A Lesson in Food Depth of Field with Bob Coates

Images and text by Bob Coates 

Depth of field plays a significant role in defining the message for your food photography. There are three main ways in which to control the DOF in an image.

One - Obviously, aperture settings are your number one way. A wider aperture (smaller number) will allow the light to reach the lens quicker. Conversely, a smaller aperture slows the capture time allowing the lens to pull in more areas of focus.

Two - Fast glass gives you the option of creating shallow DOF. The lens used in this shoot is a 42.5mm f/1.2 (85mm equivalent filed of view on full frame camera) which makes it possible to completely control exact amount of areas of focus in the frame.

Three - If you don’t have a fast lens you can use a long lens. Shoot from further away and the DOF will fall off quickly even if you don’t have a wide aperture available.

A great way to work with clients is to shoot tethered to a computer. You’ll need to check with your camera manual to see if you can connect to a computer natively or need to go through a third party software and connection. tethertools.com is a great source of information, connections and tools to make tethering easy. I shoot with the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III. It comes with a connection cord and built in capabilities for shooting to the computer. Olympus also supplies a software download for controlling the camera, ‘Olympus Capture’, and viewing the results with ‘Olympus Workspace’.

I used the Platyball Elite mounted on the Platypod MAX. The Elite makes for super easy leveling of the camera. I recommend having an L bracket which lets your camera sit over top of the Platypod in a vertical orientation. Since the height of the camera was just right without the spike/feet attached the silicone pad was employed to keep the MAX from sliding on the tile counter.

I used the MAX to add gooseneck extensions to kick a kiss of light onto the main subject using Litra LED lights. They are screwed into the MAX base almost like having another set of hands. 

Check out the following behind-the-scenes shot with MAX and Platyball. Camera is mounted vertically with an ‘L-bracket’. Goosenecks have Litra LED’s and the camera is hooked up and controlled by the laptop. Note also a Westcott scrim that keeps the windows to the left from pushing a lot of specular highlights on the bowl.

The setup shot:

Check out the following three photos with various depth of fields: f/2.5  f/8   f/16  Each gives a different feel to the scene. I personally like the f/2.5 as it makes the cereal bowl the star of the show.

Depth of field: f/2.5

Depth of field: f/8

Depth of field: f/16