In the world of commercial photography, there are many genres or niches that you can specialize in. Food photography is one of those many sub sections of commercial photography, but surprisingly, it is the one that seems to intimidate most photographers. The art of food photography is not unlike product or still life photography – with one major exception; the subject has a very short shelf life, so you have to work very fast. Once the plate hits the table, you only have about ten or fifteen minutes to get your shot or the food with start to fade and look lifeless.
One of the most common questions that I hear is “what is the best lens to use for food photography?” This is a tough one to answer, because like so many things in photography, it depends greatly on the photographer. Choosing the right lens for food photography is nearly as personal as choosing a Canon over a Nikon or vice versa.
Prime lenses are the primary choice of the food photographer. The fixed glass produces a nicer image with less distortion than a telephoto or zoom lens. So, is there a preferred lens within this photography style? The answer is yes. There are two lenses that appear most often in the food photography world.
The first is the Canon EF 50mm f/2.5 Compact Macro Lensprime lens. Now anyone that has been around photography long knows that there are about 20 different 50mm primes on the market, some from camera manufacturers and some from the aftermarket suppliers. The ones most often selected are Macro lenses with apertures in the 2.8 or lower range. In the Canon world, the go-to is the 50mm f/2.5 Macro compact lens. It is fast, sharp, light, and a good value at around $400.00.
The second range that seems to be popular is a fast 100mm prime. Some like Macro versions and others do not, but just like the 50mm, a prime is the way to go here. No matter what range you decide to use, look for a prime lens, a fast aperture, and a Macro, or at least a lens with a close minimum focal distance. You will be able to work close to the plates and in lower light, and trust me, you will want that if you are shooting food.
So, is there a perfect lens for food photography? Well, for me, it is a 50mm prime on a full frame body or a 35mm prime on a crop body, but you may like a 100mm from more of a distance. Try a couple of different options so that you can see what fits your style. Renting or borrowing a lens is a great option if you do not already own either lens in these focal lengths.