Photographing Food Hand Held Camera

I hope you all are doing OK in these crazy times. My sincerest condolences for you and your loved ones that have been impacted by this pandemic. It is certainly a scary time in the world right now with a lot of uncertainty.

Many of you have been reaching out to me because you are having to work from home now more than ever, and have some extra time to work on your food photography.

I wanted to share a few simple formulas with you. The first one is what this post is about – how to photograph food without a tripod in natural light. The second one (future post), will be how to photograph food with a tripod.

My Formula For A Food Shoot Without A Tripod

You can use this as a little cheat sheet and follow it step by step.

  1. Do a little pre-planning to figure out what you want to take pictures of by making a shot list.
  2. Set up your surface – I like to shoot on saw horses, or a much lower surface if I am doing an overhead shot.
  3. Roughly start laying out your props – no food yet, just plates and supporting props.
  4. Start to line up your image in your camera. Work on your composition – again no food is on set yet, just see how you like your props so far.
  5. Set your camera to “manual” shooting mode.
  6. Set your white balance to open shade, or cloudy day if you are indoors with natural light.
  7. Set your shutter speed to at least 1/125th of a second (slower than that and you will get motion blur in your shots). Honestly, I can’t hand hold with my shutter speed less than 1/250 of a second.
  8. 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.
  9. Now, all you need to do is set your ISO to what ever it needs to be for the exposure you want. If you are inside by a window without direct light – start at 400 ISO 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 ISO for proper exposure as the sun moves.
  10. If your white balance doesn’t look good, then try setting your camera to Auto White Balance and see how that looks.
  11. 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.
  12. Take pictures along the way. You are building your food to the camera and lens for a nice composition.
  13. As you take pictures, the light will shift. It always does, so adjust your ISO accordingly. You might have to make it lower to make your image darker, or you might have to make it higher, to make the image brighter.
  14. Work with your food, take a picture and see what needs to be adjusted in your shot, then take another picture.
  15. Shoot, tweak, shoot, tweak, until you get the image you want.

Working through a shot with multiple images of cheese and almonds

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.

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 ISO for exposure.

If the clouds are coming and going, I might have to adjust my white balance as well.

Our next post will be about how to photograph food with a tripod – my favorite way of shooting.

If you’d like more tips and tricks for your food photography, have a look at my ebooks.

Food Photography Ebooks | Food Photography Blog

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