This post is a follow up post for taking pictures with a tripod. The first post was about how to photograph food without a tripod. Using a tripod is my preferred method to guarantee you get nice and sharp (in focus) images.
If you don’t have a tripod yet, check out my Tripod Buying Guide. Not all tripods are created equally!
Please do NOT put your $500, $1200, or $3000 camera on a $100 (or less) tripod!
Do the math on that please. Small, cheap tripods are not stable, and you can easily have your camera crash to the ground as soon as you bump that tripod – and you WILL bump your tripod. It’s human nature.
You’re going to have to spend at least $200-$250 to get a decent tripod.
The entire reason you are using a tripod is to SAFELY hold your camera in position without it moving. So a tiny cheap tripod will not do the job.
Also see my post about how to set up your tripod properly.
My Formula For A Food Shoot With A Tripod
You can use this as a little cheat sheet and follow it step by step.
- Do a little pre-planning to figure out what you want to take pictures of by making a shot list.
- Set up your surface – I like to shoot on saw horses, or a much lower surface if I am doing an overhead shot.
- Roughly start laying out your props – no food yet, just plates and supporting props.
- Start to line up your image in your camera. Roughly work out your composition – again no food is on set yet, just see approximately where you want your camera to be.
- Once you know your angle of what you are shooting, place your camera on your tripod.
- Set your camera to “manual” shooting mode.
- Set your white balance to open shade, cloudy day, or daylight if you are indoors with natural light.
- Set your ISO to 100, or the lowest it will go. As we are on a tripod, we can now make sure that we don’t get digital noise with a high ISO. So you just set this and forget it – you do not need to change this when on a tripod.
- Now, set your F-stop to the F-stop you want to use for the depth of field you want. So if you want your background out of focus, you need a wide F-stop (small f-stop number), like F1.8 or F2 on a 50mm lens, or F4 or F5.6 on a 100mm macro lens. If you want a lot of things in focus, you need an F-stop with a higher number, like F8 or F11. Once you pick this, you don’t change it, unless you need to change your depth of field.
- Now, all you need to do is set your shutter speed to what ever it needs to be for the exposure you want. If you are inside by a window without direct light – start at half a second (looks like .5 on your LCD) if you are using a small F-stop like I describe above, and adjust from there. For the rest of the photo shoot, you will only be adjusting your shutter speed for proper exposure as the sun moves.
- If your image is too dark, you need more light, so slow down your shutter speed. If your image is too bright, you need less light so you need to speed up your shutter speed. Keep taking test shots until you have the right exposure.
- If your white balance doesn’t look good, then try setting your camera to Auto White Balance and see how that looks. The most common issue with natural light is your images will be too blue.
- Then, once you get your exposure set up, now start placing in your food. Determine where your focus should be by using your focusing points on your camera.
- Take pictures along the way. You are building your food to the camera and lens for a nice composition. It’s 10 times easier if you are shooting tethered.
- As you take pictures, the light will shift, as it always does, so adjust your shutter speed accordingly. You might have to make the shutter speed faster to make your image darker, or you might have to make it slower, to make the image brighter.
- Work with your food, take a picture and see what needs to be adjusted in your shot, then take another picture.
- Shoot, tweak, shoot, tweak, until you get the image you want.
I always take many pictures of my food set ups, from the same angle, as I am working through the shot. I am building my food to the frame of my camera.
I will take variations of the image by moving props around, take a picture, remove a prop, take a picture. Add a prop, take another picture. You get the idea.
I am also tethered to my computer so I can see exactly what my camera is capturing.
With natural light, your exposure will change while you are shooting, so I am adjusting that constantly. In this formula, the ONLY thing I am changing is my shutter speed for exposure.
If the clouds are coming and going, I might have to adjust my white balance as well.
If you’d like more tips and tricks for your food photography, have a look at my ebooks. There’s a free one, and a paid one as well.