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Creative Food Photography

Lesson 3 of 8

Shoot: Cake with Flowers - Creating a Story

Liza Gershman

Creative Food Photography

Liza Gershman

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Lesson Info

3. Shoot: Cake with Flowers - Creating a Story


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1 Class Introduction Duration:05:06
2 Composition, Props & Angle Duration:14:28
7 Culling Images Duration:11:11
8 Editing Images in Lightroom Duration:18:37

Lesson Info

Shoot: Cake with Flowers - Creating a Story

Here we're using artificial light. As you can see we're in a studio, we have lights everywhere and so it was really important, I wanted to show you if you were home you could use a window and I wanted to show you what that light would be like. We wanted to replicate that. And so what I asked for was a continuous light, which is a hot light. And so rather than a strobe like you might see in a fashion studio where the lights are going off, it's the big flash, the noise, this will just be on the entire time because we're replicating what it might be like to have a window light exposure. And at home if this were a window, side light is beautiful. It gives you a highlight side and a shadow side. So if you were at home you could position your table next to your window a few feet out and the side that's close, let's pretend like this is the window for the rest of the day, okay? So the side that's closest to the window is your highlight side and the far side is your shadow side. And then you c...

an start to work with your food that way. So you position your body over here when you're shooting and then you have a highlight side and a shadow side. If you're finding that your highlight side is just too bright and you're blowing out your imagery, you can filter this. So you could add, at home you could add a table cloth, a white table cloth, you could add a piece of silk and you just hang it. And the more you hang in front of the window, or the light, the more diffused your light will be and the softer it will be. So even though it's ideal to shoot early in the morning or later in the day, with food photography if you're doing your imagery inside you can shoot all day and you can just keep adding or removing your sheets. I hang bed sheets sometimes, I hang table cloths, sometimes I go and buy a piece of muslin at the fabric store, or a piece of white silk. You can really do anything as long as it has some sheerness to it. And again, add a second piece if it's too bright still, take one away when it gets too dark. So it's really easy. You've got to be, you kind of have to be thrifty and resourceful when you're doing a project just by yourself and not having a team and it's absolutely okay to use something like your own bed sheet. I've done it a million times. And then if I want a harsher shadow I might put a black apron up, or a black napkin. So I always add in shadows and I add in brightness, but you can do it with a simple piece of material that you can buy or your own bedsheets. Cool. Cool? Alright so shall we start? Let's get shooting, yeah. Let's get shooting. Okay so our first image today is a cake. And what we've done, we've added two sawhorses. So this is something you can do at home, if you don't have a table that's a great height for you or if you have a table that's not really the surface that you like for everything you can make neutral surfaces very easily. It's a piece of plywood and then it's just painted. And then it's good to have some texture underneath so when you paint you kind of slap the paint on and that's okay, it doesn't have to be perfect. So this could become any color you wanted. For the purpose of our shoot I wanted to show you something that was high key, which means everything is very light. So I requested white from our amazing styling and then just put down two sawhorses. And these are fancy sawhorses because Creative Live is fancy, but you can get regular sawhorses just at your hardware store very inexpensively and a piece of plywood, two pieces of plywood and you paint them whatever color you want. And then suddenly you have created an entirely new environment that's totally different from what you have at your house. You could do this in a bright color. The images you saw from my Cuba book, for example, that was all done in a studio, but we put down just some oil cloth and now it looks like you're in a fun festive restaurant rather than a studio space. That, so that is done in a studio and it's on a piece, it's on a big surface and then I just added a runner. So you could do this same thing in your own home. You don't have to be in a restaurant, you don't have to be in a huge studio. It's about being resourceful and I pick up props everywhere I go. I'm always going to rummage sales, I'm always going to thrift stores or charity stores and I get a million pieces that are a dollar. I've left sales before with $272 worth of one dollar items. And then I get a big plastic bin and all my props just go in the plastic bin and then when I'm ready for a photo shoot I put it out on a table so I can see what I have to work with and then I pick and choose. And if that seems overwhelming to you and you're not sure what to pick and choose my recommendation for you is to pick a color pallet. So maybe you like blue. So buy everything that you see that's blue for a dollar. And get some blue linens and use only blue and that will create a really consistent look in your social media. And if you don't love blue or if there's not a color you're drawn to, get certain shapes. Maybe you love circles, get patterns with circles, get bowls that are circular, plates that are circular. You might think all plates and bowls are circular, but they're not, there are plenty that are square or rectangle. So I recommend picking either a color or shape or both, and even that alone, and then a fresh ingredient, there you're already off to such a great start, you're already ahead of the imagery from what you were doing before. Alright so we are gonna start, we have choices to make. So I'll show you what the cake looks like by itself, and I don't cook as you know, so this cake came to us from a beautiful local bakery. And we asked for something that was just very muted pinks. Because what I want to show you is how we can dress it up or dress it down. Like I was saying, we're gonna add a bunch of things and we're gonna take some away. So I'll photograph this, we'll take a look at it and then see what we can add from our amazing prop table. And on the prop table, maybe we can walk everybody through the prop table a little bit. We have a variety of plates, they don't match, it's okay. We've got this kind, scalloped plates. Smaller plates. Sizing is good because sometimes in your imagery you might not be using the small plates, but you might use a stack of them in the background. A variety of glassware, some vases, some fresh flowers, some different linen covers, cutlery. I love to get a piece of this fork, a piece of that fork, you can usually scoop them up at a garage sale, different silver pieces. But if you're somebody that likes everything to be very contemporary and matching, that's okay you can go to local stores, (mumbles), Cost Plus, Pier One, and you can scoop up four of this kind of fork, or three of that kind of fork and six dishes. You can really do those on a great budget. Particularly when you hit a sale off the end of the season. So I have such a variety of looks and you can cultivate that and you can keep it in just a bin, it doesn't have to overwhelm your life. So we have our plates, our glasses, our flowers, our cutlery, and our linens. We've got our beautiful pre-made cake and now we're gonna make it our own. Camera, please. Thank you so much. Liza, I want to ask you about your lens choice, too. Okay great. Thanks so much, Drew. Okay so this lens is a 100 millimeter macro and the reason I use this lens is because a lot of my commercial clients, this works really well for what the crop is that they end up doing. You can use, in food photography, I would say you could use 100 millimeter macro, a 60 millimeter macro, a 50 millimeter lens, or if you're shooting overhead you could do like a 24 to 70. You don't need to go out and buy a new camera, new lenses in any way if you are using a zoom lens, that's fine. But keep everything 50 millimeters, 35 would be the widest I would go for food photography because anything wider than that will distort the image. And a 50 millimeter is what we call normal lens, so it's what your eye really sees. And the 100 millimeter macro is great because, with food, I can get into all the details. Let's say I'm photographing just the leaf, the tip of the leaf, or the vein of the leaf, then I can use this. For me this lens is really versatile because I can get the wide shot if I scoot back enough and then I can get the very tight details that I can't get with a 50 millimeter lens. So that's why I use this one. That's good. Great. Alright. Am I blocking you if I go here? So because it's 100 millimeters I do need to step back a bit. So if I were in my house and I didn't have this much space, then I could do a 50 millimeter lens, I would just not, the focal range would be a lot shorter, right, so I wouldn't be able to get in here for detail, I would have to scoot back a bit for the detail. That's okay for something like this. So here we go. Okay so this is what we're seeing. Oops, that's the first one. This is what we're seeing. So what you can see is there's a really nice shadow side because it's the side that's away from the window. And then there's a really nice highlight side because it's the window side of the image. So I'm gonna get in, I'm gonna make it a little brighter. Maybe that's a little gray, a little dark. (humming) Great, so that's a nice color. I think I haven't given myself enough space to crop anything. So again I'll scoot back a little bit. And when you're cropping, it's always useful in food photography to give yourself more room than you need. Because you never know when you're going to want to come in a little bit. In the dark room days you had to be very precise and you had to photograph, well actually during the color slide film days, you had to be very precise and photograph just what was in the frame, but now we really have a luxury where we can crop in. So if you don't know the purposes of what you're using the image for, or if you haven't decided the shape then it's good to give yourself more space. And if you're doing something like Instagram that has a square crop most of the time, you want more space so that you can crop in. So I'm gonna scoot back a bit, see if I can not make it crooked, which we can always fix in post. But I always tend to shoot a little crooked. And then we'll continue to add some elements to it. That should give myself enough space to work with around the image. Great. So even though I don't want this much on the top, I do want this much on the side. So we can come down and we can crop off the top and we can crop off this very little bottom bit, but this gives me space to be able to add some decorative elements. So I'm gonna start propping a little bit. Thank you. So we have some really beautiful pale pink, we have some nice white, we have a nice highlight side, we have a shadow side, let's play. So you always, in a cake shop, got to have a cake cutter, you can have a serving piece, these are beautiful silver pieces. But just having them down on the white is not so exciting. And if you put metal or something reflective on the highlight side, it's just going to be really glary. So let me show you what that would look like. And then we'll move it over to the shadow side. That's not that bad, it's not that bad on that side. So we can add a few elements. So I love the pink of the cake and I think that we could bring in this pale pink napkin. And we can also play and see what it's like if we do a little dual napkin combo. And some candles. Maybe we stack, sorry to have my back to you, we stack some beautiful plates in the background. So I'm introducing elements to tell a story. So when it's just a cake that says one thing, but when you add these elements you know it's getting served to many people, here are candles, it must be a birthday. So that right there is already so many more words than just a single piece of cake by itself, right? And if you really are uncertain about what to do with props, look at images and you can just mimic exactly the layout of how they do props. There are millions of food images online and if you're thinking of a cake image and you're not sure, how would I style a cake image? Look at some cake images that you think are really strong and stand out and play around. Try what they're doing and then change the color, change the shapes. So what do we think about that? We think let's shoot it and see what we want to add. Sorry. Okay so now I can tell there's definitely a party happening. Is it a birthday? Probably. Or it could be a wedding. So let's see, how do we make it a birthday story? Well in a birthday story we have candles, in a wedding story we don't. So in this birthday story we can experiment. Is it gold, look back. If this isn't your strong suit, picking colors and picking themes, again my advice was pick a color and just do everything, all the shades of that color. So I like the gold in here. I like the pink, but let's do the pink. Is it a one year old's birthday? Is it a five year old's birthday? What story are we telling? It's nice in your imagery to have odd numbers. So three will always look better than four, for example. Staggering things. If I were to put all the candles right in the center, that wouldn't look right. So give them some space, but not too much space. Let's see, what's that like? And then also your lens sees something very different from what your eye sees. So once, alright so what if I wanted four candles? So I should look through the camera. It's okay to take a shot, remember it's digital so you have infinite possibilities. Alright, do I like that? What do I think? I think the four looks a little bit strange, so I'm gonna add a fifth. I could take one away. Okay great. So what else, I have some flowers. So let me start with the vase and see what that's like. So I know by this image there's a little bit of negative space over here. So I can fill it with something. And it's okay for your props, to have them edge off of the image, too. So maybe I'll try the flowers here and then I'll scoot them over. Because the focal point of the image is the cake, it's not the flowers. So it's important to have your hero by the center or the main portion of your image. Look at those colors. The colors together, look, we stuck with the color, it's really beautiful. That's a little bit busy for me, right? So the flowers are really competing with the cake now. My eye is really drawn to the flowers, which draws my eye out of the image. How am I fixing that? Well I thought it was too empty without the flowers and I think that it's too busy with the flowers. So what if I take some of the flowers out of the vase and put them on the cake to give it a little bit of oomph? Okay. And maybe just a few flowers. So I'm going with the lighter colors because the dark color was really distracting. And then I'm also kind of pushing it out of the frame so it's not such a focal point. And we'll see, I have to stand there. Maybe it comes over a little bit. See how it's okay, you don't have to get it right on the very first shot, particularly if you're doing this at home for yourself, you have time to work with it and get something and get a variety of images and then you can look through them all and see what you like most. So we've tried that, let's shoot again. So it's so much better without the dark, but it's too close to the cake, that's a tangent. So let's rotate that a little bit. Move it over. Okay and then I think what I need to do is bring some of this color over here so the eye goes through. So I'm gonna take a few more flowers. Beautiful. Beautiful flowers. And they can either go here, or they could go right here. Let's see what that looks like. And now I just make a hole in the cake, right? So if it doesn't work I can just turn the cake around. So it's really, once you have your lighting right and you have your subject right, it's about picking some elements to tell a story and getting those to a place where it looks great. And if that's not your strong suit, you have friends, you have families, you can ask people, which one do you like best? You can put it up on your Facebook and take a poll, there's so many ways. You don't have to be intimidated by food photography. If styling's not your strongest suit, then look for something and emulate it, imitate it. Ta-da. So we brought in the pink, it makes your eye go around. See the difference? See how, can we go back to that first cake shot by itself. So this is where we started. And then our last shot. And this is where we finished. Do you guys think there is a big difference? It's always portrait style for food photography or you can use horizontal? You can do horizontal, absolutely. So the reason I shoot a lot of food vertically is because so many magazines that I work with and clients need vertical imagery. And then also if you're looking through Instagram you're scrolling this direction, right? You're scrolling vertically. But you can absolutely do something horizontally. And also, look at our subject material, it's tall, it's lengthy. So the reason I chose to photograph this particular image vertically is for that. If I photograph is horizontally, which I'll show you, there will be a lot of negative space. But you could always use that to write something on it, to fill in some text. Maybe you overlay your logo. So here we go. Great question. So there's tons of space in here, and that's okay. Negative space in art is really something that you can work with, it's very appealing to the eye. Busy is not as appealing. So I like that, what do you think? Microphone please. To the gentleman in the back. Back here it's hard to see the candles and I was just wondering, do you ever mix backgrounds, maybe make it dark and white background, or how would you bring the candles out? That's a great question, how would I bring the candles out, from back there it's difficult to see, do I ever mix backgrounds? Absolutely. Sometimes I'll use a rustic wood surface and then a background that's something like this. Or later you'll see in our granola I'm using a pink tablecloth and then a white brick background. And really the candles, when you get close you can see them, they're not the story. The story is the cake. So this part's the most important portion. You can also take a black card, if I wanted to really enhance the candles I could do two images and overlay them if you're great in post-production. And I could bring over on this side of the cake, behind here, I could hover a black card to drop in more shadow and that would bring out the candles. So if you're ever wanting to add more shadow or darken something, you just add a piece of black. And it could be a napkin, you just hold it. So that's when you need a second set of hands if you don't have a clamp and an arm, but you could get a tripod arm or a C-stand if you're doing that and you can hang something from it and that's how you can-- If I were right here to hang a napkin, a black napkin, it would really make this side come through and the candles would stand out more because they'd have an increased shadow, which would give them depth. Great question. Here in front we have a question. When you travel, what lights do you take with you? Great question. When I'm traveling, you have the next question for sure. When I'm traveling I am a minimalist. I find that sometimes when I'm going to really remote places and I don't bring lights with me. I use natural light and I wait for the right times of day or I work with harsh shadows and I work them to my advantage. So if you're outside, let's say you're photographing, you can find full shade and things will look really beautiful in full shade. Also if you can find an overhang and you can be right at the edge of the overhand and let the light come in then you'll get some gorgeous full light that pops your colors. If you are in the studio, then, what would you choose if it's not natural light? In the studio I always use Pro Photo, they're just the lights that I grew up working with and they do a seamless job, I never have a problem. So that's my provider of choice for lights. Yeah? Are you setting a custom white balance? I am not setting a custom white balance unless I am in the studio. And that is because I really want to see all of my images together and then adjust the color in post. So if I'm shooting this inside and them I'm doing a picnic outside, I want to make the feeling the same. So I'll hand adjust them. If I'm in the studio, then absolutely my tech is doing all of the white balance things that need to happen with the cards. So, yeah. Back there. Hi. Hi. I'm just curious as to why, especially in this particular scene, the silverware is so close to the bottom of the image that it really doesn't have any foreground. And is that just sort of stylistic for you, or is there like, I don't know, some reason why we would want to do that in a food photography situation? Great question. Often the silverware is really not the focus of an image so I'll push the silverware off, maybe it will be coming out of an image, maybe it will be towards the foreground and out of focus. That's really typically not the primary importance of my image. Sometimes the silverware might be over here. We're on a short time period right here and once it was sat down I thought, "Well that's fine, "that's in a fine place." So you can play with it, but it's not the focal point of the image. The important factor is the cake, that's the thing that's telling the story, that's the hero. And then the silverware is just a subsequent piece to create the rest of the story. I noticed you're at ISO 1250, do you tend to go any higher than that, or do you find it pretty noisy? And then I had a question about using a tripod, if you use a tripod or you usually don't? Great questions. So when I'm in a studio I'm always using a tripod. For the ease of you being able to see me and me moving around in this space, we're not using one. If I'm in a studio I'm using a studio stand, actually, but if I'm at home I'm using a tripod. And the reason behind that is because then I can do many iterations of the same images while removing one item or two items and it will be identical. So let's say I'm looking at, can we go back to the one before this please? Let's say I'm looking at this and I want to move the silverware, silverware friend. Then I can keep everything else the same if I'm on a tripod and I can move this to the right a millimeter or two inches and the image will remain exactly the same and the only element that I'll have touched is the silverware. So that is the main reason, and then also you don't want blurry, you don't want camera shake. If you're photographing above 125 you typically won't get blur or shake unless you're doing something like this with your camera. But using a tripod for food photography is so helpful because then you have a focal point, it stays sharp, and you have the ability to move your exterior elements around while maintaining the exact same design and layout. So I love that, I thin it's really helpful. I'm gonna jump in real quick and thank Morphe Cake Company. If you're in Seattle, in the Seattle area, they donated this beautiful cake to us. So check them out, I think it's just

Class Description

Great food photography is all about showcasing the dish’s best traits—from its colors to its textures to its subtle details—so you can inspire the viewer to want to take a bite. But shooting food for social media and blogging takes different skills than shooting for commercial and editorial purposes. Join food and travel photographer Liza Gershman as she walks you through the steps to create and edit food images that will get you noticed on social media. She’ll cover trends, styling, storytelling, lighting, composition and editing so you can strengthen your compositional eye and perfect your scrumptious images.


Adobe Lightroom Classic CC



Liza Gershman is not only an amazing artist, she is an excellent educator. In this course, she goes beyond teaching the basics of interesting composition. She factors in the connection between food and culture, and the role that it plays in storytelling as a visual artist. She demonstrates how to draw upon the story of a dish, to showcase it with an authenticity that will set you apart and elevate your art. This was a wonderful class, and absolutely worth owning! Thank You Liza!

Florence Grunfelder

Liza gave a good overview of the steps involved in shooting food - from choosing the props, selecting the pictures to editing in Lightroom. This is a good course for someone getting started in food photography.