blogging, behind the scenes—snapping the photo

Posted on Aug 27, 2011 in Career

Missed the other entries in the Blogging, Behind the Scenes series? Check them out here.

I waxed on for almost 1500 words about styling for food photography in the last post in the series. Now that I’ve explained (in painful detail) what I go through to set up a photo, let’s talk about actually capturing the photo. I have no desire to write-up a tutorial on shutter speed, f-stops, lighting or how to use your camera—there are lots of great guides about that out on the internets— but what I do want to do is share with you what I’ve figured out works for me, my schedule and my photos. So let’s talk about the basics first, my equipment.

Equipment

I use three different cameras to produce the photos for the blog: my camera (which I use 99% of the time), Babyface’s camera and a point-and-shoot. For those of you photography nerds out there, here are the official deets on the equipment:

I like my camera just fine. It was a hand-me-down from Babyface when he upgraded and it is light, easy to understand and does everything I need it to do. Babyface also invested in a tres expensive lens (the first one listed up there) and I would say it is actually on my camera more than it is on his. We made sure to only purchase lenses that would work on both of our camera bodies. I love that lens and use it almost exclusively for food photography. However, it is very large and very heavy, so when I’m mobile (for example, What I Ate Wednesday), I use my kit lens (which means the lens that came with the camera). It is the second lens listed above. The quality isn’t nearly as good as the first lens, but it makes the camera roughly 1000 pounds lighter and does everything I need it to do. I rarely use the fixed 50mm, third lens listed, but when I do, I use when I want to shoot in extremely low light conditions without lighting the scene. I’ll also use this lens on the rare occasion that I need to shoot food, but Babyface is out shooting with the first lens (AKA in our house: “the good lens”).

The point and shoot is for when I want to be extremely mobile (hiking, racing, etc.) and even though our camera is pushing 5 years old, I’m still very happy with the quality of the photos that come off it.

There are also a lot of photography gadgets out there that can be fun and make your life easier. My absolute favorite is the Eye-Fi card. After a small amount of set-up, the Eye-Fi card will wireless transfer photos from your camera to your computer. No need to find cords or wait for your camera to show up on your computer. I’d say the Eye Fi card was absolutely one of the best investments for blogging. It makes my life a million times easier. It is so nice to shoot a bunch of photos, and then immediately go to my computer and check the quality. Not a necessity, by any means, but convenient as can be!

Lighting

My lighting set up is less-than-sophisticated. Honestly, during my first winter blogging, I found myself in tears more than one dark night when I couldn’t get any good photos with off-camera lighting. We tried lightboxes, strobes, daylight bulbs, and nothing made me happy like natural light. So now, I shoot absolutely every one of my food photos in natural light. In the summer, this is extremely easy. By the time December rolls around, it becomes a bit more difficult and takes some serious pre-planning. In the winter, I’ll do almost all of my cooking and photography on the weekends so I can shoot in natural light. I know a lot of bloggers have great results with lightboxes and daylight bulbs, but I am not one of them. I just can’t seem to make them work for me, so I stick to the good ole sun.

As far as the actual set up, our dining room table butts up against a West-facing window, which is nice and bright, but not entirely ideal because of the direct light. But it’s the only window that works in our apartment layout. To solve the issue of direct light, we have $2 sheers from K-mart over the window that work as a perfect diffuser and look pretty.

On the opposite side of the window, I have a reflector, which is literally just two pieces of white plastic board (you could use foamcore, posterboard, cardboard, whatever) taped together.  The taped “hinge” allows me to position the reflector however I need it depending on the location of the sun and the food.

I do, on the rare occasion, use off camera lighting. This is usually when I need to shoot inside our windowless kitchen (think: on the stove). We replaced the bulbs over our stove with daylight bulbs. The bulbs give off a blue cast to the naked eye, but really help to balance out the light once in the camera. We also have a clamp lamp that has a daylight bulb in it to fill light in other parts of the kitchen.

Taking the picture

Wow, that was a whole lot before we ever got to pressing the shutter, wasn’t it? Like I said, I’m not going to go into photography basics, but I will touch on a few of my “rules” for snapping the photo.

Manual, manual, manual!

I did my first few months of blogging on the auto setting of the camera and my photos were fine, but they really turned to spectacular when I disengaged auto-pilot and forced myself to learn manual shooting. At first I was really uncomfortable and had no idea what I was doing, but slowly I began to realize that I had more control and could make a photo look exactly how I wanted it too. Now, I hate shooting on auto because I feel like I don’t have enough control over the final product.

Tripod-free zone.

All the “real” photographers out there are totally cringing at this, but I never use a tripod. Would my pictures improve? Yes. Would my quality of life improve? Heck no. I find tripods bulky, limiting and totally immobile. Maybe one day I’ll change my tune, but for now, I shoot everything with my own two hands.

Shutter speed, ISO, and aperture.

I tend to shoot at a very low ISO (keeps photos smooth, not grainy), a very low aperture (keeps the background of the photo blurry, while the focus is sharp) and a medium shutter speed (which allows more light to come into the camera).

More is better.

I would say I average 4-6 photos per post for recipes, but I’d say I shoot 75-100 for each recipe. The bigger your pool of photos to choose from, the better chance you are going to have a handful of really spectacular ones. I shoot from all angles. Stand up. Sit down. Stand on a chair. Sit on the floor. Switch sides. Rearrange stuff. Change the lighting. Change the reflector. You never know what you are going to like. And truthfully, that little tiny display on the camera LIES. On Babyface’s camera, it is a very high-quality display and it makes photos look like you are God’s gift to photography. On my camera, the display is low quality and makes photos look much less impressive than they actually are. Just keep shooting. At least until you get the hang of it.

Alright, so there is my actual shooting process. Next week, I’ll put down the camera and talk about how the photos make it from the Eye-Fi card to the blog.


Do you use natural lighting for your photos? Or do you try to light them?

3 Comments

  1. My house is like a cave. I really don’t have anywhere to get the awesome natural light I so desperately need for my photos, so right now I try to do the best I can with what I have.

  2. I almost never use a tripod! It really only comes out if I’m doing long exposures for a specific effect.

  3. My husband just got me a “Square photo studio” which I’ve been trying to get used to shooting with now that summer is winding down. It’s basically a big white foldup photo cube (like a white popup hamper) with different backgrounds you can velcro to it, and two stand lights to place on either side. I have to say I still like shooting in natural light better, but it’s nice to have a means to get a pretty good picture, even if you are cooking at 10pm! I’ll have to try using the white boards as you do … seems easier to maneuver and control than a giant cube :). Thanks for sharing the details on your setup. I enjoy your blog very much!

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