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.
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.
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)