Foodphotography; controlling the light
I get questions on a regular basis on the specifics of how I take my photos and how I light the scene.. Today is a very cold day and not really suitable to go outdoors, so I figured I entertain myself (and hopefully you) by taking a couple of photos and showing you the difference from not changing any settings to changing settings, adding reflection and also taking the same photo with a different camera.
So to start off I am showing you my lovely lunch of a sandwich with rocket, radishes and a boiled egg and gardencress on top. Simple but very yummy and in the little red bowl you see a bit of yoghurt. I do show you a lot of lunches lately now don’t I? It must be the dark weather that causes that!!
All the photos I show you are taken with the exact same conditions; indoor, window on the left and daylight only. The first photo is a shot of my sandwich without any further adjustments.
As you can clearly see, the photo is too dark and has ugly shadows in place I do not want to have shadows. When you’re shooting food your main goal is to make the food look appetizing, fresh and inviting; not drab and disgusting. For this exercise I shot most of the frames on aperture priority (Av on most cameras) although I normally shoot food in manual mode. I will explain more about the why a little later.
Now when shooting in Aperture priority I can easily adjust the exposure a little bit with the exposure valution button. That is usually shown somewhere on the back of the camera as a +/- sign or it can be hidden in the menu depending on your camera. What that does is that you can very easily increase the exposure or decrease the exposure as you go along. For the next photo I decided I wanted to make the exposure a little longer to add a little more light into the frame, so I increased the exposure by 2/3 stop. A stop is a change in a setting by one step, for instance your shutterspeed goes from 1/125s to 1/250s; that would be 1 stop. The little marks on your exposure valution are 1/3 of a stop. You can usually change up to two stops in total to the left or to the right.
Now if you look at photo number two you will see that it does look a little better but could still be improved upon. I like the shimmer on the eggyolk but find the rest not to my liking yet. Now the light at the moment is quite dark and having light come from one direction only will most likely give you heavy shadows on the right side as you can see in both of the photos.
It’s extremely simple to solve this by simply adding a reflector on the opposite side of the light. In this case the reflector needs to be placed on the right side; bouncing light back from the window onto the food on the right side. This is how it looks with the reflector added. As a reflector you can – ofcourse – buy an expensive one but really anything will do. I mostly use white foamboard, but any white paper, a white shoebox or whatever else that reflects light would work and is much cheaper. If I want to have a little more punch I wrap a bit of tinfoil around the foamboard and use that. It reflects the light a little bit better then plain white and adds a little bit more contrast. You can use mirrors for lighting little specific spots or adding shine too.
And for easy comparison all in a row from dark to light:
As you can see; with very little adjustments it is actually quite easy to change the look of your photo from yuk to ‘can I have one of those?’
Now I got a question from one of my bloggie friends this week about the fact that her photos were not sharp. She send me a high res file that she made to check and it was in fact perfectly sharp but arguably not in the right position. If you do not focus manually (and if you work up close and on a tripod I would urge to try that as it is much easier to work with) you have to pick a focuspoint to work with. In my workshops most people own digital compacts and not SLR’s and most of them have their focus on automatic. But what happens is that your camera decides for you what needs to be sharp in the photo!! Not something you want, so the first thing you have to learn yourself is to either focus manually or use the middle focus point. The middle focus point is the strongest so that’s why that is the most logical choice.
So let’s assume you have your focus in the middle and you now take a photo and you get this:
I hope you can see it at this size, but I think it is quite noticeable that the egg in front is not sharp. Not sharp at all. But the middle of the sandwich is sharp. When you take a photo (any photo) you always have to ask yourself which point in the scene do you want to have sharp? Is it something in the foreground or something in the background or – even sometimes – something in the middle? Taking a photo of a person for instance, you would always focus on the eyes as those are the main feature of a human being. For food it’s a little more complicated. You have the pick something that make it pleasing on the eye and ‘leads’ your eye through the frame. In this particular case my natural focus point would be the front of the egg or the cress on top of the first egg slice. But if I focus there and press the shutter I get this:
Not what I want either, so how do you solve that? In order to focus on what you want AND get the composition you want you need to incorporate an extra step. You focus on your point, then keeping the shutter pressed halfway, you make the composition you want and then your press the shutter completely. Don’t release the shutter in between or it will refocus all over again. That might sound tedious (and gives you an extra argument to try manual focus!) but for me it has become second nature; I even accidently moved the frame a little bit on the photo above as pressing the shutter straight away is sort of become counter intuitive for me.
If you’ve recently upgraded from a compact you might struggle with the fact that you photo appears so much blurrier then with your compact. I took the same photo with my SLR (above) and then again with my compact (below) See the difference?
You see a big difference in the sharpness throughout the shot, don’t you? The compact appears sharper throughout the frame while the sharpness on the SLR ‘fades’ away as you get further from your focus point. Now I personally like a shallow depth of field in my photos, which is why I prefer the SLR above a compact, but if you’ve been wondering why your compact appears to be sharper, this is why… I won’t go into the techical details as to why that happens, let’s just say that it is due to the different way a compact is build…
So one more thing before I let you go… we just discussed your focuspoint and how you should focus and refocus, but… (and this is why I choose to shoot on manual most of the time) where you focus will also impact the settings on your camera in terms of lighting. If you focus on the front of the egg (white) the photo will be much darker, then if you would focus on the dark sandwich. I will show you the difference:
You see what happens? Your focuspoint not only determines where the image will be sharp but it will also determine how your lighting will be. So if you want to avoid this happening if you’re playing around with composition and the food, just dial in the number that you see on manual and you don’t have to worry about it anymore (unless the light itself changes!). There is nothing scary or difficult about using the manual settings; you can use your program settings as guideline if you want. Take a photo on automatic, check what the settings are, change to manual, dial those settings in and start tweaking them until you have the image and lighting that you want!
So I will leave you with all that…. good luck and if you have any questions always feel free to let me know!