I’ve started having a look through my archived boxes of transparencies and putting some  on to a lightbox  to rephotograph with my DSLR.


When I started doing food shots in the mid nineties I used a natural light, shallow depth of field, close-up style, The shots above and below  are from 1997. Shot on 35mm Fujichrome Sensia 100ASA,  with a Nikkor 35mm f2.8 wide open.


In those days this natural style was much less common than it is today. Some magazines were starting to use it, but a lot of them still had very formally composed and well lit studio shots.

My style was born of necessity and expediency.  I owned practically no gear, and certainly no lights. Because I was shooting transparency film, either 100 or 50 ASA, I was always short of light, so I generally shot wide open at the slowest speeds I could hand hold, as  tripods were too slow to use.

I would ring and make an appointment with the restaurant, and go and see them in the quiet time between lunch and dinner service. That way they were unstressed and more friendly, and there was usually pretty decent light.

Being commercial photography, it was done on a budget. I was paid per restaurant so I’d try and get two or three places done in one day and shoot them all on one roll of film.

I did have an RB67 medium format camera, but it was three times as  expensive to fill with film so I generally saved it for covers and other important jobs that paid more.

These days it’s all digital of course:


While I don’t want to go back to old days days, I have retained a fondness for the style.

There is something nice about finding natural light and making it work for you.DSC_5162

I still don’t have much gear – my main camera these days is a Nikon D700 – pretty old by DSLR standards, and I’ve bought one brand new lens in my life, a 60mm 2.8 micro, which is what these are shot with. This camera is perfectly clean up to 800 ISO, so I have heaps of light to play with. The shot above is f4 and 1/180s. Pure luxury to be able to choose the depth of field I want rather than have it dictated by low light. Adjusting white balance is another luxury. I remember that Fuji Sensia was good at warming up closed shade so interiors did not have a blue tinge, while of course today we can set Auto White Balance and it can be so easily adjusted in post.


In these shots there is a bit of distracting light from the overhead lighting in the restaurant, but overall I like the look.

Natural Light Food Photography – Then and Now