Difference between iphone and DSLR with food photography and food photo tips for the iPhone shooter

Everyone wants to know, why can’t I use my iPhone for my food shots? Why do you need an expensive big camera or a food photographer?

You can use your iPhone of course. And it is a good way to go if you do not have the budget for a big camera or the time to learn how to use it or the money to hire a professional food photographer right now.

The biggest differences between the two cameras, DSLR and iPhone, involve the options at your fingertips for off camera light, lenses, and large raw files.

Off-camera light in the form of a flash or strobe with a light modifier to soften the light can be controlled to provide a beautiful raking light across the food, which gives it a dramatic look and bright accurate colors. This gives the finished photo depth and an aesthetic quality that captures and holds the eye. The flash and strobe are the same “kelvin color” as natural light so they render food colors in a very appetizing and natural manner. No green eggs and ham here!

The iphone has an on-camera flash which is very harsh on food or just about any subject that is too close to it. Even if you are using natural light or ambient light you will want to add filler light for more depth or a more cinematic look. There are companies working on an off-camera flash for an iphone now so you can search for one.

The lenses on a DSLR camera are very versatile and come in a variety of sizes and styles. The prime lenses, which I use, provide a lot of details which are important for food plus you can use a variety of apertures for selective focus. You can have just the foreground in focus or you can have it all in focus.

Plus a DSLR camera can be set to record a “raw file” which allows you to more effectively edit the final photo by removing shadows, adding highlights and increasing certain colors. The iphone will record a raw file if you use a third party app to do it. But the DSLR produces a much higher resolution file that is very large and 50 meg so this is an excellent choice if you are printing.

Here is one experiment taken during a shoot:

iPhone 10 with ambient light, light editing for exposure and cropping:

Nikon DSLR full sensor with 50mm lens and off camera flash with diffuser, light editing for exposure and cropping:

Of course you can shoot in natural light with your iPhone for good results. Here are five easy steps for the do-it-yourselfers who need to use an iPhone right now:

  1. Make sure everything is clean and remove clutter from the background. All good shots start with great styling to complement the subject, your food. Use complementary colors like red and green wherever possible.
  2. Place your food in a window in natural light and shoot at various angles. It is better to have filtered light versus direct sun. A smart phone photo will always look better when you have good light.
  3. Focus on the food itself (press the screen so the subject is in focus). Make sure you are at a distance where the food is in focus. Closer is better but you do not want to be too close. If you opt to have the food fill about half of the image that is a great start.
  4. Edit the image in your iphone to crop and adjust the exposure as needed.
  5. Avoid using the flash wherever possible unless you are outdoors and a little farther away.