Our photography has been a long journey for us and we wanted to share our totally incomplete knowledge of food photography with you! One of the first questions we get asked is "what kind of camera do you have?". We think the more important question to ask is "what kind of lights do you have?". Of course talking about your newest umbrella lighting with 5,550 kelvin bulbs is not nearly as exciting as talking about the latest camera or the biggest lens but it does introduce the second most important part of food photography: lighting. The first is composition. Third is camera settings. Last is the equipment your using. If this sounds like there's a lot to think about to taking a picture "right", it's because there is. Not that we do it "right" most of the time...
When Eric was taking photography in college his professor spent an entire lecture on making pictures versus taking pictures. Anyone can grab a camera and push the button, do it enough and you're bound to get something that looks good. The problem with that is you didn't really create that and most people would be hard pressed to do it again. When you approach a picture with an intent, a goal of how you want the picture to look, then you're making pictures. When you look through the lens (or at the screen on the back) you should be focused on all the elements of the picture. Is it in focus? Whats in the background? Is the subject really the subject or does it get lost in the picture? By far this is our biggest ongoing challenge. Some weeks we'll absolutely love an image only to have the important part out of focus or dirty dishes in the background. We have lots of those pictures sitting on the hard drive. On the cannoli's, we didn't work hard enough to control the lighting, so there are some harsh shadows and the background is too busy. Oh well, they still tasted great. There are some basic, generic guidelines for photography and tons of tips on the internet, but the best way to get better is to practice, practice, practice. Then look over what you've got and try to figure out what you can improve next time.
We mentioned lighting before and it is often the make or break feature of a picture. Have you ever taken a picture, thought it was going to be great then looked at it and realized it was super dark or everything looked washed out? Yeah, us too. A lot. Which is one of the reasons we've really been exploring our lighting situation. Most photographers try and shoot during the early morning or later in the afternoon, when its light out but the sun isn't hitting the subject straight on. There are two reasons for this, the sun has the best light color and there are fewer harsh shadows. There's a great article on light color here and another one on how to use different times of day to make different pictures. We shoot at night much of the time, especially in winter so re-creating daylight is our biggest challenge. We're constantly battling shadows and bad light color and crowding our kitchen with funny lights like these. The umbrellas diffuse the light and the really big CFLs cast a bright pretty close to true color for us. If you're not up for buying fancy lights, grab an extra stand lamp, and cover the bulb with a piece of wax paper or a paper towel for a super easy DIY diffused light source. You'll be shocked at the difference it makes. We also use a flash that points straight up. The light bounces off the ceiling and gives a very soft glow to everything and really makes life easier. Look at the lemon bread, can you figure out where the main light source was?
There are a handful of settings we're pretty religious about using when we shoot our food. Format, ISO, Aperture and Shutter Speed are the main ones. For the extra nerdy: most of our pictures are shot in RAW at iso 400, f/2.5 - 3.5 and at 1/60 of a second. If you didn't quite catch that, check out the basics of exposure section at this site, it does a pretty good job of explaining. We want to point out the two things we think are the most important to food photography: RAW and depth of field.
When we say RAW, we're talking about how your camera saves the image. Most people are familiar with jpeg, which is a kind of image file where your camera takes all the different settings and then saves it as a single basic file. With jpeg, what you see is basically what you get. It takes a lot of work in Photoshop to really fix a jpeg file. With RAW, the camera creates a digital file that is simply a set of instructions on how a computer can re-create the image. That means things like exposure and white balance can be adjusted separately. You end up with such fine tuned controls that its super easy to save an otherwise ruined image. This salad saw quite a bit of color processing. Upped the exposure, corrected the white balance etc. In the original image, the cheese was blue. It's a little intimidating at first and will take some time to learn, but once you shoot in RAW, you'll never go back!
Depth of field is all about controlling what is in focus and what isn't. Having this sort of control is really dependent on the lens you're using and how "open" it can get. If you followed the link in the earlier section, you'll know a camera uses two settings to control how much light gets into the image: how long the shutter is open (shutter speed) and how open the lens gets (aperture). When the lens is wide open (smallest number on the aperture scale) tons and tons of light is getting in, but the area that the lens can focus in really small. The bigger the lens, the more pronounced. We really try and harness this effect as much as we can even though it doesn't always work out the way we want. On most cameras, the setting to control the aperture is usually marked Av, and will give you a number to change. Most basic lenses (and point and shoot cameras) have a range from somewhere around 3.5 or 4 up to 22 or so. When you start looking at some of the bigger, more expensive lens's you'll see numbers go down to 1.2! This picture of the ravioli is taken at f/2.5, the best our macro lens will do. It takes some practice to get used to using it, so grab your camera and shoot away!
Okay okay, now the fun part: Eric's toys! Err, our equipment!
Canon T1i DSLR 15.1 MP - Some people like Nikon but Eric grew up with a Canon film camera and all the lenses worked with our new one so we stuck with the brand. Using a DSLR inststead of a regular point and shoot gives us way more control over the camera to set things like aperture and shutter speed. It takes a lot of practice but once you get a handle on it, it becomes second nature. This is our collection of stuff. Lots of lenses!
Canon 50mm f/1.8 - This is pretty much the standard, everyone should own one lens. We just got ours last week. Bad us. Notice the f/1.8. You will get some amazing pictures that show off the great depth of field this can do. This is the 50mm on the right.
Canon 50mm f/2.5 Macro - This is Canon's flagship macro lens. The macro part means it can focus in really close to the subject. This is how we get those pictures
Canon Speedlite 580 EX II - We love this thing. We started out with a really cheap generic lens from ebay, which worked pretty well once we adapted to how it worked, but this flash adapts to us. It measures how much light your picture is going to need, knows where it's pointed and applies just the right amount.
Canon "kit" lenses - These two lenses cover most of our basic, every day work. They are also super light and easy to carry around. We don't use the bigger one much anymore ever since Eric got his baby. It does reach a little farther and has image stabilization, so its easier to hand-hold. It is also a ton lighter than the Sigma, so Charisse likes it for that.
Eric's Baby (Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8) - Eric loves this lens. He really does, sometimes even more than the dog. With the low f-stop it can shoot really well in low lighting situations and provide great depth of field. We don't use it much for food, but it's Eric's go to lens when we're out and about.
We license most of our images under the Creative Commons specifically for Non Commercial Use. If you'd like to use one of our images commercially (anything that makes money), contact us and we will help you license it. While we always recommend you take your own pictures (you'll enjoy it that much more) we extend an an offer to other bloggers to use our images, providing that you link back to either our Flickr account or foodies@home. Again, contact us for details and to receive an un-watermarked copy. Select images are for sale as prints and other cool things through our website.