What lenses are best for taking photos of cooked dishes?

In some articles, I have read that I can have great results with lenses f/1.4 because they are cheap and they give that nice blurred background.

Others have great result with macro lens, but these are quite more expensive.

How different the results would look?

Would the ones with macro lens look so much more professional that I should not even consider the f/1.4 ones?

Are macro lenses good only for very close distances? What the maximum distance away from the dish that it can be? Is it good only for cropped images?

edit: I rephrased my question to make it more clear.

  • @mattdm: this is more detailed about lens specifically
    – john
    Jun 2, 2011 at 22:03
  • Extra info. I need to take cooked dishes. And sorry for my mistake I wanted to write f/1.4 lens vs MACRO lens (not zoom ones).
    – john
    Jun 2, 2011 at 22:04
  • I don't think this is a duplicate, the cited question is asking for 'general advice,' and this one is more specifically asking about lenses... Jun 2, 2011 at 22:05
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    @john: Just a note that it is a really good idea to get your question right the first time in order to get the answers you want. It's really disrespectful to change the question after people have put time and effort into answering it for you. Might I suggest that in the future you compose your question(s) in a text editor, proofread them for grammar and spelling and also to make sure you asked the right question before you post it to photo-SE? If you start to get a reputation as someone who changes the question after posting people will tend to stop answering your questions... Jun 2, 2011 at 22:11
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    This has nothing to do with disrespect. On the contrary I fully appreciate your effors and detailed answer. It is only that my mind being tired and since I m a photographer newbie, I easily confused the macro with the zoom. A text editor couldn't correct my mind. Sorry, once more. I deeply apologize.
    – john
    Jun 2, 2011 at 22:19

4 Answers 4


As a point to consider - recently, CreativeLIVE had a weekend workshop on food photography w/ famous photog Penny De-Los Santos. She used mainly the 24-105mm f4L and 70-200mm f/2.8 on an EOS 5DmkII (full frame) camera during the workshop. You can see the full gear list here.

That said, when shooting food the studio style, you have control on most of the parameters. If shooting with a long lens from a relatively close range, then your DoF will be shallow even with moderately fast apertures (i.e., you don't have to go all the way down to f/1.4 or f/2.8 to frame a bowl of soup nicely).

Update: "Are macro lenses good only for very close distances? What the maximum distance away from the dish that it can be? Is it good only for cropped images?"

Macro lenses are usually good wherever their non-macro parallels are useful. You just get, in addition, the ability to get really close to the subject for some 1:1 magnification. Their maximum focusing distance (MFD) is infinity (except for some very specialized macros). I can't imagine a special need for macro when shooting a whole dish, but it can get useful if you want to shoot seeds, crumbs or other very small food elements.

  • I still did not understand what you mean about f/1.4. As I understand small f number is large apperture which produces shallow depth of field, so to have blured background and a 3D feeling. right? Source like learnfoodphotography.com/popular-food-photography-lenses propose f/1.4. As I check in the market they cost maximum 150$. Maybe I miss some basic idea?
    – john
    Jun 3, 2011 at 7:26
  • @john - Dof is a function of a few variables. One of them is the aperture. For a given perspective (vantage point) and framing, wider aperture gives shallower DoF. At the same time, using longer focal length and moving further away to similarly frame your subject will produce shalloer DoF for the same aperture. For a DoF calculator see dofmaster.com.
    – ysap
    Jun 3, 2011 at 13:49
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    [cont...] Now, I am not familiar with a DSLR f/1.4 lens for $150. However, there may be non-brand ones (Canon's 50/1.4 is around $400). Maybe you are referring to the f/1.8 lenses? My point is that if you use a 50mm lens to fill your frame with a normal size dish, an aperture of f/1.4 will render most of your dish out-of-focus (try the Dofmaster calculator to see the numbers). For this type of photos, I believe you will end up with a smaller aperture, which is why I said you not necessarily need a super-fast (large aperture), expensive lens.
    – ysap
    Jun 3, 2011 at 13:54

Q: I'm interested in food photography.

That's actually a broader statement than you may realize. Are you interested in professional food photography? Taking pictures of food that you've made? Taking pictures of food objects (say, a tomato or a carrot), or prepared food products (say, a gumbo, or a ham sandwich)?

Q: What lens are best for food photography?

Like most things in photography, there's really isn't going to be one 'best' choice that works for everyone all the time. It's not like there's a 'food photography lens' shelf at the camera store, after all. :-) What lens is going to be best is really dependent on what you want to accomplish with the lens... and the truth is that in all likelihood you need to be prepared for the idea that what you're really looking at is a few lenses that will help you accomplish the different looks you are after.

Now I do a fair amount of professional food photography, mostly of prepared food products for clients menus, or advertisements. If that is your goal then I can tell you that "in general" the lens you choose should be the best one you can possibly afford, but that the lens/camera is only 1/3 of the formula for a great shot... The other two elements being

  • The food stylist
  • The lighting setup

In general food photography is one of the more equipment and time intensive photographic disciplines. To do it well you can expect to lay out some serious cash... For your camera and lenses, sure, but also for your lighting setup, and in collaboration with food stylists, art directors, etc.

Q: There are some cheap ones with f/1.4 and there are the zoom lens which costs 3-4 times more.

Again it depends on what you plan on doing with the lens. In a general for food photography there is plenty of time to compose shots, move the camera around, etc. And (I know it's like a broken record with me) in general food photographers tend to favor a bag full of prime lenses over a zoom because... (sigh) in general, prime lenses have a wider range of f-stops available, and tend to be crisper than zoom lenses because there are fewer moving parts.

If, on the other hand, you're planning on taking pictures at food competitions, where you've got cooks racing around trying to build a 19 foot cake sculpture (or whatever), then having a zoom lens may be well worth the extra expense as you won't necessarily be able to serenely compose your food shots, of have full access to the area you're taking pictures in. In scenarios like this you won't be getting the shots your after if you don't have a zoom lens!

Q: Are there any other options?

Not really. Zoom lenses. Prime lenses. Those are your options...

Q: Can I take nice photos with the f/1.4?

You sure can! You can also take awful pictures with an f/1.4 lens too, though. :-) The magic isn't in the lens... it's in you! :-) I know, I know... I sound like a broken record... but food photography especially tends to be equipment heavy, and collaborative. Food stylists generally have the experience necessary to know how to make the food look amazing, and lots of lighting is generally necessary to make it pop on camera. There aren't really any shortcuts either... One light (or natural light) setups can never look like a 6 or 7 light studio shoot.

Q: Are the zoom lens necessary?

It depends on what you plan on doing with it... See my more full answer above.

Q: What settings are the best.

Just like there's not going to be a "one best lens" for food photography, there's also not going to be a "one best setting" for your camera. In general (I might need to start abbreviating that), food photographers shoot in full manual mode and understand every setting on their camera. This gives them the power to be able to manipulate the camera's settings in order to achieve the outcome that they want in their photograph.

There really is going to be no shortcut to actually learning how to use your camera when it comes to food photography, unfortunately. We're not going to be able to dial in your settings for you over the internet... :-) Fortunately the photo-SE community has some of the best advice available for learning how to use your camera, so without sounding like a used-car salesman, I'd advise you to use the photo-SE community to learn how to really use your camera!

  • Could you please add your opinion for lenses f/1.4 vs macro?
    – john
    Jun 2, 2011 at 23:21

Generally for product photography, you are not trying to take low light photos, nor are you trying to get a shallow depth of field. Therefore, what you need lenswise is a lens that has good optical qualities in the f/8 range. You don't need to pay for f/1.4.

If you mostly take pictures of things of a similar size, you may not need a zoom. I suspect a fixed lens in the 50mm to 100mm should do the trick.

Those lenses are plentiful and reasonably cheap.

An advanced photographer may want a tilt/shift lens, but this is a fairly advanced technique, in all likelihood not needed for the majority of food photographers. Those lenses are expensive and difficult to use.

What you will also need is a good tripod, a neutral background, and some kind of lighting equipment, including diffusing material and white refectors and / or a light box (you can do those yourself).

  • Do you have any link to find more details about tilt/shift lens? thanks
    – john
    Jun 2, 2011 at 22:26
  • Could you please add your opinion for lenses f/1.4 vs macro?
    – john
    Jun 2, 2011 at 23:22
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    I believe you really missed the point with your assertion regarding shallow DoF. Most (by far) pro food photos are composed with shallow DoF and large apertures. It really helps separating the subject matter from the surrounding table items.
    – ysap
    Jun 3, 2011 at 1:01

I use a 90mm macro Tamron and shoot in RAW with my Canon t1i and it gets great results. After shooting teeek the DNG in PS5 Bridge for even better results.

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