I practice with food

March 19, 2010

Being the photo nut that I am, whenever I see an opportunity to break out the camera I’ll go for it, and something I also enjoy doing is cooking (as long it’s not too complex!). I try to practice my craft as much as possible so I always have the creative juices flowing and try different techniques with lighting, composition and use of colour.

The above photo is a recipe I cooked up from my Woman’s Day BBQ cookbook, a relatively simple but flavorful meal. It is a Cajun spiced BBQ chicken using a homemade paste on a bed of pineapple, capsicum and bacon salsa. Quite the summer meal. I won’t tell how I cooked it, that’s not what I’m here for, just to tell you how I shot it. A simple shot like this maybe not up to the standard of something you might see in a Donna Hay cookbook, but not bad for something you can actually eat as soon as I put the camera down.

The equipment and technique was relative simple and anyone can get great results by knowing how to light it. If you flick through any decent cookbook you will find if you look at the texture of the food, and where the shadows fall, in most cases you find it is lit from behind or from one side and behind. This is to bring out the texture in the food and evoke a response by the viewer to want to cook it and eat it. This technique is the staple for most food photographers, but it also takes a good food stylist, someone who dresses the set to get that warm and fuzzy homely feel and a team of assistants to work fast to set up the lights and adjust their output. But you too can have a go at home to record some of your favorite dishes.

My approach with this photograph: I wanted a shallow depth of focus, so I required a relatively open aperture, but to get most of the subject in focus and anything beyond the plate not in focus an aperture of around f3.5 was used, too wide (like f1.8) the depth of field is way to narrow and all I get in focus is one tiny little element. I used a medium lens length (50mm Full Frame or 8omm APS-C) to also manipulate the out of focus areas.

I would normally shoot an indoor closeup photo like this on a tripod with the camera set to ISO100 to keep the image file clean. Assuming I’ll never get this image printed I just upped my ISO setting to get a fast enough shutter speed to hand hold at 80mm and to avoid camera shake.

To light it I used the biggest and cheapest light you can get, the sun! It was near sunset, so there was still plenty of light in the sky and coming in through the window. The hot spot you see in the reflection of the table is the neighbours upstairs window which acted as giant reflector. So I had soft and warm light coming from outside over the back of the subject to get the texture to come out. The shadows are often dark towards the front when you light something this way, so there are two ways you can fill them. One is to use a reflector of some sort, you can use anything from a piece of printer paper or a pro reflector. Another way is to fill the shadows is to use flash, like I did. You would normally have a soft light source lower in exposure than the light from outside (the main light), roughly about 1-2/3 to 3 stops lower. I used the higher side and bounced the light off the corner of the room to act as a fill light. By bouncing it I have achieved a nice soft light not too high in output and natural looking.

So the key lesson I learnt here, was to balance the fill flash with the ambient light and I achieved a natural looking photo with basic equipment. Experiment with different windows, reflectors and flash techniques. Just remember to have your exposure, lights and camera setup before you cook so it doesn’t get cold!

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