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Food Photography 101 with Canon South Africa – Poems, Pictures & Prose by Saaleha Idrees Bamjee

Food Photography 101 with Canon South Africa

I recently partnered with Canon South Africa to produce a short video with my top five tips for better food photography, and to share more of my photography practice on Instagram.

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The video is also accessible on the Canon South Africa Facebook page.

Here are the tips for your reference:

Harness and shape the light you have.
Look for an area close to a window, where the light comes in bright and evenly. You can diffuse or soften this light further with a diffuser or a sheet of thin fabric. If you find yourself shooting at times of the day or night where natural light is not available, use artificial sources of light, like your phone or a desk lamp and use something like a thin piece of white fabric or tissue paper to soften it. For best results, make sure the bulbs you’re using are marked at 5600 kelvin temperature to mimic daylight. To bounce more light into your scene, place a white board opposite your light source. To remove light, place black board in the areas where you want to deepen the shadows.

Pick the best lens for the scene you want to capture.
For wide scenes, where you want to include more of the background or for flatlays, use a wide-angle lens like a 28mm or a 35mm. If you want to photograph a scene close-up with good detail and more background blur, choose a longer macro lens like the Canon 60mm f2.8 macro for crop-sensor cameras or the 100mm f2.8. The longer lenses are also good for compressing a scene, useful if you’re using smaller backdrops and don’t want environmental distractions in your image.

Build your set in layers.
Arrange your food and props in layers to achieve a multidimensional scene that will hold the viewer’s eye. First decide what it is you want to be in focus and build your scene around that. Use crockery, cutlery, and linens to add interest. Use the ingredients that feature in your dish to add another layer to your image. Have a simple styling kit with things like tweezers to help you arrange smaller ingredients, and toothpicks to keep things in place.

Use an app.
Use the Canon Camera Connect app to wirelessly connect your camera to your phone or tablet device. Once connected, click Remote Live View Shooting on your device and you’ll be able to see at a glance if your composition is working. The app allows you to change your aperture, shutter and ISO from your device. It also works as a remote trigger, useful if you want to place yourself in the shot.

Set your focus.
Nail your focus before you attempt to capture a drip or drizzle shot. Set your focus on the tip of the food item and switch to manual focus to lock it in. Get your insta-spouse into position, set your camera to a fast shutter speed, anything above 1/125s and shoot in burst-mode just as they begin to pour or drizzle.

A bonus tip that’s not included in the video, is to always shoot in RAW format. Your file sizes will be much larger but you’ll be able to edit with greater latitude and recover highlights and shadows with less degradation than you would with a JPEG file. I use Adobe Lightroom for my post-processing but you don’t need to commit to a Creative Cloud subscription if you’re just starting out. Canon offers their Digital Photo Professional software for free and it has more than adequate functionality to process RAW files.

While most of my work to date has been shot on DSLRs, Canon’s mirrorless range is looking extremely capable and I got to shoot with, and keep, the EOS M50, a crop-sensor camera that I’d say is comparable image-quality wise to the Canon 80D Naeem now uses, but in a much more compact package. I bought a lens mount adapter so that I could use my existing EF lenses (as well as my third-party lenses) on the M50 and it works perfectly. I can say with certainty, that my DSLR will be staying at home once opportunities to travel and tour open up again.

For food photography, the M50 is a winner for me. Its form factor means I can spend a longer time shooting without feeling like I’ve just come out of arm-day at the gym. And the flip-out variable angle screen is so useful for photographing a subject overhead. Some of the manual controls are not where I’d usually find them on a DSLR but once I got used to the buttons and dials, I was able to get the results I wanted.

Canon M50 with EF50mm f/1.8 II lens on an EF-EOS M mount adapter


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I often say, “When in doubt, light from the side.” It’s a default method that will produce a decent image with enough tonal variations for interest. But, if you’re looking for a punchier image, perhaps something more high key, with an emphasis on highlights, try lighting your subject from behind. This will help you achieve glossier highlights and add a glow around your subject. Backlighting is well-suited for photographing beverages and translucent viscous subjects like oils and syrups. However, there are some things to be aware of when backlighting. Don’t shoot in Automatic mode as your camera will read all the white values in the image and automatically darken your subject. Adjust your settings for a well-exposed subject and don’t worry too much if the background looks like it’s blowing out. It’s also helpful to use a white board just in front of your subject to bounce light back on to it. If you’re shooting something like these honey-drizzled brownies, shoot at a few different angles, as the light will hit the glossy surfaces differently each time and you want your highlights glowy and not completely blown-out. Don’t be alarmed if the image looks a little washed out. Shoot in RAW and edit to bring in more contrast by adjusting your exposure, contrast, white, black, highlight and shadow sliders. I shot this on the mirrorless crop-sensor Canon M50 paired with a Canon 50mm f/1.8 lens on an EF-EOS M mount adapter. #dslr #canoncollectivesa #liveforthestory #backlighting #foodphotography #foodstyling #canonm50

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1. EF100mm f/2.8 Macro USM lens on an EF-EOS M mount adapter
2. 35mm on EF16-35mm f/2.8 III USM lens on an EF-EOS M mount adapter
3. EF100mm f/2.8 Macro USM lens on an EF-EOS M mount adapter


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Two of the challenges I face when shooting a flatlay or anything from above, are minimising the distortion a wide-angle lens introduces (especially to objects close to the edges of my frame), and keeping my camera at a level 90 degrees above my set to achieve that bird’s-eye-view look. One way to mitigate distortion at the edges is to shoot your scene wider than what you want the final image to be at. Make sure you’re shooting in RAW (or at your highest quality JPEG setting) and crop into your image in post-processing. Most new @canonrsa cameras have a built in digital viewfinder level and this is really helpful if you’re struggling to determine if your camera is positioned at 90 degrees to your subject. The viewfinder level is also useful if you’re shooting landscapes and want to maintain a straight horizon. I shot this with the EF-S 24mm f/2.8 STM on a Canon M50 (a mirrorless crop-sensor camera) using the EF-EOS M mount adapter. #canoncollectivesa #liveforthestory #flatlays #foodflatlay #foodphotography #foodstyling #passionfruit #granadillas

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I am a writer and photographer (look up my work on based in Johannesburg, South Africa. I have an MA in Creative Writing from the university currently known as Rhodes. My writing accolades include winning the 2014 Writivism Short Story Prize and the 2020 Ingrid Jonker Poetry Prize for my debut collection, Zikr.

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