Food photographers, upgrade your modifiers before you upgrade anything else

Tips & Techniques

You’ve been into photography for a while, you’ve upgraded your skills, and it’s time to upgrade your gear. If you ask me, that’s always exciting, but it can also be stressful: what should you upgrade first? In this video, Scott Choucino discusses this topic and helps you choose between your lens, camera, light, or modifier. And to some of you, the answer may be surprising.

It’s important to note that Scott focuses on food and still life photography. However, this may work for other genres as well, such as product photography. But whichever genre you shoot, he advises you not to break your budget, but rather make this upgrade work with the money you can afford to spend.

Now, what makes a good food or still life image? Scott mentions color first. Then there’s a certain amount of resolution and detail because you want to see details and texture. The rendering of the image is important too, and that’s affected by sensor size and the lens, combined with proper lighting.

When it comes to the camera, what’s important for food and still life photographer? Scott says that AF and ISO don’t play a big role. However, resolution comes into play, as well as sensor size, flash sync speed, and the sharpness of the sensor.

The lens is an important part of every kit, and it should be sharp and have a decent focus falloff. Scott always takes the look and the aesthetic into account, as well as color rendition. He notes that it’s better to invest more money into lenses than into cameras because they’re more likely to stay with you forever, while you’ll change camera bodies more often. I tend to agree.

Now for the lighting. Its color is important, as well as its power, exposure control, quality… Modifiers fall within this same category, but Scott discusses them separately. You know why? Because for him, modifiers are the part of your gear that should be upgraded first. This part was surprising for me because I’d always choose lenses before everything else. But of course, it all depends on what you shoot. For still life and food photographers, Scott’s hierarchy of the upgrade is the following: modifier, lens, light, and only then the camera.

When you upgrade your camera, you can buy a minimum of a full-frame model to get more detail. Nowadays, you can some older or used models relatively cheap. As for the lights, they are important, and Scott advises you to buy something at least 500 W. Also, start with a flash, make sure that it has a consistent white balance and at least 1/3 stop increments for more control. As for the lenses, remember: an expensive lens on a cheap camera is a much better combination than an expensive camera and a cheap lens. So, as mentioned above, definitely invest in your lenses.

And finally, for the “winner” of this discussion: the modifiers. They affect the aesthetic, detail, and color of your image, and for Scott, these are some of the most important elements. After all, the quality of light has the biggest impact on your image, and a modifier plays a big role here. So, if you’re looking to upgrade something, it should be a modifier.

Personally, I shoot mainly nature, travel, and landscapes, so I always upgraded my lenses before everything else. Next was my camera, and I haven’t invested too much in lights and modifiers since I prefer natural light. So, remember, all this is a “balancing act” as Scott calls it. Think about your genre, because these recommendations aren’t the same for all photographers. But if you shoot food, products, or still life – well, maybe you should consider investing into some decent modifiers before you upgrade your other gear. Would you agree?

[What Should You Upgrade First: Lens, Camera or Light – Food + Still Life Photography via FStoppers]

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