Exercises In Food Photography #1 : Aperture and DoF


Exercises In Food Photography #1 : Aperture and DoF

When I accidentally discovered an enduring passion for photography through my food blog, all I had by way of gear was a Point Shoot camera. People will tell you that the camera doesn’t matter and it’s the photographer that makes (or breaks) a photograph and that’s true enough up to a point. But don’t under estimate the power of a dSLR and the difference it can make to the quality of your photograph, though getting one does not automatically improve your photography.

So I upgraded to a dSLR which came with an 18-55mm kit lens. I also added on a 50mm f/1.8 lens which I could barely afford despite it being the cheapest lens that Canon probably makes! Despite its affordability, the 50mm isn’t called the “nifty fifty” for nothing as I’m sure you might have discovered if you have this lens.

Now I had the dSLR, I needed to work on my photography and I wasn’t sure where to start. I spent a lot of time reading up, took a short 1 week course on photography basics, and dug around on the net for pointers. I also discovered that setting myself photography projects/ assignments was a good way to get in some focussed practise. I found working alone wasn’t motivating me soI joined a couple of groups on Flickr which helped me tremendously. Of course, it is important to learn the basics of photography and it some time and effort but that’s the only way to improve.

I am starting this series because I got some requests as well as feedback saying some of you interested in joining me on working their photography skills and taking them a bit further. I thought one way of doing this was start a series of once-a-month exercises in food photography, each with a different theme. Anyone interested could join in.

Let me also stress at this point, as I always do, that I am not a professionally qualified photographer and just tryiong to share whatever I have learnt so far about the practical side of the craft. I shall do about 4 or 5 posts in this series and if I find there aren’t too many participants for these exercises, I shall discontinue them. Please note that this is not a competition and there are no prizes for the “best” photographs.

The Exercise:

This first exercise is very simple and deals with Aperture and DoF (Depth of Field). All you need is dSLR camera, a 50mm f/1.8 lens, some food to photograph and a desire to spend some time on thinking and executing your photograph. If you have a PS where you can set the aperture manually, then you’re welcome to join this exercise.

For those without a 50mm lens, use whatever lens you normally use to shoot food, and shoot at two apertures. If you have an 18-55mm kit lens for example, set the focal length of your lens to say 24mm (zoom in your lens until the mark is at 24mm on the lens barrel). Then shoot at the lowest aperture possible at that focal length (probably f/ 4.0) and then shoot the same at f/ 5.6 or f/ 6.3. The result will differ from that of the 50mm lens but you can still see the difference.

While this is not a competition, it is still about improving ones photography, so it would be nice if you could think about your composition and what goes into your photograph in terms of your subject, props, colours, light, etc. This may be an elementary exercise for most, but for the benefit of those new to this your photographs will need a foreground and background so that the background will show up “blurry”

Exercises In Food Photography #1 : Aperture and DoF

(Aperture : f/ 4.0, Shutterspeed : 1/25s and ISO : 100)

I decided to shoot photographs of Muesli for breakfast. Cereal, milk and toast are not something we really like but it is an easy option for the occasional mornings when I have very little time to cook a regular breakfast. I find that I like Muesli with yogurt and some fruit much better.

For this particular exrecise, I used a black background (thick handmade paper) with a bowl of Muesli in the foreground and some milk, orange juice and the morning paper in the background. There’s natural; light streaming in from the right which I reflected using a white foam board on the left to remove some of the shadow cast by the bowl. Both were shot with a 50mm f/1.8 lens on a tripod at ISO 100.

Exercises In Food Photography #1 : Aperture and DoF

The shallow DoF is visible in the “blurry” back portion of the bowl of Muesli and background in the photograph on the left (aperture - f/ 2.0, and shutterspeed - 1/80s) and whereas both the bowl and the background are much sharper in the photograph on the right (aperture - f/ 5.6 and shutterspeed - 1/13s)

So which photograph would you prefer, the one with the "blurry" background or the other one?

Both are the same composition-wise, but I prefer the one taken at f/ 2.0 to the one at f/ 5.6in this instance because personally I feel the shallow DoF draws my eye to the "sharp" part of the Muesli in the bowl which is the "hero" of my shot. The version I liked best is the one higher above in this post, taken at aperture f/ 4.0.

However, my daughter prefers the shot on the right because "everything is comparitively sharper. So there's no real right or wrong photograph and that "blurring" doesn't always work in every photograph or for everyone, its just a question of personal preference.

What You Have To Do To Join In:

Take 2 exactly same photographs of your subject (any food of your choice) using the 50mm lens, one at aperture f/2.0 and the other at f/5.6. The exposure, composition, ISO, White Balance and other parameters should be the same to enable comparison.

Of course, when you change the aperture the shutter speed will also change to maintain same exposure. You may choose to shoot in whatever mode you want, though Av (Aperture Priority) or Manual are good modes to use.

You will also need a tripod to ensure you shoot exactly the same frame for both photographs. If you don’t have one, you can prop your camera on a pile of books or something similar as an alternative to a tripod, but it might be difficult to shoot 2 very similar photographs hand held.

Post the photographs and details about them on you blog, including what aperture, shutterspeed and ISO settings you used. It would be nice if you could do a ditych (two photographs side by side, as one) of your photographs or place them side by side in your post, if possible, for easy comparison.

Also include any other details about the lighting, use of reflectors or anything that would help others understand your photographs better and maybe learn from them.

Please ensure that link back to this post/ page in your blog post. Then add the link to your Photography Exercise post using the Simply Linked Widget that appears at the bottom of this post. This will direct readers to you blog and allow them to read your post. If you do not have a blog, then upload your photographs on Flickr or any other hosting site and then use the link of that photograph in the Widget.

The deadline for this exercise is the 25th of May, 2012 so that gives you a little over 3 weeks to get it done. I’m hoping that I will have a lot of company in this series of exercises and am looking forward to seeing all your photographs.

If you have any doubts or need any clarifications about this exercise, please leave a comment at the end of this post and I'll get back to you.

Other Exercises In This Series:

Exercises In Food Photography #2 : Less Is More, So Let’s Keep It Simple!

Exercises In Food Photography #3 : Overhead Food Shots – A View From Above

Exercises In Food Photography #4 : Feature Just One Ingredient!

Exercises In Food Photography #5 : Adding Some Life To Your Photograph!

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