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I'm an award-winning commercial photographer, graphic designer & educ..
  Recipe from PAIRED: Champagne & Sparking Wine by Fran Flynn & ..read more
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  It can take some time to be convinced of the value of using a tripod for food photography, but once you get to grips with it, you will never look back. Finding the best tripod to suit your workflow and budget will become a top priority and the options can be overwhelming. This guide will help you to make the best choices.First, a little disclaimer. I’m currently not contracted as an ambassador of any equipment brands, so I don’t offer affiliate links and my opinion is unbiased. Having said that my knowledge of available options is not exhaustive and I can only share opinions based on what I’ve personally used. If you have experience with other options that have rocked your world, I’d be very interested to hear about them.Here are my top 8 considerations when purchasing a tripod for food photography. 1) CostOnce you have reached the point that you know you need a tripod, it is worth your while to buy the highest quality tripod that you can afford at the time. A tripod isn’t like a camera or lens. It doesn’t have software that will become obsolete or multiple new ‘essential features’ appearing on each new release. It can be dropped a few times and not break. It is likely to be something that you will continue to use for years and years so it can be considered an investment piece. The most important thing to be aware of is that there are countless super cheap tripods that I can guarantee will become a bin item within weeks of purchase. It shocks me a bit when I see how low quality some of the tripods my students have purchased are. I can honestly say that a large proportion are not fit for purpose. My advice, save your hard-earned dollars and buy something that will endure. As a rough guide, you can expect to spend at least a few hundred dollars to get a decent tripod and head.2) WeightWeight is a significant consideration when it comes to buying a tripod. There is a big difference between the kind of tripod you would buy for travel and adventure photography versus what you need for food photography. For the former, you would aim to get something as light as possible, while maintaining stability. You might even choose an option that includes foot spikes that you can embed into the earth to help retain position. Most food photography is done in a studio or indoor environment. The majority of shots are quite close up and slow shutter speeds are important, so having a solid tripod that doesn’t knock or wobble easily is key. It’s unlikely that you will be lugging your food photography tripod for long distances attached to a backpack so you can afford to go for something heavy and durable. 3) Leg locksLeg locks are the connectors between each section of the legs, that allow the legs to extend and then lock into your selected position. There are two main types. Twist-leg locks open and close with a twist, with the compression becoming tighter with each twist. Flip locks are a flap that creates a tensioned compression on the leg when it’s closed. Crappy leg locks are THE most annoying thing ever. Tripods are awkward and cumbersome at the best of times. Grappling with leg locks that malfunction is enough to make you want to throw the tripod through a window!You will find people that will argue for and against both kinds. For me, twist locks are in my ‘hate’ basket, for two main reasons. I seem to have more strength for tightening than opening and I have on many occasion been unable to open twisted leg locks that I have closed. (This isn’t an isolated occurrence. It extends to all twisty things in my life, including jar lids, gas canisters for soda stream, etc etc).  Download a FREE chapter of my ebook 'The Ultimate Guide to Natural Light for Food Photography' by adding your details here:    Secondly, I live in a beachside area – and there are often (more than) a few grains of sand in my car boot. Twisty leg locks do not like sand. At all. One tiny grain of sand in a twist leg lock can, at worst, render it completely useless forever (unless a kind muscular person is willing to twist it open and closed endlessly until the sand is so worn down it becomes dust), or at best, make a nasty grating sound that makes you grit your teeth every time you open and close it.My preference is definitely flip locks. Having said that, cheap flip locks can be totally useless because they sometimes lose the tension that they need to hold the leg in position. Imagine that you’re lining up the perfect shot, and you naturally lean gently on your camera as you check the focus point. Suddenly you notice a gradual sinking feeling… yup, that’s the cheap flip lock failing. Ball Head 3 Way Pan & Tilt Head 4) HeadOnce you move past the cheapest options for tripods, you will normally need to choose your tripod legs and tripod head separately. There are three kinds of heads relevant to food photography, ball-head, 3-way pan & tilt head, and geared head.Ball heads are the cheapest of the three. You can start here and work your way up if you’re short on cash. The annoying thing about a ball head is that when you want to make a micro change to the position, it will often make a major movement and you’re back to square one with aligning again. This problem is magnified the heavier your camera is. I love 3-way pan & tilt heads. These heads come with a number of handles that allow very precise micro-movements and re-positioning on each plane of view. The only major downside is that you will likely be paying a few hundred dollars just for the head.Geared heads are like a fancier pan and tilt head. Instead of a handle that you manually position, the knobs on a geared head have a mechanism that ‘powers’ the movement, making it even more precise. To my mind, this is an extra fancy feature that, while attractive and allows for ultimate accuracy of positioning, is non-essential for food photography. You’re also likely to be significantly out of pocket buying one of these. 5) Quick release plate The majority of good quality tripod heads offer a universal style quick release plate that attaches to the bottom of your camera, so you can just pull a lever on the tripod housing and the camera is freed. It’s ideal to find the kind that has some sort of secondary lock so that the quick release plate doesn’t spontaneously propel your very expensive camera off the tripod legs when you haven’t attached it properly. It also helps those of us who don’t always double check to see if the plate isn’t properly secured in place because it’s apparent that the lock-lever isn’t in the ‘closed’ position. A built-in bubble level is also a common feature on the quick release plate or head of many tripods.6) HeightThere are two types of food photographers when it comes to overhead shots. Those who like to go HIGH over normal height tables and dangle off ladders to get their shot. And those of us who like to go LOW and spend a lot of time on their knees, using coffee tables, or milk crates with boards placed upon them as their shoot surface. Whichever camp you lean towards will impact upon how high you want your tripod to be able to extend to. Since I am one of the knee dwellers (to the point that I put my knee through three pairs of jeans in one month and have now invested in a pair of (life-changing) dancers knee pads) having super-height tripods isn’t that important to me. A standard three section leg reach is usually enough. 7) Multi-angle leg locksIf you like to shoot low rather than high, something that will be of interest to you is multi-angle leg locks. At the top end of your tripod legs, where they connect to the central column (where the head lives), there is usually a limit on how far the legs can bend upwards on a standard tripod. With multi-angle leg locks you can bend the legs all the way up to a 90-degree angle which means your tripod can sit as close to the floor as you would possibly like it to. © Fran Flynn for Bhavana Cooking School 8) Overhead shootingSpeaking of overhead shots – this is where it gets tricky with tripods. How do you get the camera stabilised in the right position for overhead shots?There are a few options. Most options work well enough for light cameras. If you have a heavy professional camera like mine, with a battery pack attached, things get a lot more complicated because the weight of the camera comprises the effectiveness of the majority of the options. Want to know THE best lighting angle for food photography that works every time? Download my free cheat sheet by entering your details below:  Lateral armsYou can buy a light stand and attach an extension arm or buy a lateral arm attachment for your existing tripod. In this case, you just remove the tripod head and replace it with the lateral arm. Then you counterbalance the weight on the opposite end of the arm to your camera with a photographers sandbag. The downside is that they can tumble over quite easily if the weight balance ratio isn’t exact and the legs of your stand aren’t well positioned. Depending on the quality and reach of the extension arm, they can also have a tendency to bounce easily, creating micro movement in your images. © Fran Flynn for Kiwi Cafe Centre column lateral armYou can buy a tripod with a central column that can be re-positioned from vertical to a horizontal format. Again a sandbag would be used to counterbalance the camera. This is a good beginner option but there are some drawbacks also. 1) the arm is often not long enough to extend far enough in a lot of situations. 2) you will have to be a knee dweller! The tripod legs generally don’t extend high enough to allow you to take a shot over a standard table with the horizontal arm position, so you’ll need your shot surface to be much closer to the floor. Even when you take this approach sometimes it still won’t be high enough to take in the full area of the shot, depending on what lens you have available to work with. C-standYou can use a c-stand rather than a light stand or tripod and add a lateral arm and camera grip. This is a solution that many professional photographers go for. The c-stand is substantially more stable than a tripod style light stand. They usually extend quite high and you can buy a long arm to extend over your table. Downsides are that it tends to be costly to buy a high-quality c-stand, and they are cumbersome for storage and transporting. Also, once your arm is extended properly over your table, you’ll likely need to do a death-defying balancing act to see the screen of your camera and make adjustments, so you probably need to go ‘next-level’ and shoot tethered to a laptop. This means that you buy a special tethering cable and use software (that comes with most SLR cameras) on an off-camera computer to manage the settings in your camera and take the shot. This is a good option but it is another thing to learn and not an ideal beginner scenario. I’ll be talking more about tethering in a later article.What I usePersonally, I’ve actually come up with my own piece of equipment that overcomes all the issues that I’ve had with overhead shooting. I’ve had a raw prototype produced and I have been happily using it in my daily work. Now I’m in the process of patenting the design and getting commercial prototypes produced. Watch this space for more news when it becomes available! © Fran Flynn for The Fish House Burleigh BrandsFinally, the question I’m always asked is what brand should you buy. It’s hard to get past Manfrotto. They are pretty much king in the tripod space where I live. Vangard is also a very well-known player. Sirui is also well worth a look. There are lots of other brands worth considering that I don’t have first-hand experience with including Dolica, Induro, Gitzo. Neewer is also disrupting the market with economy-priced high-quality equipment. I’ve been happy with a few other pieces of equipment from Neewer but I haven’t tried their tripods yet, so I can’t vouch for the quality.How about you, do you have a favourite tripod? I’d love to hear your experiences in the comments below.(Extra images in this article ©istockphoto) blog home   You might also like:       Hi I'm Fran, a professional photographer and designer based on the Gold Coast in Australia. I’m a lifelong creative, passionate about producing drool-worthy images that provoke emotion and make you hungry! My obsession is teaching others how to achieve the satisfaction of realising their creative vision too. I also love to produce high quality visual books (especially cook books) for my clients.  ..read more
  ©Photography Fran Flynn. Styling Sarah DeNardi ..read more
  Image ©Fran Flynn for Balthazar Wine & Dine ..read more
  This is THE question I get asked every time I teach a workshop. It’s a hot topic for anyone that has struggled with food photography and I often think it stems from the hope that buying a fancy lens is going to make everything look good!Lenses actually often can be a make or break component of great food photography, so understanding your options is key.Usually, when you purchase your first SLR, a salesperson (or online store) will convince you of the greatness of their offer by including a lens or two at a ‘package’ price. What they don’t tell you is that those ‘package’ or kit lenses are usually very cheaply manufactured and generally of basic quality. While you are likely to enjoy using them at the very beginning, it won’t be long before you outgrow these kinds of lenses. You might be better off waiting a bit longer if necessary and saving enough to afford even one really good lens than succumbing to ‘included’ kit lenses. CAMERA BODIESWhile this story is about lenses, I need to give camera bodies a bit of attention first. In recent times, most people are interested in producing images for online and/or social media purposes. As a result, the majority of currently available camera bodies, even on the lowest end of the scale, have resolution and functionalities that are more than adequate for a new photographer. Let’s talk brands. (please note: I am not affiliated with or sponsored by any brands).I have come to the conclusion that the debate between Canon versus Nikon is a bit like the debate between Apple versus PC computers and the reality is that they are all good, but there are specific features or ergonomics of each that appeal to different people.I have been a Canon shooter since my first SLR (which was a film-based camera). I can’t remember what cemented my decision between Canon or Nikon, but I do remember visiting the same salesman in San Francisco on my first trip to America, 3 times over 3 days before deciding. He must have been driven crazy with all my questions. (And yes, I did buy two kit lenses as part of the deal - and I enjoyed shooting with them for the first few months)There are of course many other manufacturers of SLR cameras including Olympus, Pentax and Sony. The thing is I haven’t yet met another professional that owns one of these brands, which doesn’t necessarily mean that they are not good cameras, I just don’t have first-hand experience to be able to share an informed opinion. Regardless Canon and Nikon are still holding their ground as the top choice of professionals and I think this is possibly with good reason. Lifelong commitment!The most important consideration is that once you buy your camera body, every lens you buy is only compatible with that camera body brand, and over the years — particularly when you start buying more expensive lenses — to change your brand of camera body means investing significantly in new lenses also. So my advice is to be sure that you love the body before you buy, because you are likely to be unwittingly making a lifelong decision. There can be significant differences in the feel, size and weight of camera bodies, and you might find that one brand fits your hand size and shape better than another. As a result I would definitely recommend holding different camera bodies in your hands before making your final decision. Cropped sensorThe other very important factor to consider when purchasing your camera body is the sensor, which is the imaging area of the camera. Theoretically, an SLR sensor is of equivalent size to the 35mm frame of a film camera. If you have to buy a camera from the top end of the range you are likely to have a ‘full frame’ sensor which means that the camera is capable of imaging on the full range of a 35mm frame.However, on lower priced camera bodies compromises have been made to make them more affordable, resulting in ‘cropped’ sensors. This means that camera isn’t capable of imaging the full area of a 35mm sensor, so instead it ‘blows up’ the image to reach 35mm format. The result of this is that with a 50mm lens (for example) on a cropped sensor camera you need to multiply the focal length by a factor of around x1.6 (this factor varies depending on each cameras sensor), which in this case would give you a result equivalent to an 80mm lens. If you’re a wildlife photographer this could be a useful feature, but as a food photographer, unless you have a very large room to work in, it might be a bit irritating, to say the least. As a result, it’s very important to know what kind of sensor your camera has before purchasing a lens. You also need to be aware that some lenses are made purely for cropped sensor cameras and therefore won’t work on a full frame camera in the future if you upgrade. In the canon range, a white dot rather than a red dot (which signifies full-frame sensor compatible lenses) at the point of contact between the lens and camera body, is the giveaway indicator. You will also find some lenses with both white and red dots. This signifies a lens that is compatible with both cropped and full frame sensors. Prime versus Zoom lensesA zoom lens offers a closer or broader view of a subject with a quick turn of a dial. A prime lens only offers one view — if you want to get closer you have to physically move yourself to achieve that. “Why wouldn’t I just buy a zoom lens then” I hear you ask? The problem with zoom lenses is that in order to achieve the ability to zoom and retain affordability, often compromises have to be made, particularly with cheaper zoom lenses.What features might I be missing on a cheap kit lens?The ability for the lens to offer larger apertures (smaller numbers) and the corresponding shallow depth of field. Shallow depth of field describes the lovely blurred background effects that isolates the subject from the background and is a key feature of many beautiful images. You ideally want your lens to be able to open to at least f4 and preferably f2.8 or beyond.High-quality glass which can affect the clarity and light transmission.Sturdy casing that can take a knock or two.Image stabilisation. Some lenses offer a built-in function that compensates for our natural micro movements and makes it possible to shoot at slower shutter speeds than usual without a tripod.Quiet lens motor.Ultra sharp focus.Less aesthetically appealing bokeh (bokeh is the way a lens renders out of focus areas and it varies depending on the quality of the lens).Less ability to capture subtleties in the lightest and darkest tonal areas.I’m sure there are several other things I’ve forgotten also! (comments welcome)If you’re a beginner on a budget and can only buy one lens what should you buy?In my opinion, if you can’t imagine living without a zoom get a 24-70mm f 2.8 lens, or 24-105 f4 lens.If you don’t have enough money to go that far straight away and you don’t mind physically moving to reframe your shot, buy a 50mm prime lens, with either f1.2, f1.4, f1.8 or f2.8 maximum aperture capability. These will be the most affordable high-quality lenses you will find.Download a FREE chapter of my ebook 'The Ultimate Guide to Natural Light for Food Photography' by adding your details here:  What brand of lens should you buy?Canon and Nikon create a great range of lenses for their respective cameras. The price point of quality lenses can often be quite out of reach for the new photographer though. Tamron and Sigma are two great alternative brands that produce lenses with mounts available for both Canon and Nikon and their prices can sometimes be as much as half. As far as quality goes, if you are producing images purely for online use and you compared results side by side, you might be hard-pressed to notice the difference. One of my favourite lenses of all time is actually a Tamron.What about if I’m cashed up and want to get a full pro-kit of lenses straight away?The key lenses that nearly all food photographers have are:A 50mm prime lens, with a maximum aperture of either f1.2, f1.4, f1.8 or f.2.8 AND/OR a 35mm f1.4 or f1.8 if you have a cropped sensor camera (which will give you the equivalent result of a 50mm lens on a full frame camera.An 80mm/85mm/90mm or 100mm f2.8 prime lens OR if you have a cropped sensor camera a 60mm f2.8A zoom 24 – 70mm f2.8 or 24 – 105mm f4A least one of the above lenses with a macro function built-in.An additional lens on many food photographers wish/hire lists;A tilt-shift lensWhat is a macro function?Every lens has a minimum focus distance. Usually the longer the focal length the further the minimum focus distance. A macro function allows for a much lower minimum focus distance than would be offered as standard on a lens of that focal length. Since food photography generally involves quite a bit of closeup work, I suggest purchasing lenses with a macro function wherever possible. Very closeup images are difficult to achieve without a macro function because auto-focus won't function when you are closer to your subject than the minimum focus distance allows  What do you use each of the lenses for:50mm prime lens – is a ‘what-you-see-is-what-you-get’ lens – i.e. if you put your hands infront of your face and make a frame with them, this is pretty much what you are going to get with a 50mm lens (unless you’ve got a cropped sensor). It is suitable for multi-purpose use but it’s unlikely this will be your only lens. It is particularly useful for overhead shots, and when you want to get several items into the frame. There are still some professional photographers that only have a 50mm lens in their kit, but they tend to be in the minority these days. With so many other fantastic lenses to choose from it can feel limiting. Having said that, a 50mm will serve you very well indefinitely.80/85/90/100mm prime lenses – Lenses in this focal length range have multiple uses. Not only are they excellent for food photography, they are also useful for portraits and general photography. (Note: a 50mm lens isn’t always ideal for portraits because you’ll often have to position yourself too close to the subject for comfort if you want a closeup shot). For food photography, the extra focal length helps to create the kind of shots that have lovely blurred out areas. This is because distance has a significant effect on depth-of-field (ie. the area of the shot in focus). The further you are from the subject, and the further the subject is from the background, the greater the area of blur. (Aperture also significantly affects depth-of-field also of course). If you choose a prime lens with this kind of focal length, I suggest it’s worthwhile to select one with a macro function, so that when you want to create an extreme closeup you can get close enough to your subject and still use auto-focus.Zooms lenses – Zoom lenses are great because they allow you to reframe your image in an instant. If you are going to buy a zoom lens, save your money for a quality one. While ‘kit’ lenses bundled with a first camera can be useful for a complete beginner, most people want higher quality lenses pretty quickly. You might even be better off waiting until you have enough budget to buy a decent one. As mentioned previously, for food photography I recommend either a 24 – 70mm f2.8 or a 24 – 105mm f4, however, there are many zoom lenses that function very successfully for food photography. It’s just that these two are my favourites, and also the kind of lenses I see other food photographers mention all the time. Of course with this range of zoom, they are also multi-purpose — ie. great for portraits, travel and general imagery.Tilt-Shift Lens – this is a very specialist (and expensive) lens. It is used primarily by food photographers and architectural photographers. Food photographers love it because it allows you to very selectively choose the focus area, in a way that other lenses can’t. Architects love it because it helps to overcome the warping of straight vertical lines that are caused by circular lens.Finally, I’m sure other food photographers might come up with a different list of their favourite lenses for food photography. Herein lies the beauty of photography, the same camera in two sets of hands will produce completely different images. It is an inherently creative medium, and everyone can interpret that medium however they like and produce their own look and style, using whatever equipment that they enjoy the best.  Want to know THE best lighting angle for food photography that works every time? Download my free cheat sheet by entering your details below: blog home   You might also like:      Hi I'm Fran, a professional photographer and designer based on the Gold Coast in Australia. I’m a lifelong creative, passionate about producing drool-worthy images that provoke emotion and communicate deliciousness. My obsession is teaching others how to achieve the satisfaction of realising their creative vision too. I also love to produce high quality visual books (especially cook books) for my clients.  ..read more
 If like me, you love using Pinterest for inspiration when you are conceptualising your photo shoot, it is likely that you also want to ..read more
  ©Photography Fran Flynn for Allure Restaurant ..read more
 You'll often see advertisers triumphantly proclaim that the SLR is dead and the latest awe-inspiring smartphone or iphone will render ..read more
  Photo © Fran Flynn. Styling by Sarah deNardi ..read more

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