Well, I’m in Zion right now, but have hundreds of pictures to go through, so I thought I’d post on something entirely different.
I’m pretty sure that I will never be a portrait photographer unless I can find some models who are all like, “Yes, I would LOVE to pose for you dressed like a zombie for approximately 17 hours while you, perfectionist, retake the picture because one strand of my eyebrow was crooked. No problem whatsoever.” Even if I did find a model like that, I would still feel too uncomfortable to really take my time. As a result, I’ve had to find non-human models.
Meet my first favorite: food. I especially love fruits and vegetables. They’re great subjects because they’re colorful,
have great texture and shape,
don’t require oxygen or snacks or rest and so can remain fixed in a single position for hours and hours on end,
and you can eat it when you’re done with it. How many models can you say that for? (Insert your favorite gross joke here.)
While I have a thing for fruit, there are a lot of other great foods that would make great subjects. I think I could do a whole series on pasta
and definitely one on candy.
Photographing food does pose some annoying problems, though.
1) First, you’ll find yourself searching through bowls of blackberries for that one with no smooshed parts or cleaning apples gently with a toothbrush or gently arranging the fuzz on a kiwi so it’s just right. And still you will find as you review your pictures on the big screen that something’s always wrong–there’s a hair stuck somewhere or a crumb stuck somewhere else. Expect to spend lots of time doing fine-tuning in Lightroom or Photoshop, spot-removing pieces of dirt, etc. unless you’re diligent beforehand.
2) Even if you find the fruit or vegetable of your dreams, you may find that it grows flabby or limp quick quickly. (That’s what she said?)
3) I find food a pain in the arse to arrange. I spend half my time nudging this jellybean just a little to the right, finding something to put under my lemon so it’s just a little higher in the picture, shoving bunched up paper towels under berries so they look like they fill the bowl and then making sure they doesn’t show up in the picture. And round objects, I found, don’t like to stand still. Jerks.
4) Food, especially anything wet or shiny, is really reflective, making these awful white spots. Diffusing your light through paper or shower curtains or actual diffusers can help, but trying to hold your light source, a reflector, and press the shutter release all at the same time is often a challenge. I often find myself wishing for another arm. Or more equipment.
5) Getting the shot you want takes lots and lots of time and patience. For every one picture I get that looks halfway decent, I probably discard a couple hundred. Often, I go into the project with a certain image in mind, but it takes me forever to figure out how to get it. At the same time, if you’re willing to do some experimenting, you’ll end up with some cool shots you didn’t plan. Changing up just one factor can result in a drastically different effect.
For example, right now I’m obsessed with what people who know what they’re doing call “lowkey lighting,” which as I understand it means that you have one light source and are aiming for everything but your subject to be dark. This was the sort of picture I was aiming for and finally managed to take.
But along the way, I also got some different effects that I liked as well, like these:
If you’re interested in trying this out, here’s how I go about it. I usually photograph at night in the dining room
while Bob is watching something really fun on television in the next room, trying to tempt me away from my art–damned seducer! I put the camera on a tripod and wear a headlamp so I can quickly check settings on my camera without having to turn on the overhead light all the time.
To ensure a super sharp image (which is the thing I struggle with most) . . . first, use a tripod, but turn off your image stabilization. I know that sounds counterintuitive, but I’ve heard that because the image stabilizer looks to correct shake, and when there isn’t any (such as when your camera is on a tripod), it actually might cause blur. Use a remote to trigger your shutter or at least set a two-second timer. Even pushing the button of your camera while it’s on a tripod can cause some shake. If you can, lock your mirror up or turn your camera into live view. I’ve heard that even the vibrations caused by your mirror moving can cause sharpness problems.
As for lighting, I try a variety of methods. Sometimes I use a speedlight (basically a removable flash) that connects to my camera with wireless triggers. I hold it and aim the light just above the subject (or to the left or to the right–whatever I’m after). If I find that the light is too spread out to get the effect I want, I use a “snoot.” It’s like a tube that fits over the speedlight and focuses the light into a more condensed space. P.S. making your own is a breeze and cheap: see this tutorial.
f you’re not a lazy photographer like me, you’ll want to set your white balance, too.
Before I had the speedlight or if I’m feeling lazy or trying something else out, I’ll point a flashlight near the subject, but not on it. I also sometimes do some light painting with a flashlight. Essentially, I select a slow shutter speed (say, ten seconds) then wave the flashlight over the subject for a fraction of that time.
There are SO MANY cool tips online. You can learn about equipment that will make your life easier, like tweezers to remove those stray hairs, brushes to remove those stray crumbs, and clamps that will substitute in for that extra arm you’re dreaming of–OR EVEN A MAGIC ARM; WHO DOESN’T WANT A MAGIC ARM? You can read about ways to make food look more appetizing although often it also renders it entirely inedible, like brushing talcum powder on grapes to give them that dusty look or spraying water mixed with glycerin onto fruit to give them better-than-real-life water drops. And there are all sorts of hacks for expensive equipment. Look for tutorials on still life photography or food photography or product photography or tabletop photography. Google google google!
If anyone has any tips or suggestions, I’d love to hear them. Or post a link to your favorite photo of food.