Specialist Studio: Food Photography

Having looked at an awful lot of professional food photography and researching into techniques I went into my final shoot fairly well prepared.

Surprisingly I found food photography to be quite stressful as opposed to portrait photography, even though with portrait photography you need to be constantly working to keep the interest of your model (especially children). With food photography it is much more about the set and the aesthetics of the food so you’re on quite a tight timescale to capture your images before the food dries out under the hot lights. This proves to be very difficult when you’re trying to create something which is in your eyes perfect and you’re shuffling props around to get the composition just right and you’re never quite happy and you find yourself becoming very frustrated.

This shoot was probably the longest of my life and I ended up spending a good 5 or 6 hours plus in the studio to produce what I have. However I feel the research into contemporary practise and the time spent in the studio has paid off and the images I have created definitely have that professional look I was going for and they are very aesthetically pleasing. Using the sets I have managed to make every different type of cake look very interesting and the sets most certainly do complement the food and enhance it further. I feel the compositions are very good and it was worth all of the shuffling around and frustration!
I found the lighting set ups varied greatly depending on what I was shooting, although I’d kind of intended this as I wanted to experiment with different styles, I quickly realised that the lighting set ups start to get very complex especially if you’re trying to light a set as well. I found myself using 3 studio flash heads, two speed lights and a reflector part of the time which seems extreme when you can get some great effects using one light if you were photographing a person. When I found myself doing this however I stopped and did a complete rethink because in my experience simple lighting is always better and more effective.
So it was a very frustrating but very rewarding shoot in the end, the cakes also were rewarding once they entered my mouth.

Signal to Noise

Today we looked at what image noise is, what creates it, and how to keep it at bay.

I started off by doing a test to see how my camera (Olympus PEN E-P1) copes with noise at various ISO settings.
Here are the results:

ISO100

ISO100

ISO400

ISO400

ISO800

ISO800

ISO3200

ISO3200

ISO6400

ISO6400

As you can see, the PEN really suffers from noise at high ISO’s the usable range is probably only up to about ISO1600. Anything beyond that is very noisy, suffering from luminance noise mostly, but also a bit of colour noise. Having used Olympus cameras in the past, in my opinion they always tend to create a more film-grainy kind of noise than cameras made by companies like Nikon or Canon this is probably due to the noise reduction software being less sophisticated and allowing more heavy granular noise to end up on the image. This can sometimes work in a black and white image if you want that vintage look.

I also wanted to look at how you can minimise noise when you have no choice but to use high ISO settings. I know that noise is a lot more apparent in the shadow areas of an image and that’s because there isn’t enough light to “drown out” the noise which is exacerbated by the use of high ISO settings.
I set about my test by capturing three images at ISO6400, which is the highest ISO setting the PEN can do (and VERY noisy). One exposed correctly according to the meter, one under exposed, and one over exposed.

Correct Exposure (0)

Correct Exposure (0)

If you look at the correct exposure you can see that there is a lot of noise at the ISO6400 setting and the image isn’t really usable without any serious noise reduction in post processing. Even then the image wouldn’t be right and would suffer from loss of detail.

Under Exposed (-2)

Under Exposed (-2)

This is the under exposed image once it’d been processed to look right from the raw file. As you can see, doing this has caused the image to be utterly horrendous and has rendered it completely useless unless you intend to produce some kind of artistic (horrible) “Lo-Fi” look.

Over Exposed (+2)

Over Exposed (+2)

This third and final image is the over exposed version. I used the raw file to bring the exposure down to look correct and low and behold, there is very little noise! This would be a perfectly usable image, the only negative thing I can say about it is that it needs a little extra work to properly correct it, as you can see the sky has quite a red tint to it for some reason.

In conclusion, when shooting in conditions which require high ISO settings, you’re much better off over exposing all of your images by a stop or two in camera using the shutter speed and aperture settings and then correcting them in Photoshop using the raw files later. Doing this means the camera picks up more light and “drowns out” much of the noise, and when you alter the exposure in Photoshop later you will more than likely end up with an image which looks as good as a correct exposure in-camera, without all of the noise.

High Dynamic Range (HDR)

Yesterday the group was instructed to go out and take some images around hull which would be suitable for HDRing.

My image was captured in Cafe Nero, I decided to shoot one image in Raw format and from that produce  3 images. One a stop under exposed, one what the camera metered and another a stop over exposed. I did this because there are people in my image and if they have moved in any of the 3 shots I would have had to have taken to do it properly, it would have spoilt the process.

These are the three exposed I got from my one Raw file (-1, 0, +1):

With these 3 exposures, I created a HDR image using photoshops merge to HDR function.

The above image is what I managed to generate using the HDR function which is rather ghastly (as are most HDR images which aren’t subtle)

I decided it might look better in black and white so I used Photoshop’s channel mixer to put a black and white with yellow filter.
I think this is a much nicer image to look at.

Photography Between 1995 and 2012

Three photographers of the era:

 

Rankin

Rankin is a celebrity, portrait and fashion photographer of British nationality who came to light in the late 90’s and is still producing work and in the spotlight today.

 

Martin Parr

Martin Parr is a British photojournalist and documentary photographer who is fairly well known. Parr has been a member of Magnum Photo’s since 1994 and still produces work to this day.

 

Annie Leibovitz

Annie Leibovits is probably one of the most famous photographers who capture portraits of celebrities. Leibovits is an American portraitist who has been working since before 1970. She still works today; one of her most recent shoots was with the popular musician “Lady Gaga”. However she’s probably hit the news more regarding her bankruptcy in recent years.

 

These three photographers all photograph people, one fashion photographer, one photojournalist and one portraitist. I believe this goes to show how the public and the media are now much more interested in people in general, particularly people in unusual situations or people who are famous.

 

Three photographic changes:

 

Digital Photography taking off

Since the 90’s digital photography has been taking off to the point where is now holds nearly the entire market. Not many people use film any more and it is in fact quite rare that any professional work would be done on film without good reason. I think the main reason for this is the vast improvement of digital cameras meaning the images they capture can be much more usable than anything taken on film. Particularly now home computers are wide spread.

 

Bankruptcy of the Eastman Kodak Company

In early 2012 Kodak filed for bankruptcy after years of decline as the digital camera dominates the market.

 

Introduction of the Camera Phone

The camera phone was invented in the early 90’s however hasn’t truly taken off till recent years. Nowadays camera phones are remarkably good and offer image sizes and quality comparable to yesterdays professional level digital cameras. Although often over looked, the camera phone is arguably one of the most important technical developments in photography, the fact that 90% of people in the western world have a camera to hand 24 hours a day is remarkable.

 

Three current affairs of the time:

 

Conflict in Iraq

The war in Iraq (also known as the second Gulf war) began in 2003 and has received wide-spread media coverage throughout. Its one of the first wars which has involved the public so intensely, whilst the media is somewhat filtered it’s a lot less so than it used to be. The realities of war is much more common knowledge.

 

Economic Recession in the Western World

In recent years the western world has suffered from a large economic downturn, which has been very detrimental to the lifestyles of the population. People are starting to become a lot more frugal and spending a lot less on things, which aren’t necessary. This in turn is causing businesses providing things such as leisure products or services a lot of hardship and many are facing bankruptcy.

 

China’s mass industrialization

China is one of the world’s most powerful superpowers and it’s set to over-take America in terms of wealth and power. Lately china has been industrializing on a scale never witnessed before.

Precious Cargo

Having decided upon the main themes I took a number of images exploring the idea. Not all of them would fit with every theme, but I was looking for a selection that covered more than one of them.  One shot that I took at the Holmpton Bunker seemed to bring together a lot of the things I was looking for. I then started to take a number of shots that would give me the contrast that I was looking for.  I eventually produced an image that would have a clear contrast on a lot of different levels.

Ration Packs

The ration packs image that I took at the Holmpton Bunker is a really striking image.  The rations are for soldiers that are at war.  I felt that this image certainly linked in with the Campaign theme, which always seems to infer war or conquest.  There is also a thought of Empire, and how the rations could be used to enable forces to either support or gain more territory. The contents are very heavily processed so that the maximum nutrition is available within them.  I like the way that I took the image with the packs on a table that had been laid out for a meal.  The table appears to have a very worn and distressed look that has come about through age and use.  The pottery is quite simple with no ornamentation; it looks particularly utilitarian and is in keeping with the military concept.  I took the shot with another table which was also laid out with pottery and cutlery as well as ration packs out of focus in the background.  I was hoping that this would give a pattern to the image, and pick up on the uniformity of the military theme.  Most people looking at this image would think that it showed a very ordered world in which there was a lot of regimentation and uniformity.

Apple Box

I was really pleased to take the picture of the apple box.  It really fits with the theme of Journey & Trade, the apples have been on a journey which was obviously for the purposes of trade.  I positioned it carefully in a derelict building.  The apples are perhaps the first fruit.  The story of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden introduce apples to the world.  Eating the apple made Adam lose his innocence and caused him to have to leave Eden.  This allusion to the bible story fits in with the God’s and Spirit theme.  The tatty and battered appearance of the box alludes to this corruption of innocence, and is completely different to the clean sharp appearance of the ration packs.  I chose a derelict building as the background to jar against the ordered environment surrounding the ration pack, the broken plaster on the floor in the background is shown sharply so that it is clear that the building is deteriorating, giving a feeling of Death and decay.  I intentionally included the smallest part of a window, emphasising the Eden story that the apple was a key to a new world.  I positioned the box to have a similar orientation to the ration packs, I also pulled the box slightly open so that they appeared different to the closed and taped ration packs..

I think that these two images fit the brief of “Precious Cargo”.  The ration packs contain nutrition so that soldiers can continue in battle.  The  apple box contains the fruit that started the human path towards knowledge,  but also towards conflict and corruption.  The natural state of the fruit compared to the very heavily processed “rations” imply the changed state of humanity, going from the pure innocence of Eden to the conflict of the modern world, because even in times of peace there is always major conflicts in the world.

Shooting Clays

I recently had the opportunity to go out with a few friends to shoot some clays at a near-by fishing, shooting and outdoor leisure facility.
I decided to take the camera as I thought the event could make for some interesting subject matter.
The images below are a small selection of what I shot on that afternoon/evening out.

Manchester Christmas Market 2011

During the Christmas holidays of 2011 I took the opportunity to visit the famous Christmas market in Manchester.
These are a selection of the images I captured there.