeks out there, this isn’t going to be a highly detailed explanation of the physics and mechanics of lenses. If you’re looking for that type of information, this post is not for you. If you’re looking for technical mumbo-jumbo, this post isn’t for you either. This post is a highly simplified version of JUST the essential information needed to understand lenses. No more, no less.
Types of Lenses
In this first part I’m going to concentrate on explaining the different types of lenses. Gaining an understanding on the TYPE of lens is one of the most important aspects of mastering lenses. Each type of lens has advantages and drawbacks, so I will also try to explain those.
Zoom lenses, also known as “varying focal length”, are lenses in which the amount of “magnification” can be changed. Most camera’s come with a zoom lens, which is sometime referred to as the “kit lens”…so confusing, right?!
Ok, so the main thing to understand about a zoom lens is that you can get a variety of shots because the amount of magnification can be changed. So you can get a wide shot of your food that includes the table and setting…or you can “zoom-in” and just get the plate.
The advantage of this lens is it’s variety. Zoom lenses also tend to be less expensive, although this is not an absolute.
Drawbacks for this type of lens is that the aperture sizes are on the smaller side, which means less light enters the lens. This usually isn’t a big deal but for food photography this can have a major drawback….more on that in the second part though!
Prime Lenses – Fixed Focal Lens
A prime lens is the opposite of a zoom lens, in that it’s magnification is “fixed”…meaning it can’t be changed. For instance, if you are shooting with a prime lens and your shot only includes the plate of food but you decide that you also want to include the table around it, you would have to physically walk away from the table in order to include it. If you had a zoom all you would need to do is zoom out on the lens. Capish?
The drawback is obvious, less variety in magnification right? But the benefits are huge! The benefits of a prime lens is that they tend to have larger aperture openings which let more light in than a zoom lens. Also, prime lenses tend to be of better quality which also makes them generally more expensive.
Lastly we have the macro lens. Both prime and zoom lenses limit how close you can get to your subject before you are unable to focus. Usually the distance is anywhere between 2 to 4 feet! What if you want to get into the gooey drippy details of that lasagna?! That’s when a macro lens comes into place.
A macro lens allows you to focus right up to your subject, without any distance in-between. Macro lenses are specialty lenses that can cost a pretty penny, but they are well worth the money.
Garnishing food is one of the simplest ways of improving your food photographs. I’m often at a loss for how to do this though, which is why I was delighted to find this expansive article on different techniques and styles of garnishing food. This post includes tons of information from making pretty flowers out of cherry tomatoes to making cute citrus knots to place on a plate. Admittedly, some of the garnishes are a bit over the top, but make for a fun read none the less. So there you have it. These three types of lenses are the most common lenses you are likely to encounter.