Aperture plays a vital role in food photography. So what exactly is the best aperture for food photography? This will depend on multiple factors and what exactly we are shooting. Aperture in simple terms is the hole we have within our lens. Aperture is also known as an F-stop in photography. As we can find this on our camera under f/1.8 – f/2.8– f/3.5 – f/11 -etc..
What does aperture do? and why do we need it?
The reason we take the name F-stop for aperture is because essentially our aperture blocks/stops the amount of light coming into our lens. Here is where it can get confusing the smaller the number on our F-stop so for example f/2.8 the more amount of light we let into our lens. And opposite to this the higher the f-stop say f/11 the less amount of light we allow into our lens. Using for example a larger aperture or a smaller f-stop will also allow us to use a faster shutter speed. This can be greatly beneficial for shooting a pour shot for example as it can help us eliminate motion blur in our image.
In most cameras and lenses we find an aperture range of around 2.5 to 18. However these will vary depending on our camera and lens. Lenses will apertures of f/1.5 or f/2.8 are considered fast lenses. As these are able to pass more light through the camera. However this tends to be directly related to the cost of the lens. As these in general will come in at a higher price. A great option as a first lens to achieve a nice blurred background would be a 50mm 1.8 lens, greatly affordable and a perfect focal length, this is the my go to lens. The type of lens we purchase can make a dramatic impact on the effect of our final image (More on this later in the series).
Depth of Field
Have you ever come across a cupcake shot? and just drooled all over the image? Most like that cupcake is also captured perfectly front and centre with a beautiful blurred background. Our hero subject (the cupcake) is brought closer to the viewers eye and we create that sense of connection through photography. So what is depth of field? Depth of field (DoF) is one of the most important concepts in photography. The easiest way for me personally to grasp depth of field is understanding it as the area of our image that appears sharp.
A large aperture or small f-stop for example f/2.8 will produce a shallow depth of field. Isolating a part of our image and blurring out our background (for example our cupcake) On the other hand, small aperture or a large f-stop, for example f/11 will produce a large depth of field.
Using a shallow depth of field, will allow us to make our subject stand out among the rest of the image. But it’s important to note that we need to be careful using this effect. As if we use too small of an f-stop we can risk the hero subject itself being out of focus.
How to translate this to food photography
Now that we understand what aperture is it’s important to know that our aperture works in tandem with our ISO and shutter speed. I often get asked what are the best settings I should be using on the camera. And while I’d love to give one direct answer to this questions. This can change dramatically depending on the light that day and on the final effect we are after with the image. Not to mention it’s important to think of what we are shooting. Are we shooting a flatlay with multiple focal points? Such as a dinner spread, with these images we will want to see the majority of our image in focus.
Therefore if we are shooting a flatlay or overhead shot I would recommend a higher f-stop. Starting somewhere along the lines of f/5.6. Take a picture, zoom in on the image, take a peek on what’s in focus and go from there. However it’s also important to remember that our depth of field will change depending on how close or far we are from our subject. The shorter that distance, the smaller the depth of field.
Head on shots:
When it comes to shooting a frontal image of our hero subject. Our aperture will depend on how much of the background we would like in focus. I tend to shoot anywhere between f/2.8 – f/4. This way I can make sure my subject is in focus, but still achieve that nice blurred out background.
Some examples below:
If we look at the photos above, on the image on the left I used an aperture of f/5.6 allowing my hero subject and the apples to be completely in focus. In the photo on the right, I used an aperture of f/2.5, giving us a background and surrounding blur and focusing the detail on the sliced apple.
When it comes to aperture in food photography getting too technical can take the enjoyment away from the photography itself. It is much more important to understand how aperture for example can help us achieve that gorgeous blurred background, and simply play with the settings on your image.
The above images I shot with a simple composition, in the exact spot on a tripod and a bigger difference in depth of field. The image on the left was shot at a larger apperture f/1.8 and the image on the right with a smaller aperture of f/6.3. On the left image we have that background blur effect. But with a closer look you can see that not the entire muffin is in focus due to the small f-stop. And same goes for the image on the right. At f/6.3 we achieve more elements in focus but we can still see the a slight blur effect surrounding the borders of the photo.
It’s also important to remember that it doesn’t matter how beautiful your cupcake or hero subject looks. If we can’t get it in focus. Blurry images are never as beautiful as sharp ones. Learning how aperture works in food photography, along with shutter speed, and ISO can dramatically change the result of your images.