“I studied science, so it’s really no wonder I’m obsessed with details,” laughs Niveditha (Nia) Ravichandran. Having developed a fascination with photography through watching her father fiddle with a camera when she was younger, Nia went on to teach herself the finer principles of shooting. Her creative gaze finally settled on the demanding world of macro and still-life photography. Now forging a successful path in food and drink photography, it’s been a busy few months for Nia.
“Creating these images is a very meticulous process,” Nia says. “I pay attention to the details because that’s what makes an everyday thing shine. Even the tiniest tweaks can pay off in the end. And the funny thing is, you can see non-photographers taking that same interest,” she smiles, “smoothing out a cloth or removing crumbs for a picture of their meal when in a fancy restaurant.”
So how does a pro do it? “The main difference between me and a non-photographer is my Sony Alpha 7 IV,” she confides. “I’m committed to making the drink the real star of the scene. A talented chef, barman or barista has put their soul into it, so I must match that. This comes through picking the right lighting, backdrops, props and camera. My Alpha 7 IV brings precision to the image, carving out the focal point with an unparalleled sharpness.
Lighting is perhaps just as more important when shooting drinks, says Nia, and controlling that really separates good work from bad. “Terrible overhead lighting casts nasty shadows and everything looks unappetising and dull,” she explains. “But introducing a backlight, even from a window, it can instantly look better. This can create highlights in the liquid and show the colour and the texture of bubbles, ice or condensation. Backlighting also helps you to avoid those ugly reflections.”
On top of lighting, success comes from using physical special effects, she says. “There are lots of tricks in food and drink photography I like to lean into. With drinks, I use silicone ice which doesn’t melt or change the colour of a drink and, it won’t add condensation to the glass.”
A great example comes when Nia is working with steam. “I’ll start off shooting against a darker background, so it stands out,” she explains, “then I use a little smoke machine. I put a wisp of smoke above and behind the glass and fire my Sony Alpha 7 IV’s shutter using a Sony RMT-P1BT remote. The camera is also set to a fast shutter speed to freeze the smoke’s shape and its 10fps burst mode means I can choose the best swirls. I might have to repeat it four or five times, but the results are worth it.”
Viewing her images is made easier for Nia by the Alpha 7 IV too. “Looking for those details means a lot of checking on screen,” she explains, “and though I usually use a laptop, the Alpha 7 IV’s 3” Hi-res rear LCD provides an even better view. In particular, its colours are rich and true enough for me to see what’s working if I swap backgrounds or change the light.”
The Sony Alpha 7 IV’s high resolution sensor also boasts all the dynamic range she needs, Nia says. “Sometimes if I’m shooting smoke or dropping ice into a glass, I’m looking for those faster shutter speeds,” she explains, “so even if I underexpose a little, I know that all the information I need will be in the file. And the pure size of its files blows my print clients away.”
Working mainly with the FE 90mm f/2.8 Macro G OSS, FE 24-105mm f/4 G OSS and FE 50mm f/1.2 G Master lenses, “the macro is my go-to for shots like these because I love the way it captures all the textures in food and drink,” Nia adds. “I can easily capture the details that tell the story of the product, like the fruit in a glass or the bubbles on a straw. I’ll often switch to the 24-105mm lens if I’m doing flat-lays, or the 50mm should I want a bit more context, because the space can be just hugely important in telling the story, too. But, all of Sony’s lenses have amazing focus and clarity, so it’s worth experimenting with different style shots.”
Picking the right camera and lens combinations, the background, and working through detail is all part of the creative journey, says Nia. “We live in an image-hungry world and even if they look simple, the best images will have seen a whole series of choices taken in their making. Little nuances can take the photo to the next level, and the same is true of the cameras like the Sony Alpha 7 IV.”