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Pro Tip Series #2 The best Lens for Food Photography


Many people on my courses ask what is the best lens for food. For cropped sensor cameras with the ability to change lenses- the DX Nikon range and the APS-C for Canon I recommend this Sigma lens- Sigma 17-70mm f/2.8-4 DC Macro OS HSM

I am not affiliated or employed by Sigma so my advice is un biased and accept that many have their favourite “got to” lens. Please check lens fit and compatibility when buying any lens for your camera.

For full frame cameras- FX Nikon, EOS Canon I advise a lens with as similar focal length range as possible to the Sigma with the widest aperture you can afford. For example the full frame Nikon- 24mm-70mm f2.8 is priced around £1300- ouch! A cheaper 24mm-70mm f3.5/f4.5 is only £489...umm so why the big price difference for a similar focal length lens? I can hear some of you shouting at me- the difference is in the f number! The smaller the f number the greater the shallow depth of field known as the bokeh effect and a wider lens diameter allowing more light for brighter exposures. However the price reflects this added quality....

Why these lenses?

Think of the focal length of a lens like the brushes a painter will use for different effects and purposes.

A wide angle lens does what it says on the tin, a wide angle view of the world, great for landscapes and big views, but as you go closer to the food to fill the frame, it will distort the image especially around the edges of the photograph. Not so noticeable when overhead but very noticeable when at an angle. Focal lengths of around 30mm and smaller are usually classed as wide angle. Food images have a relaxed, editorial feel, 

28mm- Wide Angle focal length

but the wider angle will show more of the background, and room you are working in. Unless you are in a perfect location you may start seeing thing in the frame you would like to hide, piles of washing up, furniture, pets!

28mm- Wide Angle focal length


70mm- Telephoto Focal Length

Focal lengths of 50mm and higher are known as telephoto lenses and act like a telescope, bringing distant things closer to the eye. This has the effect of narrowing the angle of view seeing less of the room you are working in , making the background and foreground appear close together, foreshortening and increasing the bokeh effect as the background quickly drops out of focus. Less distortion of the image with tall object looking straighter, bottles, glasses and tall objects in the food arrangement. 

70mm- Telephoto Focal Length

Perfect for “studio” style look photographs adding an air of “professionalism” to the result.

So, when working I may choose to use a wide angle lens to accentuate angles and shapes, emphasising the editorial nature of a project. or simply to fit in the frame a large table arrangement with multiple plates. I will then use focal lengths of around 28mm.

For small single plate stories, classic still life and upright objects I will use longer focal lengths, of around 70mm to create a strong still life composition with a strong shallow depth of field. I may use even longer lenses of around 100mm to increase this effect, but this does mean I am further away from the subject, and in a small room or studio this can be difficult to work , sometimes ending up pinned against a wall or wedged up against the furniture!

For those can afford it you could have a camera bag full of prime lenses each at different focal lengths, wide, standard and telephoto, using one at a time as needed. Sounds great and in practise when working on a commissioned project with clients and art directors viewing captures this is the best way, using each lens as needed. But multiple lenses in the bag can become very expensive...So if working on a personal food project at home, capturing images of different styles quickly and with flexibility, then an adjustable lens focal length from 17mm-70mm is overall the best lens for food projects.

Macro or not to macro?


The Sigma lens I recommend does have the added value of having macro facility, but I don't think it is a must have option.

Macro allows for close up focussing, the image is bigger than life size, adding nuance and drama to a portfolio of work. But unless you are passionate in creating body of work of close up food photographs, use macro sparingly. A money saving option to use an extension tube. Some camera companies sell adaptors which sit between any lens and the camera body, changing the focussing qualities and making the lens macro. This can help avoid buying expensive macro lenses.

For those using built lenses on a compact camera. Great cameras, that can produce high quality images of food, perfect for small prints and social media posts. However most models default to a wide angle setting when first switched on. So remember when working on a food project set the lens focal length to somewhere between the two extremes of your camera's capability from wide, usually a “mountain” symbol to telephoto a “flower”for comfortable shooting distance and minimal wide angle distortion.

Using a smart phone? The lens on a smart phone is wide angle. I compare it to my old polaroid camera I had years ago, experiment with fun, angles for a quirky photograph. For a classic look go overhead.

Hope that helps, I am happy to respond to any comments as this can be a very passionate subject for many.

Wishing you a safe day of food Photography



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