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Food Photography

Lesson 12 of 32

Food Photography Camera Settings: Do The Math

Andrew Scrivani

Food Photography

Andrew Scrivani

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Lesson Info

12. Food Photography Camera Settings: Do The Math
Get the basics on food photography camera settings, including ISO, aperture, shutter speed, and white balance.


  Class Trailer
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2 What Is Food Porn? Duration:37:14
3 Food Photography Lighting Duration:21:14
4 Food Photography Props Duration:58:45
5 Food Styling Props Duration:16:39
6 Food Styling Tips Duration:37:49
8 Camera for Food Photography Duration:30:26

Lesson Info

Food Photography Camera Settings: Do The Math

Alright, so we're gonna go, here's a little recap of what we've already talked about in day one. Yesterday we started with propping, and we decided that we were gonna work on how we were gonna set up our set. From there, we worked on food styling, and we worked on a few tips and things that you can incorporate into your workflow. And then we talked about your gear. So where does that leave us? It leaves us, for today, where we're gonna talk about camera settings. Then we're actually gonna get to shoot. So students will shoot, I will shoot. And maybe you can follow along at home and get your cameras kind of in gear for what you want to do. And then after, we are going to talk about this show us your lunch contest, where I want to reiterate what Susan said, is that it's really, we want you to shoot today's lunch. We want to shoot what's going on right now. I know you probably have great pictures on your computer or on your phone that you've already done. I want to see what happens now. N...

ow of course, we can't monitor you. I will pretend I can watch you from here. But then we're gonna look at those images and pick three. And three of those are the ones that I'm gonna critique. And we'll critique them live at the end of day three. So that's, did I go over everything? Okay. Oh no, of course I didn't go over everything. The biggest part of the fun day is our guest today. We have Shauna Ahern, who is the Gluten Free Girl, and she's gonna be joining me in the last segment of the day and we're gonna sit here and we're gonna talk about how photography and blogging kind of match together really well and help increase your blog traffic, to help make your blog have a more professional look. And Shauna's a friend, so I'm going to be really happy just to sit here and chat with her because we'll get a chance to catch up. So you'll be able to look in on that one. So without any further ado, let's start to talk about what we want to do today. We want to talk about camera settings. Now I know this is a really popular topic because when I do workshops, a lot of times I'll get on a stage or in a room and we'll be talking and if it's not an interactive workshop where there's people in the audience and I'm talking to a slideshow, at the end of any of those given workshops, people rush up to me and they hand me their camera, and they go, set this camera for me, I want to get it off auto mode. That's all well and good, but the reality is that your camera settings need to be adjusted as you go. And you need to understand that to get your camera out of auto mode, you need to really understand how it works. So what we really want to do in those situations is understand the mathematics of the camera. There are four major components that I want to talk about in the basics of camera settings, sort of camera settings 101. It's understanding ISO, or formally ASA from the old film days. We're talking about white balance, shutter speed, and aperture, also known as f-stop. So all of those things need to kind of, you need to kind of wrap your mind around them. And I'm gonna kinda, in a minute, kinda talk to you about it with a graphic that maybe you can wrap your head around. And then we're gonna talk about what I taught myself as a kind of fallback position when you're working because the math of the camera was something that was difficult for me. And I think for a lot of right-brained people, who are really, have that artistic kind of side of their brain kind of pushing the envelope, the math of the camera was something that can be a little intimidating. So I don't want you to feel like, oh well he's this professional photographer who was born with the idea of aperture and shutter speed in his head. I wasn't. That was the biggest hurdle for me. It wasn't composition, it wasn't lighting, it wasn't any of that. It was understanding the math of the camera. So I know that that's something that a lot of you out there are also intimidated by, so I'm gonna teach you a couple little things that helped me understand it a little bit better and be able to kinda incorporate it into the workflow. Also I talked about yesterday the idea that your light meter is sort of your best friend because if you learn how to operate that and you understand what the numbers mean, they translate to the camera really well. So let's talk a little bit with the whiteboard here. I'm gonna just write down a few things. I see the math of the camera like a triangle in a way. And this is, I know visuals are really good for visual people, right? So ISO, shutter, and aperture, forgive my handwriting, also known as f-stop. I should have been a doctor. That looks like my last prescription. Okay, so when you're working in daylight, the best way to understand this is that the lowest number you can achieve is gonna give you the best quality of your image. So I would say that you start at about 100. Now some cameras are better at like 80 or whatever, it depends, but for the most part, the lowest number you can achieve there is gonna give you the highest quality of image. The further, this is basically brightness. We're bright here. We have bright, abundant light at 100. That's when we're gonna set our camera at 100. If you remember the disposable cameras and the things that we used to buy, they used to give you this, excuse me, 200 was for the outdoors stuff and 400 was for flash photography indoors or outdoors and then if it was 800, it was for nighttime and darkness. So we're gonna do that as well. So most cameras today will operate up to really kind of comfortably without, even the point and shoots and stuff are doing pretty good quality without the image breaking up at up to 1600. Now that's about as far as I'll go. I know my camera will go further, but that's about as far as I'm comfortable going because I know that if somebody wants to use my picture big, it becomes a little bit more pixelated. And that's the idea with ISO, and that's why when you're in a dark restaurant and you try to push your camera all the way up to the highest ISO so you can get some more shutter, this is hard because in a digital file, it starts to break up, it starts to get grainy, what they say grainy or pixelated. So 100 is ideal for bright light. And then when you're shooting indoors and you want to push your camera up to get a little bit more extra shutter or a little bit extra aperture, then going up to as far as with most of the cameras we use is pretty comfortable. So you have to experiment with your camera and know how that works. Now these all have a relationship to one another. So the higher this number goes, the higher the ISO goes, right, the higher these numbers can go as well. So if I am at 100, let's say, I'm gonna give you my basic setup. So my shutter, I like to be at about 125th of a second because that way I don't get as much camera shake if I'm handholding the camera. Below that, if you don't have really steady hands or the opportunity to kind of brace your body and keep the camera really steady, you run the risk of getting some shake. Plus when you're shooting a macro lens, especially something that's a little longer like 100, every tiny movement is going to be recorded, and it's gonna be magnified. When you're standing back from something, it's not as bad, but when you're a tiny, tiny, tiny focal point with a wide long lens, it's gonna move around a lot. So 125th of a second. And here, I like to be, let's say, 4.0. So this is sort of my starting point here. 100 ISO, 125th of a second, 4.0 aperture. This is my starting point for the day. Take a meter reading, how close am I to this? Okay, I find that the morning light in the studio is a little dark. Okay, so the first thing I'm gonna do is I'm looking at these settings, and if this is where I want to be, I'm gonna say, well I don't want to compromise this and I don't want to compromise this because I don't want to go any lower because I don't want to be any shallower than what this is, so what I'm gonna do is I'm gonna increase this number. So by increasing this number just to 200, that's gonna give me probably two stops, the opportunity to go here to about 160th of a second and keep this here. Now the idea of, I'm probably getting the math wrong in my head. Okay, so now, what happens? Okay, I don't have the math right in my head. I'm gonna grab my camera, and I'm gonna show you this count and click method that I was talking about. Hopefully I got enough wire here. Okay, now, alright I'm at and I want to be at, I'm gonna set this up. 125th of a second and 100. So here's my starting point, what I wrote on the board. Okay, it's too dark. I'm gonna go to 200, one, two, three. I counted three times. Okay, what does that mean? That means that now, I can go, either one, two, three in aperture or one, two, three in shutter. So it gives me the flexibility of a full stop. Now what they mean by a stop. Okay, these work in increments, right. They work in third increments. So if I'm at, we started around, most lenses start around 2.8, and they go to 3.5, or even 3.2, 3.5, 4.0. So everyone of these is a click. One, two, three. So again, this number, everything works in thirds. So if I add three, I can add three here, I can add, either here or here. See, now we're getting complicated math, right? That's where it gets confusing. But remember, count and click. I need, I'm dark. Now I go to 400. One, two, three clicks. Now it means I can either, now I want a little more depth of field, so I'm gonna keep the shutter right where it was at 160th of a second and I'm gonna count off three for my aperture, one, two, three, so now I'm at 5.6. So now I have a little bit more depth of field. So this is the method that I think can help people, if you know, understand that put the ISO at the top of your triangle and if you add here, by adding here, you can add either here or here. And it works in the other direction as well. So if you are here at and now all of a sudden it got brighter out, so now we're back up to 100, we're back up to 100, so that means we gotta, this number now has to get bigger again. The number has to get bigger again. So I'm gonna go back to 100 from 400, one, two, three, four, five, six. Now I have six to play with. So let's say I want to add a little bit. One, two, three, four, five, six, now one. Or one, two, three on one, and one, two, three on the other. So it works that way as well. So now I've added, now that I've added, I have plus six, I'm plus six, so I can add three here and I can add three here. So you can do it in that triangle. I hope this is making sense. Are we getting comments and questions on this so far? Is it getting a little bit confusing? They're coming in, so give them a second. I'll let you know if anyone has any questions. Okay good. I'm curious because I want to make sure that people understand these kind of, the thing I'm talking about. Students, do you feel that what I'm saying makes sense in your mind, or does it seem a little confusing? Okay Steve, what do you, I mean, you're a photographer. You're mic'd up, right? Yes, I am following what you're saying. Because when we start talking about complicated math, even I get confused. Alright, so what do these things do? Alright, I talked about the math a little bit. But let's talk about what kind of mood and feel, what happens when you do certain things. I already talked about the ISO being the thing that you're gonna relate to your light situation. Your light is the key to where we start. So we start with your ISO. But as far as how that affects your image, so the ISO influences your aperture and your shutter speed. Your shutter speed and your aperture are going to affect the way you shoot. So I want a really shallow depth of field. I want an image. Oh wait, we're gonna go with, let's go with some of this. Let's talk through this with our pictures. So we have this picture of bubbling dumplings. I need to get here. In order to capture the steam and in order to capture the movement, I'm gonna need a little bit more shutter speed. So this is one of those situations where in the triangle I'm adjusting for shutter. I need a little extra shutter because I got things that are moving and bubbling and the faster your shutter speed, the more accurate your camera will be when things are moving. So this is where you start to make the compromise. What do I give up to get more shutter speed? Do I give up more ISO, do I give up more aperture? So that's the important aspect of when you're in a situation, what exactly are you gonna compromise in the triangle to get the shot you want? So the priority here is shutter. I need faster shutter speeds for a shot like this because things are moving and swirling and smoke is rising. You need to stop the action. In order to stop the action, you need a higher shutter speed. So that's essentially the challenge in that one. Okay, so the challenge in this one is it's really dark. So you notice that the figure in the background, it almost is like a blur, and that's because the shutter speed is something that is secondary in this situation. Now I'm talking about aperture. I have to get as open as possible. I need the eyeball to open up as much as possible to get as much light as I can because my light source is obviously far away in the back part of the room. So even though I put bounce cards here to kinda push light back into it, here meaning behind, right in front of me, so my camera is shooting in a little hole between these two white cards, my priority is to make sure that these things are in focus and that I have enough light on them. So I open my lens wide, 2.8, and what we were talking about earlier, I'm gonna go back to that in a minute. I want to talk a little bit more about that because I realize that there's probably gonna be questions about what exactly happens with aperture with the camera, the physical aspect of what happens. So I'm wide open here. And my priority is the aperture because I need to get as much as I can because even at 1600 ISO, I'm still a little dark. So now I'm wide open and my ISO goes higher, my shutter speed gets compromised, which means I need to put it on a tripod. So now I need camera stabilization because it's gonna move around. So in this situation, I'm trying to get as much light as humanly possible on this subject and using my camera settings to get that. So what suffers here is camera shutter speed, and then we put it on the tripod. Okay, what we need here in this overhead product shot is a lot of aperture. I need the camera to be able to focus on everything on that tabletop. So when I'm trying to plan out how I'm gonna set the camera settings, I'm taking aperture into consideration first. So now I'm locking in at let's say 11. Okay, so now I'm at 11. Now I have to adjust my settings. Now I'm obviously going to be on a camera stand or a tripod here because this isn't the kind of shot that you'd want to take standing over the product or whatever. Camera stabilization is really important. But the idea of getting everything in focus means that the first priority I have as a photographer is to make sure I have enough aperture to get everything in focus. And that means that if I need a lot of aperture, and this is a daylight shot, it's not a strobe shot. So I had to push, maybe push the ISO up a little bit more, get a little bit more aperture, and sacrifice the shutter speed, and again, I can compensate with camera stabilization. My camera stabilized, I'm not worrying about camera shake. So that's the kind of thing where aperture is priority. The thing here is we have pinpoint focus. We want to lock in, but the idea is that this is a really dark environment that I created the dark environment. So the idea is I'm going to try to, I want to keep my ISO as high as I can here because it's really close and we're really detailed. But it's still a pretty dark environment so. I'm gonna get a shallow depth of field, so my aperture is gonna be set. And then I'm gonna again, use the tripod and use a slower shutter speed to get the details that I want. Again, locked in your camera on something that's stable. Okay. See we have a really shallow, this is a really shallow depth of field. There's a really small pinpoint, okay, so I'm gonna, again, what I'm looking for here is I want mood and feel. So even if I'm not struggling, I can actually handheld this picture because we got plenty of light, so if I'm lowering my aperture, I'm getting wide open, so I have a nice shallow depth of field, I still probably have plenty of shutter speed to handhold the camera, and that's what I did in this situation. It was a pretty bright environment. I still wanted it to be shallow, so maybe I'm at 2.8 and in that equation at 100 ISO, I'm probably at like 250th of a second, really fast. So the faster I am, the less chance I am of having any kind of blur. And I can kinda focus right in the center of the frame and be really comfortable with that setting. This is very similar in that we're really shallow and I wanted that highlight to be in focus, so I'm kinda right at the front of the frame, really shallow depth of field and handholding the camera at table level, so again, the math of it is, I'm shallow. That means I'm gonna have lots of shutter speed at 100 ISO, right? So these are inverse relationships between these things. Andrew. Yes. So people do seem to be getting what you're saying and everyone's following along nicely. We do have some questions if that's okay coming up. Yeah sure. Is this a good time? Yeah. Alright, so this question came up about, from Princessa3, from Trinidad, who says, how do you get both the bottle and the glass of wine in sharp focus using a wide aperture of 2.8? Where do you place the focus point? And I'm thinking maybe if you could talk about the distance from the subject, that's kind of a confusing topic for people sometimes. Yeah, I mean, I don't think that in that situation you want to use a macro lens. You need to be a little bit, have a little bit of distance and then focus on a point that's the closest point between the two objects. And if you look really closely, one is probably in a little bit finer focus than the other. In that case, I focused on the label because it was important that the label would be in focus. And if we were a little further away from the subject, because it was on a bar top and it needed to be on a tripod, so I had at least three feet of distance, so by using a wider lens, I was at a 35 millimeter I believe, we shot on the label. And it still gives us, at 2.8, it still gave us enough depth where what was kind of in maybe, they were about an inch apart, we still had enough of a focal point that everything didn't seem falling away too soon. But the background was completely blown away. So, Ana Maiha says hello from Colombia and says, Andrew says he goes up to 1600. I would like to know for commercial work, which is the maximum ISO that you use? I try not to go past 800, but these cameras, the newest Canons and Nikons, they can be pushed as high as and still for certain applications will work. I guess it's just an old mentality in that when we first started shooting digital, moving anything past 400 made you really nervous about your frame and your file when you got in there and all of a sudden it was all pixelated and grainy. So I probably could push it a little further and I would experiment with it, depending on your camera, but my old school kind of thought process is I don't really like to go much further than 800. Boy, even with your Mark III? You know, I know you can do it. It's just a comfort zone thing. It's just a matter of, and because we work in food, we work in such fine detail. And I always have this thing in the back of my head, the stock agency that I work for has these enormously stringent specs that they have to have in order to put your images on the site, and they're kind of outrageous because basically their thought process is every image that we sell must be able to be put up on a billboard or like the size of a building. And even with these cameras, like we say with the new Mark IIIs, you can take a shot and build, put it on the Empire State Building and it would still not be pixelated. It's just unbelievable. But again, their standards are 100. Everything they have must be at 100 ISO. And it's a little, it can be a little ridiculous to think about it, but that's what they want. Because their mentality is the same as the photographers who began digital, when they first started putting these cameras out.

Class Description


  • Understand the business aspects of food photography, including food styling, pricing, negotiation, marketing, and copyrights
  • Shoot on a budget with a point-and-shoot camera or a smartphone
  • Prepare for your shoot and organize your materials
  • Learn food styling for various types of food, from soup to pastry
  • Write about food and create a blog


The food on your plate looks absolutely scrumptious. But somehow, when you take a picture of it, the result is less than appetizing. Great food photography isn’t just about taking a shot of a delicious dish, it’s about carefully selecting and styling your food, appropriately using natural light or studio light, and editing your images to leave viewers hungry.

World-renowned commercial photographer, food stylist, and New York Times columnist Andrew Scrivani will teach you the essentials of preparing your food before the shoot, using the right camera and lighting gear, and performing touch-ups in post-production. He’ll also give you expert advice regarding the business of food photography, so you can turn your hobby into your dream job. Special guest Shauna Ahern of the Gluten Free Girl blog and book fame will talk about food blogging, recipe writing, and growing your online audience.

This class will help you:

  • Select, prepare, and style your food so it looks professional and enticing.
  • Find and use the best gear for a food photo shoot.
  • Choose the right camera settings.
  • Create an optimal workflow and post-production process.
  • Deal with low indoor light by using inexpensive lighting equipment.

Whether you’re a seasoned professional looking for food photography tips to expand your skillset or a novice using nothing more than a smartphone, this mouth-watering workshop will provide you with the strategies, tips, and techniques needed to captivate your viewers and reach your food photography goals.


  • Anyone who wants to become a professional food photographer or a photographer who wants to add additional revenue to their business by venturing into food photography.
  • Those who love taking pictures of food, but aren’t sure how to turn a hobby into a career or business.
  • Those who want to know how to choose the right food and style it appropriately for great food photography.
  • Bloggers who write about food but need high-quality images to go with their written content.
  • People who like to photograph food for their own pleasure, but want to take better, more professional-looking images.


Brendan McGuigan

This was one of the best workshops I've ever taken in my life – in person or digital. Andrew is a fantastic teacher – if I hadn't known his first career was as a professor, I would have guessed it based on the quality of teaching. He had a casual attitude, sense of fun, and easy-going manner of speech that made him immediately accessible, and a joy to watch for the entire sixteen hours (which I completed in just under three days). For me, the main value of the workshop was to be found in the first day. Andrew went through his artistic process, dropped tips along the way, and gave a real sense of how his brain works when thinking about a scene – everything from creating the food, to styling, to composing the shot. I happen to love his use of light, and getting an insight into how he crafts his backlighting and bounce was very useful. Day two had some nuggets of wisdom – and some great hands-on – but much of the tool tutorials and post-production workflow aspects will be less useful to those who are already professional photographers looking to branch out into a new discipline. Still, one of the standouts to me was seeing just how little he does in technical post – a good reminder that incredible shots can be captured 90% in camera. The segment with a food blogger, although not relevant to me, was captivating and insightful, and the rapport between Andrew and Shauna James Ahern was delightful. Day three was great for anyone needing a refresher on the business aspects, and some of specifics of the food photography business were good to hear in detail. For those already selling their work, who are familiar with licensing agreements, copyright, stock, etc., this may be redundant, but it's always good to be reminded of these things by an expert at the top of their game. Andrew's conclusion nearly had me in tears. He is obviously an incredibly passionate, giving, and humble artist, who not only feels blessed in his own life, but feels compelled to pass on some of his good fortune. That's a wonderful thing to see, and honestly gave me a nice boost of motivation to up my personal game. Throughout the workshop I found Andrew's lesson plan spot on. His in-studio students asked great questions, and the questions selected from the online audience filled in a lot of the blanks. While I may have liked to have seen a bit more hands-on from Andrew – just to get more of a feel for his process – all in all I felt like this covered everything I was hoping to gain from it. I would highly recommend this to anyone looking to get into food photography – whether you're a complete novice or a seasoned professional photographer who wants to explore food. Whether it's for advertising, editorial, stock, or blogging, he really covers it all, exploring both broad concepts and very specific practical applications. I can't rave enough about this. If you're at all on the fence, buy it. You'll be glad you did.

a Creativelive Student

Day one was a good investment for me. After that... not so much. Not sure this is really about photography. For sure, Andrew is an artist, he's great at communicating the art of the food, the art of proping, but explanations about how to make images is very simplistic. For instance he makes a pretty big blunder explaining the "math" of photography. He says his favorite setting is f4/125th, at iso 100. His grasp of lighting beyond window light and reflectors left me a little flat. He does a good job of explaining his style -- which in spite of it all -- I like. And to be fair, Andrew is an editorial food photographer. If you're interested in opening a food photography studio and doing product work -- this may not be the class for you. I think this is a good class for cooks and bloggers who want to make images of their food. If you're a beginning food shooter, you will find the information about styling and proping useful. Having watched some of Pennhy de Los Santos and Andrew, the editorial people seem to over simplify lighting and camera and lens work. At the same time, there seems to be a theme emerging in photography and that is that it's really almost better to be highly versed in another discipline and come to photography through the back door... (e.g. a rock climber who picks up a camera, a conservationist who decides to document the changing landscape and wildlife, a cook who just so happens to like taking images). Photography, for its own sake, seems to be a thing of the past. At the end of the day the class is $129 -- so... not like you have to take out student loans to get something out of it. This guy is likable, and sincere, and makes a huge effort o be helpful to anyone interested in shooting food -- and it's hard to ignore his personal success.

Ben Adams

Andrew's class is excellent, through-and-through. The mere handful of negative reviews focus on the underwhelming results of his test shots in the class -- they're kind of missing the point. The instructor's test shots aren't about the final product, they're used to tell about the process, and boy does he do that. This course is comprehensive and concise. Scrivani talks about the ins-and-outs of the job itself (how much is styling, how much is buying the food or preparing it yourself, how much is just pure photography) and furthermore gives insight as to the nature of the business and pricing. He is clearly a strong teacher with an ear for student input, and it shows. He explains things in stages so that he doesn't 'lose' a novice student, but doesn't dumb it down so much that he's wasting the time of veteran photographers. Within each lesson (let's say he's describing the function of aperture, something most photogs already know) he's keen to pepper in little details about equipment, styling, or lighting so that there's useful information for a broad scope of the audience. The other courses, taught by Penny De Los Santos, are a joke compared to this one. De Los Santos I'm sure is a nice person, and she produces wonderful work, but her course provides little practical information and she effectively ignores her audience saying only "yeah this isn't good", making some unnamed adjustment, then "yeah okay this works" while the audience just sits there wondering what's even going on. Andrew Scrivani is very different. In one student-photographed shot, he recognizes that a more experienced pupil can easily snap his 'handheld' photo challenge, and so he throws them a curveball -- take an additional shot with a different background or styling -- and communicates clearly to the audience why he's changing the task and what the significance is. For a novice pupil, he assists her with the camera and explains to the audience the importance of getting settings right. All told, I had been unimpressed with CreativeLive's tutorial offerings until I stumbled upon this fantastic instructor. Yes, some of the information is dates (iPhone photography has taken giant leaps forward since 2013) but the practical information (lighting, budget options, business advice) is all salient and relevant. Andrew, if you by chance read these reviews, I'll say once more what was true the moment I started watching -- this course is excellent.