Food Photography Tips and Techniques *****

Jose Suro

TVWBB All-Star
Back from my shoot in North Carolina

Hi all,

I'm back from my shoot so I will be back posting topics this week. I have a lot of work to do with the film shots from last week which I won't even start getting from the lab until tomorrow but I will make the time. I fired up the coals tonight for a quick cook. Man I missed that smell :).

The image below is from the trip and was made with my Nikon 1 V3 P&S.



All the best,

Jose
 

Jose Suro

TVWBB All-Star
Mildo those shots are excellent!! Very creative and with excellent light!

Thank you guys.
This really was only a test of the use of reflective plates and mirrors.
You know: a quick idea. Nuts on the kitchen table (we have several trees in our neighborhood Dan;)) seemed to me ideal due to irregular and interesting shape.
I used a tripod, cable remote, Kenko DG Extension Tube Uniplus 25 mm, lens Minolta 50 / 1.7, Sharp Aquos 60 for a live preview (I photographed in the living room:)) + HDMI cable.
Very easy to setup. Walnut impaled on a toothpick, situated on the edge of the chair. Background on the first two pictures is the wall, on the third green towel, away from the nut of about 1.5 meters. Due to the extremely shallow depth of field remains completely blurred background and walnut, though, levitates:).
On the watch: light - on 10, camera - on 6, mirror - on 15-20.
Shooting distance from the nut - 10 cm.
Post processing? A slight cut, in the bottom of the visible part of toothpicks retouched - levitation effect created.

Here is a failed picture . You can see at the bottom, a chair and a piece of toothpick.



ISO 100, Exposure time: 4.0 s, Aperture: 13

I was surprised of the results and I will add two more pictures when I see your interest



ISO 100, Exposure time: 6.0 s, Aperture: 13



ISO 100, Exposure time: 0.8 s, Aperture: 10
 

Jose Suro

TVWBB All-Star
The Five Deadly Sins of Food Photography

Hi All,

I'm back from my photo shoot so I thought I'd do this post as a return to the tips.

I’ve been guilty of all of these sins more than once so I’m using my own photos for this. I know better, a lot better. But, sometimes I just want to wing it. It never works well.

The Five Deadly Sins:

1) Crime scene light - too much flash for example with no other light (opposite of fill light). Deer in the headlights light is not good at all for food photography. Leave that to Crime Scene Investigators....


2) Not enough light. Can’t be fixed. On the other hand you can’t have too much good light (not so with bad light - see #1), just the wrong exposure.

Compare:


3) The shakes - shutter speed too low. Very bad – use a tripod! Made worse when you realize the problem and shorten the exposure to try to stop the shakes. Now it's the shakes and too dark both!


4) Wrong white balance. Nothing much worse than a white plate that looks yellow.

Compare:


5) Out of focus. Well OK, this is the worst. Not worth showing to anyone, even to family :).

All these things are easy to remedy. And yes. the tripod is your friend :). Next I'll post examples of how lots of light from where we least expect it really makes food look great.

All the best,

Jose
 
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Chris Allingham

Administrator
Staff member
Jose, great tips!

Can you say more about white balance and how to adjust for it after the fact? It seems quite common that I take photos of raw red meat on a white cutting board and the board looks blue. Or a brown granite countertop looks more gray than brown. I have used the Color Balance feature in Photoshop to make adjustments. I play with making it more red and more yellow until it looks more natural, but I don't really know what I'm doing.

Maybe the answer is to adjust for it upfront when taking the photo? Is this possible on a smartphone? How about on a super zoom digital camera that's not a DSLR?
 

JimK

TVWBB Olympian
Good stuff! We were camping over the weekend and in the late afternoon, I got a couple shots of my son and one of my friend's daughters. I thought the shots came out reasonably well and I showed them to my friend (who does video production/editing for a living). He liked them and asked how I had the white balance set. My response: "Auto". With three or four clicks on my camera he changed the white balance from Auto to "Cloudy" (it was a cloudy day) and I re-took the pic. What a difference!!!

At first; thinking about ISO, Aperture, Shutter speed, white balance, etc is a little overwhelming. But as I learn one of these at a time, making adjustments becomes easier and faster. It just takes practice.

Chris: I'm not sure about your phone, but your digital cam may have white balance adjustments built in that can be made before you take the shot. And like many of the preset shooting modes, you can choose a white balance for bright sunlight, cloud cover, flourescent lighting, etc. From there, the camera does the work for you.
 
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Jose Suro

TVWBB All-Star
In Reply to Chris about White Balance

Hi Chris,

White balance is a pretty technical subject. Let’s go simple first then a more detailed explanation follows below that.

White balance is a misnomer but is universally used. Correct white balance is really important for food because the color of food gives us a lot of visual information. It’s not just about a white plate :). Look at my example above with the plated chicken. It’s not the white plate, although it has been corrected. It’s about the green beans! In the bad shot the beans look golden and not very appetizing. In the corrected shot they look perfectly “beans” green and delicious.

SIMPLE ANSWER

Chris, the simple answer is to try to get the light right before you shoot. JPEGs used by most people are like film. The only adjustment is to use color correction filters in front of the lens or in post. This is not as easy with digital as with film because film is a known quantity (always perfect daylight white balance) while digital cameras are mostly set to “auto” white balance, phones have no other setup. What this means is that the white balance is computed automatically for every shot. This is potentially disastrous because it means that every single shot can have a different white balance!

So, the simple answer is to use a “daylight” bulb for all the food shots. The bulb mimics daylight and cameras and food love that. This is very easy to do. But, if you are going to use a light fixture that you have to handhold then you are back to using a tripod :).

Look for clamp on reflectors at Amazon and also look for “daylight” (5500K) fluorescent bulbs that have 85 watts of output. Very inexpensive and easy to use both indoors and out by the grill at night. You can even put a white cloth in front of the reflector and presto, homemade diffuser. And, it gets better. The light output is highly adjustable. Light works with the square of the distance so by cutting the distance from the bulb to the food in half you increase the amount of light by four times:).

Here they are at Amazon:

http://www.amazon.com/s/?_encoding=...&url=search-alias=aps&linkId=7YNOYABUMR63EFCW

and:

http://www.amazon.com/s/?_encoding=...&url=search-alias=aps&linkId=J3EZQSVJZEM2QONL

MORE DETAILED EXPLANATION

One of the qualities of visual light is its perceived color temperature, usually expressed in Kelvin (K) degrees. We all know that the light we perceive just before sunset seems a lot warmer than that of the midday Sun. That’s color temperature.

The analog (base measurement) of color temperature is that of the midday Sun. In midday Sun we see pure white as pure white. Close to sunset we will see the same white as a warmer gold color (yellow and red mixed in). This analog is why if you look at a box of film it will say “daylight” somewhere on it. Most film is white balanced for daylight, and that is all you get. It can’t be changed. Some are labeled as “Tungsten” and those are rare these days. They are used for shooting indoors. Indoor lights have different colors too. The incandescent light bulb is even warmer than sunset light. That’s why a white plate will look yellow indoors when shot with “daylight” white balance.

OK, so what about the cameras?

As far as I know phone cameras have no white balance adjustments. Most P&S cameras do. More sophisticated DSLR cameras have complete control of white balance.

Most cameras produce a JPEG image, some more sophisticated ones give you access to the RAW image from the sensor. RAW images allow you to use the same white balance controls built into the camera, like taking the shot as often as you like in the computer afterwards while adjusting it to your liking.

Then again, film has no possible adjustments and has been used forever with good color reproduction. How is this possible? Well, film is a known quantity. It is very carefully balanced to daylight white balance. Photographers know how to correct the temperature of film by adding specific color correction filters. It has been done forever.

JPEGs are like film, the image is done the minute it’s shot. From there only filters can correct white balance. And there’s a further problem. Unlike film, most cameras, especially phones, are set to compute the white balance automatically in “auto” mode. Every shot then can end up with a different white balance. There is no known quantity like with film. So, every image has to be adjusted independently.

Phones, P&S cameras and DSLRs all have an “auto” white balance setting. Phones have just auto and nothing else. And herein lays the problem. If the scene being photographed does not have a “neutral” white tone somewhere, the camera WILL be fooled. Some “auto” algorithms are very sophisticated and can come real close, but it is usually not enough in a demanding situation.

It would have been great if phone manufacturers, who give you no white balance adjustments, would have set their cameras like film, for daylight white balance. It would then be a very simple thing to apply the correct filter manually in the camera after the shot was taken.

OK then, so white Balance is the term used, strictly in still photography, to communicate the light temperature adjustments (or lack thereof) that are present in an image.

In simple terms, it is the difference in intensities of Red, Green and Blue (RGB) colors that are present in any one part of the image that has a neutral “white” color. Remember this last sentence, it is the key. When we see a white object what we are seeing is light being reflected by it in “equal” intensities of RGB.

RGB intensities in the digital world are usually measured in an 8-bit scale because that equates to JPEG images, JPEGs are stored in 8 bit space. The range is 0-255, for 256 colors per each RGB channel. So, pure white (no detail) is RGB 255,255,255. Pure black (again no detail) is RGB 0,0,0. But, those values are never used for white balance calculations because the differences in tone for the other parts of the image can’t be measured. Depending on who you ask Neutral “white” color used in white balance measurements is somewhere around RGB 128,128,128 and that is not white, it’s grey:). This is why photographers have used specially manufactured “Grey Cards” forever. Confused enough? It gets easier now.

Neutral white, or middle grey, is the ideal color to compute white balance. But, how often do you have that in an image? The answer is pretty much never. So, how do we get good white balance?

1) We can shoot in auto and hope for the best – not very accurate and can be frustrating.

2) We can shot in one of the other white balance modes built into the camera (not phones) and again hope to get close – still not quite accurate but better that #1.

3) We can adjust in post processing – easier said than done without sophisticated software for JPEGs.

4) We can shoot in RAW and adjust in post processing – easier and pretty accurate but still time consuming.

5) We can get the light just right before we shoot – THE BEST!

Professionals use #5 ALL the time. It is so much easier. So, shoot by a window, use foam board reflectors. Or, use a clamp on reflector with a daylight (5500K) fluorescent bulb. This is the best method and they are cheap. Make sure they put out plenty of light though (see Sin #2 in the post above).

The light and reflector solve not only the white balance problem but with enough light you can avoid most all of the Sins mentioned above as well.

Hope this helps!

All the best,

Jose
 
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Len Dennis

TVWBB Diamond Member
Chris,short answer for w.b.: if you're shooting on that white board and your camera has "idiot" settings (action, portrait, etc), try setting it for snow.

Take two pics: one the way you normally would and one with it set to snow. Don't change camera position for this (it's called bracketing). You'll see a big difference, no extra equipment required.

It's not a bad comprimise(sp) for adjusting for white.
 

Jose Suro

TVWBB All-Star
A Quick Tip for Diffussing in Camera Flash Light

This one is a quick tip. So, you have a Phone, or a P&S where that flash cannot be "bounced". In other words, you can't point the flash anywhere except straight ahead. Well, not all is lost.

There are a gazillion flash diffusers around, and that's just in Amazon - do a search :). Why? Because they do the job. If they didn't there would not be a market for them.

If you have to shoot with flash, and your flash is fixed to shoot straight ahead into the food, try to get a diffuser to hang over it. It makes a WORLD of difference on food shots.

The cheapest way to do it is to cut a piece out of an opaque milk jug and hold that in front of your flash. It will make a difference! That said, it's not the best way to shoot food, but at least it softens that straight in flash!

There you have it. Quick, cheap, and it works :).

All the best,

Jose
 
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Jose Suro

TVWBB All-Star
On Light, Food and Closeups

Hi All,

I watch lots of cooking and BBQ shows on TV. I actually record them so that I can not only skip commercials but also so I can stop the playback and inspect the photography, actually videography but the light works the same for both. One of the shows I watch is Eat Street - it’s all about food trucks, on the Cooking Channel. They not only have some of the best food ideas, they have some of the best food videography on TV. I highly recommend it.

It’s all shot on location, a lot of times inside a cramped food truck. Sure, they have a large production crew and lots of equipment, but the point is that this is really no different from us shooting our food in our kitchens and backyards. Below you’ll find images from a number of shows and I’d like you to notice how they manage light, how they get in close and how they use low angles and backlight. I took those shots off my TV with my P&S on a tripod so the color and contrast are not spot on. Still, I hope you get the idea :).

First thing you will notice is the amount of light, they use lots of it. There is no such thing as too much “good light”. They light their subjects not only with lots of light, but from different directions. Notice how in all these shots they have strong light from somewhere in the rear, and reflected diffuse light from the front. This is how a LOT of food photography is shot these days. It creates wonderful textures and presence. The colors are rich and exact.

They also get in real close. Notice too that all the shots have a very similar look in terms of white balance and color. It’s called a formula. Once you find one that works, you can make use of it all the time :). This creates your own personal style.

OK, on to the pics.














So, if you want to explore excellent lighting for food on location watch this show. “On location” is important because that is what we do when we shoot our cooks and post them on this forum.

All the best,

Jose
 

Jose Suro

TVWBB All-Star
A really cool diffuser for those of you that have a Speedlight (external flash) for your DSLR camera:

https://fstoppers.com/product/fstoppers-flash-disc-portable-light-modifier

Watch the video for the beer shoot. It's really good in the sense that it shows what all the different lights do.

Also, if you own a DSLR and want a speedlight you might want to consider a Chinese one that is getting incredible reviews. It's turning the speedlight world upside down because it is 1/5 the cost of the ones from Canon and Nikon:

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00I44F5LS/tvwb-20

Best,
Jose
 

Len Dennis

TVWBB Diamond Member
Thanks for the light link! Couldn't see me ever spending $320 for a flash. I paid that for the camera.
 

Jose Suro

TVWBB All-Star
Thanks for the light link! Couldn't see me ever spending $320 for a flash. I paid that for the camera.
You're welcome. Please make sure you want a manual flash though. This flash has no TTL (through the lens) coupling to the camera. Also, make sure you order the right one for your camera. The one on the link is for Canon (I think). Manual Flash is really easy to use once you know how guide numbers work. And there is no guess work....
 
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Jose Suro

TVWBB All-Star
A couple of test shots in preparation....

Hi All,

I'm preparing to buy a couple of things to light my food shots. Although I recommend daylight light bulbs I will be going with Flash just because I have plenty of experience with them. Flashes are harder to use and more expensive, but are smaller and easier to move around than light bulb fixtures.

I want flash units that will fire as "optical slaves", meaning that the external flash fires when it sees the flash on my P&S Nikon 1 V3. So to test the theory I bought a cheap $10.00 optical slave for testing and attached it to my expensive Nikon DSLR flash that wont do this any other way :(. The $10.00 slave unit is crap but I got it to work after jumping through hoops that no one else would do because they don't have the parts, and I was able to do the tests. It all turned out exactly as I had hoped it would so I will be buying a Chinese Flash unit that is really inexpensive and has a huge following.

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00I44F5LS/tvwb-20

That will go with an inexpensive but quality light stand:

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B003TM600U/tvwb-20

Coupled with a $6.50 holder for the flash unit:

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B003TYDBYQ/tvwb-20

And finally a flash mounted diffuser:

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00KHBZ85E/tvwb-20

So, for ~ $150 I'm going to have the best food photography lights (includes the on camera flash) that I can buy for so little money. I really researched this to the hilt. The Yungnuo Flash unit has not only an optical slave that fires the flash but also a radio receiver for more sophisticated RF setups. It's an incredible bargain and it is selling like hotcakes!

Here are the test pics. The results should be close to these. the lights were as follows. Window light from the left rear, Fill remote flash with diffuser with the $10.00 optical slave from the right rear and in camera flash bounced on the ceiling at low power from the camera position for front fill. I'm very happy with the results:).





For comparison, here's the same shot with just window light:


All the best,

Jose
 
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Len Dennis

TVWBB Diamond Member
You're welcome. Please make sure you want a manual flash though. This flash has no TTL (through the lens) coupling to the camera. Also, make sure you order the right one for your camera. The one on the link is for Canon (I think). Manual Flash is really easy to use once you know how guide numbers work. And there is no guess work....
Thanks for the warning. I've learned to work with the camera doing the thinking (ie settings) and I've never been happy with the built-in flash. This thread http://www.scantips.com/lights/flashbasics1h.html references this manual flash and validates your recommendation :)
 

Jose Suro

TVWBB All-Star
Now here's a really interesting story....

Hi All,

While looking through some food photography tips I ran into this blog post from 2008 where the owner interviewed Helene Dujardin. At the time of the interview she was cooking desserts and photographing them, and she describes her very simple setups and the beautiful results she achieved with these simple setups.

Fast forward to the present and now she has become a very accomplished food photographer with many national clients. A really interesting turn of events.

Here's the interview from 2008. Her very simple way to shoot, with inexpensive camera and lenses yielded super results:

http://www.mycookinghut.com/2008/12/02/tips-on-food-photography/

And here's her photo website. Well worth looking at the portfolio slideshows:

http://www.helenedujardin.com/#/322269/Home

She shoots mostly from the top of the food, which is unusual but it works. Meaning, there are no rules :)

All the best,

Jose
 
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Tommy B

TVWBB Pro
I just purchased a Canon Rebel t3i on black Friday. I am pretty excited to get into it. Wife and I have a 5 month old son which is the main reason for the camera but taking food pictures will always be a good secondary reason ha! My photography skills prior to this camera has been limited to my cell phone... Do you recommend a rookie start on full manual mode and figure it out as I go or use another creative mode until I get the hang of it? I have read the entire forum and feel like a lot of things went over my head but I am excited to learn as I go!
 

Jose Suro

TVWBB All-Star
I just purchased a Canon Rebel t3i on black Friday. I am pretty excited to get into it. Wife and I have a 5 month old son which is the main reason for the camera but taking food pictures will always be a good secondary reason ha! My photography skills prior to this camera has been limited to my cell phone... Do you recommend a rookie start on full manual mode and figure it out as I go or use another creative mode until I get the hang of it? I have read the entire forum and feel like a lot of things went over my head but I am excited to learn as I go!
Congratulations!! You will love the quality of the images. I would not recommend going manual for starters. For pics of your son I would recommend program (P) mode. The camera will pick the best combination of shutter speed and aperture for you. Setting ISO is important too. The lowest ISO will give you the best quality but handheld some pics could be blurry. I would use an AUTO ISO with a ISO 400 maximum for starters.

For food I would recommend using Aperture priority mode (A). you set the aperture and the camera sets the shutter speed. This allows you to use large apertures and blur the backgrounds.

Finally there is a small button in the back that is labeled [+]/[-] or something similar. This is your exposure compensation button and with it you can make the images lighter or darker, a very important button. Just make sure that you set it back to zero when done as it will stay where you set it even after turning off the camera.

Eventually you will want to shoot in RAW mode, but that's for later on.

ENJOY!!
 

Tommy B

TVWBB Pro
Congratulations!! You will love the quality of the images. I would not recommend going manual for starters. For pics of your son I would recommend program (P) mode. The camera will pick the best combination of shutter speed and aperture for you. Setting ISO is important too. The lowest ISO will give you the best quality but handheld some pics could be blurry. I would use an AUTO ISO with a ISO 400 maximum for starters.

For food I would recommend using Aperture priority mode (A). you set the aperture and the camera sets the shutter speed. This allows you to use large apertures and blur the backgrounds.

Finally there is a small button in the back that is labeled [+]/[-] or something similar. This is your exposure compensation button and with it you can make the images lighter or darker, a very important button. Just make sure that you set it back to zero when done as it will stay where you set it even after turning off the camera.

Eventually you will want to shoot in RAW mode, but that's for later on.

ENJOY!!
Jose, thanks for all of your advice. I received the camera in the mail Tuesday and had to charge the battery Tuesday night so yesterday was my first night playing with it. I was shooting indoors and really played with shutter speed and aperture to really get a feel for how they work. I'm looking forward to taking some pictures this weekend.
 

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