A Recipe for Success: Macro Lenses in Food Photography

Updated: Jan 24, 2019

Forever thinking about the next meal; always in search of that perfect balance of flavours. I'm drawn to bold colours, graphic shapes, beautiful light and have an obsession with tonal gradation.  I think what I really love about food is the same thing that I love about photography. While the two things might seem quite different, in reality, they have much in common. They are about taking disparate elements, that on their own are seemingly banal and through a balance of technical knowledge and vision, something new and exciting is created.


Salmon. Image by Victoria Baldwin

Every job my kit is a little different depending on the needs of the shoot; what kind of light we are using, if it’s a pack-shot, a recipe or ingredient image and if it needs to be shot locked off on a tripod or can be shot handheld. Generally, my kit contains a tripod and camera (with backup), a tethered laptop, a 50mm prime lens, a 24-70mm zoom lens (in-case the space doesn’t work for the focal length I prefer) and a 105mm macro lens (plus plenty of batteries, cards, tether cords, bits of grip etc.)


Within that kit, the most used and probably most interesting piece if my kit is the Macro lens. The AF-S VR Micro Nikkor 105mm F/2.8G IF ED is a more expensive option to the good old nifty fifty, but it brings something very special to the table. Macro lenses are powerhouses as they perform double duties. They have a focusing range from 0.5m to infinity, meaning they can shoot beautiful, up-close and larger than life images, but they also work for longer focal range, creating beautiful product images and portraits.


Nikon’s current lenses are exceptionally sharp, with high contrast and excellent color separation and saturation. On the flip side to this, one of the great things about Nikon is that most of the vintage lenses are compatible with their modern bodies. Personally I regularly uses a Nikon 105mm 2.8 ai-s. It was first made in 1983, it is a manual focus lens and it is exceptionally well-made. When attached to professional cameras it has three very precise electronic manual focus indicators, meaning focusing is no problem. It has a small screw to lock focus when shooting in a studio scenario and has a wonderfully smooth focusing ring. Nikon’s optical quality has been excellent for many years and many antique vintage lenses can compete well with their modern counterparts, stopped down past f4 they become quite sharp. This means you can pick up an older lens that is a bit cheaper that still works wonderfully!


Radish. Image by Victoria Baldwin

If you are looking for a lens for your food photography, I would definitely recommend a macro lens. Macro lenses (especially long ones) are valuable for a few reasons:

  1. Longer lenses help with composition as objects appear compressed and more pleasing

  2. The 1:1 ratio of most macro lenses mean that the size that an object appears on the sensor is the size that it is in real life.

  3. The minimal focal distances are usually very short meaning you can get very close to your subject. This helps with storytelling as you can capture rich detail shots that instantly look impressive.

  4. Using a longer lens means you can move back and shoot from further away meaning less lens distortion, and more ability to control lighting from the front of your subject (this is especially helpful when shooting from a ¾ angle, so plates don’t appear as oblongs)

  5. These lenses perform double duties as they can be used from focal distances of 0.5m to infinity meaning they they create beautiful close-ups and also wonderful product and portrait images.



On a recent trip to Japan, my partner and I spent a considerable amount of time trawling through vintage lens shops. It can be a pretty nerve-wracking experience if you read anything about it, as many shop owners are very picky about who they permit to purchase their lenses. No bags, no loud talking, no using phones, no blowing noses. There are a lot of rules! In one shop I was trying to use Google translate to read the price sticker and the vendor became very disgruntled. He thought I was taking photos of the prices to spy for other stores, which was seen as a sign of disrespect. He had an extensive range of many beautiful vintage lenses and was very protective of them. Needless to say, he did not permit me to purchase the lens from him and we hurried out the door!



There are a few things to consider when choosing the right lens for you; how much space do you have to shoot in? This will impact the length of the lens you are able to use. If you are shooting from a small home bedroom turned studio, you probably won’t be able to use anything longer than 100mm as you won’t be able to fit enough in your frame. I would recommend hiring a zoom lens in this case and figuring out a length that works for your space and moving from there.


Cutlery. Image by Victoria Baldwin

Weight is a definite consideration - do you shoot on a tripod or handheld? Most food photography is done on a tripod, so I don’t have to worry about this one much, but you do want your kit to be versatile.




Victoria Baldwin is an Auckland based photographer with a passion for food. Forever thinking about the next meal; always in search of that perfect balance of flavours. She's drawn to bold colours, graphic shapes, beautiful light and has an obsession with tonal gradation. 


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