I wanted to scan and publish a picture of my dad when he was in the Air Force as my tribute for Memorial Day, but that was impossible for technical reasons. Instead, here’s a drink I raised this evening to my dad, my great-uncle, and everyone else who has served the United States in uniform:
The drink is my variant of one of the few decent blue tropicals: tequila, lime, orgeat, maraschino, Cointreau, and a drop of blue food dye. The light is an interesting mix I’ve never tried before: tungsten ambient, with an ungelled flash held by my wife to make the glass glow a little bit, processed with tungsten white balance. The ungelled flash was a deliberate choice, as I knew the tungsten white balance would render it bluish — perfect for emphasizing the color of the cocktail.
It appears that ice cream is serious business on WordPress; my post from June 21 attracted the most attention of any post on this blog, by far. While photography, not food, is the primary subject around here, I like both photographing and eating good food; in that vein, let’s talk about a picture I took last year.
The light here is a less-successful version of the concept used in my picture of breakfast with my Meissen coffee cups. As with most of my culinary images, the key light is a large soft source from behind, generated in this case by bouncing a strobe off the white wall behind my stove. Space in the kitchen is a bit cramped, so instead of setting up another strobe I used the window directly opposite the stove as my fill light. This is a classic flash technique called “dragging the shutter”; by placing my camera on a tripod, using the flash to expose its part of the frame, and balancing flash to continuous light by using a slow shutter speed, the window was able to act as fill against the flash. The problem is that I used too slow a shutter speed; in my opinion I should have cut the fill by abut 2/3 stop. Nonetheless, it’s a serviceable picture of what was a most delicious pizza.
When you tire of the ice cream available in the supermarket, or you want to better control the ingredients used in its manufacture, or a blogger you respect starts making lots of ice cream, your thoughts naturally turn to the purchase of an ice cream machine. Such has happened in my household, and my wife took Father’s Day as her opportunity to buy a lovely half-gallon unit. It was immediately pressed into service to make a flavor Prairie Farms doesn’t offer: cardamom pistachio, a Western analogue to Indian kulfi. It was wonderful, and deserved some pictures before we ate it all.
I’ve done plenty of food photography with flash, but tonight I decided to set myself the problem of using only the available light. I knew I wanted a soft but directional source for the texture, which immediately suggested the picture window in my living room. A table, a cloth, and a tripod, and I was ready to shoot. I also dug out my gray card to set a custom white balance for the mix of reflected sun and skylight coming through the window.
Both shots were taken with my Tamron macro lens, which has unexpectedly become one of my most-used lenses, second only to my trusty 35mm f/1.8. I suspect it will be seeing much more use documenting our adventures in homemade frozen delights.
I have previously blogged about food photography when the photographer is at the mercy of the available light. The same principles apply when you control the light sources: high soft backlight with fill in the opposite direction makes food look good. There are more adventurous ways to light comestibles; however, when you need something to fall back on, you can’t go wrong with the basic method.
My father has good friends in Germany who sent us a set of Meissen coffee cups as a wedding gift. Four years later, we finally drank some coffee out of them; such an occasion ought not go by without some kind of memento. A small TV tray covered with the nearest available tablecloth, umbrella back left, and umbrella front right were obvious and easy, while composition of the still life and choice of lens were less immediately obvious. I knew I wanted perspective compressed across the frame, so I grabbed my longest lens and set my tripod accordingly. With the frame defined, I attempted three or four arrangements of food, china, and silverware. This is the best arrangement, although I kicked myself later for not tucking the fork in a little closer to the plate. That notwithstanding, I’m proud of this image; it’s very close to my original mental conception.
When you own a bunch of lighting gear, the temptation is great to use it for everything. Hammers, nails…you know the adage. It’s important and very healthy for your skillset to back away from the fancy strobes and use the available light regularly. When you’re traveling with only your camera, you’re forced to do so, as I was when attending a conference early in December.
My father, who spent 35 years writing for a chemistry news magazine, is a veteran of many conferences, and almost always returned with a disparaging word about the food. (He summed up most meals as “chicken and peas.”) By contrast, they pulled out all the stops for the conference I attended, including the delicious lunch pictured above. I thought it deserved not just any picture, but the best picture I could manage under the circumstances.
Food often looks best when backlit by a large soft source, which brings out the texture in a subtle and appealing way; fill may be added to adjust the shadows to taste. I was in luck here: I was sitting at the very back of the ballroom, which was outfitted with large indirect ceiling lights, and behind me was a white or light-gray wall that did all the fill I needed. I shot RAW and didn’t even try to get white balance correct at the time; in post I sampled the edge of the plate until I got something more or less accurate.
I didn’t have time to refine the composition as well as I liked, but I hope this picture communicates my enjoyment of that day’s lunch, both for the taste of the food and the pleasant surprise of something so good.