How to focus for better Food Photography
Updated: Oct 30, 2019
To me Food Photography is all about walking a fine line. Bring the viewer's attention on a detail that celebrates and tells the story of a dish (the protagonist) and at the same time include the surrounding elements in the plate as a complementing background (the environment.) Good pictures of food never lack both of these elements.
Placing the focus in the right spot is paramount in food photography for several reasons:
Important details are usually very small (a leaf, a texture, a grain of salt etc.)
Food photographers love to shoot with wide aperture = shallow depth of field
Dishes are rich in details and patterns. If you place the focus in the wrong spot the viewer will miss your point and the message you want to convey with your shot.
What camera settings should I use for food photography?
I want to teach you a simple technique I use every time I shoot food and beverages: it's called Reframing.
Step 1: Set your camera. Focus mode: AF-S (Auto Focus Single Shot.) Focus Area: Spot, the smallest spot your AF system allows you. Where to place it? Right in the middle of the frame.
Reasons: AF-S focus mode locks the focus once and keeps it locked even if the subject moves or if the framing is changed (which is what we will do.) Spot focus point ensures your camera focus detection point is placed exactly on the (often) tiny detail you want to highlight.
How to focus for better food photos
Step 2: Frame your shot so that the central focus detection point aligns with your detail (where you want the focus to be, the sharpest point in the image.) Then press the AF- ON button on the back of your camera (you can reach it with your right thumb.) This button locks the focus on the central focus detection point and keeps it locked as long as you keep it pressed.
Reasons: Normally we lock the focus by half-pressing the shutter button. Problem is the shutter button, when half pressed, performs two activities: it locks the focus and it also meters the scene to find the correct exposure (right combination of Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO number.) In this case we don't want the camera's internal light meter to perform a reading because the framing we are using is exclusively aimed at locking the focus. It is not the final framing and if we meter in this phase we might end up with a final image that will be under or over-exposed.
Choosing the best focal point in food photography
Step3: Reframe your shot to include all the elements of the scene, according to your desired composition, and WHILE keeping the AF-ON button pressed, also press the shutter button. The image recorded on your memory card will have the focus in the right place (inherited by the former framing) and the right exposure (derived from a meter reading on the final framing-composition of the image.)
Reasons: Using the AF-ON button and the shutter button at the same time splits the focus locking procedure and the exposure metering between the two framings of the scene, avoiding confusions on where to place the focus point and to what exposure values to use.
Warning! When you reframe be very careful not to move your body (consequently the camera) closer or farther away from the detail your are photographing. If you shoot with wide aperture settings (low F numbers = shallow depth of field) and especially if you are close to the dish you are photographing be extremely careful. Even tiny movements of your body can throw the focus point off entirely.
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