My Guide to Food Photography Gear

It must be the holidays! I’m getting tons of requests for lighting and camera recommendations, so I thought perhaps I should do a little post on my gear and photo-centric wish list. (plus, I just updated my Amazon Shop, which includes most of this stuff… I’ll keep it updated with my latest finds.)

Canon EOS 20D 8.2MP Digital SLR Camera (Body Only)

I’m still shooting with a Canon EOS 20D for most of my shots. I love this camera… it’s a great size and produces beautiful shots. Of course, the Canon EOS 5D is on my wishlist… but I think it’s still many months off.

In the studio, I shoot with one of three lenses almost exclusively: the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro, the 50mm f1.4 and the 45mm f/2.8 Tilt Shift Before I got the tilt-shift, I used the 50mm quite frequently… but it’s so close to the 45mm, that I rarely use in the studio anymore. 75% of my shots are now with the 45 T/S. It is an amazing lens.

Outside of the studio is a different story. For shooting on location with minimal gear, the 50mm 1.4 is a must have. Nothing else handles low light like this lens (ok, the 1.2 version would, but can anyone afford it?). I also love to take the 24-105mm f/4L, which is a great lens for well-lit shots and gives a bit more flexibility for framing. Just the little bit of zoom handles most of the shots I want to take. If I’m up for bringing a 3rd lens with me, then it’s the 200mm f/2.8L , which is my favorite telephoto lens… cheaper than the 70-200 2.8 and a bit crisper.

I also have some accessories. My favorite is the Canon EP-EX15 Eyepiece Extender, which lets me look through the view finder without always smudging up the display on the camera. Such a simple little thing, yet it makes me so happy.

I also love my Remote Switch, which lets me take photos on slow shutter speed without having to mess around with the timer. Of course, I’m sure I’d also like the Wireless Radio Remote too.

Lowel Tota-Pak, Light Kit with Tota-light, 750 watt 120 volt EMD Lamp, Stand & Tota-brella.

A good portion of my lighting is free, or nearly so. Big windows and french doors that face south and west. I’ve covered the southern windows with a frosted vellum that is available at art supply stores by the roll. That, and a few big sheets of styrofoam board are my lighting solution for about 75-80% of my photos.

When I don’t have enough light, I use the Lowel Tota system, which is a reasonably priced start into studio lighting. The Tota-Pak includes a 750W tungsten halogen lamp with bulb, a stand and an umbrella is regularly $280, but I just noticed that it is on sale for $194 on Amazon right now. The V-Light Pak, which is 500W is on sale as well for about $5 less. I haven’t used them yet, but I recently got the Tota-frame and Assorted Lighting Gel Set for the Tota-lamps as well.

I also have a very small fresnel light by Mole-Richardson that I use only for special cases that I need just a little bit of extra light in one spot. It’s fairly dramatic lighting, esp with all the accessories you can put on it.

Props & Accessories
Villeroy & Boch Tipo Tableware Collection

My tripod is a set of Manfrotto legs and a Really Right Stuff ball head. This is a heavy duty studio tripod… the kind of thing you wouldn’t want to throw into a backpack and take with you, but excellent in the studio. I also have a great arm that clamps onto my tripod for holding onto miscellaneous gear like reflective discs.

White dishes are my most frequently used, but I have quite a few solid color things as well. And some dishes with Asian prints. But, if you are just starting out, make sure you have a good variety of white plates and bowls, and some simple flatware. Forks appear most frequently in my shots, quickly followed by spoons. I tend to use the smaller flatware more frequently, but I also have a couple of interesting serving tools, like a copper ladle and coffee scoop.

For backdrops, head to your local fabric store. You can get some good deals on cloth paying by the yard. Who cares if the edges aren’t finished when they don’t show up in the photo. Also, hand-made paper found at arts supply stores or card stores makes for some really nice backdrops, esp when you have a working sweep.

For a more finished look, I also have a fairly wide selection of towels and linen napkins that can be folded and placed under or around dishes. I prefer simple patterns and solids, in fairly light colors for these… but I do have the occasional piece that is quite bright and playful. I find most of my linens in the sales racks.

For styling your food, a good set of tools to have on hand are a pair of chopsticks (for pushing, poking or picking things up), tweezers, a pair of manicure scissors, some cotton swabs, a spray bottle (with water) and plenty of paper towels. Joe Glo wipes are also really good for little clean-ups.

Adobe Photoshop CS2 (Mac)

I reference Photoshop CS2 for most of the articles on Still Life With. It’s really, really expensive but it’s also just about the only tool that you can use to do advanced editing. If you don’t need advanced editing, just go with Photoshop Elements. If you outgrow it, Adobe is generally pretty good with giving upgrade discounts. Or, if you are really just getting started, you can always go with iPhoto on the Mac or Picasa on the PC without any outlay of cash.

My newest software necessity is Phase One’s Capture One Pro. It’s a raw workflow tool that lets me shoot tethered to my Mac. I have a long USB cable that connects my camera to my Mac, and as soon as I take the photo, it’s on my laptop and I can see it full res to make sure that I’m getting what I wanted. It’s completely changed the way that I shoot and edit, and I couldn’t be happier about it. But, it was a serious expense. Unless you are going pro, there is no reason to pay that kind of money. That said, I’ll have more info on shooting tethered in an upcoming post.

BTW – I’ve been thrilled to get so many mails asking me my opinion on this stuff. I’m very happy to help… so if you have other questions, do feel free to shoot them my way!

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