Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Cottleston Pie

I'm a lousy food photographer. Crappy. Stunningly lame.
I work at it, and one parameter at a time, I'm chipping away at the skills it takes to get good food pix. I'm not even going to make a list of what those p-words are. I'd forget something crucial, like focus or composition or...
Actually, lighting is parameter Number One. In the dead of winter, I'm not about to go schlepping plates outside to get a good natural-light shot. There is no good light, and there is, at the moment, no furniture out there to place dishes on. I'm too creaky to crouch down on a frosty, leafy patio (and boy, would the food cool off fast out there).
Incidentally, I've come to the reluctant conclusion that the plummeting temperature of my food, as I jiggle and angle and zoom and pray, should not be an issue of paramount consideration for a food blogger. What's more important: the food or the blog? (If you answered "the food," you are wrong.) Even so, cooled-off food just doesn't look as good; congealed grease is less pretty than melty grease. Word.
Ah. So there are considerations. Many.
But back to lighting. I was finally persuaded by one of my photography mentors to buy a cheap shop lamp with a 100-watt bulb. Two such rigs would be better, says my mentor, but I'm cheaper than a cheap shop lamp, and for now I have just the one.
Verdict: Wow.
Here's your pictorial lesson: 100-watt bulb on top; automatic camera flash on the bottom. Both pictures are crudtacular, and I did as much editing on them as I could without turning them into totally faux, Technicolor Harryhausen outtakes. The composition on the top is perhaps better than the other mess, but I confess I cropped it some. I couldn't figure out how to crop the other mess. (And what is it about using flash that makes you want to just aim the lens down onto your plate? Ew.)
In case you are perplexed by the psychedelic nature of the mashed potatoes atop the meat-vegetable mixture, by the way, I will tell you we used pink potatoes. Yep, pink skins and pink flesh. Tasty as heck, but really spooky on a cottage pie photo.
And yet. Look: Much more successful focus on the 100-watt shot. Scary, explosive glare and strange scatter-shot focus on the flash shot. Better color on the 100-watt shot. Blown-out, utter "braaack" on the flash shot.
I'm not going to tell you never to use your flash again, but you've been enlightened.
Now, excuse me. I've got other parameters to work on.


Anita said...

You've done a great job illustrating why I hardly every use flash for food. I'd rather it be underexposed and a bit moody-looking than blown out. Coincidentally, we were using a shop light in the old kitchen, too... it started out as our overhead light at the stove, and slowly morphed into photo lighting :)

Anita said...

...and I actually think the non-flash shot is not at all craptacular. :)

Tea said...

I use my flash so infrequently that I forgot how to turn it on the other day when I did want to use it.

I've also had some food bloggers confess to me that they have successfully used the bright light inside their fridge to take food photos with.

Me, I just save leftovers for the midday light the next day:-)

Anonymous said...

... And here, the other night on Big Orange I was praising you for your incredible photography skills. Not to mention that your dog is way cuter than mine.

Kate Petersen

Catherine said...

you take great photos! they have a distinct perspective - I like that.

I borrowed my sister-in-law's 2 serious photo lamps and that has helped my dinner shots. Honestly, though, they seem like overkill (I usually bounce them off the ceiling). Natural light's the best. (My neighbors think I'm mad - always outside photographing vegetables!). I'm thinking of getting a white photo box and a couple of smaller lights like Kayln uses. Oh...and a tripod would probably help me too!

cookiecrumb said...

OMG: Kate. Big Orange? I will refrain from link love, in the interest of non self-aggrandizement. But I'm -- ooh -- tickled. (MizD, go look!)
I must, must, read your diaries over "there" more often. Shux.
Kisses to you, foodily. Madly.

Erin S. said...

wow. I've been thinking of getting a light of some sort. Honestly, I often forget to take pictures--I just wanna eat :)

sfmike said...

I don't use a flash, ever, because I hate the bleached-out light. And your ugly photos in this post, with a studio light and flash, just demonstrate the point perfectly. And I agree with catherine. Your pictures are usually really wonderful.

Moonbear said...

Ah. Jiggle, angle, zoom and pray. You are so agile.

Anna Haight said...

Thanks for the great lesson! I bought a Canon Rebel XTi because of this, but still need natural light to really get the best shots. And I feel a bit funny doing the restaurant scene with a full sized camera and big lens in tow. Makes it tougher to fly under the radar as the 'common person'. And yep, blog wins out every time (unless I'm with friends/business associates where it just wouldn't play well).

ilva said...

I'm still waiting to see what you will submit to this month's DMBLGIT, checking the gallery daily but still nothing from Cookiecrumb...

Miss Manners said...

I like the pink taters! Have you ever used purple Peruvians? They start out dark violet but mash up into a nice lavender color.

Liz said...

I've always liked your photos.

I finally found a setting on my Canon where I can underexpose with the flash and get decent food shots in the dim winter light. But my dinner still gets cold.

Dagny said...

Now I've got Winnie the Pooh stuck in my head.

And I've always liked your photos as well.

Kevin said...

You can make a light box for next to nothing.

Tammy said...

I don't know what you're talking about -- your photos are great. I'm glad for the tips, though. I usually end up taking pictures at night, which explains my lighting problems, but doesn't explain my artistry problems.

cookiecrumb said...

Anita: Recycling is your friend. How convenient.
Hey, I was not fishing for compliments, by the way. :D

Tea: Yeah, I've heard of that refrigerator trick. Too funny! My fridge is too crammed full of food. (Question: Have you ever reheated your food to shoot pictures the next day?)

Catherine: I'm starting to explore "bounce." I had Cranky holding a white paper napkin in front of a dish the other day, to great avail. But daylight is best.

Erin: Most of the time I forget to bring the camera downstairs, cuz I'm just hungry.

SFMike: See, you don't even like studio lighting. You take the most amazing natural shots... I drool. (Thanks for the compliment. Sigh.)

Moonbear: Hah. Cute you. Get bloggin'!

Anna: I took a photo of some food in a restaurant a few weeks ago -- lemme tell you, this was not a foodie restaurant, nor was it a blogger's restaurant, if such a thing can be said -- and the people at the nearby table were flabbergasted. And this was outdoors!

Ilva: Well, I will. I agree with you; it must be the lavender egg. xx

Miss Manners: Amazingly tasty, and a nice mealy texture. Yeah, those purple ones are good too. Also mealy. Food is fun.

Liz: Underexposed flash??? I'm so intrigued. I'll explore.

Dagny: Ding, ding, ding! Can't put anything past you, you smartypants.

Kevin: I have a makeshift lightbox, but I've kinda neglected it. I oughta try again. Thanks for the link.

Tammy: Do you have any idea how many pictures I throw away before I finally post one? :-P

Greg said...

I hate this lousy light time of year. Your wordsmithing more than makes up for the lack of light. Just blast away.I have a couple of flash umbrella rigs you can borrow if you want your food to go cold whilst ye food style.

mrs d said...

Big Orange, eh? Oh, right. Like I'm able to use the search function properly over there. Hah.

I'm avoiding posts about photos. I'm only here because my 6th sense told me you mentioned my name in a comment. Some day in the distant future, I will own my own camera again.

BTW, flashes are evil but my current loaner camera is so old, the flash is sometimes better than a 100 watt bulb. White balance, hah. Wait a sec. I should have made Dave cook up a storm these last two days so I could just haul everything outside and photograph it in the snow. There's my frickin' white balance.

PS: two simple words for your congealed grease issue: blow torch.

drbiggles said...

You big dope. You and Cranky turn out wonderful action. How do I know? His Blue Glass is still complimenting my desktop after how many years?

And no, you silly. It wasn't a 100 watt light bulb. It was 2 500 watt photo floods that are UV balanced I wanted you to try. If not that, maybe a real flash unit for your rig, not that built in crap. A shoe-mount flash, or handle-mount, that you can bounce off the side of a, let's say kitchen cabinet door, to get a nice reflected light from one side. Not a bleached image.

For me, what improved my images more than anything was that dumb tripod thingy. Not only did it make the images that much more crisp, but it gave me time to compose. You get that extra hour to have the camera sitting up there while you fuss over the layout and design. Plus, you can recreate images if need be.

I'm going to buy you a flash unit for your rig. You show those nay sayers and give them something to think about.

Here's something for you. All of my images that have been published either by newspaper, by book or by printed brochure have all been done using a tripod and using a flash. Example? Tomorrow's edition of the Pacific Sun newspaper for Marin features a photograph I took plus a recipe. I used a tripod and a flash. Nyah.

It's all about execution baby.

xo, Biggles

drbiggles said...

Depending upon daylight sucks bloody monkey snot. You can't recreate it, you cannot count upon it, you cannot make it what it's not and it would very well change as you're taking your photograh. If you're using daylight as your only source, it's by sheer luck, a roll of the dice that you get what you get. Unless you watch the calendar and watch what goes where so you wind up in Spain at the perfect time of year.

There's a reason why professional photographers use unnatural light for their photographs. It's either that, or they're Light Hunters and know where to be at what time of the year to catch the perfect image. These would be, the recently passed Galen Rowell, the awesome Ken Rockwell and that Moose guy I love to read about.

I will not rely on the stupid sun for my food lovin' images. I'll exploit it for sure, but never count on it. Learn to use the force Luke.


mrs d said...

After reading Biggles' rant, I will amend my previous comment to say cheap flashes are evil. :-)

I had a nice flash once, years ago. Even did professional photography and got into galleries. Then some crackhead decided he'd get his next fix from selling all the toys he found inside my house.

Now it's all about the sun, baby. Lack of decent equipment will do that to ya in a heartbeat.

drbiggles said...

That being said, I use the sun all the time. Use mirrors to move light around where I wants it. Tee hee.


cookiecrumb said...

Oh poo, Biggles. Yes, you did say 500W. No can do; set my hair on fire.
I'll get one a' those cool detachable flashie thingies like you got. Bounce it off -- oh, say, kitchen cabinet doors. :D

Hey Look! MizD -- It's sunny outside!

mrs d said...

Biggles! Mirrors? Dude, you can fry helpless ants that way!

Sun, what sun? We're still waiting for the damn snow to melt...