hyperventilating about photography. don't pass out.

Just a note to refine our understanding about the Visual Science Lab blog site. We write about anything that I'm interested in that has to do with photography, video, art and literature or life in general. The blog is free to read. We currently accept comments but moderate them on an ongoing basis. We do not directly sell products on the site nor are we paid by any manufacturer for mentions of their products within the blog. If we write about a product we are either acknowledging a new product that we think alters the course of the industry (even if only slightly) or it's a product that we've purchased or requested from the maker for testing and we've used it in commercial and personal photographic applications enough to report accurately on the results that we got. Your readership is never contingent on purchasing products represented in links embedded in the articles or supporting any of the manufacturers whose products I choose to write about. You are all grown ups. You get to decide what you want to buy and when.

The links are there to serve a commercial purpose. I receive a small percentage of the sale of products from Amazon where my link initiated a reader's visit to Amazon. The fee that Amazon pays me does not increase the cost of the product to the buyer. The fees I've received so far constitute a negligible percentage of my income.

While we will continue to provide links for people who enjoy what we write here I find it important to mention that the vast majority of articles I write are not product specific and are about the processes or the way we approach making images. A large number of articles are general interest articles that are relevant to both film and digital shooters.

For all the people who protest that we write too much about gear and that their interests would be better served if I only wrote philosophical articles the reality is that the single most popular article, by far, that I've published here was a review of a mid-priced mirrorless camera, the Olympus EPL-2. It has ten times the pageviews of my absolute favorite articles like, Lonely Hunter, Better Hunt. The "gear" articles drive readership. When I resist writing about any gear whatsoever the precipitous decline of readership (within days) is breathtaking. It's truly a case of gear subsidizing non-gear articles.

Similarly, any time I write about microphones or video rigs or video processes the readership numbers dive off the diving board into a largely empty pool. But I am interested in video and motion and I'll continue to explore that.

People are tremendously invested in their idea of what photography is all about. From time to time I get someone writing or commenting that I'm doing it all wrong. But the secret is that there is no "all wrong" in the arts, even the injection moulded "plastic" arts. You've been invited along for a ride in my own introspective and eccentric online journal about photography. There's no hidden agenda. There's no secret handshake. I don't know all the answers. But neither do you.


I like some of the mistakes I've made in creating photographs.

Only one of three flashes fired. The sync speed on the old Pentax 67 was 1/30th of a second and I was hand holding the camera.  One side is over exposed while the other side is wildly underexposed. When I tried to print the negative nothing really worked. And yet, years later I've realized that I really like the image. It has an energy that perfect portraits rarely achieve.

I'm glad I didn't have Polaroid or instant review because in my pursuit of "correct technique" I would surely have thrown away the image and moved on. I have many technically correct images that are much less interesting to me. The camera doesn't have to be an exacting Xerox machine in order to make your own art. Not always.

The Visual Science Lab Moves Quickly to trademark: i-watch-o-graphy(tm).

Oh Boy! Gee. Golly. Wow. The rumors are swirling that Apple is working on the iWatch. And if history gives us insight into the future it's only a matter of time before the Apple wristwatch sports a camera. I'm guessing a 50 megapixel camera with lots of editing options built in and, just to grind their technical superiority in the faces of their competitors, it will also most probably offer 4K video as well.

We're so excited about the myriad business opportunities this presents that the entire staff of the Visual Science Lab has been pulled off all our in-house projects (including deep space asteroid monitoring, so watch out!) to work feverishly on ways to massively monetize this radical new imaging advance. We call this revolution SOMW (stuff on my wrist). And we KNOW that the first step is to roll out international workshops on I-WATCH-O-GRAPHY(tm). We're working with legions weathered old and young (less than six weeks in the profession)  pros who've agreed to abandon their still highly lucrative careers as full time assignment photographers in order to fulfill their secret life long passion to be TEACHERS. They are ready to walk away from the amazing amounts of money they could be earning in assignment and editorial imaging because they feel called to improve the lives of millions of affluent strangers by offering day long, week long and even month long workshops dedicated to teaching a whole new generation of curious, disciplined and committed artists learn how to master the two (or even more!!!!!) buttons that will control iWatch cameras, and the cameras on a host of imitation products.

We're not just about maximizing our incomes from people who are too lazy to read a page and a half of easy and basic instructions, we're about maximizing the artistic potential of scores of young people whose only experience with watches is looking at the time on their phones. If we can help just one person make a better shared photo of their lunch we feel we will have done a tremendous service to all the art world. And more.

But we're not stopping there. We're working on a rich mix of innovative and fanciful products that will become as important as oxygen to a new generation of Watch-Tographers(tm). We're working with famous German optical companies to create super telephoto optics that will attach to, and enhance, the iWatchPhoto(tm) experience. Massive, stabilized optics that will allow you to move away from the antiquated "hand held" cameras that people fight with everyday. In the future you'll see some awesome bit of  "street fashion" and lift up your wrist for a quick snap. Need to get closer? Click on the arm brace adapter and click in the 600mm f2 Watch-O-Lens(tm) (upgrade to the ashperic with VR) and get to work.

Need more space? Try out the upcoming i-Watch-Photo-Wide(tm), a dedicated wide angle adapter that only adds 730% more bulk to the ecstasy on your wrist. You'll be able to shoot images of your coffee cup even in the cramped confines of an economy class airline seat.... But you won't be in economy class for long. Not when you unlock the promise of the iWatch-o-graphs(tm) you'll be taking. You'll be joining a new generation of visual pioneers and you'll use your personal vision to unlock untold future riches.  Because i-Watch-o-Graphy(tm) is not just a fashion statement....

But wait! There's more. Using Blue Tooth as a syncing tool we'll be introducing a new, indispensable apparatus for the opposite wrist. Its code name, pending release, is the iWrist-Flash(tm). Hold up both arms as though your are practicing the double cobra stance from martial arts, now your two wrists are like a whole professional portrait studio. Camera on the left arm and delicious OFF CAMERA flash on the other. Need more light? Buy more watches!  Plus, we're working on a whole line of wrist strap attachments and modifiers. Lose that LiveStrong(tm) wrist band and make room for the i-Watch-0-mod-ography wrist band. It will hold small scrims, umbrellas, softboxes and much, much more. Plus it comes in colors. Many colors.

I'm sure at this point you're asking: "But how will I be able to make sense of all these cool new tools? How does this all work?"

Time for our three step program. We start with the FREE iWatch-Photo-Walk-Ography(tm)  Foto Walks. Our disturbingly dedicated team of highly trained iWatch-o-graphers mixes with you and hordes of other seemingly boundless potential professional iWatch-o-graphers and we actually show you how to push one of the two (or more!!!!) buttons to make the camera on the watch take a picture. As an added extra we show you how to shove that image you've just made into a highly destructive software program so you can make it look just like a poorly processed snapshot from a 1960's drug store processing lab. All the nostalgia of mediocrity but with none of the really good music from the time period.  Now you and your friends will all have highly creative images that all look.....basically.....the same. Stand out by being part of the crowd!!!!!!

Step two is to get you into a series of (paid) workshops where we'll help you master: 1. Getting the watch on the right arm....for you.  2. Figuring out which of the two buttons takes the photograph. 3.  How to prevent walking in front of fast moving buses or cars while glued to the review screen while you see what the world looks like once it's been processed. 4. How to upload the filtered and adult-ART-rated image to the cloud so that all your new friends across the world will be able to see just what a plate of half eaten enchiladas verdes looks like once it's been dragged through the nostalgia filters and made into ART.

Step three: During the course of our important iWatch-o-photo Walks (tm) together, and during every minute of the workshops,  we help you identify which new products you desperately need to continue your creative momentum and then we sell you these products because of our life long dream to teach and GIVE BACK.  You help us with our feelings of fulfillment by generously GIVING BACK the numbers on your credit card so we can process it and complete the virtuous circle of giving back. It's a win-win-win. We make money doing what we so love.  No, not taking photographs but GIVING BACK through our life long love of teaching (dare we say it? Perhaps a divine calling?). You win by both becoming an vital part of a breathtaking new fad and by putting money back into a vital part of the economy: iWatch-O-tography(tm). The bonus is that you even get to feel as though you are doing ART.  The young children in third world countries win because, by buying their iWatch-o-graphy(tm) modifiers, lenses, flashes and t-shirts you help keep them happily working.

The VSL is there for you. No hobby too lucrative, or expensive. No customer too gullible. No concept too simple to need at least a weekend of valuable and insightful instruction. It's all about the watch and the camera. Thank you Apple! And the hordes of imitators to come....

And anyone who doesn't get on board is a bit of a fossil, an art hater, a old schooler and too mired in the past to understand the power of this new kind of imaging. But don't forget we're working on nailing down the trademarks for i-Watch-O-Graphy(tm) right now. Use it at your own peril because we will bring our bus load of rabid, snapping lawyers to bear.....

Happy shooting. It's as easy as the flick of a wrist.

See our wrist tripod product line.  No limp wrists here.

Get the GoodMan Loupe to magnify your watch screen. Bigger views for sharper photos. (Available with optional wrist straps for stabilization...).

See the whole line of Watch-O-Cam (tm) Camera bags. Tiny but protective. Our biggest holds up to fifty watches with cameras or up to three watches with cameras and several accessories.

And don't forget to check out our line of iWatch-O-Graphy(tm) Strap-Wraps(tm). Colorful, protective covers for your watch band.  And BONUS they are weather proof.

Learn "One Button Magic" on our Disney iWatch-O-Graphy(tm) Alaskan Cruise. Who knew one focal length could be so exciting?

And for all the folks who are currently into medium format digital photography over at the Luminous-Landscape we are currently testing prototypes of a new break through in iWatch-O-Graphy(tm) gear.  It's the i-Pocket-Watch-O-Graph. A bigger sensor and bigger lenses to give your work better bokeh and smoother tonality. Look for it whereever you currently drop kilos of dollars on niche product. Coming soon.

Thanks for reading the previous iterations of the Visual Science Lab. Come with us on a GIVING BACK journey of discovery as we reject all previous photography tools and traditions and emphatically embrace the future of photography. Remember, IT'S ALL ON THE WRIST.(tm)

register now for our upcoming course on using your new iWatch to tell time. Limited classes, call now.


Why I just ordered the Rokinon 35mm t 1.5 Cine Lens.

On Weds. of last week I had two different assignments that both called for the use of a medium telephoto lens. As I did post production on these two assignments I was able to look at about 38 minutes of HD video footage and around 200 still images that were created with the Rokinon 85mm t 1.5 Cine Lens. While the lens is sharp even wide open on the Sony a99 camera it's wonderfully detailed and sharp at f2.8 and at f4. But beyond sharpness there is also a bountiful and snappy contrast in the areas that are in focus that accentuates the nice and relaxed out of focus areas behind the point of sharp focus.

With the a99's full time live view set up changing apertures in aperture priority allows you to see the changing depth of field as you turn the aperture ring. The camera keeps changing the overall exposure to equalize the brightness of the finder view. It's kind of like magic.

With the push magnification button making sure you've nailed critical focus, getting your subject sharp is child's play.

At any rate I used the lens for a video project I did for Zach Theatre. It was basically a talking head program that I recorded using a two camera set up with the a99 and the 85mm R being the primary camera and another camera and lens combo at an angle as my secondary camera. The two camera system worked well. With focus peaking engaged the primary camera and lens combo, the a99 and the 85R, would allow me to make small, precise and smooth adjustments to focus as my subject moved. We shot the video with the aperture fixed at f 2.8.  I shot with the camera flattened out (portrait mode, minus 1 for contrast, saturation and sharpness) and added the overall effects needed to get the look I wanted in Final Cut Pro X. It's easy to sharpen but it's impossible to unsharpen.

On the whole the Rokinon 85 1.5 is not just a good lens for the money, it's a good lens, period.

That led me to think about the way I shoot and the lenses I currently own for the Sony cameras. Most of the lenses I bought were purchased back when all of my cameras were APS-Cs. While I have a lot of good lenses for the cropped frame cameras there are a few gaps when it comes to full frame. I have a couple zooms lenses that cover the 35mm focal length but when I compare their performance to the biting sharpness I'm getting from the 85 R I can see that they are not in the same ballpark. They work well for event stuff and just kicking around but I wouldn't be as comfortable using the full frame zooms for higher end advertising work.

I'm was planning out my new purchases this morning. I need a 24mm lens and, given my experiences with the 85 R 1.5, I decided I'll save up some coffee money and go for the Rokinon 24mm 1.5 Cine lens. I also wanted a really good, fast 35mm lens to round out the inventory. 24mm, 35mm and 85mm...the new holy trinity of optics that covers all the wide and medium focal length stuff I do. (I already have the 50mm 1.4 and the 70-200mm 2.8 G lenses). When I went to research the Rokinon 24mm 1.5 I found an offer on Amazon for the 35mm 1.5 Rokinon for the Sony for only $379. The same lens in Canon and Nikon mounts is listed at $549.

I read a number of reviews and decided to go ahead and buy the 35mm today before the price changes (which seems to happen a lot on Amazon...). It should be here at the end of next week and I can hardly wait to put it through its paces. If it's as sharp as the 85 I'll have a real winner on my hands.

The versions that I've ordered and am ordering are the company's cinema lenses. As far as the optical formulas go they should be identical to their regular lens counterparts. The "cine" lenses have two main mechanical differences: The click stops have been removed from the aperture rings so you can set the aperture at any intermediate setting. The real benefit is that you can smoothly change the aperture to compensate for changing light while shooting video. The clickless nature of the ring means a much smoother transition and no mechanical noise during the shift. The second difference is that the focusing ring has gearing teeth that allow the lens to be fitted with industry standard follow focus devices that make shifting the focus with a subject in motion recording easier and more repeatable. As I understand it the throw of the focusing ring is also more linear which means that the same amount of rotation yields the same amount of focus change. Many lenses have lots of fine tuning capability on the closer side of the focusing ring but as you go into distance settings the transition gets quicker and quicker. The ramp gets steeper. Fine for quick focus in stills but harder to work with in motion.

Nothing about these changes hampers the lens's use as a still lens.  At $379 for a well reviewed 35mm 1.5 lens I'll take a small chance. Worse case scenario?  All the reviewers are dead wrong and the lens goes back.  Best case scenario? The reviewers are correct and the lens holds it's own (or is marginally better) than the $1600 competition and I keep my copy and wear a big smile on my face whenever I use it.

So, what's the trade off? If you are shooting a Sony a99 the big trade off is that you lose auto focus. The lens still works well in the A, M and P exposure modes. You get to do the hard work of finding focus. Given focus peaking and push button image magnification it's a trade off I'm happy to accept. But remember, I'm not a sports photographer or a photo-journalist. If you know you need AF you'll want to look elsewhere. 

If you're overriding concern is image quality then the Rokinon 35mm 1.5 and the Rokinon 85mm 1.5 might be right up your alley. Once I test the 35mm and find it to be good I'll be biding my time, waiting for Amazon to drop the price on the 24mm. And either way I'll let you know what transpires. Korean optical revolution continues.

editorial note: in the hour since I ordered the lens the price shot back up to $549. Yikes. That was fast. 


The Rokinon 85mm t- 1.5 Cine Lens Photographs chef, David Garrido.

As part of our restaurant project for Garrido's I was asked to make photographs of the chef (and owner), David Garrido. We made images in the kitchen with David surrounded by staff and we made images of David on the patio, but the ones I liked best are the casual ones of David sitting in front of the "tile" wall.

I would love to regale you with stories of how I lit this and I would love to jump into a lively discussion about the virtues of LED versus flash and more. But the reality is that the light coming through a west facing wall of windows in the late winter afternoon was as nice as any lighting I could have designed.

The real story in the image is the lens and camera combo I used. I'd just gotten the Rokinon 85mm 1.5 cine style lens and I was excited about shooting just about anything on which I could train my camera. I put my Sony a99 camera on my wooden, Berlebach tripod, set the exposure to something like 1/30th at f2.8 and blazed away. Jeez.... I didn't even add a reflector for  fill...

Am I happy with my new acquisition? You bet. Best lens purchase ever for $340.

I used the same lens yesterday to do a video interview for Zach Theatre. Well, it was one of the lenses I used. We decided to do a two camera set up in order to have footage to cut away to. I used the 85 R on the a99 as our primary, frontal camera and I used a Tamron 28-75mm 2.8 on an a57 about forty five degrees over to one side as a secondary camera.

I just reviewed the footage from both cameras in Final Cut Pro X and I was delighted all the way around. We have an incredible array of choices at our disposal these days. Next time I'll try the 85mm R on the Sony Nex 7 and see what APS-C's highest quality sensor can do with a speedy lens.

More about the lens: http://visualsciencelab.blogspot.com/2013/02/crazy-photographer-buys-wacky-off-brand.html


Another project where using LED lights was helpful for me. And, my favorite camera of the day.

I shot the image above on Friday morning and did the post production on it and eight other candidates and delivered them via FTP yesterday morning. The client makes IP, analog and hybrid video surveillance systems. I like that they chose a bright red for the front plate of their hardware product. I used two Fiilex lighting units to light up the front of the unit and spill across the back. One was the P360 (shown below) and the other unit was a P200 flexjet which is usually used with a fiber optics pipe. I used its beam a a direct light source. The two, small LED units took the place of larger flash systems or LED panels. I used them because open face lights with tighter beams are easier to use in sculpting light and they maintain a hard edge which works well for product.

After we shoot product images as raw files at low ISOs I take them back to the office and go through pretty much the same routine every time. We drop out the background in Photoshop and layer the image with a white background on the bottom and the image on a transparent layer on the top. I add a drop shadow as a convenience for the client. It's easy to turn the layer drop shadow off if it's not wanted. Every tiff images also gets a clipping path to make things easier for the graphic designer who will end up using the image. We also supply a range of images as smaller jpegs and web optimized jpegs.

I shot the images (the one above is just a sample) on the client's conference room table. I brought along a roll of white seamless paper on which we put the star of the shoot. I closed the blinds, turned off the conference room florescent lights and held the P200 Flexjet in my hand and moved it all around the front of the unit until I found a lighting angle I liked. I grabbed a stand and anchored the light. I did the same with the P360. Neither light really gets more than warm during regular use so hand holding them is comfortable and easy. Since the light is always on it's easy to see all the effects, including rogue shadows and unwanted highlights. Once I had the lights in place I did a custom WB using a known target and then experimented with depth of field.

I was shooting with a tripod mounted Sony a99 and a Sigma 70mm f2.8 macro (which has a bit of chromatic fringing when used near wide open. Easily correctible in post). The 70mm is wickedly sharp at f5.6, f8 and f11.  Once I liked a shot and reviewed it large I'd change the camera angle until the client and I liked something else and then I'd do the process over again.

This is my current favorite light. It's pricy but it puts out beautiful light and, when I evaluate the files in PhotoShop I see that they needed very little green/magenta correction in the custom white balance which speaks to a good color spectrum. Until I started using this unit I had forgotten how much fun it is to work almost surgically with light. Most of the lighting I default to tends to be softer and have a less abrupt edge transfer. It's great for food and portraits but sometimes products really benefit from a small, sharp source.

I'd love to post a link to Amazon but they are currently only available at Samy's cameras. It's a brand new product. I'm sure they'll be picked up by high end lighting dealers in most major cities. I've been testing them for several weeks now and my take away (and my feedback to the manufacturer) is this:  "How soon can I get more?"

The P360 is the first conventional product for the company. It's not the most powerful LED system on the market but it's a good start. The LED is made in house and fine tuned for photo and video production. The construction is great and the addition of a cooling fan for the electronics means it should provide long and continuous service. The barn doors are sweet and since the light doesn't put out much heat it's easy to make snoots and stuff out of Blackwrap to hang on the front of the lights.  The P360 won't out punch daylight but I'd be happy to light just about anything I'm interested in with four of these little guys and I'd carry them around in a small Pelican case.

As I do more and more video I am progressively more interested in light sources that cross over and give me a lot of flexibility. As always, the most important components are the modifiers.  But these are a good start to the lighting chain.


Before you gnash your teeth and label me as indecisive and wishy-washy I haven't decided to toss away my big and beautiful a99 camera and choose something totally different. I just chose to work with a delightful camera today and it did its job just right. The results were exactly what I wanted and there was no downside. That's worth writing about.

The folks at Zach Theatre asked me to come in this morning and film the production (with 200 small children in the audience...) of Goodnight Moon. It's a musical play based on the popular children's illustrated book by the same name. 

I'd been going back and forth about which video camera gives me the best (sharpest, nicest to edit) video, the expensive, full frame a99 or the cheap as dirt APS-C a57. Seems there's a running debate about the integrity of the files from the FF camera in situations where one is shooting wide. Once you start hearing stuff like this you start to worry. At least I do. Until I test it for myself. So I did. And the a57 is sharper. The a99 shares it's softness affliction with all of the other full frame cameras to some extent and that makes me think there's something about the way the cameras have to throw away 90% of their recorded information from the sensor in order to fit the HD files into the HD file size shoebox. But this was just a preliminary test...

I'm in the middle of my tests and I have a few brilliant ideas but that's neither here nor there. For the moment it was the a57's turn to be tested and, in turn, to shine.

I set up the camera on my big Manfrotto video tripod with the 501HDV fluid head and put a Tamron 28-75mm 2.8 zoom on the front. It was exactly the range of focal lengths I needed. Then I set it on program (odd for me) and set the ISO for Auto and spent the next 50 minutes trying to practice good, non-intrusive shooting techniques. Slow zooms, smooth follows, etc.

The play was well lit and the scenery was perfect. I watched the footage this afternoon and I actually enjoyed it. The Rode StereoMic I used to pick up sound was great. It captured tons and tons of good, clear kid reactions.

In its 50 minute workout the camera never faltered. At 28 minutes and 45 seconds, during a non-critical spot in the play, I stopped recording and then started again, effectively dealing with the 30 minute time limit on video recording. The camera never over heated and the battery showed 51% at the end of the show.

The LCD screen was sharp and clear and now everyone is happy. Fun to be able to shoot "B" roll that looks great with an under $600 camera. Reminds me of how far all the cameras have come these days.

Tomorrow we're shooting the two cameras side by side for a long interview. That's the real test. I'll post it. If you aren't interested in video you don't have to read it. I'm a nerd. I want to know.


Looking forward to another Austin Summer.

Noellia at Barton Springs 2012. 

How inconspicuous can you make yourself when you are actively shooting?

We were shooting in a bar/restaurant last Friday and one of the things we wanted to get out of the shoot was casual, candid images of people at the bar. There's a thousand ways to do that starting with the most expensive: Have a casting call, book professional models, bring assistants and light the place up. Direct. The opposite strategy is to find good looking or interesting looking people as they come through the door and offer to buy all their drinks and appetizers in exchange for signing model releases that allow us to use the images. Since single location restaurants aren't always in possession of enormous and extravagant advertising budgets we chose the second option. 

Available light and available seeing.

Spa at the Lake.

We've all heard the hoary quote, "When all you have is a hammer everything looks like a nail." And this is especially true in the field of commercial photography. We're always carting around lights of various kinds and we come to feel, over time, that every scene should be lit. That no photo is complete unless it's been kissed by the pop of a strobe or massaged by some continuous illumination.  But part of being a good photographer is being able to look at prevailing light and say no to extraneous light. 

The shot above was lit by a wall of windows. There was no direct sun coming into the windows, only the glow from the open sky, but when color corrected it was as beautiful as any light I would have concocted; probably much better.

Spa at the Lake detail.

My second example of unassisted available light is this pitcher of water with cucumbers, above. When I realized that I could circle around the pitcher and shoot it contre-jour the image just opened up to me in a fun way. I could have tried lighting this for hours and not come up with a better shot. And it's a shot that also reminds me that not all light has to be softened or modified to work well for my photographs. This was taken in direct sun with no modifiers.

While our inner sense of marketing sometimes jumps in and tells us we ought to light in order to impress the client or to somehow elevate what we do above what can be done without the trappings of the professional it is good to clear the filters of the mind, from time to time and just recognize how beautiful the prevailing light can sometimes be. And that it is part of our profession to recognize that beautiful light when we are gifted with it...


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 entre├ęs 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.