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Behemoth

Food Shutter Bug Club (Part 1)

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A couple notes taking photos.

Buy a big memory card and take lots of them. Take the same photo with different camera settings. Take it at different distances from the subject. Different angles.

The beauty of digital is you don't even have to develop film and print up a contact sheet (if anyone still remembers what that is...) to have some idea which pictures are keepers.

Also, the problem with white balance is, it is very difficult to correct in post production. If the colors aren't there, it is hard to add them to your picture.

Even though you would think camera manufacturers would have figured out how to detect tungsten or fluorescent light automatically by now, with many (most!) cameras it is necessary to adjust this yourself manually to get the correct white balance.


---

Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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Many of the photos of plated dishes that you see in food magazines and newspapers are taken without flash, however the cameras those photographers are using have much greater light gathering capacity than your Olympus. They're also not shooting on the fly while eating. When using my digital SLR with a fast lens, I may skip flash or just fill with off-camera flash (you'd be surprised how many "natural light" photos do rely on some artificial light). But when I use our Canon A620 to take snapshots for online, informational use I always use flash unless it's an extraordinarily well lit dining room. Flash eliminates a host of lighting problems, camera shake isn't a problem, white balance isn't a problem . . . . While it is true that flash can flatten your images and take away their soft arty look I don't know why that's so bad if the point is to show the dish in as much detail as possible. It's okay to sacrifice art for information. To avoid flatness, experiment with angles. I promise if you shoot a stacked dish from the side it won't look flat. Also experiment with holding the camera as far away as possible and zooming in. This can cut the harshness of the flash. Also when postprocessing consider cropping away the plate edges where you're most likely to see flash reflections.


Edited by Ellen Shapiro (log)

Ellen Shapiro

www.byellen.com

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I'll agree that in a dim dining room, the average flash shot will look "better" than really low-light photos taken with a pocket-sized digital camera. Taking that shot will also very likely irritate the heck out of someone nearby. Of course there are contexts when it's fine, but even as an avid photographer of restaurant food, I'm almost always annoyed by camera flashes if I'm trying to have a nice dinner. It happens semi frequently these days, it's more often people taking snaps of themselves or posing with a celebrity chef, than lunatics like us shooting the food, but I know it bugs me. And I've noticed other diners visibly annoyed by it too.

So I generally discourage it mostly as a selfish attempt to make my dining experiences more pleasant.


"Philadelphia’s premier soup dumpling blogger" - Foobooz

philadining.com

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Okay, so I've been making bentos for my husband and myself almost every day for about a year. I take a picture of them every morning before packing them up, and the quality of the photos varies drastically depending on the weather. I don't have really good natural light anywhere in my house, and although I can get pretty good pictures by the sliding glass door in the warmer months, it's incredibly gray and dark in the mornings from late fall through early spring. In fact I never noticed just how gray and dark it is until I started this project.

I want to stop hoping for good weather and start taking things into my own hands. I am willing to spend some money and time on this, but whatever I do has to meet the following criteria:

1. It has to be compact; i.e., no big cardboard boxes or other space-hogging equipment. I have a super tiny house and just don't have the room.

2. It has to be quick to assemble and disassemble. I want to be able to set it up, take the picture, then put it away and still make it to work on time.

3. It has to be utterly independent of any source of natural light.

I really know nothing about photography, so anything you can tell me, no matter how basic, is bound to be helpful. I've looked through all the eGullet photography threads and didn't find anything on this particular situation, but if I missed it, feel free to point it out. Thanks!

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I wouldn't give up on the natural light: we have pretty challenging light here as well during the winter months, but I've found that by using a tripod, no flash, and then nudging up the brightness and saturation in a photo editor, I can get something that looks reasonable.


Edited by markemorse (log)

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Diana, I'd love to see you post some of the shots you've taken so far :smile:

I'm not a great photographer but I am a Photoshop nut.


Mark

The Gastronomer's Bookshelf - Collaborative book reviews about food and food culture. Submit a review today! :)

No Special Effects - my reader-friendly blog about food and life.

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Diana, I'd love to see you post some of the shots you've taken so far

Yes! The bento thread could use more posts!

I've struggled with the same problem for my bento photos. Recently I moved into a new apartment with great morning light, and my pictures have brightened considerably. In fact, some mornings, the light is too harsh and casts a lot of shadows. I'd like to know how to neutralize this.

I've been experimenting more with low-light food photography in the evening with dinners, and I find a tripod makes all the difference - check out this photo. It was taken with only a lamp and 40W bulb as a light source, but a tripod makes it fairly light. The tripod takes up a little space when it's out, but can collapse and be tucked into the closet when not in use. (Theoretically, that is. Ours sits around and clutters up the place. I know for small spaces - I live in Japan. :hmmm: )

gallery_41378_5550_26351.jpg

What kind of camera are you currently using?

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The EZcube would probably fit your needs. I made my own lightbox with a cardboard box and some cheap clamp lights and 100 watt full spectrum Reveal lights from GE. It's a photo saver in the winter!! Not as good as natural light, but not bad at all...especially because it cost me only about $20!! Good luck.

http://www.ezcube.com/

Oh.......download Picasa from Google. :wink::wink:


Edited by monavano (log)

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I am such an expert photographer :rolleyes:

Super random camera thoughts:

But I once took a great picture of a cake that I had sitting in my refrigerator. My frige has an overhead light that is placed forward closest to the door. If you had sucha light in yours you could use that and keep your refrigerated items on a tray for easy removal and made a backdrop that you could fold up otherwise when not in use this might be an idea. Or any kind of overhead light that you could toss up a background behind?

A tissue or piece of paper over the flash gives some more control too.

Another idea is that I have one of those 'natural light' lamps right here in my desk. Like $20 at Sam's Club if you are in the states. Maybe something like that?

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The EZcube would probably fit your needs. I made my own lightbox with a cardboard box and some cheap clamp lights and 100 watt full spectrum Reveal lights from GE. It's a photo saver in the winter!! Not as good as natural light, but not bad at all...especially because it cost me only about $20!! Good luck.

http://www.ezcube.com/

Oh.......download Picasa from Google. :wink:  :wink:

Or you could make your own.


Anna Nielsen aka "Anna N"

...I just let people know about something I made for supper that they might enjoy, too. That's all it is. (Nigel Slater)

"Cooking is about doing the best with what you have . . . and succeeding." John Thorne

Our 2012 (Kerry Beal and me) Blog

My 2004 eG Blog

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If your camera has the capability of syncing an exterior electronic flash, via either cable or hot shoe, that's the way to go. You'll want to bounce the light off the ceiling or a card attached to the flash; this softens shadows and produces a much more even and pleasing light.

With a bounce card fitted to the flash you'll get fairly even light for your purposes to soften the shadows. Basically, you attach a small white card to the top of the flash with rubber bands and angle the flash head and the card so that light from the flash is bounced from the card to your subject. Here's a web page that shows one way this can be done; in this case it's with a 35mm film camera, but the technique holds true with any digital camera that can accommodate an exterior flash, even some compacts. (There are even some inexpensive devices sold which can bounce light from a built-in flash; the results might be acceptable, but a separate flash would be better.)

If you have a low, white ceiling and/or wall, bounce the strobe off that for even more uniform light. Set the bento box on one white board, and place another white board perpendicular behind it. (The flat boards store easily.) Depending on your camera and requirements, electronic flashes can be had for $30-$250 (you could certainly spend more if you wanted to, but not necessary for any but the most demanding professional use). You'll get much better results using an exterior strobe than with the on-board flashes built into cameras. (If you ceiling/walls are not white, they will effect the color balance of the image, which might be correctible if your camera has suitable color balance controls and/or you do it through PhotoShop or similar software.)

Given the fact that you'll be taking photos of the bento box from within a fairly close range, a foot or two I presume, the bounce card may work better than bouncing off the ceiling, but both are worth a try to see what gives you the best results under your particular shooting conditions.


Bob Libkind aka "rlibkind"

Robert's Market Report

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I think we can probably give more useful flash advice if we know the model of camera you use: I generally always use a flash for food photography, except on overcast days when I can put the plates near the window and get nice diffuse light. The rest of the time I use an external flash and bounce it off the ceiling or a card, depending on my mood :smile:. Back when I used a small point-and-shoot with a built-in flash I sometimes used a little homemade tinfoil reflector to force the flash to bounce off the ceiling.


Chris Hennes
Director of Operations
chennes@egullet.org

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I use something called a Lowelego digital imaging system. You can check out on its web-site. I use it with a small digital camera and a compact tripod.

Jmahl


The Philip Mahl Community teaching kitchen is now open. Check it out. "Philip Mahl Memorial Kitchen" on Facebook. Website coming soon.

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Thanks everyone, keep it coming! My camera is just a Canon PowerShot A520. I have no idea whether it can take an exterior flash, although the manual must be around here somewhere. I imagine it's easy enough to tell by looking at the camera if you know what to look for, so I guess I'll just take it into a camera shop and ask. I do have a little mini tripod.

Here are two pictures to show you what I'm dealing with. The first was taken in the summer by the window. I think it looks okay. (If you're interested, it's grilled salmon with aioli, herbed rice, sauteed spinach, marinated bocconcini, cerignola olives, mini chocolate orange brownie, and almonds and dates.) The second was taken in the winter on the kitchen counter. This actually was a very colorful and appealing bento in real life but needless to say it looks quite unappetizing in the photo. (It's rice with black sesame and ume plum, tamagoyaki, cucumber and smoked salmon rolls, "chicken" nugget, miso peppers, those lightly pickled mixed vegetables that I can never remember the name of, and a strawberry.)

My kitchen is horrible for food photography--all the surfaces are mostly different shades of gold. Is there something in particular I can do to counteract all the yellowness?

gallery_54826_5172_688903.jpg

gallery_54826_5172_127223.jpg

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I think a lot of the problem with that second photo is what is called "white balance": the colors are off because your camera is not correcting for the type of light (incandescent in this case?) so things that should be white are not. Most photo editing software, including the free stuff, has a "Set white point" function someplace that lets you click on something in the picture that should be white, and it will recolor the image based on that. It won't be as good as the top one taken under diffuse natural light, but it will be a lot better than what you've got. If you want, I can re-post your image with that adjustment made so you can see the difference.


Chris Hennes
Director of Operations
chennes@egullet.org

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Disclaimer: I'm no expert in photography.

I have the same problem as you regarding space and light. I did build one of the macro boxes but I don't have the adequate lighting for it in the available space. My next project is to built a mock Lowell Ego lightbox, we'll se how that will work. Until then, do what monavano said - this is what Picasa can do in 3 clicks (it took me longer to link the picture here than to process it).

Of course you can keep playing with the software until you get the results you like best.

gallery_8322_465_2440.jpg

Keep the camera on the lowest ISO and use the mini tripod, keep it on Manual w/o flash... that about it.


The human mouth is called a pie hole. The human being is called a couch potato... They drive the food, they wear the food... That keeps the food hot, that keeps the food cold. That is the altar where they worship the food, that's what they eat when they've eaten too much food, that gets rid of the guilt triggered by eating more food. Food, food, food... Over the Hedge

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Holy cow! Thanks guys! Okay, so I'm all over Picasa, and I checked out the light box and the Lowel ego. I think the Lowel ego looks like the simplest solution for me as it doesn't require a bunch of setup. I'm very excited now! Thank you so much.

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That Lowel Ego looks like the idea product for you. I hadn't heard of it before. Although an electronic flash would be more versatile and useful if you wished to expand your photographic activity, this product is clearly designed for photographing items for sale on eBay or Amazon that fit on a tabletop; I doubt anyone would have developed this product if not for eBay! It's an ideal product for catalog photography on the cheap, done with a mini-version of the light banks used in studio photography. Be sure to use the bounce card supplied with the product for fill light.


Bob Libkind aka "rlibkind"

Robert's Market Report

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Being an egulleter for a year now and looking through the threads, some of the pictures and photos taken not only torture me with hunger and envy, but they absolutely take my breath away with their stunning quality, lighting, positioning, etc.

I'm wondering if all of you food photo specialists would like to share your techniques. What type of camera do you have? What type of lens settings do you use? What are differing techniques between digital and film cameras? What type of lighting equipment do you use?

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In my limited experience, the most important thing for good photos is to get familiar with some sort of image processing software. As long as you are starting with a reasonably sharp image, you can fix most things in software.

I'm using a Panasonic FZ 18 which is a step up from a digital compact cameras, but quite a bit cheaper than than pro/consumer models such as a Canon 40D.

I'm using Adobe Lightroom for post processing, which unfortunately is a bit expensive.

You can check out my photos here:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/26839885@N08/

Not all the photos a top notch, but some of them are pretty good.

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$75 would get you an external flash setup that might work wonders. The worst part is that I'm pretty sure your camera doesn't have a full manual mode.

Keep in mind, that what I shot the below photos with was a lot of expensive gear, but it's just a comparison (a little unfair actually) of using one flash and using ambient. All I did was turn off the radio unit for the flash transmitter between these two and adjust the in camera settings. I could have made the ambient photo look better with a tripod and some more tweaking, but I wanted to shoot hand holding the camera.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/cokronk/2610520858/

Edit: And if you can change the shutter speed and you're using a tripod, put the camera on the timer. If you shoot it on a tripod, you still might get a blurry picture from the camera shaking when you press the button in. If you put the timer on and take the picture, nothing should be interfering with the camera when it snaps the picture.


Edited by Village Idiot (log)

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Since I've had quite a few compliments on my food photography, I thought I'd write a little post on what my studio setup looks like.

Firstly, I have to credit strobist.com for their instructions on how to set up a $10 macro photo studio.

Here is a photo of a Parisian apple tart that I made (from Dorie Greenspan's book, which you own and use, right?):

gallery_59916_6385_143305.jpg

And here's the studio set up for that photo:

gallery_59916_6535_56898.jpg

As you can see, this is not an expensive setup. I cut the sides and top out of the cardboard box and lined it with white tissue paper. That works as sort of a light diffuser. Then I used a piece of bristol board to make the seamless background. I have a white one I use sometimes, too.

The lights are these little cheap things from Ikea. I've since switched to using some uber powerful halogen work lights from Home Depot. They're $14 each. And as you can see, I'm using a run of the mill point and shoot camera with an inexpensive tripod.

Full instructions on the Strobist website linked above.

Sometimes I don't even bother with the light box. I just use one halogen light on one side (or sunlight, if it's a nice day), and hold a sheet of paper on the other side of the plate as a reflector. That works nicely too.

I hope this convinces you that you don't need to spend all kinds of money on expensive gear to take food photos, and of course I hope it inspires you to post more pictures of your food!


Edited by isomer (log)

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Great post! Thank you.


"Life is Too Short to Not Play With Your Food" (coined while playing with my food at Lolita).

My blog: Fun Playing With Food

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