I’ve been asked on several occasions where I photograph my food shots. First and foremost, I’m not an authority on photography, let alone food photography. I study and learn from the best, a never ending endeavor I seek to perfect.
My studio is wherever I find the best light. Most of the time I shoot in natural lighting but sometimes, I do use flash off camera through diffusers. Mostly this is during winter.
Sometime ago on creativelive.com (a photography based web event), I watched a three-day workshop with Penny De Los Santos teaching food culture and food photography. It was probably the greatest introduction to how food brings people together. A viewer from Istanbul watching the live webcast asked a question from the chat room on lighting in dark places.
Penny only shoots in natural light. She proceeded to talk about an assignment she was on in an Asian village and went into the kitchen were there was little light overhead. She went to the back door, opened it, the sun was hitting the white wall opposite sending reflective light back into the open doorway. A garbage can with a lid over it was just to the side and she grabbed it propping against the door. Penny proceeded to take a plate of food and place it on top of the garbage can and started shooting. The photo landed on the front cover of Saveur Magazine as do so many of her fabulous photographs.
From that day forward, wherever I see good lighting, the diy kicks in and I begin shooting. First, I’ll start with the winter when Georgia is not facing the Sun well.
In a third bedroom, no longer occupied, I turned it into my office/studio. This table is set up on inexpensive saw horses with a couple of pieces of wood. I change out backgrounds and table props. In this photo I’m using tile pieces and beaded board sections I picked up from Home Depot…and clamps, lots of clamps.
This idea comes from Taylor Mathis of Taylor Takes a Taste. Taylor provides wonderful tutorials on food photography.
For those not familiar with using a flash off of your camera, it is set up using a transmitter/transceiver. I place one unit on my camera which transmits to a second unit on a flash. This is a bi-fold white board with a tissue across the opening which acts as a diffuser. On a rare occasion, I have used flash on camera but bounced off a white surface such as a ceiling or wall but never directed at the food.
I can and have used two flashes at either side but prefer to using a window on one side and flash on the opposite. After all, you really only want to compliment with studio lighting.
As you see here, the lighting is evenly distributed on both sides.
I don’t use studio lighting as others because I don’t like all the electrical cords. I already had flashes and transmitters from shooting weddings so…I brought them into a studio environment.
Using studio lights or flash is not easy. It takes a lot of practice learning and understanding the exposure triangle. Each time I return to studio lighting after a long time shooting natural lighting I have to refer to my notes. I highly recommend checking out creativelive.com for FREE workshops on lighting. There is no place or no one who will give you three days of their time for FREE…and you can sit in you jammies all weekend.
Now for natural lighting… Remember above where Penny used the reflective side of the building to bring light back into her plate? Using sunlight should be done with filters such as diffusers (white opaque, paper, shower curtain or semi-to expensive diffusers from photography stores. On occasion, if your timing is right, sun filtering through trees is appealing. Harsh direct sunlight is a big no-no in photography under any circumstances unless you have the equipment to overcome the sun.
It was mid-morning when I had returned from my favorite orchard and as I was walking down the steps I realized what a great background for my plums.
This photo of the peaches is on the rear deck in the shade of the house and I used a small stool for the setup. The deck flooring made for a nice backdrop. Using a white board clamped to the back of a chair reflects just enough light back into the peaches.
It isn’t always necessary to use a reflective board when shooting food but if you notice the light is evenly distributed. The poster board is six inches away to the bottom left corner with the approaching sunlight to the top and right.
In the middle of the day or late afternoon when the sun is really bright and no clouds, I seek the shelter of a covered porch.
It was pouring down rain one day and I pulled up the blinds to allow more light in. With camera on tripod and tethered to my computer, I was able to keep the ISO at 100 for a sharper photo. The whiteboard to the left put light back into the brownie. The chandelier is on for purpose of lighting the room however, turned off during shooting.
Photography can be exasperating but taking the time to shoot as often as you can under various conditions helps in learning light and knowing your camera.
Regarding camera equipment…I do use what was once considered a professional camera (D700). A good photograph never comes from the camera but from the photographer. Under extreme dark circumstances, point and shoot or phone cameras as well as consumer grade cameras will find it difficult to photograph without blur unless you use a tripod.
I would never recommend spending thousands of dollars on camera equipment unless you develop a serious niche and clients begin paying you the money. That said, if you have the cash ($6,000), go for it. Any hobby is expensive but reasonable if you do it right.
I use Adobe Lightroom for my editing. Only rarely do I use Photoshop Elements 10. Notice I did not say CS5,6 or whatever number is the current version of Photoshop. I am not a graphic artist therefore, spending the hundreds on the CS version of Photoshop is in-practical for me.
I work hard to know my camera and what it is capable of producing and when I download my photos into Lightroom, I tweak. I don’t want to spend a lot of time editing. For me, I spend so much time preparing food, styling, and shooting until I get that hero shot that I am plum worn out and have the least desire to cull through 100 photos of just one dish.
If I shoot for a chef/caterer, it becomes a long day shooting multiple plating’s.
Tethering provides the chef the opportunity to see the shot as it is done, make changes quickly, thereby saving several hundreds of shots one would ordinarily have to cull through.
Getting it right straight out of the camera will save you tremendous work in the outcome.
If you are a food blogger or an aspiring food photographer or recipe developer and want to publish your own or photograph a cookbook one day, having the knowledge of lighting, and knowing everything about your equipment will be your greatest asset.
I hope this brief account of what I do is helpful.