Friday, July 31, 2009

A Snack

I've been gone for about a week... time to get back to work!

Toast and Bruschetta

I made myself a snack of toast with feta cheese on it and Trader Joe's bruschetta. As simple as it gets - and I kept the lighting as simple as well. One light, shot through an umbrella to the left of the subject, with a reflector placed just to the right of the subject to provide some fill light.

I used a white plate and white background to keep the feeling of the image light and bright - this is a summer snack after all!

Toast and Bruschetta Lighting

I got the lighting I wanted right away, but I played around with adding or leaving out the spoon. To date, I haven't included a lot of 'props' in my images, but it's pretty much the standard to have silverware, napkin and glass in each food shot. I'll continue to play with this.

A few other images that I liked:

Toast and Bruschetta

Toast and Bruschetta

Lessons Learned
  • Simple lighting is simple - and often works best
  • Color contrasts are important to capture interest - the red really works here
  • The focus point should be where the eye is drawn first - in this case, the red sauce

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Pizza Time!

This will be the last post for about a week, since I'll be off visiting my parents. Tempted to take the 5D Mk II and some lights with me, but that'd just be a big hassle.

Last week Jhan made a wonderful pizza, rolled the crust herself. Mushrooms, red onions, sausage, and black olives. Literally one of the most delicious pizzas I've ever eaten. That means I had to photograph it, right?!

Of course it did!

Overall, these are OK photos, but the lighting and colors need work.



I'm not terribly pleased overall with the lighting in these photos. I placed the main light to the left of the pizza, and put a paper snoot on the flash to direct the light. I put a plastic shopping bag over the light just to soften the sharp edges of the direct light a touch (the really just takes the edge off the direct light). That part I like, but I also put a fill light behind the pizza, shot through a reflector that I think dulled the overall lighting.

I wish I had had more time to play with the lighting. I might have moved the back light significantly to insure a bit more dimensionality to the pizza. As it is, it looks a bit flat.

Pizza Lighting

I'm also not really happy with the color pallete in the images; they came out much more monchromatically red/yellow than the pizza was in real life. I need to add something green to provide contrast.

Lessons Learned
  1. A plastic shopping bag can be a useful lighting modifier
  2. An effective snoot can be a piece of paper held on with masking tape
  3. Color contrasts with food are essential to prevent dull, monochromatic images
  4. Once again, if there aren't any specular highlights in your food, a back light isn't going to do you much good. Find a different place for it.
  5. I still have a lot to learn about light placement

Monday, July 20, 2009

Beautiful Boring Burrito

OK, by now I'm pretty bored with my standard lighting of main light to right of subject and second light behind subject for specular highlights.

This was a beautiful burrito, with wonderful color contrasts, but it was ruined by boring lighting. It looks like something from the menu of a cheap diner.

Burrito - Reprocessed

Lessons Learned

  1. If there are no specular highlights, back lighting doesn't do much
  2. Getting stuck on a particular lighting regime doesn't help you get the best image
  3. A beautiful dish isn't always a beautiful photo
  4. I need more plates, props and ideas to make more interesting photos. I'm working on it.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Wine Bottles - The Subject from Hell

I used to write a wine column for a local paper, and I took photos of the wines I reviewed. I learned very quickly that wine bottles are just about the most difficult thing to photograph well because they reflect everything in the studio. Unless you want a nice reflection of an umbrella very clearly visible on the wine bottle, you're not going to be able to use an umbrella when setting up your lighting.

Today, I tried lighting a wine bottle from the top. I placed my 430EX in a small softbox at a height of about 8 feet, pointing directly down on the table (covered with a black sheet). I placed reflectors to the sides of the bottle to provide a bit of side light, without a lot of reflections.

First Try

Wine Bottle Lighting - First Take

Wine Bottle in Studio - First Take

Unfortunately, the reflectors gave more - and more obvious - reflections than I wanted. Also, the bottle label seemed a bit dark. I made the minor changes of moving the reflectors back until they were even wit the bottle, and I placed a sheet of white paper in front of the bottle to reflect a bit of light back onto the label. I also dropped the exposure by a stop to cut down reflections and dust specks.

Final Set Up
Wine Bottle Lighting - Final

The result (with a bit of Photoshop touch up - mostly to remove dust on the bottle, repair nicks on the label, and to darken the gray-looking tabletop), looks pretty good. The reflections of the reflectors serve more to define the edges of the bottle than anything else.

Wine Bottle in Studio - Final

Lessons Learned
  1. Bottles are extremely difficult to photograph
  2. Top lighting is a good approach
  3. Controlling side reflections is difficult and exacting
  4. Make sure to use clean, dust-free bottles, with clean labels
  5. If shooting against a dark background, avoid overexposing the image - that brings out every defect in the bottle and label
I'm sure that you'll be seeing a lot more wine bottles in this blog.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Mmmmm... Bacon and Eggs

Mmmmm... Bacon and Eggs

For this shoot I wanted to try something a bit different lighting-wise. I wanted to go high key to blend the white bowl with the background and help the colorful food stand out.

To do this, I placed both flashes close to the subject, and bumped them both up one full stop in exposure.

Bacon and Eggs Lighting Setup

The white tabletop and white background contributed to a very even soft light, along with the reflector and umbrella.

Here's another, similar shot that's just different enough to be interesting. I like the lower, frame-filling angle that makes it seem like the food is right in your lap.
Mmmmm... Bacon and Eggs

Lessons Learned
  1. I've got to pay more attention to depth of field. Here, it was too shallow on most shots.
  2. Hand-holding the camera for shoots like this (I only used the tripod to test the set up) allows you to work much faster than working with a tripod.
  3. I still have work to do to get the exact high key effect that I wanted.
  4. My wife and I need to communicate better on preparing the food. She was going to microwave the bacon!
Overall, I'm very happy with this shoot. The food came out pretty much as I had envisioned it - and it was a delicious breakfast!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Breakfast of Champions

Bagels, Coffee, Newspaper

My favorite thing to do for breakfast is to sit in my recliner, reading the morning paper, while eating a toasted and butter bagel with a cup of freshly brewed Peet's (or Starbucks) French Roast coffee. So, it only makes sense that I should capture what I see every weekend morning.

And, yes, I still read actual newspapers - there is nothing else like it. In fact, we subscribe to both the San Francisco Chronicle (my wife's paper) and the Sacramento Bee (mine, because of the excellent coverage of our budget debacle).

This was a very easy shoot, both because I used all natural light, and because you can take pictures of bagels and coffee all day and they don't visibly melt, wilt, get soggy or turn odd colors. I was a bit dark, even with the window light, so I was shooting at 1/20th of the second at ISO 800. I braced myself against the arm of the chair to keep the camera still.

It was easy to set up, since I already had a good idea of what I wanted. It only took a few minutes to compose the shot (using an empty plate and mug) and the shooting itself lasted only a couple of minutes. Our bagels were still hot when we stopped shooting and opened our papers.

The shot above is probably my favorite, but I liked the following two as well:

Bagels, Coffee, Newspaper

Bagels, Coffee, Newspaper

Here's the setup (such as it was). My wife held a reflector just this side of the plate to reflect the light back onto the food.
Bagels and coffee setup

Click on the images to get more information.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Pancake Breakfast

I wanted to try to get some images in some location other than my small studio. I like how the light comes in our dining room window in the morning, so I tried to get that - particularly the shadows of the leaves against the window.

This was more difficult than it looked, because balancing the flash (to the right, behind a reflector) with the daylight streaming in through the window was very difficult.

Also, pancakes (particularly with syrup and butter) wilt very quickly and become unappetizing. I had very little time to do this shoot, and it didn't come out that well.

I have a lot to learn about lighting. Still, these aren't totally unappetizing, and the pancakes were wonderful.



Tuesday, July 14, 2009

4th of July Dinner

Jhan made a yummy steak for me and salmon for herself for 4th of July (which we spent at home by the pool sizzling steak and salmon in the barbee).

She also made some delicious (I see see that adjectives are going to be a problem in this blog) sauteed mushrooms to go with dinner, along with a bake potato and a Greek salad. My wife is a cooking over-achiever (which is why I struggle with the scales).

Here are the photos:

Steak (drool):
Steak with Portobello Mushrooms

Juicy Closeup:
Steak Close up

Baked Potato (wherein I learn how fast butter melts):
Baked Potato

Greek Salad:
Greek Salad

I actually think the Greek salad is the best photo of the bunch, since I think it works best with the lighting. The full photo of the steak is good as well, but it grates on me that the steak touches the top of the image (a simple PS fix, I know).

All images shot on a Canon 5D Mark II with a Sigma 105mm macro lens.

Lighting was as follows:

Lighting Set up

Canon 5D Mark II with ST-E2 infrared controller, Canon 580EX flash positioned to right of subject, shot through umbrella, and Canon 430EX flash behind subject (not visible), shot through a reflector. Flash ratios are anywhere from 2:1 to 8:1 for the 580EX over the 430EX.

Again, these are decent photos, particularly for someone like me who knows nothing about food photography. Still, I have a lot to learn.

Monday, July 13, 2009

My First Food Photos

The first serious food photos I took were taken about a week ago of some apple tarts my wife had made. They looked interesting, so I got a plate (the maroon Fiesta ware that will soon become all too familiar), put a light behind the plate with a reflector, and a flash and umbrella to the right.

Call it beginners luck.

Apple Tarts - Processed

Apple Tarts - Processed

Apple Tarts - Processed

365 Days of Food

I just finished working on a book project, and find myself without anything to work on project-wise. Business is deader than a proverbial doornail, but I need something new to challenge myself.

365 days projects are a dime a dozen these days, but it's good practice and gives you a commitment that forces you to be creative.

So food photography appeals to me, I know nothing about it, and it works with my equipment. Also, I love food and am married to a wonderful cook.

This project is going to be a bit different than other 365 days projects. First of all, I'm not going to post every day. That's just not possible, but I promise to post nearly every day, up until there are 365 posts.

I can't promise what direction the blog will go, but I do promise that all the food photographed will be real food really eaten. No mashed potatoes standing in for French vanilla ice cream.

This will be a learning experience for me, since the vast bulk of my work has been outdoors under natural light, but then, that's exactly the challenge I need.

Now off to re-arrange my studio and purchase some plates (garage sales here I come).