Notes About Photography

by Matt on December 13, 2006




I was inspired and motivated by Lara’s recent post on Still Life With… about photography. You should spend some time on her site if you’re interested in digital food photography, if you haven’t already. The information, tips and techniques she’s shared with us all have been invaluable. She’s one amazing photographer and it makes me happy to call her a friend.

Several times a week I get questions via mattbites and my Flickr account about photography. “Which lenses do you use?” and “What’s your lighting source?” are the basics, as well are first-time camera buying questions. I try to answer all those emails, but since it’s the season for sharing I thought I’d create an entry here for everyone.

I picked up a camera for the first time and took my first picture a little over 2 years ago, and while that may seem recent it’s not. I’ve been an art director for 15 years, and in my career I’ve been on hundreds of photoshoots and spent countless hours with photographers. Over the years I observed, asked questions, and absorbed quite a bit of information about photography–it turns out it was the best classroom I could have had. When I began shooting I already had a network of colleagues, fellow photographers and friends I could turn to for advice and questions. In fact, it’s no secret that I only know .00000000289% about photography in the traditional sense, but I love everything about it and learn something new every day.

I am by no means an expert, a fact I want to make perfectly clear. I could never compare to the photographers I’ve worked with in Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles. They’re the masters, I’m simply a student. Having said that I’ll jump right into what I use to take a photo.


I shoot with a Canon 5 D, a full-frame, 12.8 megapixel camera. I love this camera more than anything and have only good things to say about Canon. Previously I used a 20 D and a Rebel, which are both excellent cameras. If the 5 D (or higher models) are in your budget then I’d definitely encourage you to go that route. If not, Canon’s other models are still excellent investments.

If I’m out and about I shoot to a 2 or 4 gigabyte card, but if I’m in my studio I’ll shoot straight to my Mac. I use Phase One’s Capture One Pro to shoot, and my images are displayed on my laptop where I can adjust color or contrast and check my focus. Capture One’s overlay feature also allows me to check for logo and headline placement since I shoot many images for work (ads, magazines, etc.)

For food photography I’m partial to my EF100mm f/2.8 Macro lens. It’s sharp, clear and lets me get in close when needed. I also like my EF 50mm f/1.8 lens – it’s a cheapy but has served me well.  When I want a particular look, one that allows me  to play with my plane of focus, I’ll shoot with my 90mm Tilt / Shift lens. It’s quite a bit of fun. When I’m traveling or outdoor and a super sharp file isn’t required I’ll use my 28-200mm. It allows me to zoom in and stay out of the way.

Film Vs Digital?

Although I love the immediacy of digital, I have also shot medium format film with a Contax and Mamiya camera. Polaroid backs, film magazines and light meters are fantastic things, but to me I have a hard time seeing the difference in the end now that digital has improved so much.


When it comes to food, natural light just can’t be beat. Food simply looks better that way, in my humble opinion. Because of my job, I review submitted professional photographer’s portfolios on a regular basis, and there are only a handful of food photographers out there who can harness strobe in a way that doesn’t look cold or artificial. Sunlight is simply more pleasing, but it’s ever changing and can require you to think fast on your feet.



In order to coax light where I need it, I’m never without foamboard, reflectors and diffusers. Even simple paper can work when set up properly.  The goal is to soften and wrap the light as much as possible (depending on the desired effect).  Full harsh sunlight is tough (again, unless that’s what you’re going for.)

And for the record, yes, I’m quite the sucker for backlighting.

If I use strobes . . .
I use them extremely judiciously when it comes to photographing food. Or I go all the way, practicing the “if you can’t beat them, join them” philosophy. See the fruit below.


I do my post processing in Adobe Photoshop and Bridge. Sometimes color correction, balance, contrast, cropping and sharpening is needed; sometimes it ain’t. For me there’s just no rule and it’s on an image-by-image basis. For example, the pancake image at the beginning of this post (in the collage) is straight out of the camera – nothing was done. But the pluot shot a few lines up required sharpening and a boost of extra contrast. I don’t believe in over manipulation; I do believe in using what we have to get the best image possible.

It really all depends. If I’m shooting for work and my image will be reproduced on a poster or in an ad in the LA Times I’ll shoot raw so I can have as much information as possible. Other times where it’s not so crucial JPEG is fine with me.

I hope that answers some questions you may have about what I use to take my photographs. If you have any other questions feel free to email or IM me.

Happy Holidays!

{ 28 comments… read them below or add one }

Bekah December 13, 2006 at 6:01 pm


Thanks for sharing some tips. I really enjoy your photography and am just beginning to learn how to get away from the “point and click” method.

Love your blog.


melissa mcgee December 13, 2006 at 6:57 pm

matt, thank you so much for the tips – especially from somebody who has emailed you and asked you to divulge your secrets on more than one occasion.

i have a strict rule when photographing food (which i’ll admit i am very new to, and not very good at), which is this: WWMD. What would matt do? ;) i think about it, and it never ends up looking anything close to any of your spectacular photos, but it’s a good rule to shoot by. i hope to be one tenth as good as you when i grow up! thank you again for sharing!

Rosa December 14, 2006 at 2:07 am

Very interesting.

I love your pictures! Your work is in my opinion perfect…

Jeanne December 14, 2006 at 6:41 am

Great post – you cover all the questions I would have asked you if I had your undivided attention for an hour or so ;-). I love love LOVE your photos – and the new-look site.

nika December 14, 2006 at 7:01 am

love the tomato ta-tas :-)

great write up indeed!

i just need to warn fellow food shooters – keep flour far from your lenses! i need to find a way to clean my kit lens… not sure who to go to right now.

Matt – I used to live in Hollywood (sunset blvd and los feliz) and i remember visiting this knockout enormous photo/film store there.. I would love to go now as my interest has grown even deeper than my 35mm K1000 pentax of old.

J December 14, 2006 at 8:05 am

dear matt, you are such a star! thank you so much for this incredible 101 – i am so printing and keeping it…

Brian White December 14, 2006 at 8:28 am

I’m a landscape photographer, personally, but I like the images you have here!

Now if you’ll excuse me… It suddenly feels like lunch time!

Yvo December 14, 2006 at 9:28 am

Thanks for sharing! This is pretty helpful, as I’ve just decided it’s time to move from my P&S to … well, I’m probably going to buy a Rebel XTi in the next few months. I adore Canon. :)

anna maria December 14, 2006 at 8:29 pm

Thank you so much. It’s very generous of you to share all this information and to take the time to do so! Don’t know if I’ll ever get to the point that I’ll know what to do with it, but it’s good to know that it’s here.
Love your new colors, by the way.

David December 14, 2006 at 11:10 pm

You omitted one crucial piece of advice: How to find photogenic models.

Otherwise, it was an excellent write-up. Let me know when the hands-on lessons start.

(‘Hands-on’ the camera…not the models.)

Sign me up!

Kevin December 15, 2006 at 1:46 pm

Dear, Dear, Dearest, Matt:

Let’s just save everone time and energy. Just come over to my house and take my food photos for me please. Everyone wins!

Okay, fine, I’m the only one who wins. *sigh*

Jennifer Jeffrey December 15, 2006 at 3:26 pm

Christmas came early with this post! Thank you, Santa Matt… xoxo

sue December 15, 2006 at 6:58 pm

I’ve just found your blog through someone else’s blog, and I am really glad that I found you. Your header really grabbed my attention. I particularly like your pictures, they are so great. It inspires me a lot :) Thanks for sharing them.

L December 17, 2006 at 9:18 pm

Hi Matt!

Ah! I’ve been without Internet for days now, and just catching up. Fantastic write-up! Thanks so much for sharing all your insights, not to mention the link to my blog and your incredibly kind words! I’m so honored!


Tea December 18, 2006 at 11:44 pm

Great advice, especially for those of us trying to get more serious about the photos. Thank you for sharing your knowledge so generously!

aby December 20, 2006 at 7:02 pm

thank you so much for these amazing tips! you’re such an inspiration for amateur photographers such as myself. keep it up! :)

Charmaine December 21, 2006 at 7:18 am

How neat to get the “behind-the-scenes” take on how you produce such amazing images. Too cool. Thanks for sharing and congrats on your blogging success!

Paul December 24, 2006 at 3:22 pm

Thank you so much for this article. Its provided me with great pointers as to what i’m doing wrong with my photos. My partner & I have recently started my blog & its a steep learning curve with what photographs well & what doesn’t.. I’m using a fairly basic camera which will be upgraded soon, and will have to keep experimenting with lighting. If i’m lucky I might get to your standards. Again thank you.

tob December 26, 2006 at 12:41 am

It’s very useful and imformative for me who is looking for DSLR for food photograph…. Thankx

Kate February 1, 2007 at 4:31 am

I found your blog through Simply Recipes.Your photographs look fantastic.Been considering which lens to buy for my EOS 400D to take food photos and after reading this article i think i’ll go for the 100mm f/2.8 macro…also will follow your guidelines for backlights,difusers,reflecters…would give anything right know to be able to take pictures like yours…

Jo March 10, 2007 at 4:46 pm

I found your blog through a friend’s blog ( I *really* enjoyed poking around your site – truly fantastic photography, great copy, just all kinds of good stuff! And by the way, food photography is way tough, no matter how easy you make it sound. You’ve got a knack for it, man.

You know, I thought about _not_ sending you props since you seem to have such a wonderful fan base already…but then I figured the kudos are probably always nice to hear. :)

I’m looking forward to getting your feed, and when I have some time, digging further into your site.

cyreg August 6, 2007 at 7:07 pm

MATT, I am from Mexico, and I am very proud of your talent and the way you photographed the Ibarra Chocolate! I look forward to becoming a little like you some day following your example. Thanks a lot! None of my friend photographers have ever given me such a fantastic piece of information. Thanks!!

Cara Fletcher August 30, 2007 at 12:00 pm

Photography is something very inspiring and once you get the camera you wouldn’t want to leave it.It’s very relaxing to capture interesting scenes.

laura February 28, 2008 at 11:02 pm

You mentioned you shot some of your food images on Film. If so, which film are you using and is it slides or print??

Garybart March 25, 2008 at 1:23 pm

I know several pro food photographers that use these reflectors.

Gary B

chumpman July 25, 2008 at 10:53 am

Very beautiful pictures and all of it makes the food look so appetizing. Great tips! I love taking pictures of food too but I always have problem with the color and lighting. More tips on that?

Sunshinemom December 5, 2008 at 5:24 pm

Can you expand on the use of reflectors – how to use them to maximum advantage? My pictures are better than before and I use a Canon A630, 8 mp.

adrianna January 9, 2012 at 1:29 pm

you do a very good

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