Food Photography Self Development

Why Your Zoom Lens is Killing Your Food Photography

Zoom lenses look and sound impressive. My 24mm-70mm is bigger than most of my primes and it sounds like I know my shit when I tell people I have a range of focal lengths with just the flick of the wrist. Most of us when we get a new camera get the kit lens and nine times out of ten it’s a zoom.

But are you falling into the creativity sucking trap that is what I call the 24-70 syndrome?


Why Your Zoom Lens is Killing Your Food Photography

**You must know this is not a ‘zoom lens bashing’ session or a gear advice post, but rather a thought-provoking piece**

It’s not the zoom lens per say that is killing your creativity, but rather how we use it and our thoughts around it. I guess you could say I am biased towards prime lenses, and I solely shoot with them at this point in time, and here is why.


The 24-70 Syndrome.

Back towards the start of my photography journey, this was the lens I taught myself with (lucky I know!). It was my dad’s lens and I liked it because it allowed me to shoot at 35mm on a cropped sensor camera (meaning that I was shooting at the equivalent of a 50mm). But inevitably the novelty of it’s zoom capabilities got the better of me and I was zooming in and out like nobody’s business.

At first, it was mind-blowing. ‘How cool that I can go from 35mm to 70mm in one second flat and not have to move at all’!

Then the reality set in after a while. My composition was getting lazy and suffering.

As food photography is essentially still life and we have to create it, the power lies in composition both on the table and through the lens.

Rather than moving things on the table, I was zooming in and out with the lens. Rather than changing my point of view, I was zooming in and out with the lens. Things felt off and out of balance.

TIP: Master a prime lens and focal length to boost your creativity skills then move to a zoom lens.

MYTH 1: Zoom = More Options. Prime = Limiting.

Size doesn’t matter. Zoom is simply zoom. That’s it ~ Josh Johnson

It’s easy for us to think that zoom lens give us more options. Sure, it gives us a range of focal lengths to play with, but this doesn’t equal more options for creativity. They aren’t necessarily synonymous.

Photography is all about HOW we see, rather that WHAT we see.

Standing in one spot, is only seeing from that one spot. Zoom lens or not. To see something different, to feel something different, we have to move somewhere different.

When it comes to food photography you’re only limited by how you see its story, rather than your lens.

Food photography happens right in front of us. The story of food, the close connection.

Your zoom lens could be suffocating your creativity. Find out why and nurture your food photography creativity with a FREE exercise!

TRUTH 1: Zoom Lenses Make Us Lazy.

The 24-70 Syndrome can see the power go to our heads. We zoom in, zoom out instead of remembering to move our bodies and angle of view.

It makes us lazy as photographers, our composition suffers as our view of our food stories have become limited.

When we rely on zoom, we don’t truly get to know each focal length. It’s like that saying, to truly know someone spend 24 hours stuck in an airport with them. To truly know each focal length, you have to spend considerable time with just you and it. Having those uncomfortable moments and those moments of pure surprise.

The ultimate end going being not just improved and connected creativity, but having a dish to shoot and instantly knowing what focal length will allow it to shine. You’re that experienced with your prime kit.

Pure Surprise.

For me this image is the true meaning of surprise I’m talking about.

I didn’t knowingly capture this (as much as my ego would like to say that it did).

I had my 105mm macro on to take shots of the cheesecake at a 45 degree angle, and needed to get some overhead shots to complete the story.

In my mind I had planned on changing lenses, but simply didn’t before I made the set up for overhead. I picked up the camera, climbed up my set ladder and whoa, was I close. Almost blinded by the passionfruit syrup invading my eyeballs.

Instantly I saw a composition I would never have if it weren’t for the mistake of not changing the lens. Working with the same focal length allowed me to capture something creative I wouldn’t normally.

It’s these moments that make us stop and think, constraints can be a good thing when they allow us to see differently.

Your zoom lens could be suffocating your creativity. Find out why and nurture your food photography creativity with a FREE exercise!

TRUTH 2: Constraints Can Make You A Better Photographer.

Limiting yourself can make you a better photographer. It’s all about how you see rather than what you see, and what you see will depend on how much you’re willing to move.

When shooting with our zoom lenses we are tempted to make our food scene fit exactly as we want, rather than seeing this as an opportunity to be pushed creatively.

Shooting with a prime lens or at one focal length forces you to see the world in a certain way, and when the world doesn’t fit the way you exactly want you have to be more creative ~ Eric Kim

Shooting one focal length forces you to see the world a certain way if it doesn't fit the way you want you have to be creative @erickimphoto

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Your zoom lens could be suffocating your creativity. Find out why and nurture your food photography creativity with a FREE exercise!

We tend to think of constraints as bad. Constraints can be our muse. They can make us grow, and allow us to find aspects of our photography we’d never have otherwise found.

Constraints have a Goldilocks quality: too many and you will indeed suffocate in stale thinking, too few and you risk a rambling vision quest. The key to spurring creativity isn’t the removal of all constraints. Ideally you should impose only those constraints (beyond the truly non-negotiable ones) that move you toward clarity of purpose ~ Adam Richardson

Shooting with a prime lens is therefore what I’m now going to refer to as a Goldilocks constraint. It allows us to move towards clarity of purpose and nurtures creativity.

Your zoom lens could be suffocating your creativity. Find out why and nurture your food photography creativity with a FREE exercise!

The Capture With Constraints.

For me this tight shot is an example of constraints being your muse.

I’ve began to be able to see ‘around things’.

Rather than zooming out further or giving up on this shot, I chose to move up and down the hallway till I could capture just a glimpse of this quiet table for two at a local cafe.

The cafe was busy, but this shot would lead you to believe that you were able to walk into the most secluded and secrete spot in town.

It’s simple, yet it keep you wondering many things. Like is who will I find when I take one step further joining me at the table.

There is a peacefulness that I wouldn’t have captured hadn’t I used ‘foot zoom’.

You only need a couple of these moments to really make you understand how powerful the exercise below can be. I hope you’re up for the challenge!

EXERCISE: Creating a Pseudo Prime Lens

Before you start a listing on eBay to rid your life of that zoom lens you’ve treasured till now – do no such thing. Rather, turn your zoom into a pseudo prime lens for a day.

If you do have a prime lens – perfect. Make it your best friend for the day.

Pick a focal length and set it to that for the day.

Some would say to go as far as using electrical tape to secure your chosen focal length, but if you have some self control you won’t have to. Up to you.

Use ‘foot zoom’.

Can’t get the composition you want? GREAT. Crouch, move, experiment, see, be, feel, (move, move, move). Up, down, side to side, nearer, farther.

Get uncomfortable.

When that urge to change focal lengths is so strong you can’t fight it off anymore, you’re there. That creativity is being nurtured my friend, so stick with it.

Get the FREE Exercise Worksheet.


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  • Reply Marisa Franca @ All Our Way October 13, 2016 at 9:50 pm

    I wish I would have had this article several weeks ago, it would have saved me days of angst. I knew I needed another lens other than my 50 mm on my crop frame camera. I was debating over the zoom you are talking about or a 35 mm. I opted for a 35 mm and I am so anxious to get it — should be here Monday or Tuesday of next week. Your post reaffirms my decision. Thank you for the all your tips and now I’m going to share this with my Food Photo Group. Have a great day.

    • Reply Rachel October 14, 2016 at 11:35 am

      Hey Marisa, glad that you got the 35mm we were talking about. I think that will really go well for you and all the travelling you do. Regardless of whether you have a zoom or not, it is good to know how to really learn all about each focal length. In essence the zoom lens is the problem, it’s how we use it!

  • Reply Julie at icanlivewithoutsugar October 13, 2016 at 11:52 pm

    Hi Rachel,
    Liking what I see.
    Your photos are gorgeous.
    What’s more you live in my part of the world (Melbourne!).
    So grateful that Marisa led me to you (thanks Marisa).

    • Reply Rachel October 14, 2016 at 11:36 am

      Hey Julie! Lovely to e-meet you and a fellow Melbournian. Yes, Marisa is so generous isn’t she? Great to have you along for the ride.

  • Reply Melanie Kathryn October 14, 2016 at 1:36 am

    Helpful tips! I love my 24-70 because it’s so versatile and my 100mm because it’s just amazing for up close. I really want to get another fixed lens.
    I’m a Canon girl. Any specific one I shoot definitely go for? 35, 50, etc?

    • Reply Jonathan Thompson October 14, 2016 at 8:46 am

      Melanie, if you’re considering a 50mm in the Canon range, the 50mm f1.4 is a great lens. The f1.8 version is nice and cheap but I think you’ll be happier with the f1.4 and it’s certainly cheaper that the f1.2L

    • Reply Rachel October 14, 2016 at 11:38 am

      Hey Melanie! Glad you find the article intriguing. I also have a 24-70 and it’s more how we use the lens rather than the lens itself. It’s def a great lens to have for a food photographer. I just know that we can forget to really explore each focal length when we favour a zoom. Do you have a full frame or cropped sensor? Is the lens specially for food or do you have bigger plans for it?

  • Reply Jonathan Thompson October 14, 2016 at 8:43 am

    Hi Rachel,

    This article made me smile the moment I read the title. You maybe aware I use a 24-70 most of the time for my food photography and I was interested in your points you would make in this article.
    You certainly didn’t disappoint me. Moving and working the scene is so important, looking for different angles and view points. I think I use my zoom different from many others. I have seen folks standing still and zooming in and out, with their feet, apparently, stuck to one spot. I used to use primes a lot, still do from time to time, but my 24-70 and 100 macro are my choice for now. I’ve even taken the 70-200 out, stood halfway across our little studio and shot from a totally different view point, just to do things different. In case anyone else is reading this, I shoot much more than food, so my gear is a little more varied than some.
    Shoot with what feels good, with what you can afford is always my advice, but for goodness sake, move your feet. Look for the angles, the crops, the story. Get the safe shot and then work it baby!!!! 😉

    I totally agree, you should get intimate with your kit, work it until you know it inside out. Anything you can do to get working on the craft and not relying on your gear to do the work, is a good thing.

    Great article as always, this is quickly becoming an amazing resource 🙂

    • Reply Rachel October 14, 2016 at 11:41 am

      Glad to not disappoint! As I am sure you know, it is not the zoom lens but how we use it that really kills creativity and encouragers laziness. But once we are aware we can make changes and not fall into that trap. I have also done that with a 70-200 before I got the 105mm. haha. It sounds funny right.

      I think it’s rather a matter of really exploring each focal length, like really getting to know it. I know that I could use some more 1:1 time with my 35mm. Maybe that’s a project I could explore.

      • Reply Jonathan Thompson October 14, 2016 at 6:20 pm

        I always find it an enjoyable and interesting experience when I use one lens, one focal length and keep shooting it. When you discount any other option it’s amazing how creative you can get. I often make a mental note of what focal length I’m at when using a zoom. It tends to be 35, 50 and 70, mostly the wider end.
        I love restricting my choices, it’s when you discover all kinds of things you may never have thought of before. A focal length challenge sounds like a great idea, I’ll make sure I do that once I get all my video edits in the bag.

    • Reply Hayley November 30, 2016 at 11:08 pm

      I second that, Jonathan – what an incredibly helpful blog you have Rachel!!! Thank you!!

  • Reply Sally May Mills November 7, 2016 at 11:21 pm

    Great article. I totally agree with your comments. I have shot almost exclusively with a 50mm prime for four years and other than the odd situation (architecture) I love it. For my food photography it is all I need in my kit. Legs are my zoom.

    • Reply Rachel November 8, 2016 at 8:28 am

      Hey Sally! Glad you found it helpful. Yes, it is for sure a good way to learn and sounds like you’ll be an expert at creativity and composition with your legs leading the way!

  • Reply Anja March 16, 2018 at 8:46 pm

    Another thing I noticed with a zoom lens is that if the lens is really heavy it tends to zoom in on its own in the overhead position, which means the photo will be out of focus. No such thing with a prime lens. Great article btw, I’m not using zoom lens for my photography for a while and it was still nice to hear all those things 😀

    • Reply Rachel April 5, 2018 at 4:43 am

      That is totally true Anja and something that I have experienced as well. Thanks for stopping by.

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