Best lenses for food photography on the road and their uses is something I’ve been intending to cover for a while. It’s important to know what lenses you can use for shooting food when you travel and when you should be using them, whether you’re at a restaurant or market or on a food tour.
Whether you’re doing some food photography purely for your own delicious pleasure, for your food blog, or you’re aiming to pitch a story to a lifestyle, travel or food magazine, shooting mouthwatering food photos is a must.
I’m not talking about setting up restaurant shoots or shooting a studio cookbook or commercial photography here. This is just about shooting the food you’re about to eat in a restaurant or photographing raw or prepared food in restaurants, the markets, or on the streets, which is a very different way of working.
Here are my tips on the best lenses for food photography on the road and their uses.
Best Lenses for Food Photography on the Road
There are generally three focal lengths that I always try to cover when photographing food: 35mm, 55mm or 60mm, 100mm or 105mm. For me, these are the best lenses for food photography when you’re travelling.
The 35mm Lens – From Feasts to the Street (When You Want To Capture It All)
The 35mm lens is great for a spread of food, such as plates of noodles, herbs, and condiments at a market stall, an array of fruit or vegetables on a stand, or the classic spread of dishes that you get when you join a local family for a meal.
It’s my choice lens for street photography and for market visits as it’s wide enough to capture the atmosphere, but it also allows you to shoot food such as curries lined up in pots. It’s also great for full-length portraits of stall holders or chefs.
The 55mm Lens – The Restaurant Table Lens (When You Want To Get Close)
The 55mm lens I use is a ‘micro’ lens, as Nikon calls it, which really just means it can focus very close to the food. It’s a very old manual focus lens and the modern equivalent of it is the Nikon 60mm f/2.8G ED Auto Focus-S Micro-Nikkor, which is autofocus.
This focal length is my go-to when I’m actually sitting down to a meal as the 35mm is too wide and the 105mm will produce a shot that’s too tightly cropped – unless you want to sit at the next table to shoot!
I find the 55mm is the first lens I reach for when doing a food shoot as it’s perfect for photographing sections of plates and bringing the key ingredient in focus.
If I’m dining at a table, I might put on the 35mm lens and do a discrete overhead photo of the dish (such as the one above, photographed during lunch).
The 105mm Lens – The Dish Lens (When You Want To Get Really Close)
The 105mm length macro lens (this is for Nikon, the Canon go-to is the 100mm macro lens) is great for focussing on one plate, particularly when there is a table full of food that can be out of focus in the background.
This lens length is the go-to for professional food photographers as it reproduces what we’re photographing at a 1:1 ratio, which means that the size of the subject and its image on the sensor are the same.
More Lenses – From the Tilt Shift to the Zoom Lens
Another lens that professionals love is the Canon EF 90mm F2.8 TSE, the TS standing for Tilt-Shift, which essentially allows you to tilt the lens to create an even more shallow depth of field (read more about depth of field and food photography here) that you can achieve with a conventional lens.
As this lens is manual focus and tricky for the average photographer to operate, it’s usual habitat is in a commercial photography studio, not in a street market.
You can use a zoom lens or two that cover that range of focal lengths (the Canon 24-70mm or the Nikon 24-70mm are good choices), but they will lack the extreme close-up capabilities.
The Lens Starter Kit for Food Photography
If you’re beginning to build a starter kit of lenses for food photography, make your first lens either a 55mm or 100mm (Nikon) or 105mm (Canon), but note that the longer Nikon and Canon lenses are also great as portrait lenses.
Also see my post on natural light food photography on the road and food photography, depth of field, aperture and f-stops.
You’ll find more photography tips in my series Monday Memories, where I reflect on moments from my work as a professional travel and food photographer. Do you shoot food when you travel? I’d love to hear what lenses you use for food photography when you’re on the road.
If you’d like to learn more about shooting food and travel photography on the road, come join Lara and I in Cambodia on one of our Travel and Food Writing and Photography Retreats. We host scheduled small group trips in the low season and private trips on request throughout the year. More details on the previous link, as well as on our Siem Reap Retreats and Tours site.
Pictured above: A beautiful risotto dish at Catalan chef Paco Pérez’s two Michelin-starred restaurant Enoteca at the Hotel Arts, Barcelona, photographed with my inexpensive 35mm F2.0 Nikkor lens during lunch on our Barcelona trip last year.
Thank you very much for this interesting article. Just a little question : for someone who already owns a Micro NIKKOR 40mm f/2.8G with a cropped sensor camera D5600, do you think it’s worth replace it by a Micro NIKKOR 60mm f/2.8G (better quality of lens ? higher distance with the food which allows a better control of the light ?) ?
Terence Carter says
Hi Joan, given that the 60mm will be the equivalent of 90mm on your camera, it’s a better lens for food photography for sure. It’s also a good investment whether you stick with crop sensor cameras or go full frame. A good lens for portraits too – perfect for head shots on a crop sensor camera.