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Breakthrough in Flash-less food photography


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Last week we had dinner at "The Bar Room at The Modern" in NYC, and though we wanted to photograph our dinner, the room was really dim, and we just didn't want to go setting off flashes, and besides, the camera we had with us was the (tiny) Canon PowerShot SD700 IS, which does a terrible job of exposing flash pictures when they're close.

But I realized that we each had our new iPhones with us, and that we each had the application "Flashlight", which turns the screen into a light source; it's primarily for those times when you're in the dark and can't see to put your key in the door, or in a restaurant where it's too dim to read the menu, and we figured that we had nothing to lose by holding them up, one at each end of the plate, and snapping the photos lit only that way.

The results were quite remarkable:

tarte-flambee.jpg

foie-gras.jpg

terrine.jpg

liverwurst-nimg.jpg

sausage-nimg.jpg

confit.jpg

There's one out-take, in which you can see the reflection of the iPhone in the plate; the "settings" for the "Flashlight" application are showing because I forgot to say "done" and let it go to plain white light, and still it worked:

confit-reflection.jpg

We may never have to bring the camera with the flash hood, and considering that our other camera, the Canon EOS 40D, does much better in low light, I'm expecting even greater results with that using the iPhones as light with that.

Overheard at the Zabar’s prepared food counter in the 1970’s:

Woman (noticing a large bowl of cut fruit): “How much is the fruit salad?”

Counterman: “Three-ninety-eight a pound.”

Woman (incredulous, and loud): “THREE-NINETY EIGHT A POUND ????”

Counterman: “Who’s going to sit and cut fruit all day, lady… YOU?”

Newly updated: my online food photo extravaganza; cook-in/eat-out and photos from the 70's

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Very nice results, Mark. I can only begin to imagine the outcry from the anti-photo crowd. :raz: I will have to remember this next time I am in a particularly tough light situation.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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Did you try any shots with just one phone?

No - the phone doesn't seem to be giving off all that much light as you're doing it. I doubted that two were even going to work, so I didn't think of trying only one. Besides, I held them at opposite sides of the plate tilted at an angle to the food for evenness of lighting, so I doubt that I'd try one. And believe me, it's so barely noticeable in person that I had my doubts that two were going to work at all!

Overheard at the Zabar’s prepared food counter in the 1970’s:

Woman (noticing a large bowl of cut fruit): “How much is the fruit salad?”

Counterman: “Three-ninety-eight a pound.”

Woman (incredulous, and loud): “THREE-NINETY EIGHT A POUND ????”

Counterman: “Who’s going to sit and cut fruit all day, lady… YOU?”

Newly updated: my online food photo extravaganza; cook-in/eat-out and photos from the 70's

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Hey, that's a neat trick! I've downloaded Flashlight- it's a useful app to have anyway- and will give this technique a try.

Did you try any shots with just one phone?

No - the phone doesn't seem to be giving off all that much light as you're doing it. I doubted that two were even going to work, so I didn't think of trying only one. Besides, I held them at opposite sides of the plate tilted at an angle to the food for evenness of lighting, so I doubt that I'd try one. And believe me, it's so barely noticeable in person that I had my doubts that two were going to work at all!

And, of course, you can't use one iPhone to provide light and take pictures. Still, it's mighty cool...

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And, of course, you can't use one iPhone to provide light and take pictures.  Still, it's mighty cool...

And you can't take a photo anywhere near this quality with the crappy camera built into the iPhone anyway, even if you had a second one to use as your light source.

Overheard at the Zabar’s prepared food counter in the 1970’s:

Woman (noticing a large bowl of cut fruit): “How much is the fruit salad?”

Counterman: “Three-ninety-eight a pound.”

Woman (incredulous, and loud): “THREE-NINETY EIGHT A POUND ????”

Counterman: “Who’s going to sit and cut fruit all day, lady… YOU?”

Newly updated: my online food photo extravaganza; cook-in/eat-out and photos from the 70's

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Awesome.  Maybe I oughtta get an iPhone just for that.

At the risk of discouraging gadget purchasing, couldn't you just buy a little flashlight? (or buy the new Canon 5D and shoot at 25,600 ISO)

What are you, a comedian? (The new Canon 5D is $3,000 !! Though I'd undoubtedly love one.)

Interestingly, earlier this summer I was in a restaurant in Miami that was so dark that you couldn't read the menus, and the waiters had assorted little flashlights and such, and let me tell you, a flashlight is the last thing you want lighting a photo.

However, one waiter had one of those clip-on "booklights", and we did take some photos using that. The results are interesting, though certainly not great, and the camera has difficulty focusing in that little light:

gallery_11181_3830_71420.jpg

But for overall even lighting and brightness, I'm glad I discovered the iPhone trick.

(By the way, do you have any idea what kind of grain there will be shooting in low available light at ISO 25,600? If they can do it without a lot of noise [i.e. "grain"] I get the feeling that one of these days there will be one of those cameras in our future, perhaps when the prices start to drop.)

Overheard at the Zabar’s prepared food counter in the 1970’s:

Woman (noticing a large bowl of cut fruit): “How much is the fruit salad?”

Counterman: “Three-ninety-eight a pound.”

Woman (incredulous, and loud): “THREE-NINETY EIGHT A POUND ????”

Counterman: “Who’s going to sit and cut fruit all day, lady… YOU?”

Newly updated: my online food photo extravaganza; cook-in/eat-out and photos from the 70's

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I am in denial that those pictures were taken with a phone. Kinda makes me feel like I shouldn't have bought that 700 dollar DSLR

Scroll back up and read the first post carefully.

It does not say that the photos were taken with the iPhone; It says that they were taken with a little Canon Power Shot, and that the lighting source is two iPhones running the "Flashlight" app held at opposite sides of the plate, just (just) out of camera range. It also says that you can see the reflection of the iPhone in one of the plates in the very last photo.

"Apps" are applications that run on the new iPhone, and "Flashlight" is one that turns the phone screen into a flashlight for use in low-light situations, like getting your key in the door in the dark, or reading the menu in a too-dark restaurant. I, being a creative genius, thought to try them for lighting some photos in a restaurant that was otherwise too dark for available light photos when I didn't want to use a flash.

Overheard at the Zabar’s prepared food counter in the 1970’s:

Woman (noticing a large bowl of cut fruit): “How much is the fruit salad?”

Counterman: “Three-ninety-eight a pound.”

Woman (incredulous, and loud): “THREE-NINETY EIGHT A POUND ????”

Counterman: “Who’s going to sit and cut fruit all day, lady… YOU?”

Newly updated: my online food photo extravaganza; cook-in/eat-out and photos from the 70's

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Ah, I can see it now. You and your sweetie are at a romantic restaurant, soft lighting, subtle music, then your first course arrives.

Its beautiful. Amazingly so. You whisper; "Darling, shall we?" "Oh! Yes she/he says. Let s do it!"

You whip out your iphones. She/he leans over the table a phone in each hand. Does the Flashlight application. You, meanwhile, take you camera out and carefully focus upon the food. Snap. Snap. Snap!

Excitedly you lean together to view the results on the camera's LCD. They're perfect. You gaze into each other's eyes and smile.

Meanwhile the rest of the restaurant patrons breakout into applause/ laughter/ boos/ cheers. Take your choice. What a great performance! What a wonderful experience!

Oh & by the way your food is now cold.

Yes, a true breakthrough!

Edited by Dave Hatfield (log)
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