I'm going to pick up where I left off with my photography tutorials from months ago. I was talking about lighting and white balance last time. This week I'll discuss lighting directions and the importance of bouncing or reflecting light.
For food photography in particular, lighting couldn't be more of a challenge. Highlight here, shadow there, shine here, contrast there all with the goal to make your dish look appetizing. Lighting can mean the difference between a monotonous meal and a gourmet masterpiece.
Understanding light and how to manipulate it is key to taking a good photo. Too much or too little can be disastrous. It's all about control. In order to battle light you should always have two weapons in your arsenal: diffuser and reflector.
The diffuser could be anything from a expensive professional photography light diffuser to an old thin white sheet to a semi-sheer window curtain. It just needs to be sheer enough to let the light in and opaque enough to soften shadows. I use the simple Ikea curtains already installed in my kitchen. Before that I used a thin white tablecloth from the dollar store. It doesn't have to be fancy. It just has to work.
The reflector could be a professional photography scrim or a piece of white foam core board from an office supply store or even aluminum foil found in any kitchen. I use foam core board to bounce light onto my subject because its rigidity makes it easy to prop up without a lot of fussing. Your reflector doesn't need to be shiny, but it does need to be light in colour in order to bounce your light source back effectively doubling the light and minimizing shadows.
Depending on the mood you're trying to convey, your own personal style and the quality of natural light, your diffusing and reflecting choices may change. High contrast, highlights and shadows convey a bold, dynamic, even mysterious feeling like in the photo of the egg shells. You can increase this effect by choosing not to diffuse the light. Low contrast minimized shadows and soft light convey a sweet and airy feeling like in the photo of the strawberries.
Lighting is the most important factor to consider when snapping the perfect photo. Light is what makes sight, colour and, more specifically, photography possible. Without the proper light your photos can appear dull, lacklustre and tinted.
Because I am primarily a natural light photographer that is the method I will discuss with you, but artificial light is an option as well. I prefer natural light because of it's ease of use, consistent abundance and that it conveniently streams through my kitchen window. It's not without its challenges, but in the next few weeks we'll talk about how to overcome each of them.
One prominent challenge that natural light presents is white balance. Not everyday is filled with bright, sunny and cheerful light. Some days are cloudy, rainy or maybe you've lost track of time and the sun is quickly escaping.
You might have noticed that bright high sunlight is somewhat yellow or orange in colour. Cloudy or overcast light is very white. Rain clouds, evening light, shade or winter sunlight create very blue tones. That's why it's important to adjust your white balance settings to communicate the truest colours possible in your subject.
This effect can be achieved one of three ways. The easiest method and the one I use is to choose one of the premade settings on your camera. Most cameras, DSLR or otherwise, have a selection of at least seven basic white balance settings: auto, daylight, shade, cloudy, tungsten, fluorescent and flash.
The auto setting meters the light and adjusts the colour balance accordingly. This might seem like an easy choice but auto is definitely not foolproof and I would only recommend it in situations where you don't have the time to play around to find the right setting. Daylight white balance leans towards a bluer tint to counteract the orange casts of direct sunlight. It can be tricky to use in diffused sunlight, but it's still the setting I use most often. Shade is obviously the setting best suited to shady situations as it defends against the cool tones of true shade with lots of warm tones. The cloudy setting is also warm like shade, but not as extreme. In the cold winter months I use this setting almost exclusively. Tungsten is very blue to balance the super yellow tint that comes from indoor lighting. Florescent is very green and flash is slightly warm. I have never used the last three settings personally because I've never played with shooting in unnatural light, but it would be a good idea to get to know them.
Here you can see the white balance presets hard at work.
Some subjects cry out for certain camera angles. Not listening to their pleas can result in awkward ill-composed shots that make the viewer feel uneasy.
Today I'm going to talk to you about camera angles specifically popular among food photographers and how they can work for you. I'll start with the safest or easiest angle and move up to the more dynamic or fun angles.
The head on or eye level camera angle is perhaps the most straight forward and basic approach to photographing your subject. I would choose this angle when shooting a scene that is rather plain or simple with very little depth or detail. It creates drama and an undeniable focal point. With the photo of the Cherry Almond White Chocolate Ice Cream I wanted to accentuate the drips and texture of the ice cream. The head on angle makes the viewer feel like the cone is being handed right to them. In the photo of the Focaccia I used this camera angle to emphasize the uniformity as well as the natural flaws in each piece of bread. I also force the viewer to analyze the angles created by the brown paper and the slices.
Continuing our photography lesson from last week, today I'm going to talk to you about the compositional importance of negative space and leading lines. These two concepts are not exclusive to photography, but prevalent in all visual arts.
When I think of negative space the first thing that pops into mind is a specific painting that I viewed years ago at the Art Gallery of Ontario during a high school field trip. It's called Dancers Practicing at the Barre by Degas. Negative space is defined as the relatively empty space surrounding the subject of focus. In this case the two dancers seem to be shoved into the top right corner and the rest of the space is taken up by blank floor or wall. This might appear curious, but in doing so Degas is enhancing the importance of his subjects and making his composition dynamic. You would think that all that negative space would make the painting unbalanced because all the weight is in the top right corner. In fact the plainness of the wall and floor balance the detail in the figures.
I had a tasty idea for you today. It had something to do with raspberries, lemons, sugar and lots of it. But as you can see, no raspberries, no lemons and certainly no sugar.
Instead this tuesday I decided to bring you something a little different. Over the past few months I'm not afraid to admit that my photography skills have improved threefold since my humble beginnings with my little point and shoot. It surprises even me sometimes when I compare the vast differences between my old photos and my new ones. Many of you have made such sweet comments about my photos and have expressed an interest in my techniques.
So I thought I would share what I've learned about photography and reveal the tips and tricks behind taking a successful photo. Over the next few weeks I'll turn How To Tuesdays into basic photography tutorials so you too can benefit from my experience. Today let's start simply with composition, more specifically, the rule of thirds.
The rule of thirds is a simple concept to help you achieve an aesthetically pleasing photo composition. Basically you divide the photo into thirds horizontally and vertically so you have 9 equal rectangles. Wherever those lines lay or intersect you should place an area of focus or visual interest.
You can do this one of three ways. You can rely on your eyes and visually divide the shot into thirds. Don't sell your eyes short! You'd be surprised how accurate that method is. Many digital SLR cameras have the option to view the lines for the rule of thirds on the viewfinder. This is really handy and allows you to compose your image live as well as decreasing your need for cropping. Most photo editing software like Photoshop or Lightroom allow you to see the rule of thirds grid while you're cropping your photos. I use a combination of my eyes and cropping depending on the photo and composition.
My photo of the bumblebee is a great example of the rule of thirds. You can see how I started out by cropped the photo in Photoshop. You didn't know how much more there was to that photo did you?