Perfecting Food Photography with FUJINON Lenses

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By Nicole S. Young

One of the most common questions I receive from new photographers is which lens to use when photographing food. When choosing gear there is never a correct choice; it all boils down to the type and size of the food, your workspace and setup, the style you hope to achieve, along with how you want your final image will look. Each lens will have advantages, and even disadvantages, depending on your setup. Here is a list of a variety of lenses, along with why you might choose each type of lens for food photography.

Macro

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FUJIFILM X-T2 with XF60mmF2.4 R MACRO Lens at 1/7 sec at F4, ISO 200

A macro lens is an obvious choice for photographing food. You can get really close to the food to highlight certain elements, and also easily photograph and fill the frame with small items, like berries or tiny bites of food. Depending on the camera you use, macro lenses come in different ranges of focal lengths.

Keep in mind that a macro lens is not always necessary to photograph food. With full-frame cameras it is sometimes necessary to use a macro-capable lens in order to get close enough and fill the frame. And, in some cases, getting too close to your dish may not be the best way to photograph it. With crop-frame cameras, such as with the FUJIFILM X-T2 used for this photo, a macro lens is not always a requirement. Because of the crop factor there is the perception that the camera is closer to the subject, and so a macro lens is only a real necessity when you want to get really close and fill the frame with small items.

Wide-Angle (12–24mm)

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FUJIFILM X-T2 with XF18-55mmF2.8-4 R LM OIS Lens at 1/4 sec at F6.4, ISO 200

In most cases a wide lens will be best for overhead setups. The space I use to photograph food in my home is too small for a wide-angle lens to be used without including other elements, such as the window or reflectors. Instead I reserve the wider focal lengths for overhead shots.

Mid-Range (35–75mm)

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FUJIFILM X-T2 with XF35mmF1.4 R Lens at 1/20 sec at F2.8, ISO 200

A mid-range lens, especially one that has a close focusing distance, can be a good option for food in any environment. I like to use this type of lens when I know I will want to photograph my dinner while traveling (for example). It is long enough to compress and blur the background, but narrow enough to not include too wide of an angle of view. I can also still sit quite close to the food; with a longer lens I need to move back a few feet, which can be difficult when sitting at a dinner table.

Medium Telephoto (90–120mm)

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FUJIFILM X-T2 with XF90mmF2 R LM WR Lens at 1/9 sec at F4, ISO 200

The medium telephoto lens, also known as a good range for portraits, is also a great focal length range for food photographs. One of my favorites is the FUJINON XF90mmF2 R LM WR; I can get in close to the subject, and also compress and blur the background quite well.

Telephoto (140mm+)

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FUJIFILM X-T2 with XF50-140mmF2.8 R LM OIS WR Lens at 1/10 sec at F4, ISO 200

When you have a lot of space to work in and really want to compress and blur your background, then a telephoto lens might be a good option for you.  This type of lens will typically work well with crop-frame cameras, which is great news for Fujifilm users! On full-frame cameras, however, you may find that the focal length will not allow you to get close enough to the subject to get it in focus. However even with this setup (a small item of food) I was unable to get a tight shot of the bruschetta with my FUJIFILM X-T2 because of the limited focusing distance, but with a larger dish this lens might work well.

The primes of my life

Do you know which prime lenses you use more than any others? I do.

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Things you and I already know about the Fujinon XF lens range:

1) They’re as sharply designed and as beautifully well made as the cameras they attach to.

2) They can, without exception, deliver outstanding results.

3) There’s already a superb line-up and it’s only going to get better.

But there was something that I didn’t know about my own use of XF lenses and felt that I really should; which lenses did I use for what subject and, perhaps more importantly, why. In order to find out, I decided to apply a small amount of science to this with the aid of Lightroom.

If you select Lightroom’s Library module, you can quickly see which lenses you’ve used and how many shots you’ve taken with them by selecting the Metadata option in the Library Filter bar. Once this option is selected, you can use the individual drop down menus below this bar to further refine your search. I did this and quickly discovered that I’d shot with a wide variety of XF lenses, but some definitely got more use than others. What follows here are my top five prime lens choices, in focal length order, what I use them for and why I love them. It’s worth pointing out before we get started, of course, that my suggestions may or may not be up your street. You can use the XF16mm for portraits just as much as you can use the XF90mm for landscapes, so be sure to experiment!


1) XF23mmF1.4 R

This is a firm favourite for plenty of X Series users, but based on my Lightroom-based search my primary usage seems to be in two main areas: landscapes and travel. Both of these are pretty obvious, I guess. The lens offers a modest, distortion-free wide-angle view that suits a whole range of subjects and flicking through my images it’s easy to see the appeal – the XF23mm is spectacularly sharp, right from F1.4. Delving a little deeper into the metadata, I discovered that I rarely used the lens at its minimum aperture, favouring the wide apertures more, except when I was striving for plenty of depth-of-field. I expect the new XF23mmF2 to get similar levels of usage once I get my hands on one (hint, hint…)

Find out more about the XF23mm lens here. 


2) XF27mmF2.8

Given my regular use of the XF23mm, I was surprised to see that I also gave the XF27mm plenty of outings, too. Looking at the resulting shots, though, it was evident that I shot very different subjects with this more compact lens. It’s definitely the one I pick when I head into a city or town to shoot street images, or just want a lens that I can pop on a camera body and head out. There were an inordinate number of pictures taken with the XF27mm when I was out walking my dog (see the shot at the top of this post) and it was interesting to see that my use of the XF27mm had greatly increased when I was testing the X-Pro2. This duo make a killer combination in both portability and image quality.

Find out more about the XF27mm lens here. 


3) XF56mmF1.2 R

The 35mm focal length lenses barely registered on my Lightroom search, so the next in my top five was this beauty in its non-APD form. Compared to the XF23mm and XF27mm, this is a real lump of a lens, but in a good way. It’s supremely well made and the optical quality is truly exceptional – if you’ve ever used one, you’ll know exactly what I mean. My use of it, however, was a little more surprising. Sure, there were a few portraits in the selection, but the majority of my shots were taken with the lens at its widest aperture (or thereabouts) to make the most of the tremendous bokeh effects it offers. Less than 10% of the shots were taken at an aperture of F4 or smaller.

Find out more about the XF56mm lens here. 


4) XF60mmF2.4 R Macro

Another surprise, given its proximity in focal length terms to the XF56mm but, as with my 23mm/27mm lens scenario, the XF60mm gets used for a different set of images. In fact, I’ve shot a great deal with this lens, probably because it remains one of the sharpest in the XF line-up, despite being one of the first introduced with the X-Pro1 back in 2012. Weddings, portraits, still life images, close ups and product shots have all been shot with the Macro, and on a variety of X Series bodies, too. I even took some street images with it, but I guess it’s because I left the XF27mm at home that day…

Find out more about the XF60mm lens here. 


5) XF90mmF2 R LM WR

A late entry into my list of top five primes largely because I’ve been shooting with it so much of late. This is an absolutely stunning lens that has a look all of its own and delivers outstanding image quality. I used it for a lot of shots in my Fun in the Sun blog from a couple of months ago and since then it has stayed pretty much permanently on a Fujifilm X-E2S body. Yes, it’s great for portraits, but I also found that I shot lots of close-ups and detail images with this lens, making the most of its fast focusing and high quality optics.

Find out more about the XF90mm lens here. 


So, which one have I used the most?

This surprised me. Based on this Lightroom search, my undisputed king of prime lenses is the XF60mmF2.4 R Macro which beats the second most used lens (the XF23mmF1.4 R) by almost two to one. I’ve always loved the 60mm, but I never realised that I used it quite as much as I evidently do. It may not be the fastest focusing lens in the XF line-up, but it’s an optical gem which must be the reason why I keep on going back to it. Right, I’m off to do the same experiment for zooms…

Fun in the sun

DSCF9203Is there anything better than a family day out at the seaside? For kids it’s an opportunity to run, jump, swim, dig and generally mess about. For adults, it’s an opportunity to sit around, chat, eat, drink and watch kids do all of the aforementioned. Perfect. 

As all of our  ‘kids’ are now old enough to drive themselves to their own day out, I had to borrow someone else’s to take these photographs. So say hello to Harrison (white T-shirt) and his younger brother Oli, and thanks to Paul and Nicola for letting me use them as subjects during our day out.

There are, of course, some extremely talented kids photographers out there who make a living out of creating stylised images with the subjects looking straight at the camera. I have great admiration for people who can do this but I didn’t want this fun day out to turn into a boring photo shoot. So, with Fujifilm X-A2 in hand, along with the XC16-50mm and XF90mm, I chose to adopt a more candid approach, snapping away as Harrison and Oli got busy enjoying themselves.

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Creative candids

The X-A2 proved ideal for capturing candids. It’s small and discreet so the boys probably don’t notice me taking half of these images. The camera’s fold out screen was an absolute godsend as well, helping me to get some low angles. Despite the bright conditions, I didn’t miss a viewfinder one bit. I did have to turn up the screen brightness a little as it was a very bright day, but this made the screen easy to view even when the sun was out.

Don’t forget the details!

While it’s great shots of your kids that you’re after on a family day out, it’s often the little details that get forgotten, so I concentrated on getting those shots as well. For this, I think anything goes, just as it would if you were photographing details at a wedding. You’ll soon start seeing images everywhere.

Keep shooting

When we’d finished at the beach, we headed to the pub, but rather than put the camera away, I kept taking pictures of the boys. The clip on mouths, by the way, came on a birthday card and I knew they’d make for some great shots of the boys. By the time we get to the pub, they were more than used to me taking pictures, so I just fired away as and when I saw a nice shot.

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The camera

xa2 screenV2I hadn’t used the X-A2 before our trip to the seaside. Admittedly, this was largely because it doesn’t have a X-Trans sensor in it, but I was truly impressed with the quality of images it delivered, even with the standard XC16-50mm lens. Just like other X Series cameras, it produces superb images packed with colour and detail and the images you see here are virtually straight from the camera. I’ve only made minor crop changes, plus added a minor boost to the shadows and contrast here and there.

When I showed the resulting shots to Nicola and Paul after the day they both said the same thing: ‘Nice shots, great little camera’. Says it all really.

Natural vs artificial light

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w360_6415757_tutorialbannerfordotmailerLight. There’s a lot of it about. And as photographers it’s up to us to harness it in every shot we take.

You may have a personal preference as to which light source you prefer, be it natural or artificial and, despite the combative title of this blog, we’re not for one minute going to suggest that one is better than the other. Instead, we’d suggest that it’s what you’re shooting that counts and should make your choice accordingly.

By way of demonstration, I set up a couple of still-life images, lighting one using artificial light from a humble desk lamp and the other using diffused daylight on a cloudy day. Along with the lighting being switched, I also changed the subject, but nothing else – the background is the same as is the kit – a tripod-mounted X-T1 with the spectacular XF90mm F2.

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Shooting in artificial light

The beauty of artificial light is that it’s completely controllable. Even a simple desk lamp, like the one I’ve used here, can easily be moved around so you can direct the light where you want it. The same, of course, applies to flash, LED and fluorescent light sources. Compared to daylight, artificial light sources are comparatively small, meaning the light they emit is more harsh. You can diffuse it or you could simply play to these strengths, as I did here to light my spanner collection. Metallic objects – among others – are great for this kind of light, which throws deep shadows on the opposite side to the light source. For the collection of images below, I simply moved the light around the set up to get a variety of different effects.

As well as being a harsher light source, artificial light like my desk lamp tends to be less powerful, so you may need to increase your ISO if you want to shoot hand-held or – as I did here – mount the camera on a tripod. You also need to consider your white balance settings, but we’ll come to that a bit later.

Shooting in daylight

Putting my desk lamp to one side for a minute, I moved on to shooting with daylight, using a large, north-facing window in my house as the light source and opening the curtains completely. North-facing windows are best because no matter what time of day you shoot, the light will always be soft as the sun will never shine directly through it. I had no such problems on this dreary day. Daylight like this is lovely and soft, so it lends itself perfectly to flattering portraiture. With no willing human subjects on hand, I switched to this gerbera, which benefits just as well from the diffused light.

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I started by setting up with the window directly behind me, which created the shot above. It’s OK, but the light is very flat and the background is a little more prominent than I would have liked. To solve this, I moved the flower round by 90° to help create some shadows between the petals and tried again. Much nicer – there’s some improved definition on the stem of the flower and the background is darker!

The daylight was a little brighter than my artificial light set up, but not by a huge margin and, wanting to keep the ISO down, I shot tripod-mounted again. With a human subject, I’d have pushed the ISO higher. Despite the fact that I was shooting within one metre of a floor-to-ceiling window, daylight levels do drop off quickly as you move away from the window. To counteract this, I used an A2 sheet of white card as a reflector to push light into the left hand side of the flower.

A question of white balance

Every light source has its own colour temperature, which is measured in Kelvin, essentially this means that different types of light have different colours. The human eye automatically corrects for this, but cameras can’t so you need to make sure you set the correct white balance setting to make sure colours are accurate under different lighting conditions. It’s tempting to shoot with white balance on Auto, but this one size fits all approach can get caught out. Which is why I always change the white balance setting myself when I shoot. Shooting in Raw is also an option as you can change the white balance setting in post production; a luxury that isn’t available with JPEGs.

Your X series camera comes with a variety of preset white balance options – daylight, incandescent, shady, fluorescent etc – in the first instance, use one of these. But the X-series cameras also have a Custom white-balance option which helps you get super-accurate colours 100% of the time.

Using it is simple, just frame the shot as you want it, select the Custom white-balance mode and then follow the on-screen instructions. Essentially, you need to hold a piece of white paper or card in the same lighting as the subject and then let the camera do the rest. I did that on both set ups, as well as used some presets, the results of which are shown here. Of course, there’s no right or wrong here, you can simply pick the shot you like the best, but it’s well worth playing about with white balance settings. Give it a go, whatever lighting you’re using!

For more help with white balance & settings please find our dedicated tutorial here.