food photography workshop, part 2

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SO, I have been trying to practice what I learned in the photography workshop (here’s the link to part 1 of the food photography workshop), but I will be honest, its been hard trying to concentrate on photography with the kids around 24/7.  I’m not complaining at all, I’m actually loving and savoring having them around, it’s just that I can’t concentrate or really work on the blog as much as I would like (hello, mothers guilt).  Ramping up my food photography is definitely on my to-do list this fall when the kids are back in school and a routine is set (Oh, how I love routine).  

I really wanted to get out part 2 of what I learned at Denise’s food photography workshop, before I forget it all.  Remember, these are my takes on photography and I’m not claiming to be an expert at all!

Below are some props that every food photographer needs; 2 white foam boards, 2 black foam boards, one handmade light diffuser called a scrim.  The scrim really helps a lot on bright sunny days, because it diffuses bright, harsh light.  You can make a scrim by cutting out a frame in a piece of cardboard and then taping some velum paper to the back, or you can even use some wax paper and tape it to the back.  You could also use a white sheet in front of your widow to diffuse the light or some regular old white copy paper, basically whatever you have on hand and whatever your budget allows.  I like the scrim frame below because its easy to move around and position where you want, and you don’t have to worry about taping a sheet or paper to the window each time.  All of these items can be purchased at any art supply or craft store, and will set you back about $20 or so.

Below is my mini studio, and an example of how I set up my boards.  I use my den most of the time, as it has the best light and is close to my kitchen.  To make trekking back and forth easier, I use one of my rimmed baking sheets to carry my props and food to and from the kitchen.  I just prop up the foam boards with something heavy behind them. You can also tape the two boards together in the back and they will just stand up on their own.
You can already see the difference the in the mood between the white and black boards.  The white evokes a bright and happy daytime mood while the black is a bit moody and creates a night-time or rainy day feel. 
Below is an example showing you where I typically set up the scrim.  I will move the scrim around (up or down) depending on where the light source is hitting the food.  
The white boards are great when there is not enough light, as white reflects light and helps to brighten up the food and the scene you are creating.  You will want to place the white board on the opposite side of the light source.  If you want more light or you just want to create a clean, crisp background, put the other white board behind the food as a backdrop.  
 
Black boards absorb light, and are great to use on bright days, or just when you want to create a mood or showcase the colors in your dish. I find I’m more drawn to using the black boards, as the food and colors really stand out against the black backdrop.
 
I’m showing you some contrasting examples below between the white and black boards.  
I like the look the white board gives the chicken curry below.  It’s a summertime dish so the white background helps to set a fresh and bright sunny mood, like summer.
You can also see the difference in the pizza photos below.  I used a white board and parchment paper to create a lunchtime feel for the photo below.
I used a baking sheet and black boards to create this mood below.  
The black transforms this lunchtime pizza into a dinnertime or appetizer pizza.
I also think the pizza stands out more against the black.
I took this photo below at the workshop.  When I look at this photo, I think of a wintery or rainy afternoon, and that I’m setting out a tray of cookies to enjoy with a nice glass of tea or coffee.Ok, so onto the one piece of equipment that I’m so excited to use come wintertime.  I want you to take a look at the photo below and tell me if you think it was taken in the day or at night?
It was taken in the day, but it was in a dark room.  Isn’t it amazing?  This photo below shows you how dark the room was.  All we had for light was this Lowel fluorescent light unit.  I’m so excited for winter photography, because I can finally take some decent dinner photos with this light.  This light is great for those times when there is no natural light available (like in the winter anytime after 5:00).  I know most food bloggers are not fans of using artificial light, but I cook for my family, and I only photograph what we are actually eating. We don’t eat dinner at 2:00 in the afternoon, so this light is going to be a major help.
 Here is a photo showing you the set up.  You will notice that the white board is set up on the opposite side of the light source to reflect the light from the unit onto the carrots.  
In low light situations, like the one above, you will definitely want to use a tripod, because when the light is low, your shutter speed tends to be slower, (1/60 sec or slower) and any slight movement or shake, will result in blurred photos.
Ok, I hope these tips were helpful!
 

food photography workshop, part 1

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Guess what I did this weekend?   I went out of my comfort zone, and attended a semi-private food photography course, instructed by Denise Woodward, with my best blogging buddy, Em. Isn’t she a doll?  I was in this photo, but cut myself out of it as I was squinting up a storm.  It wasn’t pretty!

I’m so glad I took the workshop with Em, as we were both totally clueless about our DLSR cameras, and had been taking all of the photos for our blogs using the automatic settings on our cameras, I know, LAME! 

This course was so eye opening, because I finally learned about aperture, shutter speeds and ISO’s.  I really had no clue as to what those meant before taking this course, seriously. Denise helped Em and I get out from shooting in automatic,(yaay) and shooting in manual! Em and I were there from 10:00 till 4:00, and we were spent by the end of the day. It was literally information overload, and when I got home I was ready for a glass of wine and a brainless movie with the family. John, the kids and I hit DJ’s for dinner, and then went to see Spiderman. It was the perfect ending to a perfect day. 
Here is a photo that Em took of me being the “serious” photographer, thanks Em.
We learned so much that I want to share it all with you, but I can’t fit it into one blog post. I will highlight on some of the major points today, and add another post later.  
 
First off, you need to invest in a tripod. I thought I didn’t need on, but when the light is low, your shutter speed tends to be slower, (1/60 sec or slower) and any slight movement or shake, will result in blurred photos. I thought I had steady hands until Denise turned down the lights and I took some photos without a tripod.  They were blurred and not crisp.  When I used the tripod my photos were clear and perfect. Luckily, I have a tripod in the garage somewhere that I am going to start using. If you don’t have a tripod, here is a link to the tripod that Denise uses and highly recommends.
I just took this photo of Denise’s tripod to show you what it looked like.  
Here is the photo that I took with the tripod.  As you can see, everything is crisp and clear.

Aperture:  

The aperture is the size of the lens opening (called the f-stop or f-number). It controls the amount of light that is let in: a larger aperture (f/1.4) lets in more light, while a smaller aperture (f /16) lets in less light. A larger aperture (lower f/number) will have your subject in focus, and everything in front of and behind it blurry. This photo below was taken with an aperture of f/1.4.  You also will want to have a larger aperture if you’re shooting in a low light situation.
A smaller aperture will have your subject in focus, and everything in front of and behind it quite focused as well. This photo below was taken with an aperture of F/16.  
If you’re ready to move from shooting auto to manual, then you should start out shooting in the aperture priority or aperture (A) setting on your camera.  When you’re in the aperture setting, you set up the aperture (or f-stop) while the camera automatically calculates the appropriate shutter speed to expose the image correctly (so you don’t have to worry about setting that).  As you become more familiar with how the camera calculates the shutter speed to the aperture setting, then you can try moving over to the M or manual dial on your camera. In the manual setting you will manually set up the shutter speed as well as the aperture. I am going to keep working at the A setting for now, and slowly move over to the M setting as I become more familiar with shutter speeds.
 

ISO:

ISO is kind of complicated to explain, but here is a great link if you’re interested in learning more.  Denise told Em and I to keep our ISO at 400 for food photography.  You can increase it to 800 or higher at night-time to let in more light to the camera, which will then result in a faster shutter speed.  The shots will be a bit grainer and more “noisy” the higher you set the ISO.  Feel free to experiment with the ISO at different settings as you get more use to working manually with the camera.  

White Balance:

Keep your camera set to auto white balance.  You can change the white balance when you edit your photos, if you wish.  
 

RAW vs. JPEG:

For food photography, Denise recommended for us to shoot our photos in RAW.  This does take up more memory on your camera, but its well worth it. 
 
Below are some more of the photos I took while playing with different apertures and lighting.  
If you live in the bay area you should definitely sign up for a course with Denise.  Just go to her website and email her.  She co-hosts small private classes (8-10 people) as well as instucts private and semi-private classes at her home studio.  I highly recommend the semi-private or private class, as Em and I got all of our questions answered, and got some major one-on-one attention that you might not get in a class setting.  Denise also has a mouthwatering cooking blog called, Chez us, that you should check out.  


All I can say is learning photography is like learning any new hobby or sport, it takes lots and lots of practice, and that is what I am going to be doing over the next few months.  I am vowing to only shoot in manual mode, so wish me luck!  


In the next post I will go over lighting for nighttime or low light photography situations, and some props that are must needs for any food photographer.