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Digital Cameras for Food Photography


Rachel Perlow
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To echo what andiesenji said... I now have a Sony Mavica and having that disc has been the most marvelous thing known to man. I have been able to continue clicking away (like over 300 high resolution pics at a botanical garden) without having to go download from a stick or card or other gadget. (I didn't have the laptop with me anyway.) I can also give them to friends when I have taken pics at a party and such. And at about 25 cents to store 150 high res pictures... well that is hard to beat. Granted, I don't do the kind of photography where the delay in writing to the disc bothers me all that much. The Nikon is starting to look really good, but I am going to be hard pressed to give up the little CDs. I actually prefer the larger cameras for more serious photography as I find I can hold them much steadier. Must be my 35mm SLR history. But I may get a relatively tiny, not too expensive camera for my purse for less serious occasions.

I used the Mavica on a tripod when I took photos of dogs for my reference pics for doing portraits.

I had a metal frame on a stand that I could set up and I could get to the side to toss a toy or a noisemaker to get the dog's attention.

The little Nikon has both a telephoto and a close up lens with an extension tube and I find those very helpful.

My old Nikon lenses do not fit, though. Too bad.

Edited by andiesenji (log)

"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

 

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I do alot of food and travel-type photography, and ended up buying the Canon 300d Digital Rebel last year after my 4-year love affair with my Nikon Coolpix 990 ended when I finally broke it. I loved the macro feature on the Coolpix (the little flower icon).

A couple tips when looking at digital cameras....

Be realistic about what size camera you are willing to carry around:

I love the flexibility of the new Canon (I can change lenses) and the file sizes are great for when I choose to make prints, but I don't enjoy the shape of the SLR -- it can be a pain to carry around. I've learned that if you don't want to take your camera anywhere because it is too big, you don't end up with great pictures. So, be realistic. There are great pocket sized cameras out there with amazing optics, reasonable pricing, and high mega-pixels for when you want to make prints for friends.

Trade-up over time:

Make a list of the features you know you want: size, shape, weight, zoom, MP, media type, etc -- and go for that. Don't go over-kill thinking you need a ton of extra features - or a physically big camera (SLR) to get great results. Some of my favorite shots ever have come from simple point and shoots. If you grow out of your camera over time, and are looking for different features, you can always trade up.

So, on the consumer end, Ive been happy with the Coolpix series (and they have some great picket sized cameras), and on the 'pro-sumer' level the quality of the pics from the Rebel have been great if you don't mind dragging a full size SLR around.

Some shots taken with the new Canon Digital Rebel:

icedcookies.jpg

cheesecake_bars.jpg

And here is a small gallery of non-food shots, all taken with the Canon from Sri Lanka last month.

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Heidi Swanson

101 Cookbooks

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I would like to encourage any forum moderators reading this to get heidihi to do an eCGI course on photographing food. (If she's willing, I mean.) Nice!

Are you really able to use the Canon rebel for book-jacket-quality photos?

Edited by Behemoth (log)
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Thanks Behemoth,

The Rebel on RAW setting gets me 16-bit 36MB files. Which I think is acceptable for many stock photo agencies in terms of quality and size.

In terms of shooting for publishers. I just finished up my first book with Stewart, Tabori, and Chang -- and they actually requested that I shoot slide film (which they then scanned). I shot simultaneously with the Canon Rebel (as back-up), and I think they could have conceivably used those shots as well (they may have ended up using one or two of these shots in the book, but I'm not positive).....

I think I may eventually jump to a medium format/digital back combo -- but for everyday ease of use and flexibility, and file sizes that are (semi) managable the Rebel was a good choice for me, even if I hate the cheesy silver body on it. The Nikon D70 is comperable, but wasn't yet on the market when I purchased the Canon.

As far as shooting food for online forums or blogs -- I see people make the same simple mistakes OVER and over again. They shoot at night, use flash, shoot under artificial lights (that is why you see that orange cast to many food shots), and the choice of composition could often be improved by doing a couple simple things.

-h

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Heidi Swanson

101 Cookbooks

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And those couple of simple things might be?? :biggrin: But really - what would you suggest since a lot of shots are taken in restaurants - at night, under artificial lighting? Please share your expertise - evident from your incredible artistry. Heidi - your photos are gorgeous. Congratulations and best wishes on your book - I can't wait to see it.

Can I get some advice from all please? I need an ultra compact, point and shoot that can survive a professional kitchen. I've generally narrowed it down to one from the afore-mentioned Olympus Stylus series - but what do you think about this Sony DSC-U60?

Thanks for any help.

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Heidi, your photos are really simply gorgeous. Thanks for sharing them, yes please share your advice. When people do the blog they do take a lot of photos in the kitchen, where light can be problematic, at the dinner table, in the evening, at night, and the light is inevitably dim, artificial, etc. I think that's the nature of the blog situation in general. When you're working on site, what kind of things do you normally do to improve composition, and lighting conditions? Any stories to share? Do you have extra equipment that you carry? :smile:

edited to add questions and a link to the Canon Powershot A70. It looks like a much more powerful version of the camera I use, which is a Canon Powershot A30, 1.2Mpix, 3x digital zoom, looks like the same body, apparently no longer manufactured. This camera is light, compact, easy to use, not very powerful but good enough for me, sluggish on the shutter, but the good thing is that it's been put through 3 years of daily greasy use and knocked around in my purse fo all of that time and I don't know what I'd do without it. :laugh:

Edited by bleudauvergne (log)
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First, I must admit that I'm a pretty mediocre photographer, as I don't know what the hell I'm really doing. However, I do like my camera, the Sony DSC-V1, because it is fairly compact, has great optics (Zeiss lens), and it allows me to take total control of all settings: Film speed, aperture, and shutter speed. These are important (particularly the aperture) when trying to get stylized shots that Heidi produces, with a narrow depth of field. This camera is a Sony, meaning it uses the stupid memory stick, but those prices are finally coming down. However, this is my bread and butter camera for food, friends, family, flora and fauna.

Dean McCord

VarmintBites

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Photographing food indoors --

I know at least one very basic thing -- I change the setting to incandescent when shooting under indoor lighting, to get rid of the orange cast. Most digital cameras have "white balance" options, which is where you will find this. Very useful.

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So, I have some pretty strict rules for myself when shooting food. And since I started following them my photography has (visually) improved alot. I realize it may not be realistic for people to follow all of these -- but in terms of getting the best "looking" shots -- this is what has worked for me.

1. Whenever possible shoot in natural light. Find a window or a place with nice indirect light, and shoot there. If I make something at night, I carefully try to reserve a portion of it for later and shoot the next morning. If this isn't an option, and you are shooting under flourescent or incandescent lighting -- just make sure you go back to your camera manual and learn to white balance properly.

2. No Flash. Ever. It makes everything look greasy or sweaty.

3. Pay attention to your backgrounds. Clear out any unnecessary visual "noise" from a shot, so the focus is on the food. Same applies to non-food related shots.

Now I can already hear people complaining that it just isn't realistic to not shoot at night, and not use flash, and white balancing makes their head hurt.....but when I take my camera out at night, I still never use the flash and I just make sure I'm whitebalanced (push a button). I end up with a different look, but still one I like (examples below) --

Since alot of people do seem to shoot late here, there are a couple other things you should at least think about as you move forward with your photography and camera choices.--

Fast lenses: This is where a "fast" lens really helps. This means the lens can open wide and let in alot of light. From what I've seen the lenses on many of the point and shoots aren't super fast, ranging from 2.8-3.5, etc. My fastest lens for my SLR is 1.4, and this is one of the biggest benefits to having the Digital SLR (I can use a fast lens like this). You can open your lens wide open (let in a lot of light), and slow down the shutter speed (this happens automatically when you use a camera with aperture-priority mode), and you can get some nice shots with lots of atmosphere. Here are a couple shots that I took using this method at a birthday party at an Indian Restaurant. The camera was the Canon Digital Rebel, I had a wide-angle lens on it that wasn't particularly fast, 2.8, and my ISO was set at 800. Still a bit of an orange cast, it is tough to get a perfect white balance in a mixed lighting environment even if you use the right white-balance button.

ISO range: If you are shooting at night or in dark environments, then you need to consider the ISO range on the camera as well when purchasing -- this is just the digital equivalent of film speed. My camera goes to 1600, which is the equiv. of having 1600 speed film in it -- match that up with a pretty fast lens, and you are going to have more to work with and you wont have to rely on flash as much.

I'm sure there are "flash" advocates out there that can tell you all the things you can do to get great results, but it's not me ;)

The learning curve of photography can be a bit steep and over whelming. I used to pick out one problem in my shots at a time, and then concentrate of fixing that. I would clip pictures from magazines of the type of shots I liked, and then try to figure out how to move more in that direction while still maintaining my own personal style.

Hope this helps! -h

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Heidi Swanson

101 Cookbooks

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I was planning to post some pictures I took in London when I write about the restaurants - but I didn't know how to do it. Thought I'd take advantage of this thread to learn. This is my first effort (actually it's about my 10th effort - but it's my first successful effort :smile: ). Guess the first time is the hardest.

i8178.jpg

By the way - this is sweetbreads and monkfish - the chef's signature dish at 140 Park Lane. Yummy. And the camera is a Kodak Easyshare DX6340. I think the chef will be happy with these pictures. Robyn

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edited to add questions and a link to the Canon Powershot A70. It looks like a much more powerful version of the camera I use, which is a Canon Powershot A30, 1.2Mpix, 3x digital zoom, looks like the same body, apparently no longer manufactured.

My Olympus D-520 two megapixel digital bit the dust after about 18 months of use - the lens would no longer extend or retract. Due to the complexity of repairs and dropping prices, repair was not an option. I replaced it with a Canon Powershot A-70 three megapixel model and I'm loving it. It appears to take as good or better a picture than the Olympus under routine conditiosn and hte macro feature is definitely superior. I found the manual override menus (intentional over and under exposure etc) on the Olympus to be a bit more intuitive but the canon is easy enough to use. The Olympus D series consumer cameras are apparently prone to probelms - it appears that my experience was far from unusual.

The pocket size nature of these is crucial for me - if I can't slip it in a shirt or pants pocket I'm far less likely to use it. I have a Nikon F2 Photomic with two prism heads, a couple different focusing screens and three or four lenses - it sits gathering dust because spontaneity is my main criteria at this point in time.

Lucy - I would suggest that you look for a model that includes or has available (at a reasonable price) a remote control. I use the self timer feature for tripod shots but it gets to be a bit tiresome after awhile.

One negative on the Canon - uses four AA batteries rather than two and although using niMh rechargeables mnimizes the cost factor of power supply, it seems to drain the charge from a full set of four faster than the Olympus went through a set of two.

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I have the Minolta Dimage X20, which is basically the 2MP version of the Dimage XT. I regard it as a near-perfect pocket camera. Since the optical zoom lens is inside, you get a super-fast startup time and no worries about breaking it. This camera allows a 3" / 8cm focal length for macro shooting. My big complaint about it for food photography is that it doesn't do well in low light. In general, tiny pocket cameras will not do well at this because their objective (main) lenses are tiny as well. Luckily with digital images it is easier to bump the contrast on an underexposed shot. In general, I prefer AA batteries as a power source, because, for the Dimage X20 at least, 4 NiMH AAs will last for a few hundred exposures. Also, when on vacation, I don't need to worry about a charger or a spare battery, because I can just buy more AAs.

Walt

Walt Nissen -- Livermore, CA
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Another trick -- for slow shutter speeds w/out flash is to rest the camera on the back of a chair or something, on top of a thick piece of cloth (in my case, an ugly felt purse). That way you avoid camera shake and the resulting blurry picture.

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I've been shopping for a new digital camera for a few months and it's great to find this thread with all of your experiences and recommendations. I'd be interested to know if anyone uses or has used the Konica Minolta Dimage A1, which is, at the moment, the camera at the top of my list. Thanks...

What's new at Mexico Cooks!?

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I've been shopping for a new digital camera for a few months and it's great to find this thread with all of your experiences and recommendations. I'd be interested to know if anyone uses or has used the Konica Minolta Dimage A1, which is, at the moment, the camera at the top of my list. Thanks...

This site has some excellent reviews of newer cameras.

http://www.ephotozine.com/

The new Digital Photo magazine also has several new reviews.

This site also has some excellent reviews.

http://www.megapixel.net/html/issueindex.php?lang=en

I have subscribed to PEI magazine for several years. They always have excellent step-by-step tutorials on how to get certain effects. If you subscribe to the magazine you can access all the previous years tutorials on line. For twenty bucks for a year's subscription, it is a good deal.

http://www.peimag.com/tutorial.htm

"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

 

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Another trick -- for slow shutter speeds w/out flash is to rest the camera on the back of a chair or something, on top of a thick piece of cloth (in my case, an ugly felt purse). That way you avoid camera shake and the resulting blurry picture.

This is a really good tip. I take a lot of night time ambient light photos in dim conditions, too, and I can't avoid it. I have found that a very simple rule makes a huge difference in avoiding the slow shutter speed blur: Always have your body grounded by something still. Lean against a wall or a piece of furniture and hold your breath while you are shooting, it makes a difference.

Another thing is that with a digital camera, especially a cheap one, get the biggest memory card available, and take the same exact shot 4 or 6 times whenever you take it. You're not wasting film, that's for sure! Then when you have a chance to look carefully at them on the computer, choose the best one and delete the ones that don't look as good as the others.

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I was planning to post some pictures I took in London when I write about the restaurants - but I didn't know how to do it.  Thought I'd take advantage of this thread to learn.  This is my first effort (actually it's about my 10th effort - but it's my first successful effort  :smile: ).  Guess the first time is the hardest.

i8178.jpg

By the way - this is sweetbreads and monkfish - the chef's signature dish at 140 Park Lane.  Yummy.  And the camera is a Kodak Easyshare DX6340.  I think the chef will be happy with these pictures.  Robyn

Robyn, the detail in the pot looks really wonderful. One thing I might have done is try a few more shots while I was at it, adjusting the camera position to see if I could eliminate the reflection of the flourescent light. If I could not, I would have slightly rotated the handle to follow the same line as the reflection, to give the whole a formal continuity. But really the food looks simply amazing, a great shot. I'm sure he'll be pleased with that too.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

i8194.jpg

For this one, using the close up setting is really key because it affects the depth of field. The edge of the glass was in focus, but the food was not. Turn off the flash, if you can, it just does not add to a close up photo because the light meter that reads for intensity in your camera isn't sensitive enough. If it's just too dark, you might try putting a napkin over the flash or taping over it to soften the glare and reflections. Compositionally, the crease of the tablecloth is distracting in this photo. It is a detail you can try and eliminate by positioning the dish. If your plate had a regular shape, the sharp crease of the cloth might not be as much as an issue, or even add to the overall composition. But that dish is all about the shape of the plate in that photo. You might as well cut the noise as much as possible.

Hope that helps for next time.

Edited by bleudauvergne (log)
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Robyn, the detail in the pot looks really wonderful. One thing I might have done is try a few more shots while I was at it, adjusting the camera position to see if I could eliminate the reflection of the flourescent light.

is that nae what photoshop is for?

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So, I have some pretty strict rules for myself when shooting food. And since I started following them my photography has (visually) improved alot. I realize it may not be realistic for people to follow all of these -- but in terms of getting the best "looking" shots -- this is what has worked for me.

1. Whenever possible shoot in natural light. Find a window or a place with nice indirect light, and shoot there. If I make something at night, I carefully try to reserve a portion of it for later and shoot the next morning. If this isn't an option, and you are shooting under flourescent or incandescent lighting -- just make sure you go back to your camera manual and learn to white balance properly.

2. No Flash. Ever. It makes everything look greasy or sweaty.

3. Pay attention to your backgrounds. Clear out any unnecessary visual "noise" from a shot, so the focus is on the food. Same applies to non-food related shots.

Now I can already hear people complaining that it just isn't realistic to not shoot at night, and not use flash, and white balancing makes their head hurt.....but when I take my camera out at night, I still never use the flash and I just make sure I'm whitebalanced (push a button). I end up with a different look, but still one I like (examples below) --

Since alot of people do seem to shoot late here, there are a couple other things you should at least think about as you move forward with your photography and camera choices.--

Fast lenses: This is where a "fast" lens really helps. This means the lens can open wide and let in alot of light. From what I've seen the lenses on many of the point and shoots aren't super fast, ranging from 2.8-3.5, etc. My fastest lens for my SLR is 1.4, and this is one of the biggest benefits to having the Digital SLR (I can use a fast lens like this). You can open your lens wide open (let in a lot of light), and slow down the shutter speed (this happens automatically when you use a camera with aperture-priority mode), and you can get some nice shots with lots of atmosphere. Here are a couple shots that I took using this method at a birthday party at an Indian Restaurant. The camera was the Canon Digital Rebel, I had a wide-angle lens on it that wasn't particularly fast, 2.8, and my ISO was set at 800. Still a bit of an orange cast, it is tough to get a perfect white balance in a mixed lighting environment even if you use the right white-balance button.

ISO range: If you are shooting at night or in dark environments, then you need to consider the ISO range on the camera as well when purchasing -- this is just the digital equivalent of film speed. My camera goes to 1600, which is the equiv. of having 1600 speed film in it -- match that up with a pretty fast lens, and you are going to have more to work with and you wont have to rely on flash as much.

I'm sure there are "flash" advocates out there that can tell you all the things you can do to get great results, but it's not me ;)

The learning curve of photography can be a bit steep and over whelming. I used to pick out one problem in my shots at a time, and then concentrate of fixing that. I would clip pictures from magazines of the type of shots I liked, and then try to figure out how to move more in that direction while still maintaining my own personal style.

Hope this helps! -h

hey heidihi....love the pictures...agree TOTALLY re 'flash'...have you any experience photographing food with light tents? i am dismayed by the lack of good lighting and affordability of fast lens(i have a d60 and canon macro @f2.8...i am not terribly pleased)...and seriously considering a light tent...

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Another trick -- for slow shutter speeds w/out flash is to rest the camera on the back of a chair or something, on top of a thick piece of cloth (in my case, an ugly felt purse). That way you avoid camera shake and the resulting blurry picture.

This is a really good tip. I take a lot of night time ambient light photos in dim conditions, too, and I can't avoid it. I have found that a very simple rule makes a huge difference in avoiding the slow shutter speed blur: Always have your body grounded by something still. Lean against a wall or a piece of furniture and hold your breath while you are shooting, it makes a difference.

Another thing is that with a digital camera, especially a cheap one, get the biggest memory card available, and take the same exact shot 4 or 6 times whenever you take it. You're not wasting film, that's for sure! Then when you have a chance to look carefully at them on the computer, choose the best one and delete the ones that don't look as good as the others.

Yup. Concur completely. I'm a fine one to talk, of course, because of my all-too-well-documented color-balance problems at the monitor end! but if I'm shooting digital in a low-light situation I bracket like mad. I hate flash, but if I'm in a place where it won't bother the people around me I'll take a couple of shots with flash just in case, then take several without. The more of the latter I take, the better chance that one of them will be, ahem, usable. The flash ones are my better-than-nothing backup for the worst-case scenario in which I utterly flub the others - and until such time as I can afford to replace my Canon with a model that offers fill control, toning down the harshness of the flash is one of many reasons to love PhotoShop. Steadying against something solid does help - so would one of those mini-tripods that fold up to fit in the palm of your hand, if I ever remembered to use mine....

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This is a really good tip.  I take a lot of night time ambient light photos in dim conditions, too, and I can't avoid it.  I have found that a very simple rule makes a huge difference in avoiding the slow shutter speed blur:  Always have your body grounded by something still. Lean against a wall or a piece of furniture and hold your breath while you are shooting, it makes a difference.

Another thing is that with a digital camera, especially a cheap one, get the biggest memory card available, and take the same exact shot 4 or 6 times whenever you take it.  You're not wasting film, that's for sure!  Then when you have a chance to look carefully at them on the computer, choose the best one and delete the ones that don't look as good as the others.

Another thing you can try is to set the camera to shoot on timer. That way you avoid the camera shake you get from pressing the button.

As far as getting lots of memory, I couldn't agree more. The wonderful thing about digital is that you can try the same shot in with all sorts of different lighting and WB options, and then compare to see what works in each situation -- without feeling guilty about wasting film. It's like a DIY intensive photography course.

Edited by Behemoth (log)
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Andiesenji, thanks very much for the links you provided. I'd looked at some others (DCresource.com, which I find to be very helpful) but I hadn't seen Megapixel.net. In that one I found a link to Imaging Resource, which turned out to have some of the best features of the bunch, including a side-by-side comparison of photos which REALLY helped me out.

I'd still like to hear from anyone who's used (or even knows anyone who's used) the Konika Minolta Dimage A1. Unfortunately I'm not in a location where I can test drive any of these cameras, but I am going to the United States in a few weeks and would like to order one shipped to my destination so that I can pick it up there when I arrive. My current camera is an Olympus D-340L, an old war horse that is about to bite the dust, and I'm ready to do a big upgrade.

Heidihi, are you familiar with the A1?

Thanks again...

What's new at Mexico Cooks!?

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