The Fresh Loaf

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Photography For Bakers - Venturing Beyond the Auto Setting

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rossnroller's picture
rossnroller

Photography For Bakers - Venturing Beyond the Auto Setting

The basics of food photography were well covered by Eric in his excellent posts on this thread. Well worth a careful reading for those who wish to improve their point-and-click bread shots.

I picked up the topic again on PiPs' recent post, and rather than risking hijacking the thread by continuing the discussion further there, thought the time was opportune to open another food photography thread, this time seeking some tips on slightly more advanced aspects of food photography. Yes, there are plenty of places on the web that cover food and other photography, but I'm not a photography geek and really am only interested in improving my bread pics. I can think of no better place than here to put out the feelers for some more good relevant info. I think it's safe to assume I'm not alone on TFL in this interest.

One glad lesson that emerged from Eric and PiPs' threads was that it is not necessary to have an expensive camera to achieve some very impressive bread pics. I don't think you need to go to an SLR unless you're a serious hobbyist or pro. A good quality compact digital camera is quite sufficient (two posters who spring immediately to mind who amply demonstrate that are PiPs and HansJoachim).

I have a Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5 - from the raves about this baby on photography forums, I can't complain about my equipment! Yet, all I have done with my camera so far is point and click using the auto setting. I know I am not getting the most out of my camera. I have a basic knowledge of what to do to get a half-decent shot (eg: arrange the subject as attractively as possible, trying taking shots from different angles, use good natural lighting where possible, focus, and don't move the camera when clicking!), but that's about it. I find the camera manual hard to read, especially since I'm only interested in food photography - the manual is necessarily expansive and general.

I'm wondering if some of the more experienced photographers out there could give a few pointers about slightly more advanced aspects of food photography for folk like me who have never graduated from the auto setting, but would like to do so. I suppose I'm after a short-cut: some more advanced principles and settings specific to food photography, so I don't have to wade through great volumes of more general stuff that are not relevant to me. Please assume zero terminological or technical photographic knowledge! At the moment, I don't know my aperture from my______ (you can fill in the missing word).

Any tips gratefully received.

Cheers all
Ross

bemonkey's picture
bemonkey

Ross,

I am glad you started this topic for I would love to know more bout this as well. I love taking pictures of my cooking, baking, and cake decorating and it would be nice to know how to use better my Sony DSLR A330. Looking forward to reading this discussion.

bemonkey (Vesna)

HeidiH's picture
HeidiH

This would be very helpful for those of us with basic digital cameras -- especially as it relates to bread pictures.  Getting the crumb shot to look like the real thing and show the detail, for example. 

Happily, with digital, we can do what the pros do, which is take lots of shots and choose the best one.

My camera is a 5-year old Kodak from the discount store but it has stood me in good stead so far.

thomaschacon's picture
thomaschacon (not verified)

Lighting: The most important aspect is lighting. You can't always bank on having bright, natural sunlight (unless you live in sunny Colorado), but using just a bright, handheld light or directed lighting will improve your photos immensely.

Multiplicity: Take many, many shots (which is much easier to do now that we have digitial cameras) and choose one or two, discarding the rest. Too many people try for the perfect shot, but unless you have a professional's eye, there are far too many variables to control for. How many times does your shot come out even remotely similar to what you see in the viewfinder? Even most professional photographers take tens of hundreds of shots of the same set and choose the best of the bunch, even photographers that can tell you what all those knobs and buttons do on that $3000 camera.

Post-processing: This can go too far in some people's hands, but you'd be surprised how much better you can make a photgraph by adjusting it in Photoshop. Even simple adjustments to brightness, contrast, tone, and sharpness make a world of difference.

thomaschacon's picture
thomaschacon (not verified)

And, if you're using a point-and-shoot, there's likely a setting called "macro", for "macro photography", which food photography isn't, per se, but you'd be surprised how much of a difference that setting can make for your food photography.

(Why they call it's "macro", I'll never know. It seems more intuitive (to me) to call it "micro" but, in photography, almost nothing is named or scaled intuitively.)

rossnroller's picture
rossnroller

Aware of the first two points (Eric's great original post covered the basics very well), and I guess I was mostly after tips on getting more out of my camera using settings other than auto - but Photoshop/photo editing software is something that should be added to the equation. Thanks for bringing this up. I share your view on post-processing (assuming you're going for a natural look), but unfortunately, not your familiarity with Photoshop! More work ahead...

Cheers
Ross

GermanFoodie's picture
GermanFoodie

1. Your best source is natural light, preferably coming from a window. Diffuse it with a white curtain. I built myself a very simple frame structure with stretcher frames so I can control my environment better. If you have no good natural light source, get yourself a utility clamp light or something similar and make sure your bulb is daylight equivalent. ALWAYS diffuse it, though, and ALWAYS use a tripod.

2. Already mentioned a tripod. This will enable you to photograph with ambient light no matter how much of it there is and not worry about camera shake.

3. SIMPLE. Keep your compositions simple. Start with just the loaf, then maybe the cut loaf etc. Don't overload your frame, especially if you are not sure about arranging things. Also, the crumb on a loaf is always more interesting than just the loaf itself, unless the outside is incredibly stunning. Props are nice, but all I am using, for example, are some baskets and hand-thrown pottery, along with some cloths.

4. Close in. Somebody already mentioned macro - come as close to your subject as your camera will allow.

5. Always take pictures from all angles. Up above, down below, from all sides. The more often you do this, the better a feel you will develop for what "works".

6. Many point-and-shoots have a manual setting. If you learn how to use that (many cameras also have a built-in light meter), your photographs will improve.

7. As far as post-processing: If you can, shoot RAW and then use something light Lightroom or Photoshop Elements. There are also some free tools available online. Photoshop is typically overkill for an amateur, but Lightroom does most of what you need and very efficiently. In any case, adjust your white balance, especially if you are using artificial light sources.

8. Practice.

Here are some examples of my own latest bread photographs:

 

rossnroller's picture
rossnroller

And excellent pic examples.

Your point #6 is the main focus (sorry...hard to avoid these groan-inducing puns) for me at the moment.

Cheers
Ross

PiPs's picture
PiPs

Sofie has fantastic comments and suggestions...and great photos as well :)

Less technical points maybe...have a look at Sofies great images in this post. Notice how the foreground and background are slightly blurred. This is to do with "depth of field" (google it maybe) But it allows the photographer to focus all your attention on a given subject. By playing with your cameras manual settings, namely aperture, you can start experimenting with depth of field.

Hate to say it, but a dSLR with a suitable lens will give you better and more consistent results than a point and shoot. I do use both, and they both have strengths and weaknesses but I find I have to work a lot harder and take many more shots with a point and shoot until I am happy with the result. It is possible.

I haven't used a lot of props, but the textures your bread is on or around makes a difference. Bread is a natural product and looks at home with warm inviting materials like a well used bread board or pottery. Pick your prop for subject e.g. A rustic miche is not well suited to a shiny plastic plate. :)

Photoshop or any other editing/correction does help. I work as a graphic designer so I have used photoshop for years, but I am very sparing when I do use it. A slight colour correction, rotation/crop and cleanup of unwanted marks and that's it. You can go over the top and most people can tell when you do.

... and play, have fun. Digital cameras are great and give instant satisfaction and feedback. Fill that memory card and fill it again if your still not happy.

Cheers, Phil

 

lumos's picture
lumos

This is exactly what I've been trying to figure out how to do it.

Notice how the foreground and background are slightly blurred. This is to do with "depth of field"

Been wondering it can be only achieved with a SLR, but from what you're saying,  am I right in understanding you can do it even with a point-and-shoot digital camera, just by using manual setting?  (I use Panasonic LUMIX) 

Gosh.......One of the reason I'd been resisting the urge to start my own bread blog was because I often tend to get too obsessive with any new 'hobby' I start and I knew I'd be spending hours and hours trying to take a good enough photo for the blog.  So this is exactly what I wanted to avoid, but here I am.......:p

ehanner's picture
ehanner

Depending on the lens and the aperture setting, the depth of focus varies. That is to say the amount of depth that appears to be in focus or not fuzzy is controlled by the aperture or lens opening. For example if you use the manual settings and select aperture priority (A on most cameras), you can set the aperture and the camera will select the shutter setting. If you set the lens wide open, F2.4 I believe on your camera, the amount of depth that will be in focus will be the shortest possible. On the other hand, if you set the lens aperture setting at a higher F number like say, F11, the focal range will be longer. More of the depth will appear to be sharp.

Your eye will automatically go to the area of sharpest detail so make sure that your focal points are on the part of the frame you want to be the key element. The ratio on most lenses is 1/3:2/3. So if you stand up 10 dominoes equally spaced in a row and shoot down the row, if you focus on number 3 or 4, number 1 and 10 will be equally fuzzy. Only the one you focus on will be perfectly sharp and the sharpness of the others is determined by the F stop (aperture setting).

We use sharpness to define what part of the image is important to us. Our eyes are drawn to the sharpest part of the image. If you are shooting a slice of bread to show the evenness of the cells, it will benefit the effect if the bread is facing the lens squarely so the depth of focus limits don't display part of the image out of focus.

The remaining consideration is having the light strike across the surface of the slice to show off the details in the crumb.

Lumos, you are a very good baker. I would encourage you to pursue writing your own blog. Learning to take close dramatic images is within your grasp from what I have seen of you work here. There are just a few important elements you need to practice on and you will be on your way. I'll PM you.

Eric

 

thomaschacon's picture
thomaschacon (not verified)

...there is depth to the field.

Too many people use it in food photography, which is tightly-focused (at least usually) by composition and often lacks any relevant field depth. For example, when they take a picture of a chocolate chip cookie and use depth of field blurring to say "THIS IS WHAT A CHOCOLATE CHIP LOOKS LIKE." Forget the fact that 95% of the frame is blur. 

My guidance is that, if there's no depth to your field, avoid using it at all, or you risk ruining the composition by putting "the blur" on a same or greater level of importance with the subject. There are so many better ways to focus: light and shadow, positive and negative space, off-centering, etc.

These photos, for example, might as well be a photos of depth of field:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/stevenbrisson/4568039580/

http://www.flickr.com/photos/thorsten-photography/3962720967/

(Strange how people that overuse/misuse it are also quick to use watermarks to copyright their work).

rossnroller's picture
rossnroller

...now that's something to investigate further. Thanks, PiPs.

Cheers
Ross

jaywillie's picture
jaywillie

I'll jump in and add some things. As a graphic designer, I work with photography and photographers every day, and I'm also a serious amateur photographer. (I'd claim to be award-winning, but it's only ribbons from the state fair!) I do landscapes and abstracts, not food, but the photographic and compositional principles are the same. (Here's a good food shooter for you: http://www.foodportfolio.com/food_photography/index.html)

Sofie's comments are very good, as are others already posted. I would reiterate her suggestion about using a tripod -- and I would make it mandatory. Steadying your camera allows you to be more flexible with your lighting, since most of us are not going to have anything close to pro lighting setups in our kitchens. If your camera doesn't have a cable release or a remote release, use the timer feature. The point is to get your hands off the camera when the photo is being exposed. 

Lighting is everything. You're not taking a photo of bread, you're taking a photo of light. That's the high-falutin' language of the pro shooters. :) But it's true. Go down to Home Depot and get a couple clamp-on lights and some low-wattage bulbs, and start using them. Use a warm, yellow light -- not yellow-colored, but not a fluorescent or LED, which are blue-white -- because the yellow light is going to work well with the browns of your bread. Your camera will no doubt compensate for that color, since you probably have it set to auto color temperature, but as you learn you can turn that off and see the difference. Try lighting from different angles -- never head-on, but from the sides, slightly in front, even from behind and to the side. If you want to really get into lighting, there's lots of info on the Web about lighting for photography. 

And we have to mention food styling. (There are folks who make a living styling food for photographers! What a world. http://www.latartinegourmande.com/2007/06/09/styling-and-photographing-food-as-professions-profession-styliste-et-photographe-culinaires/)

Look at everything you are going to present in your photo. Look at the loaf, the slice, of course, but it's crucial to take a close look, with a critical eye, at the rest of the frame. What's in the foreground, what's in the background? What colors are you using? On TFL I see lots of brown loaves on brown cutting boards. (I've been guilty of that myself because I just want a shot of my bread, not a photo for public consumption.) If you want a better photo, choose a background color that complements your loaf -- look at surrounding your loaf with yellows, golds, warm reds -- and avoid colors that are extensions of the color of the loaf -- tans, browns, etc., which will not show off the loaf because it will just blend into the background. Blues can work, because they are a strong contrast to oranges and browns. The right blues will make the loaf pop pretty well. I'd avoid greens, browns, blacks (check your countertops...). Just my opinion, and every setup is going to be different. 

Go to your local Goodwill and look for placemats, towels, tablecloths, table linens, etc., in colors and textures. Use solids and avoid busy patterns. You want folks to see your bread, not the patterns You could put together some nice still lifes on the cheap. 

I'm going to use Sofie's photos above to make a couple final points. Look at those four photos. Which ones do you like? Note the vertical with the wine glass. What seems to be the most important thing? My eye is drawn to the blue bowl with the olives. If I was most interested in showing off the loaf -- and I have no idea if that's what she was trying to do with that shot -- I'd put that bowl and the olives *behind* the loaf. And that loaf that's half off the frame is a problem -- it leads the eye away from the subject. Get your main subject out front, or at least make sure it's the most prominent thing in the frame. I'd have a similar suggestion about her other olive shot  (Sofie seems to like olives) -- try those salami/olive rollups *behind* the slices and see what that looks like. But the diagonals of that composition -- see the salami, the slices? Not flat, not horizontal -- are a nice touch. And the marching olives can lead your eye right to the slice. However, the toothpicks are distracting for me. I'd have her cut them off about 1/8" above the olives. 

Good luck! 

 Jonathan 

rossnroller's picture
rossnroller

Thank you! I found your observations on Sofie's pics very illuminating. Not sure if others are the same, but I learn best via example. Terrif!

A few follow-up queries, if you don't mind.

      1. Do you have any of the clamp-on lights you refer to? If so, would you mind posting a pic of them? Can't quite picture what you mean.
      2. Could you pls explain why you recommend getting low-wattage bulbs? I've been labouring under the (mis)apprehension that brighter = better in photography as far as light sources are concerned. Also, I'm not sure the old incandescent bulbs are easily available here (although I haven't checked specifically).  I read somewhere that of the CFLs, the 'bright/daylight' ones are best for photography. Assuming only CFLs are available (and dismissing LCD as a choice), which type would you recommend? (I know the 'warm' ones we have in the kitchen are crap for photography...my many greenish tinged pizza shots are testament to that!).
      3. Very useful comments on background colours! I'm one of the worst of the brown wooden board/benchtop culprits, and have just graduated to using a dull black pot belly stovetop for my bread pics. Wrong wrong wrong! Have carefully noted your recommended compatible background colours.

Cheers!
Ross

ehanner's picture
ehanner

Ross,

Thanks for linking to my post  a couple years ago on photographing bread products. After re reading it, it's still a pretty good thread on the subject. So what is it you would like help with exactly? I see you bought an excellent pocket sized camera. All you need to know about that lens is spelled out on the front of the lens. Just 5 letters "Leica". I'd like to see some landscape photos from that glass Ross, I'll bet it is a beautiful lens from what I have read about it.

The only changes I would make to my old post is that I am now rather amazed at the quality images I have seen from a $150. pocket Canon digital camera. Your Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5 will blow away just about all the competition, pocket or SLR in that price range. My daughter has a Canon in that range and she gets remarkably crisp images.

In general the subject of advanced digital photography should be approached in compartments. You first need to understand what controls you have available on the camera and how they can be used to help you get the image you desire. Then, learn how to record a controlled image of an egg in a cup stand, lit by only one bright light. The egg should be at lens level and the background should be black. The image should be a study in shades of light. A white egg on a black background, up close. Shoot in color. All you need is a small directional light and some black velvet, and a tripod. The effort to do this simple image will teach you a lot about using light to create a dramatic image. You will need darkness unless you have a very dark room you can set up in. I'd be happy to help you and this is where I would start, with the basics. You can send me a PM with questions and results of your efforts. My direct email is ehanner at gmail dot com.

Eric

 

 

rossnroller's picture
rossnroller

I would love to take you up on that. Will send through a PM directly. I hope I'm not going to be too dim a student, though!

On one hand, I was reassured and chuffed by your comments on my camera. I did a lot of research before I decided on that one, so good to have your informed seal of approval. OTOH, I now have no excuse for not producing better pics! You know what they say about bad workmen and their tools. You've whipped this old standby out from under my bumbling feet!

In response to your request for clarification on what I would like help with: just getting to know how to use manual settings specifically for food pics is my short answer. eg: depth of focus is a term I'm somewhat familar with in terms of the theory, but I have no idea how to use my camera to exploit this practically. Part of my ignorance is due to laziness. I will now commit to spending some time carefully reading through the manual, instead of making a start and giving up within minutes of trying to engage my non-technical brain.

Your egg experiment sounds like a perfect way to get to know what's what. Again, thanks so much for offering to share some of your experience with a point-and-clicker like moi.

Cheers!
Ross

varda's picture
varda

I just picked up Digital SLR Cameras and Photography for Dummies, hoping to get a little insight into all this.   But most of my education comes from this site.   Yesterday I was going through Txfarmer's blog just to look at the pictures - is she a professional photographer?    I note that she never puts her subject in the middle of the frame.   (There are a lot of other things to notice as well, but this is striking.)   See for instance her latest baguette photos where her slices are down at the bottom of a skinny tall frame.    If your focus is supposed to be on the thing you are featuring how do you do it if the thing you are featuring is not centered?    Or does she simply use photo editing to reframe the shot after it is taken?    Does anyone understand the compositional "rules" she is using?   (That includes you Txfarmer, I just don't know if you will be reading this.)

ehanner's picture
ehanner

The general rules used by many photographers is to divide the shape into 9 equal squares. Two vertical lines and two horizontal lines. The intersections of the lines are where you place the key element or subject strong point. This isn't a cast in stone rule but it's a  good place to start. You can see in many of txfarmers images she is drawn to using these intersections. You would want to shoot the image wide enough to give yourself some room to compose the final crop in editing software such as Photoshop.

If you look at Pips post of excellent images HERE, you see his use of thirds expressed very well.

Eric

rossnroller's picture
rossnroller

The light suddenly goes on! I have by accident activated this 9 square grid function on my camera (can't remember how I did it, or what it's actually called). I was panicking trying to get rid of it!

Thanks, Eric, for this lesson in composition, and Varda for the question that brought up the topic.

Cheers!
Ross

rossnroller's picture
rossnroller

I have commented directly on some of the posts on this thread, but just want to say a general thanks to all who have contributed. I've had a break from the computer going into the weekend, and was wowed when I logged on and came upon this terrific response. You've prompted me to act - at last - on a long-neglected resolution to move beyond the auto function. I think other point-and-clickers will be similarly inspired. Great stuff!

Cheers all
Ross

EvaB's picture
EvaB

but having lived with a brother who was a great photographer, and learning over the years what he looked for when he took pictures etc, I can manage to wander along with some not too bad pictures. I just managed to get the macro function to work for the first time, and it does work well for closer up shots, so that will be a further help to my crumb shots in the future.

But for me the best tool, is my Paint Shop Pro7 programme, it lets me crop, resize and lighten up some of my pictures, I also use Picasa3 to store my pictures on my computer with. I have Adobe and Adobe Elements but took them off the computer as they tend to want to take over everything and are more difficult for me to work with.

I do a lot of scanning and repairing old family photos so you can see the people in them, not the dark dim shots of home photographers or the faded pictures and the Paint Shop has excellent tools for that, so am familiar with how to improve the picture without over working it.

So my best advice is to get the camera out, get some software so you can play (by the way always play with a duplicate of the original not the original) and see what each function in the software does to the pictures. Try out all the settings on the camera, landscape on mine, doesn't trigger the flash, which is good to know because it sometimes goes off when I don't want it to.

As to the clamp on lights, think student, bedroom and Wal Mart or other large store. I got two small lamps that will clamp on with a big spring clip (clothespin on steroids) and they were from Zellers and I got them on mark down as they were in housewares, and the wrong colour for the season. A 15 dollar lamp for 7 wasn't bad. I have a larger adjustable arm student clamp on the desk lamp that I use for my cross stitch, it has a magnifier as well, and that one I bought at a farm store believe it or not, for under 20$ you just have to look in places you don't normally wander through, and ASK a clerk if you can find one in the area they might be able to lead you right to it, and then the only problem becomes what colour, or what price.