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Mouth-watering Macro: The Art of Close-up Food Photography


Everyone would have taken a food photo at least once in their lives. Just take a look at the countless pictures of food uploaded onto social media every day! But the popularity of the genre means that you need to make extra effort to make your shots stand out. Here, we share a technique for capturing food like you have never seen it before, using the example of sweets and desserts—possibly the most common type of food photographed.

Strawberry on fruit tart


Need to get up close and detailed? Macro lenses are your best friend

Capturing the intricate details of a subject—including food—can provide an interesting perspective. In order to do that, you need to get close to it. But try doing that with an ordinary lens, and you would probably realise that when you go closer than a certain distance, you won’t be able to focus.

This is because every lens has a closest focusing distance (also known as a minimum shooting distance). This distance indicates the minimum distance that must be between the camera and the subject for the focusing mechanism to work.

Every lens has a different closest focusing distance. On a macro lens, it is usually shorter compared to other types of lenses. This is why macro lenses are often used to take pictures of tiny objects such as insects, flowers, water droplets and small trinkets. In this article, we show you how to use them to take photographs of sweets and desserts that will make your viewers salivate.


Chocolate bark on cake

This was shot at the closest focusing distance (25cm) of a standard zoom lens (EF-M18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM). Any closer than that and the lens won't be able to focus.


Close-up of chocolate bark and gold flakes

On a macro lens, you can get much closer. This was shot on the EF-M28mm f/3.5 Macro IS STM, which has a closest focusing distance of 9.3cm in Super Macro mode, enough to fill the frame with the chocolate bark.


1. Not sure what to do with the composition? Get close and make the subject’s shape the centerpiece!

Close-up of toasted meringue cream showing texture

EOS M50/ EF-M28mm f/3.5 Macro IS STM/ FL: 28mm (45mm equivalent)/ Aperture-priority AE (f/4, 1/20 sec, EV+0.33)/ ISO 800/ WB: Auto

When photographing desserts, you will probably find yourself agonising over the composition more than anything else. A macro lens provides an easy option: Simply get close, and there you have it—a fascinating new angle. I found the shape of this toasted meringue frosting on a tart unique, and shooting close-up helped to capture it in full glory.


Bonus: The macro lens also captured the texture details of the dessert, which makes the shot even more evocative. We explore this more in the next point.

Tart with toasted meringue cream

A shot of the whole dessert doesn’t play up the “charm points” of the dessert, and simply tells the viewer what it looks like. Not as alluring.


2. Tempt your viewers with close-ups of delectable details

Close up of citrus cake

EOS M50/ EF-M28mm f/3.5 Macro IS STM/ FL:28mm (45mm equivalent)/ Aperture-priority AE (f/8, 1/20 sec, EV±0)/ ISO 400/ WB: Auto

The most delicious-looking food photos create a multisensory experience. They don't just tell you what the food looks like, they also evoke your other senses so that you can imagine the aroma, the taste, and the feel of biting into it or having it in your mouth. Close-ups can help to achieve that, especially if your dessert has fine textures or delicate details. Aim for the areas that you feel are the most compelling. I was drawn to the yellow colour and fine texture of this cake, and decided to shoot it as close-up as I could. The yellow fills more than half of the entire frame, and the fineness of the crumb is also clearly depicted.


Whole citrus cake showing orange slice

This pretty shot is “eye candy”: It tells viewers what the cake looks like, but it’s harder to imagine what it would feel like biting into it. There are also too many distracting elements in the shot (the orange slice, wooden background etc.).


3. Use your focus to guide the viewer’s line of sight

Decorated chocolate bar with decorations in focus

EOS M50/ EF-M28mm f/3.5 Macro IS STM/ FL: 28mm (45mm equivalent)/ Aperture-priority AE (f/5.6, 1/8 sec, EV+0.67)/ ISO 800/ WB: Auto

To create a compelling food photo, you need to make sure that you achieve proper focus. Don't just place your focus anywhere. Instead, decide on which part of the subject is the most compelling to you and place your focus there. For the shot above, I made sure that the dainty toppings on the surface of the white chocolate were clearly in focus.


Decorated chocolate bar with decorations out of focus

If the focus isn’t placed on the part of the subject that you want to show viewers, the shot looks confusing and incoherent. Decide on what you want to draw your viewers’ eyes to, establish focus on it, and shoot. You might need to take a few shots to nail it.


Tip: For more precise focusing, magnify the Live View display

Live View display (normal size)

The focusing frame in the 1x (regular size) display.

Live View display (10x magnification)

The focusing frame at 10x magnification.

To check that your focus is precisely where you want it to be, use the magnification feature in Live View. It allows you to magnify the image by 5x or 10x, which makes it easier to see where your focus really is. This is especially useful in macro photography, where it can be hard to achieve precise focus because of the shallow depth-of-field.


Summing up

To make your dessert photos stand out from the countless similar shots flooding social media, don’t shoot simply just to record images of a pretty dessert. Instead, look a bit closer, admire the dessert a bit more, and try to home in on the elements that fascinate (or tempt) you. When you do that, your shot expresses a point-of-view that is uniquely yours. That alone will give it a notch more impact.

Canon has macro lenses to match every mount, regardless of whether it’s an RF lens, EF lens, EF-S lens or EF-M lens. So if you don’t own one already, why not start today?


For more food photography inspiration, check out these articles:
Taking Dramatic Food Photos in Chiaroscuro Style
3 Ways to Elevate Your Food Photography with Canon EOS R

For food photography lighting tips, head to:
Take Mouth-watering, Juicy-looking Pastry Pictures With These Light Control Techniques
Simple Product Photography: Flowers & Confectionery
Food Photography: 2 Ideas for Photographing Jelly Desserts
Macro Lens Techniques - Get Fresh, Appetising Pictures of Tarts & Pastries

To refresh your food photography basics, go to:
5 Ways To Up Your #Foodstagram Game


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