What are the best food photography camera settings?

10 Mins read

Here are the main food photography camera settings to consider:

  • Shutter speed
  • Aperture
  • ISO

For many years, professional photographers and tutors get asked the same question over and over regardless of the type of photography they are learning: What camera settings should I use? Well, the short answer is, there is none.
Photographer is creative, and they should always know how to shoot their subjects under any circumstances and still have great results. If you’re here looking for the magic formula to use in your photography, then you’re in the wrong industry.

If we were to be practical, we would have told you about the right camera settings to give you the exposure you desire, using different types of equipment, and the conditions you may be exposed to. However, this probably isn’t the answer you were looking for.

Photo exposure results from the combination of several photography ‘flavors,’ which include aperture, shutter speed, and ISO.

Food photography requires a well-thought combination of these three ‘ingredients.’ Whether you are working for a client or shooting images for your online channels, there are quite a few rules that you ought to follow if you want to take snaps of mouth-watering food images. Other things you should focus on in your camera settings are the composition, lighting, and style to make your food images worthy of a Michelin star.

If we are, to be honest, very many professional photographers have at one point been skeptical about turning off the auto settings and turning on manual mode on their camera settings. It is a no-brainer that a good DSLR camera can take amazing photos in its automatic settings, basically because cameras are pretty innovative these days. However, if you don’t know how to operate the manual mode, then it is a hit-and-miss situation.

Ever wondered how you can make excellent food photography shots using your camera? I’m not talking about those barely clear shots, but a clear image that will show your food in its splendor. You will find that the following food photography camera settings will affect the outcome of your image significantly:

How to use your camera settings to achieve the best light control

When you are a freelance food photographer, it is essential to conceive a clear picture of the food image you want in your mind. But it is very tricky to obtain your perceived concept without a combination of factors.
The following factors will contribute significantly to your success. You will need to have your food photography camera settings set in a way that will ensure you obtain the image your mind has perceived while giving your concept life.
Natural light like sunlight is the best when it comes to achieving the best food image. You will note that not all-natural light goes well when it comes to representing your food. For instance, direct sunlight may cause your food to have dark shadows, making it look unappetizing.
Every freelance food photographer knows the importance of light when taking clear image shots. To obtain quality images, you take your picture in a place where you find quality light. Apart from quality light, you will need to have a quality lens to capture the image and have the best depth.
When it comes to light control, you will need to monitor the light exposure your camera lens receives. You can control light exposure by considering your camera’s aperture setting, shutter speed, and ISO.
If you want to attain high-quality images, you must employ a combination of a fast shutter speed with a low ISO.

1. Shutter speed

Shutter speed determines the amount of light that your camera lens receives. When you apply a fast shutter speed, the shutter is open for a short duration of time, which translates to less light reaching the camera lens. On the other hand, a slow shutter speed lets more light to the camera lens since the shutter opens for a more extended period. A slow shutter is problematic since it does not stop the motion.
We measure shutter speed as a part of a second, for instance, when your setting reads 1/60, it means that your camera receives light during the 1/60 of a second that the shutter is open, which is slower when compared to another setting like 1/250 is a shorter or faster shutter speed.
Shorter shutter speeds allow less light to hit the camera’s sensor, and they are great when you are taking sharp images of moving subjects like liquids. To have a clear picture using a fast shutter speed, you will need to work in a setting with ample lighting.
You will need to work on a balance where you will apply some blurring techniques to enable you to avoid over-exposure or under-exposure to your picture. You will need to use dark and light colors to bring out the best texture of your food.

2. Aperture

To understand how an aperture works, you will need to compare it to the workings of your eye’s pupil. Aperture measurement is in f/stop, and the aperture is found on the camera’s lens. If you increase the aperture setting, the amount of light hitting the sensor increases. A small aperture equals less light hitting the camera, and the f/stop number is large; for example, f/16 lets in less light compared to f/4.
You can adjust the size of your aperture depending on the amount of light available. When it’s dark or cloudy, you will need to allow a lot of light to fall on your camera’s sensors. You can attain this by making a low setting like f/2.8.
A large aperture will help you attain a differential or a selective focus whereby you can have a part of your image in soft focus and the remaining part in sharp focus. On the other hand, a small aperture will give your image great depth bringing it into sharp focus.
If there is too much light, like on a sunny day, you can reduce the amount of light hitting your camera sensors. You may achieve this by utilizing a high aperture setting to minimize the amount of light reaching your camera.
When you utilize both the shutter speed and aperture setting, you will achieve a creative way to express the texture of your food, give your image depth, and at the same time attach emotion to it.

3. ISO

The ISO is a setting on your food photography camera setting, representing the level of sensitivity in your camera’s sensor. When your camera’s sensor indicates high sensitivity to light, it will result in a pale image. If your camera has less sensitivity to light, your pictures will be too dark. You will need to find a balance that will enable you to take images that bring to life the food concept you have in your mind.

A low ISO will ensure your image has minimum grain and noise, while a fast shutter speed reduces camera shakes and gives you a sharper focus on your subject. To bring your concept to life, you must know how to control your food photography camera settings.

To achieve the right image, you will need to set your ISO setting to low; this will ensure your image doesn’t have any grain or noise. You can follow the guide below while setting your ISO:

  • If you take the photo in a place with quality natural light, like during the day or outdoors, you can have your ISO camera setting set in the range of 100-200.
  • When you take your picture in the evening or indoors, then set your camera at a range of 400-800.
  • If you are taking pictures at night, you should use a setting of 1600, and anything above this setting will result in grainy images. You can adjust the aperture or the shutter speed to allow more light into the camera’s sensors, which will improve the quality of your image significantly.

How does the type of light affect your images?

Using natural light is the best way to take your pictures. When you choose the best place to take your photograph, ensure the area has a light source directly in front or to the side of your setup. This will provide your food with an evenly spread light, which will enhance the beauty and texture of your subject.
Sometimes, natural light is not readily available when you need it. You can use artificial light in such instances or when natural light becomes too harsh, giving your food some uninteresting shadows. When you use artificial light, follow the letter’s instructions to achieve the best outcome. Using artificial light that will enable you to control power allows you to choose a shutter speed that will capture your food image well while showing the texture in clear focus.

Types of lens

As a freelance food photographer, you will need to invest in a camera lens. You will decide on the crop factor of your camera; in other words, does your camera have a cropped or full-frame sensor? There are four types of lenses that freelance food photographers use while taking photographs. These are:

1. The 50mm lens

This type of food photography lens is ideal for capturing images with more expansive scenes as it allows you to crop them afterward.  Photographers use this type of lens when they are taking photos in areas with less optimal lighting.

2. The 60mm macro or 60mm micro

This camera lens offers a sharp focus with minimum distance and captures light well, ensuring you have a beautiful food image. This camera lens is ideal if you are shooting the subject at a close range.
The 100 macro or 105mm Microlens
This camera lens allows you to take your subject’s shot at an angle of 45 degrees and have your background elements in a shallow depth.

3. Tilt-shift lens

This lens will allow you to zoom in and control your subjects’ plane. With this type of lens, you can focus on one part of the image while leaving the rest part blurred.

The distance between the camera and the subject

If you want to change the distance between your camera and your subject, you will need to focus on the subject by adjusting your camera lens to maintain the image’s composition. One way to increase your image’s depth is by creating a more considerable distance between the camera and the subject.
To focus more on your subject, you will need to reduce your camera and its distance. You can alternatively use your aperture settings to control your subject’s depth, which will enable you to take your shot at any distance using your desired focal length. If you use a large f-stop, you should always remember to change your shutter speed, cable release, and tripod.
You should note that when you want your food image to have a shallow depth, you will need to ensure that your lens has a long focal length. Though this may sound like an easy fit to accomplish, adjusting the focal length to attain the desired depth is tricky.

Manual camera settings

Most DSLR cameras offer the user three different ways to use the manual settings. They include:


TV stands for time value and is sometimes referred to as the shutter priority. Some camera brands will simply brand this feature as ‘S.’ In this setting, you manually set the ISO and the shutter speed, and the camera will automatically set the aperture.

Getting started is pretty simple; all you need to do is set the ISO to between 100 and 200 and the shutter to 1/250, depending on the lighting available. You should test shoot and see how your images appear and readjust the settings accordingly:

If they’re coming out very dark, you can increase the shutter speed from 1/200 up to 1/125. You can also raise the ISO up to 400 or 800.
If the images are coming out looking pale, you should consider having the ISO lowered to 100.


In this case, AV stands for aperture value or aperture priority. The user sets the aperture and ISO manually, leaving the camera to adjust the shutter speed automatically. This is an important consideration when you need to control the depth of field:

If you need a selective or limited depth of field, you can use a large aperture by setting it to a low f/stop such as f/2.8. You can also set the ISO as low as you can, up to 100, to compensate for a large amount of light let in by the wide aperture.
For an extensive depth of field, consider using a smaller aperture by setting a high f/stop like f/16. While a low ISO is generally recommended, it would be prudent to consider it upward to 800 or 1600 to compensate for the smaller amount of light let in by the small aperture.

M (Manual)

An M (Manual) setting is ideal when you wish to manually control every aspect of the camera, from the aperture, and shutter speed, to ISO, all at once.

What are the best camera settings for food photography?

Even though this post was to take you through the best settings for a food photography camera, it is evident that the perfect settings do not exist and entirely depend on the situation. You should first begin by identifying the general conditions, such as lighting. This will help you determine the features that you need to set by yourself: is it ISO, aperture, or shutter speed?

Most experienced food freelance food photographers would prefer to use the AV (aperture value) settings. This is because, unlike other genres such as fashion photography, food photography involves a static subject, so there is no general need to worry much about the shutter speed. However, this would only apply to ideal conditions, such as in a studio or in a calm environment.

If you’re to take photos in a busy kitchen or at an event, you may need to use the TV (time value) manual settings. This is because you not only have to capture the action in sharp detail but also by using the fast shutter speed that you can possibly have. Under these settings, you are able to activate features such as creating freeze-action shots, such as clear pictures of a liquid being poured.

The most important thing to consider is to identify what works best for you. Luckily, you can sharpen your food photography skills daily, as there is no shortage of any foodstuff to snap. Try out different setups and take the photos using different settings until you find your ideal settings.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q: What camera settings should you use for food photography?

A: The most popular food photography settings include the TV (Time Value) and the AV (Aperture Value) modes. In the TV setting, you manually set the ISO and the shutter speed, and the camera will automatically set the aperture. The AV setting enables the user to set the aperture and ISO manually, leaving the camera to automatically adjust the shutter speed.

Q: What is the best aperture for food photography?

A: If you need a selective or limited depth of field, you can use a large aperture by setting it to a low f/stop such as f/2.8. For an extensive depth of field, consider using a smaller aperture by setting a high f/stop like f/16.

Q: What is f/stop food photography?

A: The f/stop controls the opening of your lens that lets light into the camera. The f/stop also controls how much of your image will be in focus and how much will be out of focus.

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