Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Shooting Food

Shooting good shots of plates and platters filled with of wonderfully prepared delicious cuisine is a lot easier than many food photographers would have you believe.

The first step is finding the proper subject. For this you may not have to look any further than your favourite diner. Go early in the evening while the sun is still shining, sit near a window and voila, you're ready to rock 'n' roll.

For creating a smashing food shot, I look for the same stuff that makes the food itself appealing. A nice mix of colours, textures and shapes plus an eye-catching composition. Like I said, all the very stuff that makes a meal memorable also makes a food photo worth taking.

By sitting next to a window you will have eliminated one of the big problems encountered while shooting food: Poor light. Unless you are trying for effect, warm incandescent or cool green fluorescent lighting can destroy what promised to be a fine food shot. Shoot under soft, clean daylight delivered through a non-tinted window and your whites will be white and all your colour vibrant and clean.

Next, try and keep the ISO setting low. You do not want coarse noise to detract from your image. By shooting at a low ISO and choosing a small f/stop - something that gives a lot of depth of field like f/11 - you will capture lots of that all important detail. You do not want to miss the texture on the mash potato patty or the the small specks of spice enhancing the colourful vegetables.

This means that you may need to contend with a slowish shutter speed - like 1/15th of a second. A simple, pocket tripod may be necessary for the best results.

And shoot fast. The food will be at its best the moment your server places it in front of you. And if you are shooting your partner's food as well as your own, your partner will be at his/her best at the moment the food arrives. Take too long getting your shot and both your partner and the food will grow stale.

For more about the food in today's post see: London Daily Photo.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Get those knees dirty

Getting down low, knees in the dirt, yielded this shot. Nice, eh?
I used to tell my students, "If your knees aren't dirty, you are not chasing all the picture angles. Get those knees dirty!"

Saturday was PhotoCamp London 2011. The last part of the morning was a PhotoWalk. I watched as a woman, Mary Lou Roberts, took pictures of some wild Queen Anne's Lace. At one point she was shooting the common, white, weed blooms from underneath and capturing quite the uncommon picture.

Later I talked with Ms. Roberts and learned she had taken some instruction from Dave Chidley. I once worked with Mr. Chidley when we were both on the photo staff of The London Free Press. She learned the get-your-knees-dirty rule from Mr. Chidley.

Today, I pass the rule onto you.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Bright Sunshine: Wait for passing clouds

Saturday was PhotoCamp London 2011 and one presentation was a live model photo shoot. The models, a man and a woman, were both professionals and it showed. They were very comfortable in front of the camera(s).

Unfortunately, the day was fiercely bright with a strong sun casting harsh shadows. Not the best light for fashion photography.

On the bright side, there were a lot of large, fluffy clouds dotting the Saturday sky. If possible, at times like this watch the sky, watch the clouds and shoot during those minutes when the day turns momentarily overcast.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Flowers: Metaphors for life

There was a time when I thought of flowers, I thought of full blooms. I wanted peak action. No buds and no wilted petals. Just gorgeous flowers in their prime.

And then I experienced Sheila's art. Sheila, at the time, was painting flowers. She didn't narrow her focus to just blooms, the climax of the story. No, she captured the whole tale from bud to bloom to fading away forever.

Now, I see flowers entirely differently.

Today's image was shot with my Canon PowerShot S90 set to automatic. The jpeg was taken into Photoshop CS5 and the endpoints set; I was careful not to blow out the highend values in the yellow petals.

The foliage was already quite dark in the original image but, approaching Photoshop like an electronic darkroom, I burned down the edges even more. I do not use the burn/dodge tool. I selected the area on which I wanted to work, feathered the edge and finally darkened the selection using Curves. I stay away from the burn/dodge tool, although a fellow I worked with at the paper used it all the time.

This image has also not been given a lot of saturation. The jpeg image looked good right from the camera.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Watch for portrait moments

Fiona had had a big day: A long stroll through the neighbourhood, an action-filled visit to the park, a good dinner with her favourite vegetable — broccoli. Now, feeling a little sleepy, she plopped down on the loveseat in front of the television for a little quiet time.

This image is almost a straight jpeg from my Canon PowerShot S90. The endpoints have been set and the edges burned down but generally this picture required very little enhancement. This image hasn't even been hit with any extra saturation.

The light is good in this room. There are two windows: One behind her illuminating her hair and one off to the side giving the nice, soft portrait lighting. The white ceiling reflects nice clean light onto the subject.

If I had a DSLR I would use a lens in the 85mm to 105mm range and try and shoot with the lens as wide open as possible. Something like f/2.8 or f/4.0 would be good. The fast f/stop minimizes the depth of field, allows for a lower ISO setting and a higher shutter speed. A win, win, win proposition.

If your camera has a portrait setting, try that. You might find it softens the subject a bit much but try it; Find out whether or not you like the effect.

When composing your shot, if you have the person looking off to the side as I do, try and leave a little extra space on the side of the image where they are looking. Your picture will feel better balanced.

With my Canon PowerShot S90, I must confess, I simply picked up the camera, composed my image and shot.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Texture, and more, makes this picture

This weed, captured going to seed, is amazing: The big, gossamer-like balls are magical. You cannot go wrong taking a picture like this. The thing to remember is to get close. Fill the viewfinder with the texture that attracted your eye and excited you visually. You want people to see this weed as you did. Force them. Don't show too much. Don't give them the chance to miss the picture since you didn't.

The image works for me for lots of reasons:

  • 1 - texture (The soft, gossamer like white fluff supported on spiky struts.)
  • 2 - repetition of shapes and repetition of the size of those shapes
  • 3 - lines of direction - They are almost classic perspective lines.
  • 4 - colour (Warm toned brown works well juxtaposed the warm green background.)
  • 5 - clear centre of interest (It's actually circled with lines from all over the image leading the eye to it. This is a centre of interest that cannot be missed.)
  • 6 - tones (Dark tones at the bottom give the image visual support.)

Friday, July 1, 2011

Grab shots can be nice

This shot could be better but its a nice grab shot.
Personally, I like pictures of flowers immediately after a rain storm. The light is soft and puts a wonderful catchlight on each water droplet decorating the flower petals. But an open shade grab shot still makes a fine memory picture.

I've been playing with shooting RAW. I'm having mixed results. I'm not sure that more control is always a good idea. I'm not convinced my decisions are always better than the camera's. I tend to like warm images. Because of this, when I enhance a RAW image it tends to be warmer than possibly it should be.

Also, working on a RAW image encourages me to play with the image more than I normally would. And trust me, I don't require all that much encouragement. I tried to keep the highlight areas from blocking up as I worked to make the foreground lily pop from the picture. The foreground lily is cleaner and brighter than the others. I'm not sure that the effect looks natural. It may look a little forced.

Here is an image shot with a Canon SD10 point-and-shoot a couple of years ago. It was shot as a jpeg, with the endpoints set in Photoshop to maximize the contrast. It has been enhanced very little compared to today's lily picture.

Clearly, the after-the-storm lighting gives far more punch to the image and the water droplets are a fine visual addition. This image makes today's photo look flat, a bit on the lifeless side.