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Lighting Tips on Food Photography
Posted: 31 October 2011 06:12 PM   [ Ignore ]
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With several people mentioning wanting to know more about food photography (see this post), I thought I start a topic.

I’m still learning food photography myself but I can share my set up. I always take photos during the day, with natural light. Natural light works best because it makes the food looks more natural. I know there are tutorials out there about creating a light box that you can use to take pictures at night. I’ve tried this and I still like natural light best.

Natural light here does not mean direct sunlight. This makes the food looks harsh. The best place to take picture would be by a south facing window - you’ll get all the light but not direct sunlight.

In my house, the south facing window is unfortunately in the bathroom. So that’s where I set up, grin . If you see the picture attached, I have 3 $1 foam core board, one I use as a base (and yes on top of a clothes drying rack). The other two foam board are on each side of the pie - and they serve to bounce the light back onto the pie.

You don’t have to use the foam core boards, if you have other flat surface that you can use as a base. For bouncing the light, white surface works best because it also helps to make the picture looks brighter.

I hope this helps some of you who are asking about food photography. It is really easy and inexpensive to improve your pictures. You can get all fancy and buy different plates and silverware if you want but you don’t have to. Most of the time I use whatever I have at home and it works just great.

@ Fellow moderators: I’m not sure where to post this topic, so I put it in show & tell as it feels like a show and tell smile. Please feel free to move this if you think it fits elsewhere.

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Posted: 31 October 2011 11:39 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Thank you Jenn, this will be useful I am sure.  I was thinking I had to have more direct sunlight.  All of my windows are subject to some shade because of trees, but I will give your suggestion re: using the boards at a window a shot.

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Posted: 01 November 2011 09:56 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Thanks for posting that, perhaps it will give me the inspiration (and know-how) to start taking better pictures!  I’ve made a slew of desserts lately, but haven’t been very good about taking pictures, so no posts :(.

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Posted: 01 November 2011 10:20 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Thanks, Jenn!  That’s really interesting and helpful. Great idea re the clothes drying rack, as well!

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Posted: 01 November 2011 12:23 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Thank you.  I’ve been so impressed with your photos!  So nice of you to share.

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Posted: 01 November 2011 12:45 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Thanks for all the comments everyone. I’m happy to share what I’ve learned about food photography. Let me know if you have more questions.

I forgot to mention that if you do want to take the picture by the window with direct sunlight, you can diffuse it. Put some curtains or old bedsheets over the window. Or tape wax paper over it. This will soften the light.

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Posted: 01 November 2011 05:42 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Well, Jenn…now that you’ve put the invitation out there grin  ...what are you using for lens/camera settings/etc.?  Obviously this varies, but as a starting point what are you finding to be the most useful?  I’ve been dabbling with my Nikon D7000 and I’ve only purchased 1 lens and it’s a prime lens (35mm—equivalent to 50 mm on a larger format and it doesn’t zoom) so I can get larger apeture settings and get a few more shots of the kids without having to always use the flash inside the house!  Usually I’m so rushed taking photos (kids at my pant legs, dog barking, etc.).  There are so many things to play with WB, ISO, aperture, Color settings, etc.  Not to metion all of the possible post processing that can go on.  Ideally though, it’s best to get it right when it’s shot rather than trying to fix up later.

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Posted: 01 November 2011 06:08 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Sherrie, how funny! I am also using Nikon D7000. I’ve had it for about 5 months now and I love it. I have 2 lenses: 35mm 1.8 and 50mm 1.8. For the food shots I mostly use 50mm because I like that it gets up closer (without me having to move too close). The 50mm also produces a warmer tones for the pictures whereas the 35mm has a cooler (blueish) tones to it.

But that’s not saying you can’t take food pictures with the 35. 35 is my all-around lens, I take this one out the most, and so in restaurants I use this lens.

Now onto settings!!!

For the WB you want to set it to Auto (it’s under the menu settings). Most of the time (and all the time for food photography), I shoot in Manual. It’s the best because then I can control all the settings myself and also this setting is easier because you can then get the exact exposure. It might sound intimidating to use Manual but it is better. I don’t know if you are using the viewfinder or LCD screen when you take pictures. But if you use the viewfinder, on Manual setting, in there at the bottom you have your light meter. This is the best tool! It helps you determine the balance between ISO, Aperture, and Shutter Speed to get the correct exposure. If the marker is in the middle this means you have correct exposure.

If I want a nice bokeh (blurry background) then I would set the aperture between 1.8 to 2.2 - depending on the degree of blurriness that I want.

Just as a side note, I’ve tried the Aperture setting for a couple of months but didn’t like it. With the Aperture setting the camera always set too high of a shutter speed, so the picture ended up being too dark and I have to do more in PP (post processing).

Using the Manual setting, I only have to do minor corrections afterwards. Usually make it a bit brighter and sharper is all I do.—> when I get home later I’ll try to upload a before PP and after PP picture of the pie.

Oh and of course, never use flash with food photography smile.

I’m sorry I’m blabbing! I hope this makes sense and not too crazy of an answer. Let me know if you have any questions or if I’m not explaining things correctly.

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Posted: 01 November 2011 08:19 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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This is great, Jenn!!!  Thank you of all of the great info!  You are motivating me to play with Manual more…I generally stick to the aperture setting.  I understand how aperture, shutter speed, and ISO affect exposure, I just don’t know all of the technical details of how to get the exact exposure I want for the conditions I have (for example, if my aperture is f/1.8, and my shutter speed is 1/125, and ISO is 200 for given conditions…what will the exposure be like?).  I guess this is the beauty of digital…test it out and see what happens.  Couldn’t imagine doing this with film and wasting so many prints!!!

I do use the viewfinder 90% of the time…except when photographing my daughter..she won’t look at the camera when she can’t see my face, so I use Lv then…ha ha!  I will start using the exposure meter more and see what happens.  Since most of what I shoot is the kids, I usually need fast results and rely on the aperture setting, but I will dare to use it for other shots when I have the time. 

Agree about the flash!!  I still have to use it for the kids when we’re inside sometimes, but I actually got the DSLR because I bought a SB-600 speedlight for my old film SLR (and never really learned to use it) and since I couldn’t justfiy developing costs anymore, decided to upgrade. 

On an aside, what are your thoughts about all of the Focus types/ and Areas?  I bought Darrell Young’s book on the D7000 and I understand how it all works now, but I find I use single-point Auto-focus most often.  I did a test using the AF of the camera versus my own fine tuning, and it won out…so that is impressive.  I have to say, I don’t really care for the higher ISO settings…

I have been shooting RAW lately since I don’t always remember to adjust the WB but can manipulate after the fact—I love this feature of using RAW, even if it means an extra step after (my hubby finds it incredibly annoying because everything needs to be converted to jpeg to view in most readers, though).  Do you manual WB setting?

Well, now I’m babbling… but it all made sense so thank-you and I’m now motivated to try the manual mode!!

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Posted: 01 November 2011 09:09 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Thank you, Jenn… this was very helpful.  I find it interesting that you are only using prime lenses.  I have a 50mm that I can only use manually on my Nikon D5000; I will give it more tries. 

Sherrie, with the D7000 you should be able to shoot in Raw and Fine (JPEG) so you will have both.  This, of course, will require more memory card space.

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Posted: 01 November 2011 11:54 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Yes, CRenee, I was aware of that but my hubby’s afraid we’re going to run out of room if I do that smile  I meant to add that I find it interesting, Jenn, that you notice a “hue” difference with the different lenses.

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Posted: 02 November 2011 12:11 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Like I did Sunday on an impromptu photo safari and had to keep changing cards rolleyes 
I also meant to inquire re: noticing the hue difference… that is interesting.

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Posted: 02 November 2011 03:51 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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Actually, I have 2 card slots and plan to get a second card so 1 can be jpeg and the other RAW.  That way I can keep RAW files of the pics I like and wish to manipulate and use Jpeg for the rest.

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Posted: 02 November 2011 04:29 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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Hello ladies!! Sorry for the late reply.

Sherrie, I have Darrel Young’s book but haven’t opened it yet! I have read Bryan Peterson’s Understanding Shutter Speed. In his opinion, for every single photo there are 6 possible combination of ISO, aperture, and shutter speed that will result in a correctly exposed picture. Our goal is to find the one that will result in what he called “a creatively exposed picture.” In the book he explained the basics of the settings and then give examples of the 6 combination. It’s a really good read that is not hard to follow. You should check out whether your local library has this book. I borrowed it from there.

For food photography, I highly recommend Plate to Pixel by Helene Dujardin. I’ve read this book cover to cover and it really helps me improve my photography a lot. It also encouraged me to try different things and get out of my comfort zone.

Now onto camera talk, smile. If there is a good light, I keep ISO at 100, determine the aperture I want, and then play with the shutter speed until I get the correct exposure. If the light is not good then I usually figure out aperture first, then the balance between ISO and shutter speed for correct exposure. I’ve read from a couple of sources (Bryan Peterson’s book is one of them) that we shouldn’t let shutter speed go below 1/100 because lower than than you’ll risk a chance the picture will be blurry because of the camera shake, and your hand’s shaking etc. There is a setting in your camera to determine the lowest shutter speed you’ll allow it to go to, I set mine to 1/100 so even if I take a picture using auto it will not go below this limit.

I’m sure you know that the higher the ISO, the more noise it has. For indoor photography it’s hard to keep the 100 ISO, so usually I just set ISO to auto and let it self adjust. But you have the SB600 so you can use that!

I haven’t played a lot with the focus point. I’m using mostly the single point as what I’m photographing is 80% food. Aside from food I like landscape photography. Sometimes I take pictures of the cat but usually when she’s not moving either. At some point I tried to photograph a flower and there’s wind so I tried the AF setting and it was better than the single focus one but that’s the limit of my experiment with it.

You can set your WB to auto so it will adjust. No need to adjust it yourself. And with shooting RAW you can adjust the WB further if you want.

And I’ve been shooting RAW the last 2 months. I find that the pictures are sharper and since it’s unprocessed, it retains the higlights more. And more flexibility in PP.

CRenee, I did a lot of research before buying the lens - looking at a lot of food blogs whose photography I admire, and most people use the 50mm lens. Some use the 100mm macro lens (the distance is equivalent to the 50mm), but I decided to go for the cheaper one. The 50mm G (the manual focus one) I heard is a great lens. 30% of the time when taking food pictures I use manual focus because sometimes the camera focus to the middle of the cake (for example), instead of the front. So it’s easier to use manual.

And shooting RAW does take more space, but I find that I take less pictures with RAW. When shooting with JPEG I would take 80-100 pictures of a cake. With RAW I take about 40, and then in PP I choose 10 to keep. The rest goes to trash.

Sherrie, when you take pictures of your kids and when they’re moving, you’re not using the S setting on your camera?

On the final note, I’m not sure if this is an appropriate place to be discussing photography. Should we take this offline? Perhaps to the PM area? What do you think? Fellow moderators, if you’re reading this, any thoughts?

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Posted: 02 November 2011 04:30 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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And yes storage space is an issue. I think I’m gonna have to delete pictures more ruthlessly!

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Posted: 02 November 2011 05:30 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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Perhaps we’re getting a bit off topic…maybe should take the discussion else where.  To answer the question though…I do use the S setting with my kids…usually when they’re sitting or stationary.  I’m not totally sold on the tracking capabilites of the camera; I’m a bit of a control freak and don’t like to relinquish the focal point to the camera computer.  I totally hear you re: the ISO settings—I don’t care to use them too high but the odd time I need it (indoors again), it’s nice to have.  I will be checking out the books you suggest.  I like the approach you take to determine the settings.  It’s definitely a juggling act and one has to consider the variables that are most important for a specific shot—I don’t like to go below 1/80 s for hand held either.

As far as WB, I have noticed some differences—we have yellow walls in our living room, so I get a strange cast in there sometimes and find using other WB settings helpful.  It’s much easier to compare the color when taking a shot than after the fact on the monitor.  But..this is where I love the RAW setting…if I forget to adjust WB, I can play with it after, without reducing quality! 

Ah…monitor calibration…a whole other issue, now that I think of it…I will save that for a PM sometime!!

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