Sunday, October 25, 2009

Part 3 - Exposure Compensation (EV)

Hi everyone! I'm back again with another chapter of hints on how to use your digital camera for taking tabletop photos.
I hope everything so far has been easy to understand. But I'll be going over and repeating some things as well so they're not forgotten or misunderstood.

For those who are unfamiliar with this very useful item, I want to introduce the EV function on your camera. EV stand for Exposure Value and the button or menu option is called the Exposure Compensation, or Exposure Bias. Here's the icon, which is a square with plus and minus signs inside.
EV iconYou may find this icon stamped on the arrow pad on the back of your camera as in Fig, 17.

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coll b 18a & 18b
When that upper arrow is pressed, it produces a new icon in the top right corner of the LCD screen as in Fig. 18, where a black rectangle shows 0.0 and two blue right/left arrows. That tells you that you are now able to use the EV function, and by pressing the right and left sides of the arrow pad you will either increase or decrease the value which will appear in that top right corner of the screen. The increments go up to plus or minus 2 in steps of 1/3 or 1/2. Example: +0.3, +0.7, +1.0 etc. up to +2 (or minus when using that arrow pad.)

So for what is that used? In short, you can manually lighten or darken the picture you see in the viewfinder before shooting by using this setting. Sometimes when your subject is dark against a bright background, the light meter adjusts the overall setting for the brightness, leaving your subject too dark. In that case you would (on my camera here) press the right side of the arrow pad as in Fig. 18a. Now you see the number in the top right screen corner has changed to +0.3 to brighten the picture. If I were happy with that, I would then press the OK button in the centre of the arrow pad and then press the shutter to take the picture. If I wanted the picture to be lighter still, I would press the arrow pad twice instead of once, which would give me +0.7.

In the case where the overall picture was too bright and the subject was going to look lighter than I would like, then I'd press the left arrow and that would give me a minus value, darkening the photo Fig. 18b.
You can often counter an over exposure by using a -0.3 setting, especially outdoors where it is often so bright that your photos can look a little overexposed. I keep my cameras set at -0.3 for nearly all my outdoor photos.

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Here is where I find the EV option on my little pocket Stylus. By pressing the main menu in the centre of the back arrow pad I get these four options in Fig. 19. On this camera one presses the top and bottom arrows to lighten or darken the picture. Fig. 20. In Fig. 21 you see the EC has been set to +0.7. I show the example of this second camera only to illustrate that you may have to look in more than one place to find the EV function on your camera.

I was setting up to illustrate the differences in EV settings and found another good use for a small bag of dry catfood! Fig. 22.
Together with a clothespeg and a sheet of white paper it makes an idea reflector for the small object on the table.
I changed my mind and used some orange poster paper as a backdrop for the following photos.

So here are some examples of how a picture looks when taken at different EV values, ranging from 0.0 in Fig. 23 up to +0.1 in Fig. 26. Fig. 27 is back at 0.0 and Fig. 28 to 30 are minus steps increasingly dark. The first and the fifth are without an EV adjustment.

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I just went outside and took some examples with our clerodendrom which was still in partial sunlight. I started with the first example without using any Exposure Compensation and took samples at different minus values of EV. I didn't include them all here but with these five you can see the difference between no adjustment in the first and six steps into the minus scale to -2.0, which is a little too dark. However I do like the effect at -1.0 and -1.3.

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All photos on this page were taken using the PORTRAIT setting in the SCENE option. Remember that the icon for portrait is a girl's head.
The indoor photos had a WHITE BALANCE setting of "cloudy".

I hope you will be able to try out some of these options. You can do a lot to correct lighting when using automatic settings by making an adjustment with the EV function.

I have the next chapter ready but I think this is enough for one day. It is a fun to use a paper sweep for seamless backgrounds. Really easy!

Please ask if anything isn't clear. If I know the answer I'll be back with a reply.

Until then, thanks for joining me. I'll be uploading the next installment soon.

Sharon (Canarybird)
(All text and photos copyrighted)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Part 2 - Lighting and White Balance

Hi everyone!

For those who are still learning to use their cameras, I hope you are still interested in my little tutorials.

As I mentioned previously, I'm recounting only what I've learned or read in the past years while working with my cameras. But I hope I can help those who haven't had the chance to experiment as much as I have and who are still struggling with the manual.

So let's go once more to look at setting up by a window in daylight. I'm continuing with the numbering of photo examples in case I need to refer back to any one of them by number.

Side Lighting - Daylight

To continue with indoor daylight exposures, let's move the tripod around to the side and see how the subject looks with a light from the window, coming from the left side...(tomatoes and peach haven't shrivelled yet thank heavens). That's also a very beautiful lighting and it has been seen in many paintings of old masters, such as the Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer (remember Girl with the Pearl Earring) where he creates mood magic with light falling from a left window onto household objects and people. We may need a little practice to get the same effect but here you see the highlight on the left side of the tomatoes in the LCD screen Fig. 9.

photo 1

At this moment the camera is in PORTRAIT mode which is found on the SCENE menu with the icon of a girl's head. Portrait mode is meant for capturing subjects that are fairly close to the camera ....imagine someone sitting on a chair in front of you and you are going to take their portrait. In some, if not most digital cameras, portrait mode has a slight warming effect which is meant to enhance skin tones. So it can also be good for taking food shots. If you are without a tripod, hold the camera firmly and brace your elbows against your sides, remembering to press the shutter button halfway to let the camera focus, then smoothly press the rest of the way down.

photo 2

Fig. 10 shows a short tripod good for tabletop photos. At this short distance, there will be some slight distortion of the subject. If my table were a little longer I would probably move the camera back a little and zoom in. Fig. 11 shows the same with a piece of white paper at the right to reflect light onto the dark side.

photo 3

You can see the difference it makes in Fig. 12 where the paper was removed. Look especially at the plate underneath the bowl. Where it is bright in the first photo, it is shadowy in the second. I would need a taller piece of white board or foam to be sure and get the bright reflection on the contents of the bowl as well, although you do see some light reflected on the tomato. Since the camera is so near to the subject I would stay in PORTRAIT mode and add an option to the camera setting by clicking on my TULIP ICON which activates MACRO. Macro can come later, but if you have seen that little tulip on the back of your camera, you should know that it's for taking closeup photos. It can usually be added in to most other camera settings.Fig. 13 shows the photo the camera took at that position on the tabletop tripod.


You may have seen WB or AWB somewhere on your camera menu as you were searching for something else. It's a pretty important part of setting up your camera for taking photos in all light conditions. Nowadays however digital cameras are pretty smart and with SCENE modes, the manufacturers have tried to think of every possible photo situation you may have, from night shots and fireworks to cuisine and have programmed those settings into the camera. However nothing can equal the human eye and cameras sometimes misjudge the type of light in a scene. That's why as well as the always present AUTO, you have adjustable options for telling the camera what type of light you have.

Fig. 14 shows the window setup using a normal tripod and the camera in Portrait mode. I'm going to take some photos to demonstrate WHITE BALANCE.

photo 14
In Fig. 15 you see what comes up after I press the MENU option on my little Olympus Stylus 800.

You see the letters WB as the bottom option. Pressing the bottom button would bring up the White Balance menu.

Fig. 16 shows that WB menu open on my other camera, and there you see there are seven options to choose from.
(Excuse my untidy desk.)

collage 4

AUTO - not hard to figure that out. You let the camera decide what the light temperature is... (warm to cool).

SUNNY - with a sun icon, this is one outdoor setting to choose when you have sun or bright daylight and want to be sure the camera knows that.

CLOUDY - with a cloud icon, this option is also for overcast skies but is nice to use indoors by a window such as this one when the light is not too strong.
I nearly always take my food photos indoors by a window with CLOUDY as the white balance setting.

BULB - with a light bulb icon, this is the setting to use under an incandescent, standard light bulb.
Failure to use this setting in evening photos under lamplight will result in the photo having an orange hue.
Using it in daylight will give a strong blue cast to your picture.

FLUORESCENT 1, 2 & 3 - If you've seen and wondered what these centipede icons are on your camera, now you know. Someone had the bright (no pun intended) idea that a fluorescent bulb icon should look like this. Well whatever, we have to accept that it represents fluorescent bulbs. There are three on my cameras, denoting different temperatures of fluorescent bulbs. I find that the first is warm and adds a nice cosy glow to a photo, despite that it may be daylight with no light bulb in sight. The second appears more neutral and the third adds a mauve cast to a photo. I'm speaking now of a comparison of the effects that setting has in a daylight situation. If you are in an office or shop where there is fluorescent lighting, you could perhaps find your white balance menu and try out those three options. The nice thing is that you can see the difference in your viewfinder while you scroll through them before taking a photo.

AWB...stand for auto white balance, which you may see on a screen or in a menu.

I've taken some photos to demonstrate these differences in white balance. I will leave the first seven as thumbnails. But you see as they are a little darker, the differences in the colour temperatures of the WB settings are quite pronounced. They follow the order of my list above, starting with AUTO and ending with FLUORESCENT 3.

You see the heavy blue of photo 4 in both series. That's the result of using the incandescent bulb setting when you are actually photographing with daylight.
It's the correct setting however for under a light bulb when no daylight is present.

1. Auto
2. Sunny
3. Cloudy
4. Incandescent lightbulb
5. Fluorescent 1 (warm)
6. Fluorescent 2 (neutral)
7. Fluorescent 3 (mauve cast)

3 thumbs

collage 4 thumbs
The next series of seven photos are full size, with the camera setup just as in Fig. 14, using a white paper SWEEP (that comes later) as a seamless background.
I've also increased the EV ...( exposure value or exposure compensation) a little to brighten the pictures and give the 'heavenly' effect to the back light. (EV comes later too.) Since I've raised the exposure value (opened up the lens a bit more) the following photos are quite bright and the differences in the white balance is not so noticeable:

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photo 8
Well I hope this hasn't been too much at once. If so, please just ask me to slow down or explain anything that's not clear.
Next time we'll get into lighting by artificial light, how to use a sweep (other than a broom) and correcting the exposure to lighten or darken your photos with a push of your finger on the EV button.

Until then, thanks for joining me. I'll have the next installment ready soon.

Coming Next: Exposure Compensation (EV)

Sharon (Canarybird)
(All text and photos copyrighted)

Friday, October 16, 2009

Part 1 - Lighting

Hi everyone. Here I hope to be able pass on useful hints in a series of tutorials for beginners on how to take food and tabletop closeup photos. I’m just another self-taught hobby photographer but after taking food photos almost every day over a period of several years while participating in a cooking forum I've established some norms for myself on how to take these pictures.

The tutorials are directed to those who are using entry level point and shoot cameras and who may not have yet been able to digest and fully understand their camera's instruction book. I won't be discussing DSLR (digital single lens reflex) cameras, but will keep within the limits of what you can do to improve photos taken with your point and shoot . The basics about lighting and positioning will apply to both types of cameras.


Light is what defines the shape of an object and is the one factor which can make the difference between a beautiful photograph, an ordinary one, or a downright bad one.
Finding or creating the right lighting for your photos should be your number one concern, especially with food, which can look really unappetizing when photographed in the wrong light, such as flash, or delicious when seen in a good light.

The ideal lighting for tabletop photography, especially food, is natural daylight. But there's a problem when people are wanting to take pictures of their dinner, which is usually an evening meal and in winter especially, a time of day when it is dark.


For the moment though, let's look at one good daylight setup. Perhaps you're baking bread or cakes during the day, or canning and want to show off your work.

Finding the right window in your house is important. Try to find one which is not in full sunshine at picture taking time. There should be indirect light and you should be able to put a table near or under that window, which could be curtained with a thin net if the light is too strong. Most of the time the quality of your photo will depend on finding that window where the light is right. If the window is too high so light doesn’t fall on the subject, get a few books, take out a kitchen drawer and top it with a tray and a cloth to raise up your food plate.

pix 1
Position your camera facing towards the window and pointing down at the subject. FIG 1. (I'll call the plate of food the subject...okay?) If you can mount the camera on a tripod you will have less chance of camera shake although nowadays most cameras have IS (image stabilization) incorporated. Still you are in better control with your hands free, and even more so if you invest in a cable release. That’s a little cord that plugs into the camera with a plunger on the end. Pressing that instead of the camera shutter release button lessens the possibility that you jerk the camera when you shoot. Cable releases are not an expensive extra item and are nice to use.

The light should come down through the window and skim across the food, bringing out the texture. FIG. 2

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Using your optical zoom (not digital zoom) close in a little on the plate until you have it filling your LCD screen or viewfinder. Fig. 3 & 4 show the unzoomed image in the camera and Fig. 5 shows the zoomed image. You are better off moving the tripod back and away from the table a little and then using the zoom to get closer than if you were to place the camera close to the subject. Getting too close will make a distorted picture. You may get that potato in the front line filling up half your picture, while the rest of the plate seems to be falling away at an angle. Move back and zoom in to avoid distortion.

pix 5
The height of the camera is up to you. If you want to show the plate from the same angle as someone who is sitting down to dine, then have the camera at that level, so you can show what’s on the plate. If you are looking more for an art photo at a low angle then get down and take it from a low side angle. It’s up to you how much of the food you want to display. You can always crop out a lot of the plate with post editing if you only want to give a closeup impression of a dinner without showing every carrot or pea on the plate. But we can talk about that later. For now you’re still setting up the camera.

Be careful of too much hard reflection bouncing off any liquid on the plate.You may have to adjust the tripod or move the plate. You may have to turn the plate to avoid too much bright reflection off gravy or sauce. A little is okay but you want to see down into that sauce too, and not have it look like a bright sheet of white ice.

pix 6

If the side of the subject facing you is too dark, then you can easily set up a piece of white paper or styrofoam to reflect the window light back onto the dark side of the subject. FIG. 6

In this example I just taped some white paper onto the nearest objects at hand (a vase and a lantern) to reflect light onto the dark side. You can set up something a little more sophisticated with just some folded cardboard lined with tin foil or white paper. FIG. 7 shows the paper reflecting on the dark side.

pix 7
I love being able to invent things like that out of objects that are already in my house without having to go out and buy professional photo reflectors. But of course they would be nice too!

When you press the shutter, remember to press it half way down and pause a moment while the camera reads the light meter and focuses, Then continue to press all the way down. Some cameras will give an affirmative beep after that half press to let you know that it has your subject in focus. By pressing quickly all the way down without that halfway pause you may have out of focus pictures and wondered why.

Try and practice with some fruit on a plate or dish during some free time during daylight. Take a few pictures on the following settings.

If your camera is like many others, you will have a fully automatic option.Try taking a couple photo on that. Then go to your "scene" modes and try taking a couple on Portrait mode if you can find it, (icon is a girl’s head), and on Indoor, if your camera has that. When you find you’ve taken something you like, make a note of which mode or scene you used.

I know I haven’t yet explained how to take a picture, but next instalment will be about another daylight shoot, taking photos under artificial light and how to set some of the options such as white balance WB and exposure evaluation EV. I hope this has been an easy read and that next time you will learn more.

Before finishing, I'll show here a couple of my best photos taken with my smallest pocket point & shoot, the Olympus Stylus 800 with 8 megapixels. I went to a charity lunch where we were squeezed onto long tables in a crowded room. By extreme luck I was seated across from the only window in the room. It was a tall one with a light white curtain and the light reflected down onto my fish in cream sauce and the luscious creamy dulce de leche in a way that I thought was a perfect example of what I have shown above in FIG. 1. The light is skimming across the food into the camera, leaving lovely reflections. Here are the pictures. Just shows you don't always need the most expensive camera when you have the right light and correct exposure.

collage from Esentzia

Thanks for joining me.
I'll have the next installment ready soon.

Coming next: Lighting and White Balance

Sharon (Canarybird)
(All text and photos copyrighted)
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