2.10.2013

Another food photograph from two weeks ago.

An Omelette with fresh vegetables from Garrido's Restaurant. Fresh fruit on the side.

Here's a quick way to kill a photography blog: Just show actual, commercial photographs and talk about how they were done. When I post some rambling article about my vague and contradictory feelings about being a photographer we get lots of pithy and even encouraging comments and feed back. When we talk about cameras, particularly mirror-less Olympus cameras, there's a crowd waiting to chip in with commentary, critiques and full blooded denial. Open up a can of EVF versus OVF and watch the sparks fly. But talk about the making of photographs seems to peel off the number of readers the way showing Alan Alda movies peels off male audiences.

Being the contrarian I am I'll just go ahead and post one more blog killing actual assignment photo post and see if I can save Google and Blogger some bandwidth.

Wednesday, a week and a half ago, my art director client, Lane, and I were making images of various entreés and appetitizers at David Garrido's restaurant on Third Street. I hauled in an assortment of older, first generation LED panels and set up a traditional beautiful food lighting design.


Here is the scene from the front. I'm using two big, pop-up reflectors to bounce light from the rear lights onto the food. In this image I haven't set up the main lighting yet. Most of the light will come from behind and above the food and the reflectors will fill in the front areas of the food. You could use foamcore panels, or just about anything else white or silver to reflect back in.  The beauty of using reflectors instead of actual light sources for the fill in is that they don't create secondary shadows and are easy to move in toward the food and back out again as needed. Some stuff needs less fill while some stuff needs more fill.


The image above shots two 1,000 LED bulb fixtures right up next to the back wall of tile you see in the first set up shot. The fixtures are both covered with 1/4 strength magenta gels to mitigate the green spike that dogged the first generation LED panels. The magenta filter gets the lights much closer to neutral and makes it an easy custom white balance for the current generation of professional digital cameras. The lights are both aimed through a 1.5 stop silk diffusion screen to soften the light and flatten out specular highlights. The screen is held in place with a grip head that allows me to rotate the panel into a more horizontal or vertical position, depending on the needs of a particular dish. This is something you do to taste by looking at the results in camera.


The image directly above shows a 500 bulb, first generation, LED panel pointed directly at the tiled wall that shows directly behind the food. This gives me a consistent color and value to the background. Note the 1/4 value magenta gel filter clamped onto the barn doors of the fixture with clothespins. It matches the color values of the main lights described above. I did not need to diffuse or modify the output of this panel. I judged the needed strength by observing the whole scene from the camera position. A back light can be critical to create lively separation between the front and back of the scene and also serves to add the appearance of depth to a photograph.


The image directly above shows the way the panel is configured on its own stand and placed in front of the main lights. I could have used flash, tungsten or florescent lights instead of LEDs but the most important part of the lighting set up is nearly always the modifier itself. It is the modifier more than the light source that determines the look of the light on a subject.  If the modifier is placed closer to the light source the light will be a bit "harder" or more focused. If the modifier is moved closer to the food and further from the light source the appearance of the lighting will be "softer" and less focused.  Regardless of the actual lighting instrument used.

Why use LEDs to do food photography like this? The constant WYSIWYG nature of the light makes the set up and positioning of food much, much easier than the relentless shoot/chimp/shoot/chimp method required by flash while the lack of heat on the food (and on the photographer and crew) trumps the potentially higher output of tungsten lighting.  I've stopped using florescents altogether because the tubes are too fragile for travel (at least the way I do it) and most florescents are harder to color match to daylight.

We worked quickly on this shoot and as soon as we saw what we liked with the stand in plate we had the chef make our hero plate. Careful attention is paid to making sure the food is fresh from the kitchen and plated so that juices from meats or vegetables or sauces doesn't run or pool before we shoot it.

It's important to note that most food photography like this is done to create a mood that subliminally describes both the atmosphere of the restaurant and the visceral pleasure of the food. It's never meant to be an exacting catalog image of the food. The only need for those kinds of images might be for kitchen staff to use in order to understand how each dish should look and how it should be plated. Our job is to make the food look delicious and appealing, not to make it clinically descriptive. If you can see the entire scene in sharp focus instead of having the eye guided by focus and color then you've missed the mark in today's style of food photography presentation.

For this restaurant we shot the food both on a wooden mat (as above) and also on white only. The graphic designer who works on the website will have two options for every dish. This also makes for easier re-use in ads and other applications.

When we photograph food we go in with the idea of pleasuring our visual senses. Everything else is secondary.

People always ask me if we get to eat the food after we shoot it. Answer: We're snacking all the way through. Usually we are just curious to taste the food and see what it's like. We're never really interested in sitting down and making a meal of it. That would interfere with the work. We honor our chef/customers by coming back without our cameras in hand and really experiencing their great food as attentive diners. That's more fun.

If you live in Austin you might want to try the happy hours at Garrido's. Selected appetizers and their amazing street tacos are available at great prices and it's a lovely introduction to their cuisine and atmosphere. It's on my "A" list for good food downtown.



36 comments:

David Liang said...

You'll always have at least one reader with technical posts like this one. It's so much more interesting to me to understand how a shot was done, especially if the shot captures my interest immediately and doesn't let go.

Kirk Tuck said...

Thanks David. I appreciate it.

Anonymous said...

I don't comment as often as I should but I really value this kind of post. It's kind of a privilege to go "behind the scenes" on real shoots. Please keep posting these.

ZZblaine said...

Excellent!

John Bour said...

..just to let you know I've read this post (and liked it, as always)
;-)

edshots said...

you're always interesting and relevant Kirk. i wouldn't worry about the stats only that there are some who have you page bookmarked and look at it daily. like myself. keep on truckin'.

Ian Kirk said...

I always enjoy your blog and it has helped me enormously as an amateur shooter. Keep up the good work!

Ken said...

Kirk, I really like the changes in your food photography. Is your recent work in this area almost completely inspired by the food photography book you promoted recently?

Jim said...

After looking at the food photos we're more inspired to go grab a snack than to comment.
:-)

theaterculture said...

Jim posted exactly the comment that sprung to my mind as well.

Omelette for dinner it is, then...

Kirk Tuck said...

Yes.

Brook said...

I really enjoy posts like this with photos of the set up as it gives me visual reference to what your doing. More work for you but I do appreciate it.

Matthew said...

Ditto anonymous et al. above: I always appreciate the behind-the-scenes analysis. It's nice to take a break from controversy from time to time and show how the real work really gets done.

Glenn Harris said...

I'll admit it, I'm one of those readers that crave the how-to posts. I find them more relevant to my photography then gear and other peoples opinions of gear. Not that I don't read most of your gear posts. Interesting to hear that your view stats are usually down for the how-to posts.

Kirk Tuck said...

Glenn, the biggest pageview magnets are any reviews about Olympus, Canon and Nikon products. The next most popular are things like "Lonely Hunter, Better Hunt." In third place are any reviews about niche products like Sony DSLTs and Lighting gear. And, in last place....behind the scenes stuff. (caveat: unless half naked women are involved).

Craig Yuill said...

I have always been interested in reading your "how to" and "making of" posts, which I read as thoroughly as any other type of post you write. I am guessing that you get fewer comments from us readers on these posts because fewer of us have done shots like these than have decided on and bought a piece of gear, or mull over why we do things, which are things we all do. I have taken still shots in a similar manner to those you have recently posted, but the last time I did so was several years ago, with more-primitive equipment and was less-nicely done. These days I'm not sure I have much to contribute or ask about, other than to say "Nice work!".

Lest I forget - nice work! I love your food shots and your descriptions of how you take them. Cheers!

João Medeiros said...

+1! Keep on going!

Latitudes Staff said...

Are you using the 85/1.5? The OOF background works really well here to focus the eye on the main food item.

Kirk Tuck said...

Sony a99 with the 70-200mm f2.8 G lens. The 85mm Rokinon doesn't focus close enough to be useful for this kind of food photography.

Andy MacBrien said...

Like the recent post about the boot shootin' boogie in San Antonio, this one's going in my reference file. I love these posts. Can't get enough pictures of grip. Cameras catch the light, ya gotta bend it to your will first. Of course now, I obsess over Avenger, Manfrotto, Kupo... Keep 'em coming, Sensei

Kitchen Riffs said...

I read all of your posts. The review ones are kinda interesting just to know what's going on in the gear world, but I have all the gear I really need at the moment, and all the cameras are so good these days any of them would work for my pretty modest needs. I really enjoy posts like this one, though, because they're about taking photos, which is my main interest. And I always learn so much from them. I know you want to post about a lot of different things, but this type of post is my favorite, and I thank you.

John Griffin

Bill said...

I also enjoy the "how to" posts, and am looking forward to the one when you tell us how you took a picture of Alan Alda....

Keith I. said...

Same here! I often find myself staring at photos to decipher how they were done, especially lighting. Thank you again for sharing these.

Gregg Mack said...

Kirk, I really enjoy these types of posts. I like the other types too, but maybe it's the engineer in me that is always curious to find out how things work. I'll always read, and intently study the photos in these "behind the scene" types of articles. Thanks!

PvR said...

I read somewhere that you are a curmudgeon and it turns out you are a contrarian?

I enjoy your food shots and very much appreciate the setup and the details to the extent that I bookmark these and have pointed others to your blog.

So, thank you.

Ron Nabity said...

Hey Kirk,

The stats may be a reflection of attention span. Gear reviews can be read and responded to without too much depth, then folk can move on to the next site/topic/debate.

Personally I find in-depth BTS posts interesting, and especially when you also talk about the client interactions, the reasons you chose one technique over another, and the various problems that popped up and how you responded. I suspect these are not as popular for the "Cliff's Notes" type readers who just want to know (or argue) which camera will save the day.

In a related vein, your artful ponderings are also a form of BTS - they give us a view into the background of your aesthetic experiences. Again, no short cuts there either. I enjoy those posts as much.

Oh, and food photography combines the best of both worlds. Yumm!

Olaf Hoyer said...

I'm also one of the audience for behind-the-scenes postings. Yes, some articles like reviews of cool equipment attracts for sure lots of mainstream audience, but people that understood that equipment doesn't matter as much as how you use it appreciate your way of sharing actual experience from live assignments.
Especially when coupled with your style of writing.

Kirk Tuck said...

Ron, we're strictly talking pageviews, not stickiness or response. It's weird but true...

Wolfgang Lonien said...

Hmmm - Google changed something again to its blogger API me thinks, so with my older (and totally outdated) browser at home I can't even comment on blogspot.com anymore. Time to get a newer browser like the one I have at work.

And yes, I like those commercial shoot stories and behind the scenes reports. It's great when you show people who just make all these meals as well, so don't forget you Nex camera shots as well. I'm trying to make it a habit myself to take some overview and lighting setup shots...

Anonymous said...

Kirk, I'm another one who finds these posts really useful. Gear comparisons can be found all over the web (although your takes from the point of view of someone who's using it to actually get work done are nicely differentiated from most of the rest) but information on how a shot was set up aren't so common.

Clay Olmstead said...

I've learned a lot from these technical posts. You posted one a while ago about getting a crowd shot of an entire neighborhood that I used to take a team picture for a friend's rowing team.

I used the knowledge I gained from your portrait technique posts to take a profile picture of a friend for a dating site. (She went with a professional photographer after that, so I learned that I have more to learn plus I supported the profession. You're welcome.)

I would have posted this earlier, but I've been locked out of being able to comment for the last few days; the Comment link just didn't appear. Firefox just did an automatic update, so maybe there was some interaction there. Weird.

Clay Olmstead said...

There's a difference between popularity and interest. Those of us who want to know more are intensely interested in the technique side, but there are fewer of us than there are casual shoppers. I will make an effort to ask more questions, so you know who's listening.

Auntipode said...

The food shot posts are among my favorite, but then food is my life. :)

Burun Estetigi said...

I saw your blog by chance. Very nice photos. Vibrant and colorful appearance.
Greetings
Burun Estetigi

thequietphotographer said...

For any reason I was not able to post comments a few days ago, today's it works. I like this shot, the colors coordination of the subject and the out of focus background. Your explanation of the "how to light it" is very interesting even if I'm a simple (but serious) amateur. Now, I'm quite good in cooking omelettes, but not good in taking photo of them! I'll try more!
robert

thequietphotographer said...

I like the color coordination in this photo between the foreground and the out of focus background. Thanks for the explanation about light technique. Always interesting, much to learn.
robert
PS: not sure why but I was not able to post comments earlier, it happens me sometimes with blogger's blogs. Today's it works.