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Food Shutter Bug Club (Part 1)


Behemoth
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What will take your photos an additional level is some sort of photo editing software. Adjusting white balance, color intensity, contrast, exposure and then do some cutting/rotating on the pictures is what you need to do to reach almost professional quality.

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Being an often light-challenged photographer myself, I completely understand the reasoning behind the "photo-box", but I'm not a big fan. I find the resulting photos too sterile and lacking in soft background details. That being said, it is certainly much preferable to a dark or blurry photo.

For a long time I just worked with natural light, tried to hold steady, took a lot of pictures and picked the best ones. When I got a "good shot", I was very happy with it, but the hit and miss was really frustrating.

A while back I bought a Lowell Ego, and the extra lighting really helps a lot to get good, focused shots. But even though I use it on our dining table without a cube of cardboard, I still feel like my shots are "boxed". It works incredibly well for tight, "up close with the dish" stuff, but doesn't help nearly as much for broader, more contextualized picture.

The bottom line is, I think, that getting the look of natural lighting in insufficient-for-photography light conditions is really hard to do. I think my next step will be using an external flash as Chris Hennes has outlined upthread.

Food Blog: Menu In Progress

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  • 1 month later...

I am in the process of learning to make and keep a food blog and in the process of doing this I have come to understand the pictures you put on your blog is just as, if not more, important as the writting. But my camera, a Casio exfilm 8.1 megapixel, does not seem to take that good of pictures. Now, my kitchen is kind of dark, and the light is a bit yellow so that maybe the cause. My question is this, what does everyone that has a blog do to take such good pictures? Do you "stage" the food? Use a special light? if so, what kind?

thanks!

"I eat fat back, because bacon is too lean"

-overheard from a 105 year old man

"The only time to eat diet food is while waiting for the steak to cook" - Julia Child

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My question was from a thread that I started when I could not seem to find anything on the subject already here. Now that I have had a chance to read the thread, I am off to the home depot, and will give the box trick a shot. I have a copy of photoshop, I just not have learned how to use it :( I am sad to say.

Great info everyone, thanks for the posts!

"I eat fat back, because bacon is too lean"

-overheard from a 105 year old man

"The only time to eat diet food is while waiting for the steak to cook" - Julia Child

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another tip is to really get aquainted with your camera. I think all digital cameras now have various ways of adjusting light, white balance etc. Changing these settings can make a dramatic difference in the way the color and loight of your pics come out.

Also, get a small tripod - this will allow you to shoot with as less light as possible. But again, for this, you have to figure out how to set your camera. I feel that most people will only use one or two settings of their camera and then say `my camera´s no good´ :smile:

Play with it, try out all the different settings until you find the one that suits the light situation in your kitchen/dining room best.

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another tip is to really get aquainted with your camera. I think all digital cameras now have various ways of adjusting light, white balance etc.  Changing these settings can make a dramatic difference in the way the color and loight of your pics come out.

Also, get a small tripod - this will allow you to shoot with as less light as possible. But again, for this, you have to figure out how to set your camera. I feel that most people will only use one or two settings of their camera and then say `my camera´s no good´ :smile:

Play with it, try out all the different settings until you find the one that suits the light situation in your kitchen/dining room best.

I agree with chufi, for the longest time I was on auto, now slowly I am learning all of my camera's features and my pictures are also improving. A note: In 101 cookbooks blog she never uses flash but photographs her food near a sheer curtained window which she says acts like a large soft box. I think her photos are lovely.

Cheers, Sarah

http://sarahmelamed.com/

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  • 3 weeks later...

The light box is brilliant. I need to use brighter bulbs, and I need to edit this photo to lighten it up a bit, but I'm really pleased with how this works. I put the box together yesterday, finished my first wedding cake today.... Here it is in the box.... It could be better. I had to touch up a little piping after I'd already corrected one photo for light, and I'm too tired to correct it right now. Off to bed.

gallery_16410_6133_45793.jpg

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The light box is brilliant. I need to use brighter bulbs, and I need to edit this photo to lighten it up a bit, but I'm really pleased with how this works. I put the box together yesterday, finished my first wedding cake today.... Here it is in the box.... It could be better. I had to touch up a little piping after I'd already corrected one photo for light, and I'm too tired to correct it right now. Off to bed.

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Nice picture.

I just did an auto adjust with Windows photo gallery. Here is the result.

gallery_59778_6359_4541.jpg

Nick Reynolds, aka "nickrey"

"The Internet is full of false information." Plato
My eG Foodblog

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The light box is brilliant. I need to use brighter bulbs, and I need to edit this photo to lighten it up a bit, but I'm really pleased with how this works. I put the box together yesterday, finished my first wedding cake today.... Here it is in the box.... It could be better. I had to touch up a little piping after I'd already corrected one photo for light, and I'm too tired to correct it right now. Off to bed.

gallery_16410_6133_45793.jpg

Nice picture.

I just did an auto adjust with Windows photo gallery. Here is the result.

gallery_59778_6359_4541.jpg

Nice job! I'm going for something in between, and have actually had luck with my nikon editor, at least within the actual editing program. I'm really frustrated right now because I'm getting really beautiful images in the nikon program, but when I upload them elsewhere they look very different, the colors sort of darker, muddy-ish. Argh! Anybody have any suggestions as to why that might be?

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  • 1 month later...

So I'm putting together some photographs for a cookbook Ive been working on and Im just not pleased with my pictures.

After an extensive search for information, I see that many food photographers use these cool expensive setups costing a few hundred/ thousand dollars! Surely there must be a cheaper way to setup a decent food photography area in my kitchen where I can take awesome pics, eh?

Anyone have experience with this? Any links or tutorials that you prefer? I appreciate the help.

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I'm not a food photo pro, but I do a lot of macro photography which deals with a lot of the same issues as food shots. A point and shoot camera is just not designed for this kind of work:

a built-in flash is usually going to result in a very flat picture;

you don't have many options for controlling depth of field, so it's harder to blur distracting elements out of the background;

and without flash, you need high light sensitivity (without a lot of noise, which is a problem for the little sensors of the p&s) and powerful ambient lighting or a tripod (but the tripod doesn't have to be fancy).

THe link above that shows the strobist lightbox is a good way to go with a p&s camera, but if you're going to do a lot of this, an investment with equipment that is built to do what you want it to do may save a lot of headache.

Edited by Wholemeal Crank (log)
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The light is more important than the camera, presuming the lens can focus close enough for food, and the resolution of the camera is sufficient for your final output. Lighting can be expensive or free. You can do a lot with natural light from a window and a reflector, which can be as simple as a sheet of paper.

What are you using now? Post some photographs you've made, and I might be able to make some suggestions.

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Your monitor needs calibrating. There are "What you see is what you get" programs that will help you set your monitor and computer to give you standard color and contrast. I'm not familiar with any of the current programs, though.

Carpe Carp: Seize that fish!

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It does help to work with a calibrated monitor, but since not everyone has a calibrated monitor, you will still get different results on different monitors. The main thing you get by calibrating your monitor is more consistent printing from a profiled printer. That said, I've found that I'm more likely to get a better result from a range of uncalibrated monitors as long as I adjust my photos on a calibrated monitor.

There is visual calibration software, which doesn't require any special equipment, and there are calibration devices, which don't require as good an eye, but if you use a calibration device for a while, you'll develop an eye for subtle color casts. I use the Pantone Eye-One Display 2 device.

Norman Koren has a good introduction to monitor calibration--

http://www.normankoren.com/makingfineprints1A.html

It's kind of heavy reading in parts, but if you want to sort this out, it's worth the slog.

Another thing to be aware of particularly for images posted to the web is color space, which determines how numeric values for color in your digital image file are mapped to real colors in a browser (and then displayed accurately or inaccurately, depending on the calibration of the monitor). For the web, you'll get the most consistent results by saving your images using the sRGB color space.

Edited by David A. Goldfarb (log)
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What are you using now?  Post some photographs you've made, and I might be able to make some suggestions.

Here are a few I've taken playing with different natural light forms. I've not used any flash (which has been suggested to me a few times) except once in front of a carving station in a dark room. I am using a Konica Minolta DiMAGE Z6 for all my photos.

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Edited by Chef Bradley (log)
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My first comment on these pics is that while the food looks great, the color palette and contrast are dull. I would be adding garnish or backgrounds that might make for more interesting composition.

Looking forward to hearing more about the book as it develops.

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What are you using now?  Post some photographs you've made, and I might be able to make some suggestions.

Here are a few I've taken playing with different natural light forms. I've not used any flash (which has been suggested to me a few times) except once in front of a carving station in a dark room. I am using a Konica Minolta DiMAGE Z6 for all my photos.

I looked it up, and this is a 6 Mpix camera with a zoom lens and a macro mode. For now, this can do a lot of what you need. It's not a professional camera, but it's better than what people were using for print illustration when digital cameras first started to become acceptable for such use. I knew a commercial photographer who had a long career shooting large and medium format film, which are arguably still better than even high end digital setups costing tens of thousands of dollars, but for a lot of print use, he was able to shoot with a 3.3 Mpix Nikon Coolpix 990, which cost $1000 new, and was one of the first digital cameras widely used by photojournalists. Your camera is better than the Coolpix 990.

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Let's just look at this one in detail.

First off, are the plate and the tablecloth this shade of magenta? Probably not. The default white balance on your camera is probably auto. Our brain adjusts so that we think we're seeing colors similarly under artificial and natural lighting, but in reality, tungsten incandescent lights are usually very yellow-red; daylight is considered neutral; flash is close to daylight typically; and fluorescents have a non-continuous spectrum, so they may be bluish or yellow-red, but they'll also have a green cast which needs to be corrected by adding magenta.

If you can control your camera's white balance setting, try setting it to match the light that you're actually using--tungsten for most incandescent lights, fluorescent, daylight, shade, etc., and that will put you in the ballpark, but even then, you might need to tweak with whatever editing software you have. Custom white balance is even better, if you have that option--read your camera manual.

Try not to mix light sources of different types, like sunlight from a window and a desk lamp, because it will be difficult to correct for both light sources in post processing. You can gel them to match, but that's a bit more advanced than this discussion here. If you use one main light source and white reflectors, then all the light will be the same color.

Your editing software will have auto correction that is likely to be better than what is in the camera, but even that may not make the image look appealing. I put this through auto correction in Photoshop and found it a bit blue-cyan, and warmed it up by adding some red back.

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Composition--what's that black thing on the right side of the frame? It looks like a tongs or something, and it's leading the eye away from the subject. Try to simplify for now. Those elaborate setups you see with tableware, cloths, and flowers in Gourmet magazine are beautiful, but they often take about a day to shoot with many intermediate setups and often quite intricate lighting. It's best to get this right in the camera, but here's a quick crop to show what you might have done without changing the setup. I also adjusted the histogram levels to bring up the highlights and midtones and generally give it a brighter look.

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Now beyond this, there are things that would need to be addressed while making the photograph, rather than in post processing.

You've set this up in a two dimensional way--basically a flat image on a plate--which is a reasonable approach with flat objects, and if you want to go with that, think about making geometric shapes that complement each other. I like the yin-yang thing you've got going with the sauce, but notice that you've got a noodle out of control on the right side. Presentation that is perfectly good for fine dining may not be adequate for photography. Think of how many buns they may have to look at to get one perfect one for a Big Mac ad, and how they may have to move around the sesame seeds to make them look balanced. Long tweezers are good for those kinds of details. Be sure to look at it on the camera screen, so you know what the lens sees, since you may not notice it just looking at the plate.

Use a tripod, so that you get sharp results, and so that you can build the composition without having to reposition the camera constantly.

Could you arrange it in a more three dimensional way? How about photographing it at a lower angle and setting the whole terrine on a rectangular plate behind the serving plate, so there would be something with some height in the picture?

Lighting--Lighting can be soft, like the diffuse indirect light coming from a window or hard like a spot light. Good food photography usually benefits from both--soft light to illuminate the subject and hard light to accent the shape with bright specular highlights. Large light sources relative to the size of the subject are softer than small, pinpoint light sources. You can make a small light larger by adding a diffuser in front of it, or by bouncing the light off a larger surface, or by moving the light closer to the subject.

The light here is fairly hard, and while it's giving some good specular highlights, it's also casting shadows that are complicating the composition. It looks like it could have been a desk lamp or maybe two desk lamps. In nature, there is only one main light--the sun--so you generally want one dominant light source for a natural look. Multiple strong light sources create a theatrical look, which can work, but is much more difficult to get right. The hard light isn't working well on the noodles either, causing them to look greasy.

To soften the light, you could do something as simple as hanging a white sheet of paper in front of the light or turning the light away from the food, and bouncing it off a large white card (foamcore board works well). Also, look at where the shadows are going on the camera screen and consider whether they add to or distract from the composition.

Try to work with just one light for now, but multi-light setups involve a combination of a main light that illuminates and gives shape to most of the scene, diffuse fill light, which is fairly flat and adjusts the contrast ratio between the bright parts of the image and the shadows, and smaller accent lights to draw attention to one thing or another or give a sense of shape.

If you want to learn about light, I highly recommend the book, Light: Science and Magic by Hunter, Biver, and Fuqua. I'd say it's a must-read, if you want to try to photograph your own cookbook.

With a one light setup, you can use a simple reflector for fill. This can be a sheet of paper or a piece of foamcore. The object is to throw some light into the shadows and make sure they have some detail in the image, but not so much that the scene has no shape.

The terrine gives you an opportunity for some translucency, which is an effect that I usually try to exploit. Arrange the food and light it from behind to see if you can get some light coming through the terrine and illuminating it from within, but you might use black cards or some black cloth to keep the light on the terrine from spilling over to other parts of the scene.

Here's a simple shot that I posted recently that illustrates a few of these ideas--

gallery_64820_6661_307968.jpg

The setup is simple, and the camera was a Canon 40D with a manual focus, 35mm lens. The camera was fairly close to the pancetta, and I used a wide aperture to create a short depth of field zone, to draw attention to the cut slices, which are the sharpest part of the image, and to give a feeling of three dimensional space.

Depth of field refers to the zone of the image that appears sharp, and is a function of the focal length of the lens, the subject distance, the aperture and the format of the film or sensor. At very close distances, as are often used in food photography, the focal length is less important than the magnification ratio, and unless you own different cameras, you don't have much control over the format, so you can reduce depth of field by moving the camera closer to the subject or by using a wider lens aperture (a smaller f:stop number is a wider aperture).

The lighting was just a window behind and to the left of the subject. Backlighting made it possible to show some translucency in the thin rear slice of pancetta, but backlighting also makes for high contrast, so to adjust the contrast, I used a sheet of paper clipped to a bag of flour that I had handy as a fill reflector, and adjusted the position of the reflector until I had a good balance of main light to fill light on the camera's LCD screen, and I also checked the histogram to be sure I had room for adjustment in post processing.

I have lights, stands, and fancier cameras, but for a quick shot for the web, you don't necessarily need that much, and there is more than enough resolution in the full size version of this image for reproduction in print.

Edited by David A. Goldfarb (log)
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Wow, that is some amazing information! I'm relieved to know that my camera has what I need to do this book. I was concerned that I would have had to buy a new camera to get the best pictures. David, did you use photoshop to tweak those photos? If not, what did you use? Do you use pluggins in your program? If so, which one(s)?

I'll check out my camera manual to see if I can tweak the white balance. I love the idea of making my own macro photo studio with a box and some tracing paper! That's right up my alley, lol.

Thanks so much for the info everyone, Im looking forward to putting them into practice! Will keep you posted.

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I used Photoshop CS2 (two generations old), but didn't use any plugins or anything I couldn't do with something much more basic. The basic things you want are curves, histogram levels, color adjustment, cropping, resizing, sharpening and the ability to save in a few of the common formats, like JPEG and TIFF. Cloning is also handy for small touchups.

Here I just used color balance adjustment, histogram levels, and cropping.

Edited by David A. Goldfarb (log)
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I used Photoshop CS2 (two generations old), but didn't use any plugins or anything I couldn't do with something much more basic.  The basic things you want are curves, histogram levels, color adjustment, cropping, resizing, sharpening and the ability to save in a few of the common formats, like JPEG and TIFF.  Cloning is also handy for small touchups.

Here I just used color balance adjustment, histogram levels, and cropping.

Thanks so much. Very useful info!

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I used Photoshop CS2 (two generations old), but didn't use any plugins or anything I couldn't do with something much more basic.  The basic things you want are curves, histogram levels, color adjustment, cropping, resizing, sharpening and the ability to save in a few of the common formats, like JPEG and TIFF.  Cloning is also handy for small touchups.

Here I just used color balance adjustment, histogram levels, and cropping.

So, I built the macro studio with a box, some tissue paper, poster-board and a couple cheap lamps from Ikea that was mentioned. Check out these results. They were taken at work with an over head florescent light on the ceiling and the two lamps on on each side of the box. I can say that it looks a lot better than before but Im sure they could look better. A couple more practice pics...

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Big improvement! The third one is your best yet.

On the first two, where you're shooting more straight down on the plate, think about the shape of the plate and how you want it to look. In your mind, you know it's round, but it's not necessarily going to look round unless it's aligned and centered--not that you always want the plate aligned and centered, but if you're shooting approximately straight down from the top, distortions become more noticeable, and could be visually distracting. In the first shot, for instance, the front of the plate seems to be looming a bit. You can reduce this effect a bit by moving the camera farther from the plate and zooming in, but stay within the optical zoom range of the lens (as opposed to the extended digital zoom range), or you'll lose optical quality.

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