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Ellen Shapiro

eGullet Society staff emeritus
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Posts posted by Ellen Shapiro

  1. We were told Shake Shack will be year round now that it is in a permanent building. They serve beer and wine. You can get a half-bottle of Shafer Cab and drink it in the park! There is a limited seating area for alcohol consumption.

  2. Sam Kinsey, Fat Guy and I visited the New York Burger Co. yesterday. The New York Burger Co. is a new high-concept burger joint located at 303 Park Avenue South just north of the intersection with 23rd Street. New York Burger Co. has several aspects that we felt would be interesting to eGulleters, including the use of all Coleman Natural Beef, house-made condiments, high-quality toppings and a bright modern design.

    We were lucky enough to be able to catch Mel Coleman, of Coleman Natural Beef, while he was in New York, so after taking photos in the kitchen area and talking at length to New York Burger Co.'s owners Madeline Poley and Spiros Zisimatos, we were able to sit with Mel Coleman for more than an hour in order to talk about his beef and then some.

    With some help from Fat Guy and his notes I'll lay out the basics and the photos here, and Sam Kinsey will follow with more details later.

    The basic burger patties are made from a mix devised by Coleman Natural Beef, which is mostly chuck plus different types of trim that bring the mix to an 80-20 meat-to-fat ratio. The meat is ground by Coleman at its facility in Colorado and immediately Cry-O-Vac packaged to prevent oxidation. The patties themselves are formed on premises. This is the same antibiotic-free, hormone-free beef that is sold at Whole Foods. The relationship with New York Burger Co. is a deep one, but Coleman is not an owner.

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    The brioche-like buns are toasted using a cool toaster that is a little bit like a cafeteria toaster but has a more complicated layout.

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    There are many burger options, each of which uses high-quality condiments and toppings. The burgers are assembled, wrapped, and labeled to show which kind they are. Plum tomatoes and Romaine lettuce are standard and red onion is available on request. There are preset combinations and custom options as well.

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    There are other items available as well, including grilled chicken. Also turkey burgers, veggie burgers, and salads.

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    The condiments are a marvel. There are so many, and each is house made.

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    Fruit smoothies and house-cut fries done in 100% soybean oil round out the menu offerings.

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    After awhile Mel Coleman really let his hair down, so to speak, and consented to this pose for the ages.

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    All three of us felt that the overall level of New York Burger Co.'s products were very high. I particularly loved the portabella mushrooms liberally applied to my burger. The beef had a clean an “non-scary” taste. The one main area of improvement we all gravitated towards in our later discussions was that the consistency of the burger patties could be improved via a coarser grind or an on-premises grind or both. It is a brand-new restaurant so there is plenty of time yet for them to experiment.

    New York Burger Co. is open Monday through Friday from 11am until 10pm, Saturday from noon until 8pm, and Sunday from noon until 7pm. The weekday lunch and dinner rushes are very busy (Madeline Poley told us they are doing 600+ burgers on busy weekdays, and that's just burgers not including salads and all those other menu items) so you may wish to time your visits for the in-between hours and weekends.

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  3. A good time was had by all at the Shake Shack this afternoon as we stopped by for a quick photo shoot and tasting.

    On the burger front Richard Corrain (chief of operations for the Union Square Group) demonstrated the preparation of a Shack Burger. The burger is a blend of sirloin and brisket. The patties are four ounces. The beef is ground in the Eleven Madison Park kitchen each day. The Shack Burger procedure is as follows . . .

    The patty is placed on the griddle and pressed down, firmly, once. It is never again pressed upon. The Shake Shack is not that burger place where they lean into the burgers every ten seconds squeezing all the flavor out of them and into the grease trap. The single press at the beginning is the final shaping of the patty and serves to create a broad flat surface that has good contact with the griddle.

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    The patty is well seasoned with salt.

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    After something like 2-3 minutes the edges show signs of doneness. At this time the burger is flipped.

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    The burger is beautifully browned and cooks on the other side for just a minute to finish.

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    Cheese is added, the burger is placed on a buttered toasted-on-griddle Martin's potato roll, condiments are added and the burger is wrapped for handheld eating.

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    Meanwhile the happy young employees of the Shake Shack were assembling some very colorful Chicago-style hot dogs. These are Vienna Beef hot dogs with many condiment choices. (The photo at the end of this post depicts the standard presentations; but if you ask for mustard these are some artistic possibilities.)

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    Depicted here, a Shack Burger and if memory serves a "Taxi Dog" (right) and a variegated "Chicago Dog" (left).

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    The crinkle cut fries were not available at the time of our shoot; they were just arriving when we had to leave for our next appointment. Custard photos too will have to wait for another day. But we'll be back, as Fat Guy has proclaimed the Shack Burger "Totally outstanding for its type."

  4. Time is always the enemy with snapshots. The more you can do to prepare the less suffering you will do when you are in time-compressed shooting situations.

    An analogy from underwater photography: it used to be that underwater cameras were always of the manual "rangefinder" variety as opposed to SLRs where you could see the focus. That means you had to dial in how many feet away the subject was before you could photograph it, otherwise it would be out of focus. Very inconvenient since photographing fish is already hard of course because they don't wait for you. So one thing a lot of underwater photographers (not the ones shooting for National Geographic, but the normal people who wanted to get some good photos for posterity) used to do was work with a set focus point. They would decide that the camera would stay locked at 3-feet. They would learn exactly what 3' is. 3' would become an instinct. And then they would swim so as to always be 3' away from every subject. They adapted to the shooting conditions and limits of their camera rather than trying to work against time.

    With food photography you can do the same thing. You may find that you primarily shoot the exact same composition over and over again: a plate that is X number of inches from the camera, in indoor lighting . . . you get the idea. You may find that there are a few manual settings on your camera that are best for this shot. Remember them. Keep your camera set that way. Voila, every shot like that comes out better with no extra work during the shot. It is all a matter of photographic mise en place.

  5. There is no room for anything to be pathetic within the bounds of a constructive discussion like we're trying to foster here!

    There are problems with Canon's automatic settings and also with the D30 and D60 autofocus systems (the 10D is much better). This doesn't make them pathetic! It makes them challenges for all those of us who can't afford to spend infinite sums of money on camera gear. We make do. Plenty of professionals have been using these cameras for years for a variety of purposes, and they shoot auto and program a lot more than they admit. Because when you need to whip out your camera and capture that moment, when you're not going to get a second chance, you better be ready with your dial on the little square and a prayer that the computer won't screw up the shot.

    Of course, if you have time, and you know how (and it's not hard to learn), there's no excuse not to use the various other modes, especially aperture priority which is how I shoot much of the time. But if you get a good picture, you get a good picture, I don't care how you get it.

    In terms of keeping batteries alive, I travel with three of them and I keep the spares close to my body under my coat. I don't climb Everest so I don't experience the kinds of extremes of environment that some do, but I get in some nasty conditions with trekking and have done well just using body heat, Zip-Loc bags for protection, and figuring that the worst thing that can happen is I have to fall back on my Yashica T4 film camera which would probably work fine at the center of the sun.

  6. The warranty is only 1 year and the camera is closer to 2 years old. Because this seems to be a universal problem with the D60 I think there was hope that it would be corrected with a firmware upgrade. But the last couple of times I asked Fat Guy to check the Canon support site for upgrades he said that there had been none issued. Half a stop exposure compensation seems to do the trick, though it means you can never shoot on full auto.

    Those images were taken as JPEG at the "fine" setting, not RAW. I love the RAW feature for critically important work but find that it does not suit my photography habits. I travel with my camera for extended periods of time in places where it would not be possible to power a laptop and even carrying a "digital wallet" would be inconvenient. So even though I keep about 3 gigabytes of CompactFlash cards with me that would not allow very much RAW shooting, whereas it gives me about 1,500 shots on JPEG "fine" mode. Also RAW images take up extra time in postprocessing, which is okay when you're getting paid but is a hindrance when you just want to share a bunch of photos with people.

  7. Looking for some basic background information on EXIF for a post on the shutterbug thread I stumbled across a comprehensive review of Paint Shop Pro 8 on Cnet by David English. The review is particularly helpful in comparing Paint Shop to PhotoShop although I think there is one version of PhotoShop that is newer than the review.

    http://reviews.cnet.com/Jasc_Paint_Shop_Pr...-2.html?tag=top

    I also noticed as a link on the review pages that there is an offer from BuyCheapSoftware.com (which Cnet rates highly) to get Paint Shop Pro 8 for $46 after a $30 manufacturer's rebate:

    http://www.buycheapsoftware.com/details.as...ctID=1260&cid=9

  8. What kind of lens, and what was your aperture in the second one? (I'm probably not asking the right questions, or enough about the technical stuff.)

    Back when I was taking photography classes in college and there was no such thing as a digital camera, we used to have to walk around with a notepad and write down aperture, shutter speed, and several other attributes for every photo. It was slow going. A really nice thing about digital photography is that most digital cameras automatically store all this extended information in a format called EXIF. This is a standard format that allows camera-settings data to be stored in the JPEG. So as long as you are using a piece of software that can read EXIF camera settings data, you never need to take notes again. It even tells you what lens you were using. Even though these photos are a couple of years old, I can just pull them up in Canon ZoomBrowser or Paint Shop Pro 8 and tell you all the settings. Actually these are edited down because the full list of settings includes dozens of lines of information about custom functions that I wasn't using:

    #####

    Tofu:

    Camera Model Name

    Canon EOS D60

    Shooting Date/Time

    12/18/2002 9:38:32 PM

    Tv( Shutter Speed )

    1/45

    Av( Aperture Value )

    1.4

    Metering Mode

    Evaluative

    Exposure Compensation

    0

    ISO Speed

    100

    Lens

    50.0mm

    Focal Length

    50.0mm

    Image Size

    3072x2048

    Image Quality

    Fine

    Flash

    Off

    White Balance

    Auto

    AF Mode

    AI Focus AF

    Active AF Points

    [ Center ]

    Parameters

    Contrast Normal

    Sharpness Normal

    Color saturation Normal

    Color tone Normal

    File Size

    1443KB

    Drive Mode

    Single-frame shooting

    Owner's Name

    Ellen R. Shapiro

    Camera Body No.

    1020701864

    Salmon Wide

    Camera Model Name

    Canon EOS D60

    Shooting Date/Time

    12/18/2002 9:49:20 PM

    Tv( Shutter Speed )

    1/20

    Av( Aperture Value )

    1.4

    Metering Mode

    Evaluative

    Exposure Compensation

    0

    ISO Speed

    100

    Lens

    50.0mm

    Focal Length

    50.0mm

    Image Size

    3072x2048

    Image Quality

    Fine

    Flash

    Off

    White Balance

    Auto

    AF Mode

    AI Focus AF

    Active AF Points

    [ Center ]

    Parameters

    Contrast Normal

    Sharpness Normal

    Color saturation Normal

    Color tone Normal

    File Size

    1668KB

    Drive Mode

    Single-frame shooting

    Owner's Name

    Ellen R. Shapiro

    Camera Body No.

    1020701864

    Salmon Close Up

    Camera Model Name

    Canon EOS D60

    Shooting Date/Time

    12/18/2002 9:41:21 PM

    Tv( Shutter Speed )

    1/45

    Av( Aperture Value )

    1.4

    Metering Mode

    Evaluative

    Exposure Compensation

    0

    ISO Speed

    100

    Lens

    50.0mm

    Focal Length

    50.0mm

    Image Size

    3072x2048

    Image Quality

    Fine

    Flash

    Off

    White Balance

    Auto

    AF Mode

    AI Focus AF

    Active AF Points

    [ Center ]

    Parameters

    Contrast Normal

    Sharpness Normal

    Color saturation Normal

    Color tone Normal

    File Size

    1648KB

    Drive Mode

    Single-frame shooting

    Owner's Name

    Ellen R. Shapiro

    Camera Body No.

    1020701864

    #####

    May I suggest something about this thread now? Online community laws of nature are such that as soon as a thread becomes about the thread or the site instead of about the subject of the thread, things get ugly. Gee was I trying to say that before? So I would suggest one of two things, either that everybody exercise self-restraint and hew narrowly to talking about photography in the narrow sense and nothing else, or that we stop this discussion altogether until we can set it up with rules and limits. And I might say that if the first option doesn't get adopted by the group, the second option will probably be imposed by Jon or another manager very soon. And all that was not an invitation to discuss the matter, but rather to get back to the discussion. Hope I'm making sense.

  9. Behemoth, the easiest thing is a piece of single-ply toilet paper or one ply of a Kleenex. You hardly ever find yourself in a situation where you can't at least come up with that, and it works pretty darn well. With my current gear I have two Sto-fen diffusers which cost about fifteen bucks each but they don't accomplish anything that any translucent piece of white material doesn't do. They just look a bit neater.

    Toliver, thanks for those comments. I was hoping you'd ring in on postprocessing. Those images are I think unprocessed except for the resize. Maybe I could e-mail you the originals and you could show how you'd crop and improve them. I find that the Canon D60 has a consistent underexposure problem (this is noted on plenty of photography sites). I'm not sure if it has been corrected in the 10D and Digital Rebel, but if not you will want always to shoot with positive exposure compensation on the Canon DSLR line. I chose those photos because they were part of a few dozen taken the first or second day I had that camera, so they're especially ripe for a lot of commentary. By the way, I'm sorry your hunger for the salmon was not satisfied. I hope this will help:

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  10. I've noticed glare coming off food and plates on a lot of pictures -- something with which I've also been having trouble. What are some strategies for avoiding that?

    Under studio conditions you can control a lot of it with lighting and also with matte sprays that you apply to the items. In the real world your best bets are natural light and careful planning of the angle of your camera versus the angle of the light. Even if you are using point and shoot flash the angle and distance will make a lot of difference. You can even fabricate a diffuser of sorts out of a piece of translucent material in order to cut flash glare, although some cameras will freak if you do that. If you have the ability to choose your background surface you will do better with less reflective materials (duh!) than with ones that tend to glare back. For the food there's no harm in a little reflectivity, it can add dimensionality, but if you're getting a lot of glare your food is probably too "wet" -- blotting with paper towels can help, as can repositioning yourself until you find an angle from which the glare is less apparent. Shiny chocolate things will always be challenging, though.

  11. Helenas I have to run and do have some technical comments about those photos but on the whole would just like to say they are very sharp. With minor modifications I would expect photos like that to be in a well produced cookbook. Can you tell us about more about your equipment and the intent of those images?

  12. A few contrast and composition pointers for digital snapshots on dark backgrounds, triggered by looking at Jinmyo's very appetizing dish:

    High contrast situations are hard enough on film but digital camera CCDs really tend to choke when bright whites and deep blacks compete for recognition. The extremes of the white and black especially impact the richness of any other colors in the photo. Also shiny dark surfaces and flash don't often mix because the reflected flash makes them look white. A gentle natural light source that doesn't reflect back at the camera will give nice deep dark negative space-colors, which can be beautiful for still-life backgrounds (food is a species of still-life photography). Composition-wise, any plate where two foods are very similar color-wise is going to present a balance challenge. Obviously here there is an attempt to capture a real dish so there is no food styling expressly for the photo but photographically just the cabbage and the scallop would make a more striking composition than the dish with that third piece repeating the reddish caramel colors. Definitely would crop out most of the surrounding wood and glare and contrast-enhance this as much as possible. Possibly place the fork tines right onto the plate if it is really desired for scale. These high-contrast photo compositions also often work spectacularly when photographed from directly above rather than from diner's eye perspective.

  13. I'll reiterate and maybe say it more strongly that an undertaking like this works much much much better if it is structured and scheduled, with some ground rules in place at the outset. I can promise you, and I have seen this happen on every photography message board on which I have participated and in some classroom settings, that these discussions become unpleasant quickly if there are no agreed limits and requirements. Please trust me on this. Will anybody volunteer to lead the group and help set up a structure?

    Back to a couple of the discussion points . . .

    Focus, camera shake, and losses due to image compression and other settings can be difficult to distinguish (sometimes, not always) when looking at 600 pixel wide photos. That being said sometimes it is very easy to tell, especially if it is a simple matter of the wrong part of the photo being in focus. I'll plead guilty to posting plenty of photos on eGullet that I would throw in the trash were I selecting photos to send to a photo editor. Especially when doing photojournalism, even a good autofocus system makes plenty of bad judgment calls in the heat of the moment and rarely do digital cameras give you enough depth of field to allow for much of a margin of error especially on the closeups. But people on eGullet as a whole would rather see the information than see no photos because of minor clarity deficiencies of the kind tana is a stickler for. That being said there is a fine line between flexibility in standards and collapse of standards.

    Some tips for correcting clarity problems: 1. Learn and work within the limits of your camera. If your camera isn't well suited to macro shots then don't take macro shots until another day when you have a camera that's better than that. Most digital cameras have a comfort zone within which they take their best photos. So move yourself around in order to place your subjects within that comfort zone and then crop if need be. 2. Observe how your autofocus system behaves. Every camera is different but after awhile you will figure out what your camera thinks it should be focusing on, and then you can push it to focus on what you want. You can also learn how to change your autofocus settings on some cameras. 3. Without getting overly technical, there are reasons why when working with zoom lenses the effects of camera shake and restrictions on depth of field will be worsened the more you zoom. So don't zoom way in if those are problems for you. 4. Use the viewfinder rather than the LCD screen when composing. When you use the LCD you extend your arms away from your body and amplify camera shake. When you hold the camera to your face your arms can brace against your body and you get much better clarity through the viewfinder. With SLRs you don't even have the choice to compose with the LCD, and that's a good thing. 5. Follow through, just like in tennis or softball. Taking a photo represents a whole cycle of body and camera motions. Train yourself to wait a full breath after the camera has taken the shot before you allow yourself to move away from the scene. 6. If you have really serious problems with camera shake, there are more things you can do, ranging from learning to control your breathing to using available objects as braces. 7. You may not get as artsy shots but flash, even daylight fill flash, will usually help with clarity.

    I'll throw a couple of photos into the mix. These are taken in an active kitchen.

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  14. Paint Shop Pro 8 is a great piece of software and cheap. Many cost-conscious professionals use it because PhotoShop is so expensive and offers only a few esoteric features that are better than Paint Shop. Paint Shop Pro 8 is also totally usable by beginners and the "one step photo fix" is one of the best, simplest image enhancement features out there. I have been trying to learn GIMP, which is free, but find its controls labor intensive. There is also a nice piece of software called DCE Autoenhance. This is a little like using Paint Shop's photo-fix feature in bulk: you can select like 100 images and process them in bulk. You can also teach Paint Shop to do that but I haven't bothered because DCE is so convenient.

  15. George was only one of many wonderful waiters we had at Bouley over the years. I wish I remembered all their names. One of our (me and FG that is) first fine restaurant experiences was at Bouley in maybe 1989, we were 20 or 21 years old not that they carded us or anything. Our waiter was, like George, an African-American. I only mention it because it is sadly the case that there are not a whole lot of black waiters in the top New York restaurants, and in 1989 there were far fewer. At Bouley I remember not only George and the guy from 1989 but also the most wildly gay African-American waiter from Arkansas who may have been the best of the three. I'm not sure because we had a lot to drink that night but I think our friend Carl may have gone home with him.

    What was I saying? Yes, that Bouley can be amazing. Have been with FG on most of his visits and have been there without him 4 or so times with my mother who is a big fan and does the weekend lunch there with some regularity. Sometimes it's the greatest place to eat, other times it's mediocre. I always kind of dread going there especially with all-eggs-in-one-basket visitors who need to have a great meal because it's going to be their only big-deal meal of the year.

    Chefwise, I don't follow this as closely as some others but I get the feeling that many of my favorite chefs are Bouley people. Not all of them are coming to mind right now but Doug Psaltis late of Mix and Brian Bistrong from nee Citarella are both out of that kitchen. William Yosses the pastry chef as well. Just a brilliant pastry chef. If you don't agree you're nuts.

  16. Now that ImageGullet is working again . . . I wanted to illustrate something about cameras that I mentioned above. These are a few snapshots I took several years ago with my first digital camera, a Kodak DC-210. This was a ONE MEGAPIXEL camera with a minimum of features. Today it would be considered a child's toy. And these aren't the world's most brilliant photos or anything. But if you point at the right thing and push the button, sometimes you get something usable even when the camera is a piece of crap. These all print just fine at 4x6.

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  17. Maybe this undertaking would benefit from a little more classroom structure.

    A good model might be the classes I've taken at the Gotham Writers Workshop. Every member of the class has to submit work for group critique. Obviously there is nobody offering critique who will not eventually be critiqued and that helps with the level of sensitivity and helps to rein in overkill. It might be smart with this group to create a schedule whereby 8 or so people agree to put up photos on a preset schedule of 2-3 days of critique for each person's work and only the other 7 people get to critique it. Then move on to another group of 8. Just one idea.

    Another smart rule in the GWW: they refer to the person being critiqued as being in "the box." In other words when it is your turn to be critiqued you are not allowed to defend yourself, explain yourself, or even speak except to answer the most basic questions. Your only job when in "the box" is to listen and learn.

  18. There have been a lot of comments on the technical aspects of the egg-cup-placemat photo so I wouldn't add much to that discussion, but I would caution against becoming overly distracted by pure technical analysis.

    I'm finding it difficult to consider the egg-cup-placemat photo in the abstract, without an idea as to purpose. A stock photography agency might get a request for "a nice photo of a brown egg in an egg cup" and someone might choose to do "art photography" of an egg, but outside of those special cases most photos are taken with a context in mind. On eGullet probably 99% of the photos we see are taken with the goal of documentation in mind (consciously or not). They are about documenting what you ate, what you cooked, how you cooked it, what you saw at the market, what you saw on your kitchen tour, what your knife collection looks like . . . and I think there are a lot of technical issues we can address in those types of photos, both at the composition and postprocessing stages, in order to make them more pleasing to the eye. But that won't make them more valuable as pure documentation. That is I think why we as a whole welcome photos on eGullet even if they're "bad" photos, because we are as an audience more interested in the informational content of the photos than in the aesthetics of the photos. As long as they're in focus and we can make sense of the colors, they're serving the primary eGullet purpose.

    Looking at the egg-cup-placemat photo the first thing I ask myself is what it's a photo of. Is it a photo of an egg, a cup, or a placemat? To think of it as an advertisement, which product is it advertising? To think of it as a magazine photo (it is close in style to a food magazine editorial or advertising photo, which is why I'm using those comparisons), what is the story about? To me the most interesting and prominent feature of the photo is the placemat whereas the cup and the egg are registering in my mind as props. I think, composed a little differently and with some tweaks, this would be a good start towards an illustration of an interesting placemat, say for a placemat advertisement or the "Tabletop" column in Food Arts where they look at what kinds of place settings and accessories different restaurants are using. These questions of purpose are the kinds of questions that stylists are always asking themselves. When those questions are not answered -- for example when a magazine article is illustrated with a stock image -- there is a different feel to everything. But on eGullet of course we have very few styled photos. We have mostly documentary snapshots. No expert in food styling am I, so I have no good suggestions regarding how I would reorient that photo, but it is something to think about.

  19. Last point on size: cropping. If you want to crop out say a quarter of an image and have it be print-quality you do need a bunch of resolution to make that happen. Even if you have 8 good professional megapixels your image quality geometrically degrades as you crop smaller and smaller parts of the image.

    Just to clarify: this is true asuming that you're going to enlarge the newly cropped image. If you're just cropping and not enlarging, there is no loss of quality. Put it another way: it's the enlarging that causes the problem, not the cropping.

    Wellllllll . . . in digital photography size is an abstract concept. Suffice it to say that at any given print size, once you go below about 300 pixels per inch your image quality degrades. So as you start cropping smaller and smaller pieces of an image to display at that size you suffer a corresponding loss of available pixels. Or something like that.

  20. Point taken. Let me modify that to say the availability of good digital printing is rapidly approaching the availability of good printing from negatives.

    I would love to get in on a food photography critique group. I'm not a food photographer. I sometimes get pressed into service as one because I'm married to a food writer, and also because I do so many documentary snapshots for eGullet, but what I really do is travel photography, mostly outdoors and mostly of people and places. So I would definitely be into participating in a group effort. I know we do have a couple of professional food photographers on the site, so maybe one of them would be willing to lead the group?

  21. Everybody now has access to high quality photo printing via services like Ofoto and ImageStation. The resolutions required for prints that look like they came from a film camera, however, are usually much lower than people assume. For beautiful 300ppi prints 2 megapixels will get you a 5x7 and 4 megapixels will get you an 8x10. It is only when you get into posters and billboards that the 5-8 megapixel range becomes more important. But even with a 20x30 poster you can do well from a 4 megapixel image from a good consumer level camera.

    However that is only a part of the story. One of the first things you learn when you start to explore digital photography, especially if you are transitioning from film, is that "not all megapixels are created equal." There is no comparison between the 6.1 megapixel sensor on my Canon D60 and the 5-8 megapixel sensors on the same manufacturer's consumer cameras. Why? Because my sensor is bigger. It is close to the size of a piece of 35mm film (smaller but approaching that scale) whereas the sensor on the consumer camera is the size of a tic tac. Every pixel on the bigger sensor is bigger, more accurate, less noisy, and more information-rich. If I dial down a professional-level DSLR to a 3.1 megapixel setting it will easily capture a better image than a "prosumer" camera at 5 or 8 megapixels. The type of sensor, the size of the sensor, and all the supporting electronics and internal software aka firmware on a pro camera are going to aid in producing richer, more nuanced and detailed images, assuming you took a good photo in the first place.

    To mention another aspect of size that has come up here, one thing never to forget is the effect a camera's size has on the subject. This is separate from the schlepping factor. People are intimidated by cameras that look like they should be used by news photographers. Waiters get suspicious when you haul out a D60 and a 550EX (or two) and snap on a hooded lens. Kids run for cover. Cops ask you if you have a permit. Whereas if you pull out a little point-and-shoot, nobody cares. One great thing about digital cameras, and I know I'm rambling here, is also that you can show people the photos on the screen. When photographing people this really helps them to get into it. But it's also fun to show the waiter, the manager, the chef.

    Last point on size: cropping. If you want to crop out say a quarter of an image and have it be print-quality you do need a bunch of resolution to make that happen. Even if you have 8 good professional megapixels your image quality geometrically degrades as you crop smaller and smaller parts of the image. So, better to compose well in the first place so all you have to do is trim a bit.

  22. Some people are really good at self-improvement. Others desperately need outside critiques to keep them moving forward. I can only do so much with my own work before I need someone else to look at it. That person doesn't always have to be an expert. Sometimes it's enough that the person just isn't me.

    I have a friend who lives in my neighborhood who is one of those hopeless photographers who can't improve himself and won't accept input from anybody else. So like most people in his situation he blames his equipment. Boy does he buy a lot of equipment! He now has a Leica R8 film camera and three excellent digital cameras in the point and shoot, prosumer, and professional categories. Every photograph he takes is dreadful.

    I have another acquaintance who is an amateur photographer who has never had any formal training and doesn't want any, and he shoots with a hilarious looking Pentax that is so old and crappy and dented and has no meter and a sucky lens and everything else wrong with it and he doesn't understand or care about film so he just puts in whatever is on sale at Costco. And this guy takes great photos. It's amazing. He has won something like 20 amateur photo contests. His photos are just great. Consistently so. He's got it.

    I don't mean to say it's not important what camera you buy. For most people having a camera that's a good fit for them will be helpful. Especially for the diehards who take cameras to the tops of mountains and the bottoms of seas you need to have good equipment that won't crap out on you when you're a thousand miles from the nearest camera store. If you photograph sports you need a fast lens. The obvious things. But I see the camera purchase as just a small part of the big, uh, picture.

  23. There's so much good information on this thread, I don't want to detract from it. Let me offer a few general observations, though. I've taken many, many photography courses (and plan to keep taking them forever), owned half a dozen digital cameras and many more film cameras than that, and have done all sorts of photography from photojournalism to portraiture to the kinds of documentary snapshots that are prevalent on eGullet, and there are a few things I've learned.

    I find that many people tend to overemphasize equipment. One thing I can say for sure: if you are a careful photographer and have taken the time to learn the basics, you can take a good photograph with any camera, be it a disposable plastic camera from Rite-Aid, the little digital PenCam, a Canon D60 digital SLR, my Leica R7, or a Hasselblad. And if you are a sloppy photographer who stubbornly refuses to learn from your mistakes, you will never take a good photograph no matter how many tens of thousands of dollars of camera equipment you have. Much of the time, an uncaring photographer will in fact get better photos from a middle-market point-and-shoot than from a professional rig, because control is taken away and the computer chips are "smarter" than so many photographers.

    I had a show in Florida last year where I displayed 24 photos from my various trips to Nepal. There was one photo that was clearly best in show. It was the one everybody gravitated to. Later, checking my notes, I found out that 23 of my photos had been taken with my Leica R7, and that the best one had been taken with my Yashica T4 Super-D, which is a cheap point-and-shoot camera with the world's tiniest built-in flash that costs about as much as a replacement shoulder strap for my Leica. I was talking to a National Geographic photographer down there who told me that in his photo essay on sailboats the best photo in the piece was taken not by him with his Hasselblad but rather by one of the sailboat crew with a disposable point-and-shoot. It happens.

    The basics of composition and light are the same for all cameras, film or digital, regardless of price. You will be better served by learning those basics than by all the reading you can do in dpreview and cnet. There are many books and resources for that kind of learning though there is no substitute for review of your work by skilled instructors.

    The intended purpose of photographs is relevant to the purchasing decision but not the be-all-end-all of photography. It's mostly about the comfort zone. You won't find many professional newspaper photojournalists these days using less than a Canon 10D with a 440EX flash and a 1.4 lens but that doesn't mean you can't take a newspaper-quality photo with a lot less camera, a lot less lens, and a lot less or no flash. Back before I (or most individuals without corporate backing) could afford a DSLR, I shot more than 50 newspaper photos with a 3.1 megapixel Kodak DC4800. Some of those were printed at half-page size on section front pages. Every single camera mentioned on this thread is better than my DC4800 was.

    Something else I think is worth noting: in photography there are very few single right answers. There are some technical mistakes you can make so there are plenty of wrong answers. But when it comes to right answers you will usually find a range. In food photography you will find beautiful work done with natural light, with studio lights, and with flash. The quality of your work will come more from proper use of whatever light source you choose than from your choice of light source. Especially in the learning phase -- and aren't we all in that phase? -- don't lock yourself into rules. Instead, experiment.

    And then conduct honest review of your work. It is the only way to learn. Be ruthless with yourself and have others be ruthless with you too. And then when you pick photos to share with an audience, share only your best.

    But know where to draw the line. Those who are not full-time professionals and even most of those who are do not have infinite time to take each photograph. Once in awhile you get a shot that you can't think of any way to improve; it is a magic moment the first time it happens to you and those magic moments will be few and far between. Ten years later as you've learned more you'll probably find problems with 9/10 of those magic moment photos, but maybe with one of them you won't, and that will be an even more magical moment.

    Most importantly, take lots and lots of photos, and have fun doing it.

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