Thursday, March 11, 2010

Part 13 - The Big White Box

Hi again everyone. I'm back with another entry on how to use your digital camera for taking tabletop photos.

There are several good tutorials on the web for making a light box and as we’ve already covered the mini white box, you will be familiar with the technique of papering the inside with white poster board or paper, cutting out windows for the lights and adding a white paper sweep inside.

Here is how I’ve made my big box from a printer box which was a little battered after being stored in my garden shed!

Measurements of this box :
Width 19" (49 cm), Height 13.5" (34 cm), Depth 12" (30 cm).

1. Cut off one of the small flaps on the top of the box, and using a box cutter cut out 3 windows, leaving 3" (6.5cm) window frames around the edges as in first photo. That’s two large side windows and the top opening where your main light will shine.Then cut strips of white poster paper to cover the frames around the windows inside the box.

box 1
box 2
2. Turning the box on its end, tape tracing paper to the outside of the two big side windows and paper the inside of the three remaining flaps using white printer or poster paper and a glue stick or liquid white glue.

box 3
box 4
3. Cut a paper sweep the length of one side plus enough to come right out to the front opening and attach it to the back wall with a couple of cello tape loops on the back of the paper. The sweep must be easy to remove when you want to change the colour or replace it when it’s soiled, so it’s not glued at the top.

box 5
4. The reason for papering the three white flaps in the front opening for the camera is so we can also push them up into position to act as reflectors.
The two long side flaps can be nearly closed, leaving just enough room for you to put the camera lens through the opening.

box 6
box 7
5. I’ve set up three lights on my desk: the top extension desk lamp with the CFL bulb which shines down through the top opening and two smaller side lamps to shine through the tracing paper windows on wither side. I needed books to raise up the two small lamps, both which have CFL bulbs.

I didn’t notice at first, but the little lamp on the right has a warm coloured rather than a daylight bulb, so on the following photos you see a golden light coming from the right. However I left it at that. Do be sure your bulbs are all of the same Kelvin temperature, as marked on the bulb package when you buy them. (Daylight is around 5000K to 6500K). The lower the number, the more golden is the light.

box 8
box 9

box 10
box 11

Recommended reading:

If you like to collect photography books as I do, then here are some that I recommend you read (after you’ve read your camera manual of course) :-)

1. Digital Food Photography by Lou Manna

2. Close-Up Photography by Michael Freeman

3. Light Science & Magic by Fil Hunter, Steven Biver, Paul Fuqua

4. Understanding Exposure by Bryan Peterson


There are many sources of information on digital photography on the web now, but I have always liked Darren Rowse’s Digital Photography School tips and tutorials for beginners and experienced photographers, with a search function so you can find information about a specific subject

This ends Part One of the beginners' tutorials, intended for those who have not yet learned how to use their point & shoot digital cameras, and especially for those wanting to take tabletop and food photographs.

The next sections will go into more details of learning and handling your camera functions to get the pictures you want. I hope you will continue to visit and will find some useful advice.

Until then, thanks for following!

Friday, March 5, 2010

Part 12 ~ Tutorials Resumé To Date

Hi again everyone. I'm back with another entry on how to use your digital camera for taking tabletop photos.

Just a reminder that this series has been written for owners of simple point & shoot (P & S) cameras using automatic settings, and for those who have not yet studied their camera manual in depth.

But if you haven’t already done so, I encourage you to try the semi-automatic settings such as Aperture Priority (A or AV aperture value) and Shutter Priority (S or Tv …time value) where you have more control over the depth of field in the first, and the freezing of movement in the second.

Here is a list of important points that will help you to improve your tabletop and food photos:

1. Don’t use the flash of your P & S camera for taking food photos. It makes food look terrible. Do use natural daylight when possible, ideally from a north facing window and when necessary, with a light sheer curtain or white tissue paper taped to the glass to diffuse strong light.

daylight fruit Photo taken with natural daylight

fruit with flash The same subject using flash

2. In low light conditions use a tripod when you can and an indoor camera setting for available light. Such a setting could be called ‘Indoor’, ‘Available Light’ or ‘Candlelight’.
Different brands of cameras use different names for low light settings.

If no tripod is available, brace yourself and the camera against a door jamb or wall, hold the camera firmly, bring your elbows in together tightly over your chest and breath out….hold it….and snap the shutter. For close tabletop work you can support the camera on a bean bag, stack of books or other solid object.

3. Rather than getting too close to your subject which may create distortion, try moving back a little, using your optical zoom to bring the subject closer until it fills your viewfinder or LCD screen.

4. Remember to adjust your White Balance (WB) setting for the type of illumination you are using: Sunlight (which is a normal daylight setting even when there’s no strong sun), Cloudy (good setting for indoor daylight), Incandescent light bulb (Tungsten), Fluorescent or CFL bulb. There is also the AUTO setting but you should definitely make an adjustment when using artificial light.

One setting I didn’t mention is the custom white balance, usually the last on the WB dial and not on all cameras. This allows you to hold a piece of white paper near the subject, take a photo of it and then use that to set the correct white balance for the photo you are about to take. If you would like to try that, then check your manual for instructions. It is a useful way to get the exact light balance for your photos.

5. If you see through the viewfinder that the photo will be too dark, raise the Exposure Compensation (EV) by one, two or more clicks.

See Part 3 for more about EV.

6. Use a paper sweep if you want to have a light uncluttered background, and a piece of white foam or paper to reflect light onto the dark side of a photo with one light source. You could also use a small mirror to reflect back some light onto your subject, but be careful if your light source is strong not to create reflected light that is harsh.

7. If you are going to photograph a hot dinner, have your photo corner, light and camera ready before you plate the food. That way you will capture it while it is still moist and fresh looking. But also have a small squeeze bottle of sauce, oil or gravy ready to drizzle over the food to create a bit of glistening highlight in case the food begins to look dry.

8. In your spare time, practise with your camera in your photo corner or table with the lighting conditions you would have at dinnertime or when you are most likely to take your food photos, using props such as fruit bowls or stacks of differently shaped vegetables on a plate. Try different lighting conditions, camera settings and shooting angles, with and without tripod if you have one. Take many photos. If you find one out of ten, twenty or thirty that you think is good, then you are doing fine, because it takes much trial and error to find what works, and many deleted photos to get one good one. Write down what you did and what settings you used that were successful.

9. If you have a tripod, use it for low light and evening photos of food and table settings. And try also using the self-timer to avoid the slight camera shake and resulting blur caused by pressing the shutter. Once you’ve worked using a tripod and the self-timer you’ll see how good it feels to take photos with your hands free.

10. ISO. I didn’t get around to covering so far this but you may find you are only able to alter that setting on semi automatic (Shutter Prioroty or Aperture Priority) or MANUAL modes.

ISO controls the sensitivity to light of the camera’s sensor. The sensor is where the image is recorded in a digital camera, in place of film. The higher the ISO number used, the more sensitive is the sensor and the lighter is the resulting photo.

It can be compared to the ASA number of film. If you have used a film camera you may remember that when purchasing film, you had a choice of film speeds eg. ASA 125, 200, 400 etc. The higher the number, the more sensitive to light (termed faster), was the film. In a similar way the ISO can be raised to make it possible to capture a photo using a faster shutter speed in low light. The only inconvenience is that the higher numbers produce more of a grainy photo, called noise in digital photography, which is not always a bad thing.

In dark interiors, such as churches or museums where flash is not allowed, you could raise the ISO setting of your camera and still capture a photo. For this reason the three variables, Aperture (lens opening), Shutter speed and ISO are closely linked and are interdependent for controlling the exposure in your photos.

A suggested setting for outdoors is ISO 100, whereas in interiors that could be 200, 400 or higher depending on the level of illumination. Some cameras now reach extremely high ISO levels such as 3200 in special high sensitivity modes.

Other Food Styling Tricks:

1. When using daylight through a sunlit window, tape leaves, strips of paper or other shapes onto the window glass to produce interesting shadows on a wall behind your subject.

2. To make a cup of coffee look freshly poured, add a spoonful of soapy water to the surface. Of course that’s only when you’re not planning on drinking it!

3. Use a pastry brush to baste vegetable oil onto cooked vegetables to add shine.

4. Make chocolate curls by using a vegetable peeler over a block of chocolate.

5. Use a can with the ends removed to stack small amounts of foods such as salad or rice inside to give height to your dish, when photographed from the side. I think we’ve all seen that done on TV cooking shows.

6. Brush a bit of Kitchen Bouquet over chickens or drumsticks that look too pale to give a better colour.

7. Keep uncooked greens and herbs in ice water until ready to use.
It keeps them looking fresh.

8. To have steam rising from your food, place it hot from the stove quickly in front of an open window on a cool day. This is one that I do, since my main photo corner is in front of a window . Get down low and snap from the side to get the steam. It helps if there is some darkness behind the dish so the steam can be seen. Some photographers use a steaming hot teabag or ball of wet cotton heated in the microwave and placed behind the subject out of sight.

steam & soup
Other tips for commercial food photography involve using materials which render the food inedible, such as photographing a bowl of cereal using white liquid glue instead of milk, so the cereal doesn’t look soggy. But I won’t go into those because after all, we are going to serve this food to our family aren’t we?

That's all for today. In the next tutorial I'll be showing how I made my Big White Light Box.
Until then, thanks for joining me. Sharon.


(All text and photos copyrighted)

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Part 11 - Photographing Silverware

Although it doesn't quite fit in to the subject of food photography, a table setting is often included in a closeup food photo.

Flatware can be a difficult subject to photograph due to the reflective surfaces, especially when dealing with spoons, where the room surroundings are often reflected in the bowl. I'm going to show examples taken in daylight by a window using white and black backgrounds, with and without a tripod.

Here is my setup, using one and later two styrofoam reflectors on the dark side.

photo 1 table
Here below are examples using a black velveteen background.
The first photo shows a bad example of how a handheld camera shot at this arrangement of three spoons reflects my hands and camera.

hands & camera
In the next two photos, the spoons have been arranged differently so they reflect more the surrounding room.

collage 1

Here below on the left is another example of a bad reflection. Although the pattern of the silverware shows up nicely, the bowl again reflects the photographer.
The photo on the right shows a closeup using macro mode where the pattern is the prime object.

collage 2

The picture below is not a photo at all, but was rather a scan done on a flatbed scanner.

For posting to auction sites a scanned image may serve your purpose.

Using the Tripod and Self-Timer

When you have your camera set up on a tripod you will surely be able to take clear, sharp images of something as fine as silverware, where you want to display the pattern clearly.
In order to keep yourself and your hands out of the picture, using the tripod and the self timer allows you to duck out of the way so you are not reflected in the silverware.

Here below is the sequence for doing this:

1) Photo left - set up the flatware on black velveteen, black or white paper or cloth and with camera on the tripod, adjust the level of the view and zoom a little until you are happy with the image in the viewfinder or LCD screen.

2) Photo right - Set your timer for the delay in seconds, enough for you to move away from the camera. Press the OKAY button to confirm your choice.


3) Press the shutter halfway and when the green focus light gives a small beep and a steady green light... press the shutter the rest of the way down.

hand on
You haven't yet taken the picture but the camera is now counting down the number of seconds you have set, so move yourself out of the way. The shutter will open and the camera will take the photo without your touching it.

Remember that if in step 3 the green focus light blinks rather than stays steady, the camera can't focus at the distance you have set.
Change your zoom level (more zoom or less zoom) or if necessary, move the tripod further away.

Here's the photo just taken in the example above using tripod and timer where the reflection in the spoons is that of the window.

window reflec

I hope you understand all and if you have questions please ask here or PM me.
Thanks for joining me.


(All text and photos copyrighted.)
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