Type of lens and the distortion

It’s important to choose the right lenses, and the higher the focal length, the better it is. 

Lenses with a higher focal length (80mm, 100mm, or even more) won’t cause much distortion in the image and are better for capturing details and texture of the cocktail and garnishes. On the other hand, wine angle lenses are great for creating larger scenes. 

Have a look at the images above, you can compare different focal length and how they create the distortion in the image.

From the right, I used 100mm (narrow focal length lens), then, 70mm, 50mm and 24mm (wide angle lens). You can notice the distortion on the glasses positioned to the sides of the scene, how they get tilted towards the sides. Yes, it happens with 100mm too, but it’s much better than in the other images.

From here, we can understand that:

  • using a higher focal length creates less distortion
  • the distortion appears more on tall glasses, positioned to the sides of the scene

Correcting the distortion

There are 2 types of distortion – the optical and perspective. Optical is due to the lens you use, perspective is due to the position of the subject within the frame & distance of the camera from the subject.

If we look at what we mentioned above, you can again, reduce the distortion by (1) using a higher focal length lens, (2) by moving tall subjects to the centre of the frame, and (3) by capturing your image from the further distance from the subject.

Let’s see these points in details:

(1) – using a higher focal length – have a look at the image comparing different focal lengths

(2) – by placing tall objects towards the centre – easy to say, but hard to incorporate in the composition. Sometimes, you simply want to keep tall bottles or glasses cut out from the frame, not in the center, as they are often not the main subject. Moving them to the edges of the frame, however, the distortion will appear more. For reducing this, and making them look straight, just place something small under one side.

(3) – by moving further from the scene – yes, you can step further from the scene with your camera, so you create more distance between the lens and the subject. This is very helpful especially when you don’t have a narrow focal length, and you need to shoot cocktails (or other subjects) with a wide angle lens. Let’s see these examples: (this was shot with a full frame camera and 50mm lens)

Helpful lessons to study the distortion:

Choice of lens for crop-sensor and full-frame camera

Choice of lens depends on your camera. If you have a crop sensor camera, a great choice would be a 50mm or 60mm lens. Taking a crop factor into consideration, they behave as 80mm and 100mm. If you shoot flat lays, 50mm lens is great, however you will get more flexibility with 35mm lens (which on the crop sensor camera behaves as about 55mm). 

Helpful lesson about the crop factor:  Photography Fundamentals: Full-frame vs Crop sensor camera

On the other side, being at the beginning of your food photography journey, you probably don’t have much choice and you have one lens that you can use for all types of images. When I started, I bought 50mm lens, for the price and the quality images it creates. I used it for 2 years, and bought a narrow lens (100mm) after I upgraded to a full frame camera.

If you have a full frame camera, the great choice for straight on or ¾ angle are narrow focal length lenses, such as 80mm, 100mm or more. Such lenses create a compression, which results in a better image. If shooting flat lays, 35mm for a very large scene, 50mm and 60mm for a midsize scene are great choices.

Take into consideration that such wide angle lenses create lots of distortion, therefore moving further from the scene and cropping the image after in editing will help you reduce the distortion. 

You can consider shooting flat lays also with a narrow focal length, for example 100mm. Because of the narrow focal length, it’s important to get high enough to be able to capture a larger scene. In this case, having a C-stand, or a tripod that allows you to get very high is necessary. 

In the images below, you can see a few flat lay set ups, where I used 100mm lens and a tripod. The subject is not the cocktail, but to show you the set up, the subject doesn’t matter.

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