[SG] Food photography with Nikon Df | Part I - Indoor Dining

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Having grown up learning the basics of photography through film cameras, I was highly captivated by Nikon’s release of their retro-styled DSLR, the Nikon Df. Inspired by the aesthetics of old school film cameras, it remains to be seen if the work horse can make the mark when it comes to food photography.

For those passionate about food and inherently food photography like us, you will certainly empathise our agony and frustration, almost, when it comes to capturing the real images of food to share with your family and friends. More often than not, we fall victim to space constraints and poor lighting at restaurants, leading to an unsatisfactory collection of food photographs.

With my new toy, the Nikon Df, I visited a Japanese restaurant located within a shopping mall to do my usual shooting. Paying particular attention to lighting conditions at the restaurant, it was one which I thought quite fairly reflect the shooting environment of an average restaurant with varying light sources.

1/125s, f/2.8, ISO 800, 55 mm

Like most standard restaurants where tables are arranged relatively close to each other, it required some manoeuvring to get into a good position for the shoots. I decided to work with the AFS-Nikkor 24 – 70 mm f/2.8 lens instead of the kit prime lens to allow greater flexibility by either zooming in for a close-up shot or zooming out for a more aerial snap. Handling the Nikon Df for the first time, I had to figure out how to choose the appropriate settings in accordance to the restaurant’s environment and lighting conditions to capture my shots since the physical shutter speed, ISO and exposure compensation dials are all located on the camera body itself instead of internal programming. 

Equipped with basic knowledge about matching ISO with its relevant shutter speed and, or, aperture, I started with ISO 800 given the relatively dim settings by turning the dial on the left of the camera body and flicked through to 1600 for experimentation purposes to see which combination of settings provided the desired effect on my shot. Using the exposure meter within the range viewer as a guide, I was able to ascertain whether my composed shot had the suitable shutter speed, aperture and more importantly the accurate exposure.

While most people might rejoice about a spotlight above head casting sufficient light source to the food for shooting, it can potentially create over-exposure to the photograph or cast excessively dark shadows. Working with a relatively high ISO of 800 increased the sensitivity of the camera’s sensor to the surrounding lights without causing the photo to be over-exposed. With the physical dial of the ISO conveniently located on the left of the Df camera body, I was able to snap at varying ISO levels quickly to see which delivered the best result. More importantly, snapping fast is key when it comes to food photography so that we can still enjoy the food while it is piping fresh and hot!

1/125s, f/2.8, iSO 400, 60 mm
Apart from trying out the various ISO settings to capture the beer mug and tonkatsu dishes, I enjoyed the flexibility to shoot my food either at a slight distance or zooming in to a close-up without actually moving my physical body as seen with a 50 mm focal length compared with a 70 mm focal length as below.

1/125s, f/2.8, ISO 320, 50 mm
1/125s, f/2.8, ISO 320, 70 mm
While you are in the frenzy of arranging the plates and utensils on the dining table to make sure that you can steal a good shot, you would learn to appreciate how light the Nikon Df is relative to most DSLRs. This surely takes the burden off the shoulders and makes it a very manageable camera even for the ladies. 

Despite the absence of natural lighting and sufficient light source, no flash was required throughout my shoot as I was able to compensate quite easily by varying the aperture or altering the ISO and exposure compensation.

Pleased that the Nikon Df is able to shoot well under typical restaurant lighting conditions, can it similarly perform in a dimly lit environment? Find out in our next post! 

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