Tips for Super Sharp Macro Food Photography

June 04, 2020

Tips for Super Sharp Macro Food Photography

Macro food photography can be stunning, but it comes with a unique set of challenges.

To make compelling food images with your macro lens, you need to get your subjects in razor-sharp focus. This means optimizing the way you handle focus for your food subjects.

Here are some photography tips for how to improve your macro food images.

Why You Need a Macro Lens for Food Photography

As a food photographer, my macro lens is perhaps my most used lens in my kit. In fact, if I could only have one lens, my Canon 100mm macro would be the one that I’d choose.

A macro lens gives you the ability to shoot with short focusing distances. You can take sharp photos of very small subjects, or capture fine detail that other lenses might miss. In food photography, you can highlight the textural and color detail that often go unnoticed or underappreciated.

Note that a true macro lens has a magnification ratio of 1:1 or greater, and a focusing distance of around 30cms. This means that the ratio of the subject on the size of the sensor plane is as large — or larger— than your subject.

The beauty of a macro lens for food photography is that not only can you take close up shots, you can also move back from your subject and take beautiful food portraits — without the distortion some other lenses might give— especially when shooting at a 45-degree angle.

In this case, you're actually not using the macro capabilities of the lens.

So basically, having a macro lens is like having two lenses in one, which is why it’s such a winner for your camera bag. I know food photographers that work only with this lens. In my experience, it’s the best lens for food photography.

Focal Length and Minimum Focus Distance

The focal length of your lens and your camera type will affect how your food photography turns out. There is no best camera for food photography. There is only the best for your goals as a photographer.

If you shoot with a camera that has a cropped sensor, your macro lens will function differently than it will on a camera with a full-frame sensor. For example, you get a focal length of about 80mm when shooting with a 60mm macro lens on a Canon Rebel, which had a crop factor of 1.6.

When you shoot on a full-frame camera, the focal length of your lens is exactly as stated. A 100mm macro works like a 100mm macro. You don’t get that much tighter crop from your lens as you do when shooting with a cropped sensor.

The minimum focus distance of a lens determines how close you can get to your subject and still focus to achieve sharp images.

The longer your focal length, the further away you need to be from your subject in order to focus. For example, my Canon 100mm f/2 macro lens has a minimum focusing distance of 1.02′ (31 cm).

This means that I need to be at least 1.02′ (31 cm) away from my subject to get proper focus.

The Plane of Focus

It’s important to understand the concept of the plane of focus and how it affects depth-of-field.

The plane of focus is a two-dimensional imaginary plane that lies parallel to your camera’s sensor. It represents the theoretical plane of sharpest focus and lies in the depth-of-field.

When you change the angle or position of your camera, the plane of focus remains relative to your sensor. The subjects in the plane will be in focus. The subjects or areas outside of this are your depth-of-field.

The degree to which your subject is out of focus depends on your aperture and relative distance.

It helps if the majority of your subject is on the same plane of focus.

If not, one solution is that you can shoot three images with different focus points. You can then use focus stacking in Photoshop or Helicon Focus to get a single image that is sharp enough throughout.

Depth-of-Field

The depth-of-field (DOF) is the distance between the nearest and farthest objects that are in sharp focus. It’s determined by the focal length of your lens, the distance to your subject, as well as your aperture.

The shorter your distance from the subject, the “thinner” the depth of field will be.

If you want to shoot an image where everything is in focus, shoot with a much narrower aperture (high f-stop).

If you shoot at f/9 with a macro lens you'll have a shallower depth-of-field than you would get at f/9 on a regular lens.

The biggest mistake food photographers make when shooting with macro lenses is that they use too small of a small depth of field. This causes only a very specific part of the subject to be focused. The rest of the subject and image appear blurry.

This is a depth-of-field issue rather than being a problem with the autofocus.

I shoot food at around f/5.6 when using my other lenses, such as my 50mm or my 24-70mm. I get a very shallow depth-of-field at f/5.6 on a macro lens. I need to go up to f/9 or higher to get enough of my subject in focus.

Manual Focus

When working at high magnifications, you can't rely on the autofocus of your lens. You need pinpoint accuracy to focus on macro shots.

Macro lenses don’t have great autofocusing capabilities, especially at high magnifications. The lens will continually pan back and forth, trying to lock focus. This problem worsens in low light situations.

Macro photography magnifies the details of your subjects. When you magnify your subject, you also magnify any mistakes. The smallest error in focusing can cause you to miss focus entirely.

So, use manual focus in macro photography. 

If you must use autofocus due to eyesight issues, but are having difficulty focusing, move the camera backward or forwards; take the photo as soon as the plane you want to be sharp comes into focus.

Use A Tripod

Lastly, for super sharp macro photos, you need to use a tripod.

In macro photography, the subject is usually close to the lens. When a lens focuses very close to a subject, some of the light entering the lens can be lost to the side of the camera’s sensor.

Your camera may use slightly longer shutter speed to compensate for this loss of light. Longer shutter speeds are harder to handhold and can lead to camera shake.

A tripod will help keep your camera stable so you can shoot at slower shutter speeds without this dreaded camera shake, and achieve sharp focus.

It will also bring more light into your camera and give you the ability to stop down with your aperture.

To Sum Up

Hopefully, this post has given you some takeaways to immediately improve your macro food photography. 

If you’ve been shooting macro food photos at a low aperture, the one food photography tip about increasing your f-stop will do wonders.


This article was guest authored by our good friend Darina Kopcok. Darina is a commercial food photographer, writer, and educator based in Vancouver, Canada. You can find her at darinakopcok.com.

 

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