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How I Photograph Food + Restaurants with Canon Lenses

How I Photograph Restaurants with Canon Lenses || via A Thought For Food

How I Photograph Restaurants with Canon Lenses || via A Thought For Food

How I Photograph Restaurants with Canon Lenses || via A Thought For Food

How I Photograph Restaurants with Canon Lenses || via A Thought For Food

Some people just grow up with a brand. For me, it was Canon. It's what my parents purchased, thus it's what I learned on. When I bought my first camcorder in film school, it was made by Canon. As Eric and I started taking trips early on in our relationship, it was a Canon PowerShot digital camera that we picked up. So, it made sense that when I started getting more passionate about food photography and blogging that my first DSLR would be from Canon (naturally, a EOS Rebel DSLR).

Over the last five years of taking pictures (thousands and thousands of them), I think I've grown a lot as a photographer. In part, it has to do with the amount of experimentation I've done; working with natural light, some basic styling, and composition to get the right look and feel for each dish. But there's no denying that the equipment I've practiced on has influenced my work.

Initially, I shot everything for A Thought For Food using the lens that came packaged with the camera body (often referred to as a “kit lens”). It was an 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 and the results were ok... but the images were lacking the depth that I strove for. After researching lenses, I decided to purchase an EF 50mm f/1.8 II lens. Everywhere we traveled, every time we went out for lunch, I took that with me. It was light and compact, making it ideal for getting in some quick shots at a busy restaurant. I began a series of posts called Silent Sundays, where I did my best to capture the essence of these establishments. A few months later, I was asked by one of these restaurants to take professional photos for them. They liked what they saw in the Silent Sunday post and wanted me to come in to photograph their new menu items, as well as action shots of the dining room and in the kitchen.

After more work came in, I knew an upgrade was in order.  The best resource out there are other photographers, so I reached out to the ones I'd become friendly with. Everyone told me the same thing: spend the money on lenses... then upgrade your body when you're ready. Since I'm doing a combination of food/restaurant photography, as well as general lifestyle work, I wanted something that would be versatile, allowing me to not only take pictures of dishes and ingredients, but portraits as well. I borrowed a friend's EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens and knew that'd be the one to get the job done.

From there, I upgraded my camera body to an EOS 7D. Then I picked up some more lenses: an EF 50mm f/1.2L USM (a worthwhile purchase because of its wide aperture and USM (UltraSonic Motor), which allows the lens to autofocus faster than other models,), an EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM, and an EF 17-40mm f/4L USM. Last year, I bought the Canon EOS 5D Mark III (which has a full-frame sensor, versus the EOS 7D which is a crop-frame) At $3400 it's a scary purchase, but I'm absolutely in love with it. For those who feel ready to make the investment, you won't regret it.

Now that I've given you a little backstory, let me explain what's going on here. A few months ago, Canon asked me to talk a bit about how I use their lenses to photograph restaurants. To demonstrate this, I went to one of my favorites in the area, West Bridge. The design of the space is some of the best I've seen. There's a balance between rustic and modern that they've nailed and this also comes through in the food created by Matthew Gaudet.

You can view more restaurant images over on my portfolio site.

Interior of West Bridge in Cambridge, MA|| via A Thought For Food

Interior of West Bridge in Cambridge, MA|| via A Thought For Food

Photographing Restaurants with Canon Lenses

What's in my bag: Canon 5D Mark iii* Canon 6D (backup)Canon 24mm* Canon 50mm* Canon 24-70mm* Canon 100mmSD cards Batteries

West Bridge in Cambridge, MA|| via A Thought For Food

West Bridge in Cambridge, MA|| via A Thought For Food

Interior of West Bridge in Cambridge, MA|| via A Thought For Food

Interior of West Bridge in Cambridge, MA|| via A Thought For Food

Interior of West Bridge in Cambridge, MA|| via A Thought For Food

Interior of West Bridge in Cambridge, MA|| via A Thought For Food

Interiors + Exteriors

Dining at a restaurant isn't just about eating and drinking, but environment and mood too. Before photographing a dish, I capture other details: table setups, the bar, the kitchen, as well as any signage or outdoor dining area.

The majority of the time, I’m using one of two lenses: the EF 17-40mm f/4L or the EF 50mm f/1.2L.  The EF 17-40mm f/4L is a wide-angle lens, and, therefore, is able to take in a large amount of space in a single shot. The lens also works well in tighter spaces, such as restaurant kitchens. This is what I use almost exclusively for photographing dining rooms. It should be noted that, like all lenses, the results are different if you're using a crop-sensor camera. It's a bit more noticeable, though, when using a wide-angle lens, as you won't capture the same area that you would on a full-frame camera.

When I want to feature a specific section of a dining room or focus on certain details (a row of tables, light fixtures, patrons sitting at the bar, etc) I switch to the EF 50mm f/1.2L.  This lens, with its large aperture (models vary: f/2.5, 1.8, 1.4, or 1.2) allows for a shallow depth of field; a single item can be in focus when everything beyond it is blurry. I'll use this when I want the image to feel like it's from the perspective of the patron: looking across a long line of tables or down at a menu. This is seen in the above vertical images of the dining room and table with a place setting. Since I wanted to keep the majority of those images in focus, I went with a higher f-stop (f/6). Yes, the background is a bit blurry, but the table, plate, glass and chair are all crisp. However, you can see the difference if you look at the below food image (labeled “Quinoa, Char and Kale Salad: Left: Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM lens, Right: Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM”) that I shot at f/2.8. The dish is in focus, but the areas in front and behind are not. For more tips, and information, be sure to check out the Canon Explore Lenses website.

The size of the aperture on the EF 50mm F/1.2L makes it so more light can enter through the lens opening, thus making it ideal for low-light environments. This can be the case with a dining room, which are usually not well lit (especially during dinner service). The wide aperture allows me to shoot at a faster shutter speed (resulting in a crisper image) or a lower ISO setting (resulting in less grain (or “noise”) in the photo).

What's nice about photographing a restaurant using a fixed lens like the EF 50mm f/1.2L is that, as you walk around the restaurant looking for something to take a picture of, you already know the field of view that you're working with. This means that, in your mind, you already have your shot composed, even before you bring the camera up to take the shot. If I were to use a zoom lens, I'd have to look through the viewfinder and then compose my shot. I find this experience far more enjoyable.

Interior of West Bridge in Cambridge, MA|| via A Thought For Food

Interior of West Bridge in Cambridge, MA|| via A Thought For Food

Quinoa, coconut, radish, pomegranate, and kimchi at West Bridge|| via A Thought For Food

Quinoa, coconut, radish, pomegranate, and kimchi at West Bridge|| via A Thought For Food

Food

For photographing food, I'm often inclined to go with a fixed lens: the EF 50mm f/1.2L or EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM. The main reason for this is because the subject I'm shooting is stationary and, therefore, zooming in and out isn't necessary. The EF 50mm f/1.2L is the lens I use most frequently since the EF 100mm Macro would require that I stand in the middle of the dining room to capture a dish. I not only want a crisp, clean shot of the food, but it makes the subject more compelling to get some of the environment around the plate, which the 100mm won't provide.

With that being said, there are some instances when the EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro lens comes in handy. For example, there are times when a portion of a dish is more visually interesting than the whole plate. We'll use the beet and salmon roe toast featured below as an example. While this is a gorgeously composed plate, I find that the textures and colors of the dish are what really make it so striking. Therefore, getting in nice and close to the layers of beet, mustard, and roe, showcase it better than the shots photographed with the EF 50mm f/1.2L or EF 24-70mm f/2.8L .

Speaking of the EF 24-70mm f/2.8L. For a while, this was the lens I used exclusively for photographing food. And it does the trick. While I don't use it as often, I find that it comes in handy when I need to get an overhead shot of a table with multiple plates on it. The EF 50mm f/1.2L, as you can see, isn't wide enough (I'd have to stand on a chair or ladder to make that work). The EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro definitely wouldn't be the right lens. With the EF 24-70mm f/2.8L, I can usually hover above the table and get the shot that way... but I'm also 6'1" tall.

Quinoa, coconut, radish, pomegranate, and kimchi at West Bridge|| via A Thought For Food

Quinoa, coconut, radish, pomegranate, and kimchi at West Bridge|| via A Thought For Food

Beet and Salmon Roe Toast at West Bridge || via A Thought For Food

Beet and Salmon Roe Toast at West Bridge || via A Thought For Food

West Bridge || via A Thought For Food

West Bridge || via A Thought For Food

Wrapping Up

Yes, this has been an epic post... but a few more notes.

As I mentioned earlier, the lenses are where you should be investing your money. If you're just starting off in the world of food photography, I'd suggest starting off with an EOS Rebel DSLR and an EF50mm.  In fact, I had the pleasure of testing out a newer model of the Rebel, the EOS Rebel T5i, and an EF 50mm f/2.5 Compact Macro lens, which Canon sent along for me to play with. One thing I enjoyed about it, which I wasn't quite expecting, was how light it is. I've been carrying around a hunky camera for the last few years and it gets exhausting after a while (again, it's totally worth it).  The EF 50mm f/2.5 is a great intro into the world of fixed lenses. It's not an expensive investment and you'll see a huge difference from any smart phone pictures.

And before purchasing any very expensive lenses (we're talking $1000+), I'd suggest renting them from a photography store. For under $100, you can make sure that the lens works for your needs.

Photographing Food at West Bridge with Canon Lenses || via A Thought For Food

Photographing Food at West Bridge with Canon Lenses || via A Thought For Food

IMG_3456

IMG_3456

DISCLOSURE: This post was sponsored by Canon. As described earlier in this post, I've been a long time fan of their camera equipment. All thoughts and words are my own.

Showin' Some Love: My ONA Camera Bag

Showin' Some Love: My ONA Camera Bag | A Thought For Food |

Showin' Some Love: My ONA Camera Bag | A Thought For Food |

When I first started off as a photographer, I didn't have much in the way of equipment. I had a camera and a lens. That was it. I'd pack everything up in a messenger bag or backpack and head off to whatever restaurant or engagement photo session I was doing. It didn't take long for me to realize I needed a real camera bag. I did some research and found one that I thought would work for me. It could fit a body, a couple of lenses, and my laptop. Seemed perfect. After a few months, though, the thing started to rip. Now, I'm partially to blame for this. I packed it with more than it could handle. I traveled with it and abused it in ways I shouldn't have. But, for many reasons, that bag just wasn't right for me.  I needed something that was durable, but because I was doing a lot of location shoots, I wanted something that was stylish too.

ONA bags aren't just good looking (which they are... most people have no idea it's for camera equipment), but they comfortably fit everything one needs for a shoot. Over the last couple of months, I've taken the bag with me on countless projects and it has been a wonderful experience. Each compartment wraps snuggly around anything you put in... camera bodies, lenses, flashes. Unlike my other bag, which could only handle a body and a couple of lenses, the ONA Camps Bay camera bag I have handles 2 bodies (a 7D and 5D), 4 lenses (50mm, 17-40mm, 24-70mm, 100mm), a battery charger, a laptop and iPad, as well as all necessary cables. Yes, the bag got a little heavy, but I never felt like it couldn't handle the weight.

I brought the bag with me on a shoot at Coppa. My friend (and local business owner) Abby was nice enough to come out in the cold to help with taking pictures. Without her, I think it would have been a challenge to capture the whole process. Thanks Abby!

Showin' Some Love: My ONA Camera Bag | A Thought For Food |

Showin' Some Love: My ONA Camera Bag | A Thought For Food |

Showin' Some Love: My ONA Camera Bag | A Thought For Food |

Showin' Some Love: My ONA Camera Bag | A Thought For Food |

Showin' Some Love: My ONA Camera Bag | A Thought For Food |

Showin' Some Love: My ONA Camera Bag | A Thought For Food |

Showin' Some Love: My ONA Camera Bag | A Thought For Food |

Showin' Some Love: My ONA Camera Bag | A Thought For Food |

Showin' Some Love: My ONA Camera Bag | A Thought For Food |

Showin' Some Love: My ONA Camera Bag | A Thought For Food |

Showin' Some Love: My ONA Camera Bag | A Thought For Food |

Showin' Some Love: My ONA Camera Bag | A Thought For Food |

Showin' Some Love: My ONA Camera Bag | A Thought For Food |

Showin' Some Love: My ONA Camera Bag | A Thought For Food |

PHOTO CREDIT: ABIGAIL RUETTGERS AND BRIAN SAMUELS

Disclosure: The folks at ONA were kind enough to send me this bag to try out. I was not monetarily compensated for this post and all opinions are my own.

Why I Love Taking Pictures With My Phone (+ Some Tips/Tricks)

Seafood Display at Whole Foods (photography by Brian Samuels)
Seafood Display at Whole Foods (photography by Brian Samuels)

The first time I brought a camera into a restaurant was over two years ago.  This was before I'd purchased my first smart phone, and I lugged around my hefty camera and lenses wherever I went.  Despite the challenges of carrying a camera everywhere, this was my creative outlet and I loved capturing my favorite restaurants and landmarks.

Ever since I started working professionally as a food photographer, I do like to take a break from my camera from time to time.  Sometimes you just need a little space.  I rarely bring it along when we go out to eat or are traveling anymore.  On a recent trip to Vegas, I only took my camera out once, opting to use my phone to take all my pictures.

As a photographer, there's something very liberating about shooting with a smart phone.  First off, you can be discrete about taking pictures.  It's easier to capture the environment of a restaurant when you're not whipping out a massive lens.  Both patrons and servers get weird when they see a camera pointed at them (and I don't blame them for that... it's a bit intrusive).  A phone, however, can be used to take a picture without anyone noticing.

iPhone Food Photography Tips from Brian of A Thought For Food
iPhone Food Photography Tips from Brian of A Thought For Food
iPhone Food Photography Tips from Brian of A Thought For Food
iPhone Food Photography Tips from Brian of A Thought For Food
iPhone Food Photography Tips from Brian of A Thought For Food
iPhone Food Photography Tips from Brian of A Thought For Food
iPhone Food Photography Tips from Brian of A Thought For Food
iPhone Food Photography Tips from Brian of A Thought For Food

I also feel like I've grown tremendously as a photographer because of the amount I shoot with my phone.  I'm constantly finding ways to get creative in an environment when the light may not be ideal.  Or I see a dish and think, "Ok, what are all the ways I can shoot this?" and, to my husband's dismay, I play with every option.   It gets me thinking outside the box and that may be the most important thing for us as artists.

Over the last few months, I've started teaching classes on iPhoneography for folks who are interested in amping up their food photos.  I wanted to share a few points from that class with you today:

1. Remember that taking pictures with your phone is the same as using a DSLR... consider the key elements of photography: subject, composition, and lighting. Some dishes or ingredients aren’t always going to be bright and colorful, but there should be something about what you’re photographing that’s going to be interesting to the viewer.  Use the other elements (composition and lighting) to elevate the subject or create a mood.

2. Action can be the subject.

iPhone Food Photography Tips from Brian of A Thought For Food
iPhone Food Photography Tips from Brian of A Thought For Food
iPhone Food Photography Tips from Brian of A Thought For Food
iPhone Food Photography Tips from Brian of A Thought For Food

3. Texture does a lot to make a smart phone image interesting.  This can be as simple as shooting the dish on a rustic table (think aged wood) or textured background.  I've gone as far as to put my food on the sidewalk, using the bricks as my surface.

iPhone Food Photography Tips from Brian of A Thought For Food
iPhone Food Photography Tips from Brian of A Thought For Food

4. Use natural light... and never use the flash! I see it all the time. I'm at a restaurant and someone takes a picture and they light up the room with their phone's flash.  My suggestion, and this goes for all restaurant photography (even with a DSLR), is to only shoot during the day (or during day light).  It's incredibly difficult to take a shot of food with your phone in a dimly lit room.  Even if the dish is beautiful and the composition of the shot is perfect, the picture is going to come out super grainy.

5. Shoot from above.  Because the iPhone doesn't have the same depth of field capabilities as a DSLR, shooting from the side doesn't always work as well as one would like.  The best way to capture a dish (or a whole table of plates) is to get the shot from above.  If you do shoot from the side, keep your shot simple and with minimal props, because everything in the shot will remain in focus.

iPhone Food Photography Tips from Brian of A Thought For Food
iPhone Food Photography Tips from Brian of A Thought For Food
iPhone Food Photography Tips from Brian of A Thought For Food
iPhone Food Photography Tips from Brian of A Thought For Food

6. Taking pictures is fun!  If your friends are joining you at a restaurant, let them in on the experience.  You can even let them be your model.  They'll like that. And then let them eat.  They'll like that more.

iPhone Food Photography Tips from Brian of A Thought For Food
iPhone Food Photography Tips from Brian of A Thought For Food

To see some more of my iPhone shots, head on over to Instagram.  And to see my husband's pictures of me taking pictures of food, check out his Tumblr page, Waiting For It: Married to a Food Photographer.

The above pictures were taken at the following places (listed in order of appearance):

Whole Foods (Andover, MA) Barbuto (New York, NY) West Bridge (Cambridge, MA) Four Seas Ice Cream (Centerville, MA) Mei Mei Street Kitchen (Boston, MA) Lyric (Yarmouth Port, Cape Cod, MA) Island Creek Oyster Bar (Boston, MA)