Ask any photographer what question they get on the regular and I’m willing to bet “So, what camera do you shoot with…?” is top 3. I imagine it being the same type of question chefs get with the knives they use… because I ask them! Its how people relate. They know cameras, they know knives, so they want to know what someone who does it day in and day out uses, and thats fine. But at the end of the day cameras (and knives) are just tools and it all depends on how you as the artist use them. I am a little nerdy when it comes to specs and technical info though, so I do tend to like conversations about gear.
For those who might not know my background, I shoot weddings, so gear is sort of important since we use and abuse them. And I have a bunch of gear. Multiple cameras, lenses, flashes, etc., but everything has its place. When I first started doing my chef shoots a few years back I thought I needed *all* my gear like I do at weddings, then quickly realized that wasn’t the case. I lightened up my load as the shoots went on and decided to be as efficient as I could be without going over the top. Now all the camera equipment I carry with me to shoots are the ones you see in the pictures below. I always have 2 cameras (one for backup), 2 main lenses, 2 specialty lenses, two flashes (again, one for backup), flash triggers, a very portable light stand, soft box for portraits, and a couple of tabletop constant light sources for shooting food.
My main camera body these days is a Nikon D810 with the backup being my trusty Fuji X-T1 I used for a year before buying the Nikon. The Fuji also serves as my personal camera I take with me. I don’t own a point and shoot camera, so the Fuji is an everyday camera for me when my iPhone just doesn’t cut it.
For my chef shoots I primarily use 2 lenses 95 percent of the time. My go to lens is always my Nikkor 35mm f/1.4G with the Nikkor 85mm f/1.4G being the other. The 35mm is the best all around lens for focal length and I could – and have in the past – used it for shoots from start to end. But the lens everyone always wants to know about one I use for the opening shot of every post. The fridge shot. For the ‘money shot’ I use a Nikkor 16mm f/2.8 fisheye lens. I always joke about how much this lens cost me and the only thing I use it for is the fridge shot, and honestly, I have no clue what use I’d have for it if I wasn’t doing these shoots. The last lens I use is my macro lens, the Tamron 90mm f/2.8 1:1 Macro. Yes, a macro. While most people associate a macro lens with taking pictures of bugs and plants really close, these lenses tend to be fantastic for close up shots of food and portraits of people. A little slow focusing, but very useful! As for the Fuji, I have a Fujinon 23mm f/1.4 always attached to it. The focal length of the lens on the Fuji’s smaller sensor makes it a 35mm equivalent on my Nikon.
Speaking of food shots, I used to think what I needed for the final plates were studio grade lighting with reflectors, soft boxes, the whole nine yards. Let me tell you how fun it is looking like a fool carrying and setting up a ton of equipment to take a handful of simple shots after a whole shoot. Earlier this year I came across a pretty simple and amazing little light I use now, the Lowel Ego. These come with their own reflector and produce great light for what I need. If you’re a handy person – which I am not – you could MacGuyver the whole thing and build a light for yourself for $20 with parts from Home Depot or Lowes… or just buy them ready to go like I did. And to give everyone an idea, all the pictures you see below are taken with these lights setup in my kitchen at home.
The last frame of each shoot I always take a group shot of everyone involved. Family, friends, pets, everyone! Since lighting differs from shoot to shoot and the little tabletop lights I have won’t work, I need to ensure I have plenty of light for my group shot. For this shot I use one flash, usually my Nikon SB900, triggered off camera with the Phottix Statro II triggers and sitting inside a Wescott Apollo 28 inch softbox. In the past I’ve also used this setup to take pictures of food… but that was before the tabletop lights.
The last thing you see in the pictures below is a simple grey card I use. For those not familiar with its use, a grey card is used for white balance and color correction… either in camera before the shoot or afterward while you’re editing. Every situation is different, every room has different white balance, and as good as cameras might be these days, even the best of them can’t nail the white balance of a picture in every situation. So having this little card will save me a lot of headache later while I edit. Consistency in color and editing is key, so these little cards come in very handy. And in case anyone is curious what bag I use for carrying my gear to these shoots, I use an ONA Union Street messenger style bag. It fits both cameras, all 4 lenses, triggers, both flashes, and my backup batteries very comfortably.
So, now you know. If there’s anything I said that makes no sense, or you’d like to know more about my gear, feel free to leave a comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll gladly answer any questions you might have. There are a lot of subjects I’ll be covering in the next few months in these behind the scenes posts, so if there’s anything you’d like to know, please ask. Next up, I’ll cover how I do the fridge shot. Until then, look at some camera and gear porn.