SELECT A LENS
All the magic happens at 50mm
The field of view from a 50mm lens is the sweet spot for still life photography, including food. As your field of view goes wider, such as 35mm, you start getting perspective issues. The wider you shoot the closer you need to get, which can further exaggerate perspective. It also gets difficult to control the background with a wider lens; you don’t always want the rest of the room to be drawn into the frame.
Narrowing the field of view with a telephoto lens can be a problem too. Longer focal lengths, such as 100mm, will compress the scene – you lose a sense of depth and the compositions look flat. Longer lenses also create logistical problems when working in confined spaces, as you may not have the room to step back far enough for a shot. It all works much better when you start with 50mm.
If you’re shooting on a full-frame sensor the other advantage to 50mm is that there are lots of affordable primes on the market. An aperture of f2 is the sweet spot. It’s tempting to use a 24-70mm f2.8 if you already have one, but then you won’t be seeing the full effect of a prime at f2 and you have to deal with a clunky, big lens which can be a drag on your creative process.
The equivalent lens for APS-C sized cameras is a 35mm f1.4, or for micro four thirds the 25mm f1.4. The smaller your camera sensor the greater the depth of field you get at the same f-stop, so you may want to experiment all the way to f1.4 instead of f2 with the smaller camera bodies.
The difference between f2 and f2.8 is significant for background bokeh, and it’s even more pronounced at f4. Shooting shallow is about bringing attention to one element in the scene, and hence the degree to which you melt away the rest of the scene is essential to your composition. Your DOF expands as you step back from the subject too, so the bigger the scene you shoot at 50mm, the further south you may have to drop the f-stop to work the bokeh. Shooting at f4 might look dramatic when your frame is the size of a tea cup, but offers zero impact once you step back to capture a full table setting.
Above left WINDOW SEAT In natural light, shoot across the scene for colour, or shoot back into the scene a little bit to build contrast and drama
AbovePEOPLE AS PROPS Perhaps capture some hands coming into frame, or step back and let a generous smile add something vibrant to the mood Above right SCHNEIDER 50MM F2.8 PC-TS Tilt-shift lenses offer the ability to throw your place of focus at any angle you want RightSTEP BACK, TOO ‘Get closer’ is often good advice, but you may find getting too close simply means you’re missing more complex compositions