Sharpness is one of the things that food bloggers regularly want to improve in their photography. Sharpness is also a blanket term for several issues, so let’s have a look at those and help you get sharp food photos.
SHUTTER SPEED / CAMERA SHAKE
One of the first things to examine if your food photos aren’t sharp is your shutter speed. There is a rule of thumb in photography that your minimum shutter speed needs to be at least the reciprocal of the focal length of the lens to avoid camera shake when taking a hand-held photo.
Apologies if that makes your brain hurt. What that means in real terms is that:
– When shooting with a 50mm lens, you want a shutter speed of at least one fiftieth of a second (or one sixtieth of a second on your camera, because there isn’t a setting for a fiftieth of a second).
– With a 28mm lens, you want your shutter speed to be at least one 28th of a second (a thirtieth of a second on your camera settings).
– And when shooting with an 85mm lens, you want a shutter speed of at least one eighty-fifth of a second (a hundredth of a second on your camera settings).
You can remove camera shake by using a tripod and remote or cable shutter release. If you do this, shutter speed does not matter as your camera is not moving while your photos are taken.
Sharp food photos are sometimes seen as those where the light ‘pops’ and shadows have crisp, well defined edges. Getting this right is easiest and best to do with your lighting when taking your photo. A good way to start is to shoot your photos using a large sheet of diffusion fabric over a window or a door as your light source. I use a couple of metres of Neewer fabric from Amazon. This effectively turns your window or door into a large soft box.
If you’re using artificial light, then use diffusion fabric or a soft box to soften and diffuse the light. On the opposite site of your light source, put a silver reflector to bounce light back into your shadows. Or you could use kitchen foil over a board or foam core. White card does reflect, but in a gentler way. Use the shiny reflective surfaces for light that ‘pops’ more and white boards or reflectors for softer reflected light.
Many photographers, especially those just starting out, expect their post-production in LightRoom or other editing software to do all the heavy lifting for photos that pop. That can work, but also tends to blow out highlights, so that the details in your white and light areas are left without details.
Digital photo files need at least some kind of ‘kick’ from post-production. If you’re downloading jpegs from your camera, this is done for you by the camera’s software. If you’re shooting raw files, it is not, which is why some people find switching from shooting jpegs to raw a disappointment.
The most common ways of adding punch to your files include changing the tone curve from linear (flat) to having medium or strong contrast or increasing the contrast slider. Post-production of your food photos is a WHOLE subject on its own!
Did you know that when you’re exporting from LightRoom, you should be using sharpening? This can make ALL the difference between a photo that looks clean and crisp and one that isn’t.
Sharpening should only be done when you have resized your photo. For example, after you’ve resized and edited your photos to have them printed, you would add sharpening ‘for print’ for the export. If you have just resized a photo for Instagram and want to export it, you would add sharpening ‘for web’.
Check that your lens is clean. Check the front of the lens and the back, just in case you or someone else has put a finger or thumb on the glass when changing the lens. It can be THAT easy to fix your sharpening issues!
TROUBLESHOOTING FOR SHARP FOOD PHOTOS
If you’ve tried all of these things and you’re still not getting sharp food photos, you can look at your equipment. Lenses can be knocked so that the glass units inside are no longer where they should be. This needs a repair from a professional at a camera repair centre or your manufacturer. Some photographers even have their lenses calibrated to their cameras for maximum focusing and sharpness. If you’re using your cameras heavily, they can benefit from annual servicing.
I hope this list helps you get the sharp food photos you want. Please comment below about what you do to take sharp photos – I’d love to know.
If you want more help with your food photography, you can get the Food Photography Quick-start Templates to help you with that. The templates contain three templates for taking food photos including styling, lighting set-up and camera settings.