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Behemoth

Food Shutter Bug Club (Part 1)

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I cringe when a dish arrives on one of those big white plates - wide brim - and ocean of white. Great eye appeal but I can't figure out how to crop them other than going real tight, but that usually takes away the proportion of the food.

This is the uncropped image.

gallery_14_105_4956.jpg

This is how I cropped it.

gallery_14_105_1432.jpg

I'm not really happy with the crop, but try all sorts of approaches and this felt the least objectionable.

Curios if anyone else has a similar issue with big white plates and how you handle it. Feel free to use the pic I posted.


Holly Moore

"I eat, therefore I am."

HollyEats.Com

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I usually try to compose as much as I can in the camera, so I don't have to crop. If you're shooting small format digital or 35mm, you want to use as much of the sensor or film area as possible to get as much image quality as you can.

With that particular setup, I don't think the space around the plate is providing much in the way of informative context, so I'd go tight, something like this--

gallery_64820_6675_11999.jpg

Another thing to think about with all that white and the marble tabletop, is that your camera's meter only understands middle grey (some modern meters try to be mind readers to understand other things, but they don't tend to think about still life much), so it will try to average out the tones in the scene and make the best guess. If you've got a lot of white in the frame, it will try to render detail in the white, but since the food is dark and digital sensors have a fairly limited tonal range, you're not getting as much detail as you could in that brown sauce, which is the subject of the photo, not the table. If you frame it tighter to begin with, the camera will meter for the food, not the table.

You may notice that I used the curve adjustment in Photoshop to draw out a little more shadow detail and raise the highlight values a bit for more sparkle.

I also sharpened the image slightly, because there is a little motion blur. It's best to use a tripod, when you can, but it's not always practical in a restaurant, so anything you can brace the camera against can help.

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Thanks David,

I appreciate the insight. I'm shooting with a month old Nikon D90 that I'm still learning and a new Nikon 17-35mm lens that arrived yesterday (love AMEX points - paid for everything including Photoshop CS4 which also arrived yesterday. I've got a lot of leaning and experimenting ahead of me. But big white plates have been my bane for years.

I used Photoshop ? about five years ago. Seems to have changed a tad.


Holly Moore

"I eat, therefore I am."

HollyEats.Com

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I cringe when a dish arrives on one of those big white plates - wide brim - and ocean of white.  Great eye appeal but I can't figure out how to crop them other than going real tight, but that usually takes away the proportion of the food.

This is the uncropped image.

gallery_14_105_4956.jpg

This is how I cropped it.

gallery_14_105_1432.jpg

I'm not really happy with the crop, but try all sorts of approaches and this felt the least objectionable.

Curios if anyone else has a similar issue with big white plates and how you handle it.  Feel free to use the pic I posted.

Holly,

For a "safe" shot, go from a higher perspective and crop tighter. I generally will aim to clip off a little bit of the edges of the plate to maximize the food and remove the clutter from the image.

In this case, crop the plate aggressively and go for a symmetric cut, so that the left and right sides of the plate are equally cropped.

I'll try and start putting up some of the food photos I've taken over the while, and I have a hopeful goal of doing my own photo/food blog for broke college students (which have too nice of cameras :biggrin: )

Cheers,

Daniel

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Judging by the reflection and shadows, it looks like your main light is more or less above and behind the subject, in front of the camera? I'd suggest moving the camera (or the light, depending on how much control you have over that) to the side, so that the lighting is more indirect, then using a large reflective (but not mirror-smooth--something that will diffuse the light) surface, such as a sheet pan, to even out the light on the other side.


"I think it's a matter of principle that one should always try to avoid eating one's friends."--Doctor Dolittle

blog: The Institute for Impure Science

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If the Nikon D-90 is anything like Canon SLRs (and I suspect it is), it has an excellent auto-focus system that is nevertheless easily fooled. This is borne out by your results: the rim of the plate is perfect; the actual food is blurry, and I don't think it's because of motion (though one of those little tripods is an excellent accessory).

Auto-focus systems look for bright spots first, and that's how they adjust focus initially. But if you use the pre-focus feature (hold down the shutter button halfway), you can get the camera to zero in on what you want. Just watch the highlights in the viewfinder to see what the system is focusing on (this is especially important when using aperture-priority mode). When you invoke pre-focus, you'll see what's in the focused field. Just keep caressing the shutter button until the displayed choices align with your desired composition.

If you can't get the camera to concentrate on what you want, make it focus on something far away. Then return to the food, zoomed in as close as you can, while holding that shutter button halfway. Once you've got the focus scenario you want, shoot.

When you have a nice sharp photo, cropping is less nerve-wracking.


Dave Scantland
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dscantland@eGstaff.org
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Eat more chicken skin.

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Great info. Thanks and keep it coming.

Evidently Photoshop CS4 doesn't even have and on-line manual. Nor does it seem to have indexed help. Looks like it will be fun to relearn.


Holly Moore

"I eat, therefore I am."

HollyEats.Com

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Great info. Thanks and keep it coming.

Evidently Photoshop CS4 doesn't even have and on-line manual.  Nor does it seem to have indexed help.  Looks like it will be fun to relearn.

There's a whole cottage industry in Photoshop how-to books in your bookstore, and maybe even your library. I bought one for Photoshop Elements 4.0 (haven't updated in a couple years) and found it very helpful. You'd naturally want one for the current version..

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Manual focus is even better.  It's very difficult for any autofocus system to know what the subject is in close up photography, and food photography is usually close up photography.

Manual focus is difficult with today's progressive eyeglass lenses and contact lens options. If you make the autofocus system do its job, you'll get what you want within a few seconds. The food isn't moving, after all.

Adobe CS (regardless of the application) is an occupation-level endeavor. Elements is a more efficient app to master, and fits within the 90/10 rule.


Dave Scantland
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dscantland@eGstaff.org
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Eat more chicken skin.

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I agree with most of what's been said here, but I don't think you have to be too annoyed by the big white plates in general. As folks have mentioned above, move the camera or move the plate to optimize the lighting, most importantly, to avoid that nasty glare.

But even doing that, you may need to do some exposure compensation when shooting a dark food against a white plate. You can still do that even in Aperture-priority mode, you just need to stop it up or down a little by holding the little plus/minus button near the shutter, then adjusting the thumbwheel to stop up or down by the amount you like. Take a shot, look at your screen, adjust, try it again... you'll eventually get a feel for which way to go, and by how much.

And I completely agree that you may want to use manual focus, it's very hard for the autofocus to find the right thing to highlight, especially in odd lighting.

And then, ultimately, I think you can crop in tighter that you did, if you come into the inner rim of the plate, you still get a sense of scale, especially if you keep some part of the outer rim.

gallery_23992_3894_7971.jpg

David tweaked the curves to bring the mid-tones up a bit, I did a similar thing using the "Levels" adjustment in Photoshop. That middle slider can be pretty handy...

Then, a touch of the sharpening filter.

Photoshop will be your friend, but there's only so much it can do, so it's better to get the shot pretty close in the camera. Watch the position of the light, and your orientation to it, and try to shoot the shot you want, rather than planning on fixing it later.


"Philadelphia’s premier soup dumpling blogger" - Foobooz

philadining.com

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But even doing that, you may need to do some exposure compensation when shooting a dark food against a white plate. You can still do that even in Aperture-priority mode, you just need to stop it up or down a little by holding the little plus/minus button near the shutter, then adjusting the thumbwheel to stop up or down by the amount you like. Take a shot, look at your screen, adjust, try it again... you'll eventually get a feel for which way to go, and by how much.

And I completely agree that you may want to use manual focus, it's very hard for the autofocus to find the right thing to highlight, especially in odd lighting.

Photoshop Elements (and a number of other programs) can adjust for exposure. You can manipulate many things -- color balance, white and black points, even depth of field -- but you can't make an out-of-focus photo appear to be in focus. Concentrate on getting a sharp picture with maximum information (RAW is best). If the subject of the photo is blurry to start with, you're stuck.


Dave Scantland
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dscantland@eGstaff.org
eG Ethics signatory

Eat more chicken skin.

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Been editing some more pics. Close up of food with an F2.8 17/35 lens. I'm getting depth of field issues between the front and back of a sandwich or tray of fries. I know that means upping the f-stop some - just amazed that it happened within 3-4 inches. Or it might be something else I'm screwing up. Or both.


Holly Moore

"I eat, therefore I am."

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Are you happy with the perspective in your original shot ? I find that for most of the food photos I take, even in macro mode, I'm zooming right in and standing back to the point where that frames the subject nicely. Mine is a fairly simple point-and-shoot digital - full zoom is about equivalenmt, I guess, to a portrait (~85mm lens for 35mmm SLR) lens.

I certainly wouldn't choose a 17-35mm lens for shooting food.


QUIET!  People are trying to pontificate.

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Yes - different lens lengths for different camera formats can be confusing. (And opening your mouth without checking what a D90 is can be a mistake !)


QUIET!  People are trying to pontificate.

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It's worth keeping in mind that much of what Holly shoots is at a regular restaurant table, in an active restaurant, so the choice of position, angle, distance from the subject, etc is not always based what would be ideal, rather what can be done practically.

And Holly, remember that depth of field is affected both by aperture and focal length. So, yes, if you want a larger amount of the scene in-focus, the easiest thing is to stop the aperture down (higher f-stop value) but you can also zoom the lens back to its widest setting (then move the camera position in) which will also increase the depth of field.

Also, you might be able to make that effect work for you, to dramatically highlight one part of the sandwich, etc. Try some different angles, even with the same camera settings.


Edited by philadining (log)

"Philadelphia’s premier soup dumpling blogger" - Foobooz

philadining.com

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And Holly, remember that depth of field is affected both by aperture and focal length.  So, yes, if you want a larger amount of the scene in-focus, the easiest thing is to stop the aperture down (higher f-stop value) but you can also zoom the lens back to its widest setting (then move the camera position in) which will also increase the depth of field.

Sort of. Depth of field is determined by aperture, focal length, and subject distance (the format of the film/sensor is also a factor, but since Holly is only using one format, it's not relevant in this case), so if you move the lens closer to the subject, the depth of field also decreases.

In the macro range, things get a little more interesting, because if you were actually to calculate it, because of the factor of subject distance, depth of field will turn out to be effectively a function of magnification and aperture, regardless of focal length. So if you photograph something smaller than 10 times the size of the sensor or the film frame (for the D90, that would be something smaller than about 8 inches that fills up the entire long dimension of the frame), it doesn't matter if you zoom out and move the camera close or zoom in and move the camera back--the depth of field will be the same, if you are framing the subject in the same way.

Now I said the format isn't relevant in this case, but if you wanted to consider it for the sake of argument, here's how it would be relevant. Say that instead of zooming out and moving the camera closer you were to zoom out, keep the camera in the same place, and crop the image. This would be like using a smaller format, and would give you more depth of field, but since the D90 is already a small format camera, the loss in overall image quality from not using the whole frame isn't worth the increase in depth of field from shooting wide and cropping.

Another thing to consider is, if you're in a situation where you can't use a tripod easily, stopping down for more depth of field will give you a longer shutter speed, which will reveal more camera shake. With a digital camera you can turn up the ISO setting to give you a faster shutter speed. A higher ISO will give you more image noise, but this is usually less of a problem than camera shake. Another solution for camera shake is to hold the camera more steadily--left hand palm up cradling the lens, right hand squeezing (not jabbing) the shutter release, elbows in and braced against your body, relax, and shoot between breaths.


Edited by David A. Goldfarb (log)

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Ciao. To be honest, my mind glazes over with all talk of technical camera geek-speak and I spend a lot of time taking pictures and by now its more intuition than technology.

But, getting back to Holly's original question: what to do about wide brimmed plates, I think the issue of photo composition is missing from this discussion.

As much as wide brimmed plates are Holly's bugaboo, my issues are with gloopy looking sauces and soups. How to make them look appealing is a complete challenge for me and I think it is a challenge in this photo as well. Too much glare and the sauce looks like a sticky, oily mess. Too close and macro and the dish looks just plain revolting.

So, I think this is where composition can play a role in representing a dish.

I used a screen shot, so it's much more blurry, but I think the crop and off center placement add an interesting visual component, while still keeping some of the drama of the large white plate.

gallery_14010_5452_41090.jpg

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Judith,

That's why I suggested going in tight on the food over a backed up shot so the food isn't lost on the plate. Leave just enough room around the food to use the plate as a mat and be done with it.

I don't know the controls on the D90 (being a Canon user) but a 17-35 should behave more or less like a 28-55 lens. Stick more to the long end, bump the iso up to get shorter shutter times, and use aperture priority. Use raw so you can fix your white balance in post and don't worry about the noise--honestly. If you're primarily posting these to the web, the downsize will knock most of it out. Think about using your pop-up flash, but turn it down 1.5 to 2 stops just so it brings out a little character and provides specularity. Just don't blast the image with the flash, delicate use required ;-)

In this shot, I'd get close enough (at 35mm end of the zoom) and at a low enough angle to put the garlic/nuts/whatever they are at the intersection of the left hand 1/3 and bottom 1/3 of the photo. Leave like an inch of white plate showing around the edge. Much lower and flatter (at the food level, more or less) rather than from above.

I'd probably shoot it at F2.8, F4, F5.6 and something like F8 if I can get enough light. Also, I'd try turning the plate about 10-15 degrees clockwise from your angle to give a better look at the meat. Focus would be on the aforementioned garlic/nuts/whatever.

Hope this helps.

Daniel

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Just to be sure, i looked up the 17-35mm lens for the D90, and it is indeed equivalent to roughly 28mm-55mm on a 35mm film SLR.

I still think that's short for photographing food, and I'll ask my original question again, are you happy with the perspective in your shot ? To me it looks like you've shot it with the zoom out noticeably from a 'normal lens' position. The plate's not only big and white, it's being distorted to look just slightly convex, and that's more distracting than a big, white plate shown with a normal perspective. Am I wrong ?

Also noting the apparent motion-blur: what is the minimum distance from which you can use that lens, and still maintain focus ? Were you far enough away from the subject ? I can't pick out any distance here (looking at the tabletop, for example) that's really in focus. You'll not generally get camera shake with a shutter speed of (1 / focal length, i.e. here 1/55, maximum), or faster. What shutter speed was the image taken at ?

As a general question to the experts here, am I wrong to think that this lens (barely longer than a normal lens at its highest zoom) is not the best for food photography ?

gallery_51808_4579_301417.jpg


Edited by Blether (log)

QUIET!  People are trying to pontificate.

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A longer lens would be a good idea; however, perspective distortion isn't caused by focal length but by the distance between the lens and the subject. Given the focal length Holly was originally using, I suspect that he was probably an appropriate distance from the plate to avoid too much perspective distortion, but the shot is too wide. A longer lens would have made it possible to fill more of the frame with the food from the same distance, without getting so close as to cause perspective distortion. If the plate looks a little convex, it may be because the plate is in fact a little convex.

There is another kind of distortion that is very common in zoom lenses--barrel distortion at the wide end of the range and pincushion distortion at the long end of the range, and there may be some pincushion distortion going on here. Barrel distortion is a condition where straight lines at the edges of the frame bulge out, and pincushion distortion is the opposite, where straight lines at the edges of the frame curve in toward the center. Look at the way that glass that was eventually cropped out in the upper right hand corner of the frame seems to be leaning. That could be the result of pincushion distortion that is exaggerated a bit by the camera angle. In any case, when using a zoom lens for still life photography or copy work, it's a good idea to set the focal length in the middle of the range to reduce these distortion effects when possible.


Edited by David A. Goldfarb (log)

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Personally, for the circumstance of shooting at a restaurant table, as a customer trying not to cause a scene and get in everybody's way during normal service, I find the wide end of my 18-35mm to be absolutely crucial (on my Nikon D-50, which does not have a full-frame sensor, so, as usual, multiply by 1.5-ish.) Sure, in a perfect world, if one could back up, carefully choose an angle and light placement, get the camera on a tripod, and make aesthetic choices about aperture and ISO, rather than purely pragmatic ones, one might choose a longer lens, or a different angle, or pursue any of a myriad of options.

But if you're seated at a table, and trying to get a quick documentary photo and still make it look nice, I think a short lens, high ISO and fastest shutter speed possible are good ways to go. And you often have to use whatever angle and lighting you can get. There's only so much control one can have over background clutter, lighting, etc if you're not staging the shot, just shooting what's on the table.

Holly might occasionally have the luxury of setting up a shot for a more perfect photo, but much of the time he'll be stuck snapping things in less-than-ideal situations. Of course, advice for all circumstances is useful, but I'm just saying, sometimes accepting some barrel distortion, odd angles and quirky depth-of-field choices is the lesser of several evils...


"Philadelphia’s premier soup dumpling blogger" - Foobooz

philadining.com

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