Natural Light Food Shoot Prep
So we are gonna be doing an actual photo shoot, I'm gonna have Malina on food styling, I'm gonna have Jack on digi-teching so I don't lose my images, he is also in charge of doing, in Capture One, he is in charge of getting the wipe-outs, of doing basic color corrections that I know are gonna be global, they're gonna go from image to image, and Capture One has a knack, you can say, "This is how I want the images from here on out to look." I will give you a big warning about that though, I love Capture One but if you start to knock down highlights or if you start to adjust too much about your photo and if it translates from one image to another you'll actually have blown out highlights and not even know it, because you've got the highlight meter knocked down, it looks great to you, so try not to do too much beforehand, is that fair to say?
Yeah, I'm always very careful when I'm doing adjustments in Capture because you don't want to end up in a situation where you're tweaking your high...
lights because you forgot you made a change in your settings. So you might knock your highlights down a couple points in Capture because that's the only way to get it, but you have to be really sure that you track that you did that so when you move to your next shot and change your lights, that you don't start from the position where you're trying to over-do your highlights with the lights because you knocked them down in post. So you just gotta track what you do and not fight yourself.
Thank you Jack. I did a very editorial-esque thing here and said, I looked at this this morning, I'm like, "That's not gonna work." The blender's gonna be too high, you know I wanna make sure that I have a good variety of things to show you as far as how to style and how to place, but we decided to go a route where we're gonna do sort of a semi-breakfast lunch scene where we're gonna have some juice and some peanut butter and jelly and it's gonna look really graphical, and we're just gonna kind of, we're gonna work the scene from start to finish, whereas this is gonna be kind of set in stone and I'm gonna force myself to stay with that direction regardless of what happens, 'cause I don't know what's gonna happen, I have no clue. I haven't shot like this before, I've never put a light inside of an oven like this before. It's always either been a cut out... So we're gonna mess up, we're gonna look ridiculous, and we're gonna kind of hopefully overcome that and show you that mistakes are part of the process. You sort of get a frame that you're happy with and then say, how can we push this further and further and further until you start to see diminishing returns on the way, how your set's behaving. If the food is staying fresh or how things are looking. So we're gonna get going, we just kind of gathered a bunch of props, so when you have an idea for an image or you get somebody who wants you to create an image, you kind of, you speak to your prop stylist, your food stylist, you think of the gear or the lens you need, what angle this is gonna be shot at. Right now I'm running on a 45 millimeter. I was tempted to do a 25 mil but it really pushed everything out on the table, it almost looked like it was being warped. So I went for a 45, you can still things sort of curl out so you can see the sides of things which I really like. If everything's too flat, if you have a 85 millimeter and you're just going right down on it it's hard to see the sides of things a lot. So in the middle it's very flat and you'll see things kind of curl out a little bit, so you can see the side of the glass and not just the top. It's not exaggerated but you can see it. So I think we should just get started and see what happens. I urge you, and people online, to kind of either call us out on stuff that you see, ask questions, you know find out, because we're just gonna be doing this for the first time, so... This particular set, not my first time photographing stuff. But the, so ask questions along the way, if you see something you don't understand or would like to know more about or a piece of gear or a technique or a suggestion, blurt them out and we'll respond on demand. And I'll tell you one of the things I've discovered recently is my go-to light is set up especially for conceptual splash is two strip lights on either side, backed off a little bit, and then sort of like a white fill card in the front to bring light into everything. I don't do a top-down very often which is very common for splash work because you don't want to get splashes into your soft boxes. I don't care, I throw it at them, they get messy. But I love that edge lighting. But I've also been doing lighting where I edge the front of it using the strip lights so I get all the texture in the splash, and this applies to even food, it doesn't have to be a splash, but then another light coming from behind, so you're having, the translucent nature of the liquid really kind of glow but also the front is being edged out by two lights and you see all the beautiful texture. So you get the best of both worlds, and so we're always messing around and trying new stuff, seeing if it works, it usually doesn't, but when it does it really works. So let's get started. Let's do over to the digital tech station, so we took a base image of the overhead. We have a camera mounted, I use a Nova Flex ball head, not for any particular reason, I know everyone uses rad stuff and I like it too, I just, when I was doing panorama photography, this allows you, it's just a really robust, well-made, they're both really well-made. But it allows me to kind of go up and down the rail here, and this macro focusing rail allows me to make minute adjustments both in framing and focus if I want, so if I zoom in closer the focus moves along with it. So this one, this is a 45 millimeter, I think we're at two seconds, what are we at on exposure time?
Exposure, we're at... About 1 2 1/2, so eighth of a second-ish. (laughing)
A really awkward, and we're at F...
We're at F19.
19, F19. A little bit shallower then, that's getting crazy for me. So... And especially with overhead stuff I love everything to be completely in focus, so when you're doing, if you have stuff that's really tall like the blender we're gonna have I would back this off even further and I would give, because we have a high resolution camera, we can back off and then crop in, and especially with splash work I do this, I don't frame it exactly how I want it, I give myself a little bit of breathing room, so you're not absolutely locked into anything. So when you have a tripod this high and you don't have a camera stand, like in a home the ceilings are a little lower than this, not much, you don't want this massive camera stand rolling around. So having a good tripod that is not only fun to... It's a good thing to have 'cause when you do photography that's not food you'll bring it out, you'll travel with it, you'll do a lot of things. But you extend it all the way out and then you tilt it all the way down, and then I have this shifted so that I'm getting, like I said earlier, the center of the table, and what I'll actually do is I'll get on a ladder and I'll look through the viewfinder, I'll pre-focus to where my hero is gonna be, which is usually a little bit higher than the plate, and then I'll go and focus on that, and then make sure that I don't have to go to the camera again. 'Cause what you don't want to do is have to go up and down, up and down and refocus. So I'll pull the ladder away so you're not tripping on it and then I'll just leave this be, this is no longer... Of any use to me, this is just a camera on a stand, I'm not gonna change any settings, if I need to we can change it from there. So that way you don't have a big ladder, you're not messing around. And what I'll do, sometimes if it's really crucial I'll actually tape, I'll put gaffers tape on the frame edges on the surface of this so that I know exactly, when I put a plate in the frame, exactly where that in in the frame so you're not guessing. 'Cause a lot of times if you're not up in the camera looking through the view finder, you don't really know what's going on. So if you look up, you say "Hey let's tape that edge," you see a little nick in the wood that accurately represents that you can actually create a visual representation of where the thing is, where the frame is lined on the table. So we're just gonna get started, but feel free to interject with any questions, I know you're a little further away so whatever you can see, if you need any explanation I can provide that. But we're gonna get started, let's get... We've got Malina on props and food. So let's get... Let's get some peanut butter, let's get some peanut butter spread on the toast. So we're gonna be doing jam on toast, peanut butter on toast, orange juice, and I have this awesome cutting board that I love using. I probably use it too much, it's completely charred. It's just burnt to a crisp, but it looks awesome on camera. I was gonna say film. And why not, let's actually put some ice in the... In the glass here. Do I have my ice cubes?
Oh I brought some.
Oh did you?
My big ones.
So yeah we're just gonna get working, interject anytime with questions, especially on the internet if they see something, I know we have an overhead camera that we can cut to to see that, and if you wanna... Okay so the screen's on your computer. Alright let's take a shot, did you already check white balance?
I have not touched white balance yet...
Let's do white balance.
So yeah if you want to pop this in.
First thing's first.
Steve, go ahead and get the full color card.
Oh yeah for sure. So I'll angle this towards the... I'm gonna turn off the data light 'cause that's interfering. But you want this to face the camera, both the camera and the light, so we're gonna need to prop it up a little bit, Let's do that here. There we go, hopefully that's in the frame.
Yeah it should be.
There we go. So I asked him to get a base recording of the... So there's like an eyedropper in Capture One where you just click on the eyedropper and click on the area, and I think just like in Lightroom and it will give you that base image, and you won't have to worry about it for the rest of the shoot because it carries over from one image to another. One things I really like, I don't know that that's true in Lightroom although it might be... I actually really like Lightroom the way you can work on images, the funny thing about my work flow is I'll start in Capture One and capture, Capture One, and then I'll go to Lightroom for, I'll import everything onto my desktop to actually work on the images.
So Steve and Jack, just to clarify, are you using then setting a custom white balance?
Based on what you have there?
Yeah, 'cause there's no way, I know that these, I know the color temperature of these lights, but regardless, it's not just the color temperature of the light, it's the color relationship between the colors in the image which can sometimes be off. So we'll actually do sometimes a calibration for the specific camera and how it reads colors, so it's actually doing a profile for the camera, so it knows exactly how the red should interact. So it's not just about white balance solely, it's about how these interact, and it can really have a dramatic change on your image when you do that, the way it reads. It just looks more vibrant, it's almost like you've done a lot of post-production but you haven't done anything really. So let's take, what we're gonna do is i just threw a plate on the set, we don't know what we're looking at, I love this plate and the way that it's kind of circular and spirals, I'm kind of liking the peanut butter but we need to make sure that it reads as peanut butter, it's really important to know what the food is. In fact we were working on the toast earlier and we were spreading the peanut butter all the way to the edges but you couldn't see... If it were an angle it wouldn't be a problem but if you're looking straight down it just looks like peanut butter on the plate, you can't see the sides. So the camera angle and how you spread is really important. So that's where we collaborate, I let her know, I really let her know a lot about the angle and what I'm seeing through the lens specifically. She'll look at the angle that we're working on when she's working but then I'll relay specific information about how things are translating. So how's that, that dab is looking good. Yeah, that looks really nice.
Okay, is that good or do you want more on that?
No I think that looks good, just make it more not so square and maybe do a thicker clump not so, like literally push stuff in so it's more of like a morphous... and then do drobs, drobs, that's not even a real word.
Do a little drobs. (laughter)
Drobs. So I'll put this, can I put this on set?
Yeah, that's ready if you like it, yeah.
I like the crumbs that are going on to it too. So if you see the surface it's a charred, it's my favorite, it just has this really dark look so it makes anything that's on it stand out really well, and so I don't know if you can see, the peanut butter was spread really well, this is a technique that takes a little bit of work but you're looking for, especially with overhead stuff, you're looking for all the texture and dimension you can get. You're working with a flat surface so anything you that will bring out, and I'll show you with the data light, and you know what you can use with a flash light, how this extracts the most texture out of the peanut butter. So we'll put this on set, I don't know where this will go, let's make a decision on that. I would like this coming... I want this to be near the light. And that's another thing you have to think about, I always... Especially with overhead shots, I'll tend to put my key light in the same place every time, I'll put it at sort of an angle coming in from the left and then raise it a little bit off so that there is a sort of vignette, it doesn't immediately come in as really hot, so it's not just really really bright and then really dark, it sort of comes in dark, a little bit brighter, and then tails off into a vignette. So it's pretty dimensional to begin with before I even do anything. So let's bring in this from the upper left to kind of lead, let's lead the eye in from the upper left, we'll see what happens. And I'll get rid of this spoon here. So we'll take that shot, I already know the spoon just doesn't translate very well. So what you're gonna do is you're gonna work on your hero. You're gonna select a surface that you know is gonna... Work with your hero really well, and then Jack's already checking sharpness on it, how are we?
I would push sharpness--
Are we tech?
I'd push sharpness into frame a little bit, we're getting the top of the...
That's what I want though.
The jam jar and this could do with, the bread itself could do with being just a hair sharper.
So to push focus forward you twist the lens clockwise, so I don't have to actually go up and... I'm just nudging it, so try that. That's better, right?
'Cause I don't wanna go in, I wanna leave room, because the backside of your focal point drops off so fast and the front, there's so much room for it... I want it to at least...
Ah, pull it back just a little bit further. Kinda in between.
Back, between the two?
You went a little far.
Okay. That was too much of a nudge. Try that. The thing about these lenses is I have to send them in for cleaning all the time 'cause there's just stuff in them like jam in the lenses. I mean they're not cheap lenses but I've never been afraid to get them messy 'cause they'll actually open them up and clean them for up. But some of the aperture rings won't even, it gets so messy.
I'd pull back just a tiny bit further.
Okay. That was a big nudge.
There we go. See how efficient that work flow is though? I don't have to get up on a ladder and bend, you know ruin my back, and it's just a matter of the camera. Once we get the focus locked down nothing technical is in my head, I'm not touching any computers, I'm not doing anything, I'm more of a director of how things are looking on set and I'm just looking at the image as opposed to letting the technical stuff get in my way. Alright, that's good. And then it's always with a tilted lens, you always need to make sure your lens is zeroed out, 'cause you can shoot all day and your lens will be half tilted and you won't even, so really have to zero out your lens and not just your camera. And one thing I do when I'm shooting is I'll look at the settings and I'll make sure that the ISO is not at 800, I mean you guys probably know you just always zero out your camera, especially with food, especially with clients, because that's the one thing that he double checks, that I double check, because you can't, it's just as bad as losing the file. If you have an ISO 1000 image that you've been shooting all day, you might as well just throw them all away.
So there's the milk.
And I'm just cleaning the glasses, do you wanna go over like how we clean glasses and that kind of stuff?
Yeah, with glasses, there's a lot of things you can use to clean glasses. And I kind of make sure I'm not hiding behind, I always wear a... One white glove. (imitating Micheal Jackson's "Hee-hee!") (laughter) Sorry, that was... Just when I'm handling glass fingerprints show up everywhere, and dust, and so I always have, when I work on set I always have gaffer tape, I have compressed air, and I have clean cloths, a lot of clean clothes. Sometimes I'll actually, the thing about food is being a former chef I'll always have a side towel and have it with me all the time, it's like a comfort thing for me like wearing an apron is, I just feel weird when I shoot without an apron. So I'll actually use, and it's a bad habit, I'll use the lint towels or the... Lens cleaning towels for side towels in the kitchen. I'll go back and forth, so I have to make sure that I say, "Oh, God, alright so I gotta wash that now." But I've gotten, I've wiped oil... Yeah so it's a habit you don't want to get into because you're dealing with food and photography, it's not just people, it's not a sanitary enviroment, you're gonna get messy so protecting your gear and caring for your gear is really important. So we've got the milk, where did I... Oh it's over here.
Milk's right here.
Thank you very much.
Those are cool gloves, where'd you get those?
Chocolate, they're chocolate gloves.
Oh, alright. So the one thing I'm noticing about this shot is that the hero need to be the peanut butter and jelly. That's what we've decided is our hero, if that's fair. What's going on the plate is really just gonna be some cut up grapefruit and there's gonna be some orange juice, so what we want to do... Cropping goes from one image to another, right?
Rather than move the plate, 'cause at least at this point I don't mind the relationship between these two, I am gonna move this, you don't want stuff touching. Now one of the things, when I first started shooting food when I first did overhead shots, I was like, "Nothing can touch the outside of the frame!" I don't know why I thought, I don't know if you guys think that too, but I didn't like things kind of going in from outside of the frame, it just bugged me for some reason, and now I've kind of let that go, and it leads your eye in, it's kind of a cool way to bring... So I always had this really strict artistic approach that there has to be a hero and everything kind of has to fall around it and there has to be a vignette. I like it to be a little bit more natural. No we're shooting for ourselves, so if we're shooting for a client, in Capture One and I don't know if it's true in Lightroom you can have an overlay over your image that will show up over your image on every shot that you take so that when you have copy from the front of a magazine they'll give you the file and you'll just place it right over the file, and as you shoot you'll know if you're getting in front of the text, so just be aware of that, you do have to make room for text on occasion and copy.
Here's your, I don't know what you want the grapefruit in.
Let's do, this looks awesome, and let's do some slices out of that one.
Just kind of coming through the line, and then we'll do a... Three shots like that.
Do you want a napkin in there?
Yeah, let's do a napkin. What I want to do is, the first thing we need to fix is the fact that this plate is just... Right there, and I love that plate, I do not want to get rid of it.
Maybe it should be out of frame a little bit?
Yeah, I think...
So maybe this should be out a little bit so you're not getting a full plate?
Yeah, let's get... Jack let's crop in, and I'll move the plate too, but let's crop in so that this is not, this is going slightly out of frame and then we're coming here and then right down through here, and then leave that as is down below. And we're free to use, at least here we're free to use any crop format that we want, but there's gonna be obviously very specific crop formats that you'll need given wherever you're shooting. So you do need to be aware of that too. So we have the ability to crop into our shot, and when you're at home you can do that because you have total freedom, it's a really fun way to shoot, but one of the constraints you have to realize is that yeah, there are gonna be dimensions associated, and pixel densities associated with images that you're gonna have to deliver to the client.
So how's this feel to you Steve? Do you...
Further in, I would say get rid of more plate. This is almost like a 5 by 7 shot not which is cool.
I almost think the plate should be moved out a little bit too.
We will, I'll move it further yeah. It's not--
Do you want to cut the...
No, back. I'm gonna move the plate out of there so there's room. But for your eye to be happy there has to be room for your eye to rest and there has to be a place for... There has to be a hero, there has to be a hero that is not only lit to be a hero but placed to be a hero, and then a supporting cast, and I tend to use colors that, I love wood, but wood is very, it's kind of orange and reddish in color sometimes, which is a very dominant color and it pulls forward. My favorite backgrounds are very cool backgrounds that are subtle, but I love this blue-gray background because anything that you put on it that is in between, I don't like colors that are perfect, you know color matches like orange and blue, I like things that live on one side or the other of that, so we're working with blue and orange would be the complementary color, but I love working with kind of rust all the way to, you know rust yellow all the way to deep, so you're not just getting kind of color matchy, especially red and green. So it's all kind of moved to one side or the other on that.
That's really great, because actually people have been asking about backgrounds online, and Kirby had said, "Speaking of background colors, when do you prefer "photographing against dark verus light? "And, do you ever use non-white plates?"
Yes, yeah yeah. I don't mind, I really like white plates but I like things that have a little bit of subtlety to them like this plate here has both texture and a touch of color that complements the background, so we're kind of creating this mood of mixes of shades of cool colors that will then, this will explode off the... But for my style of photography I do a lot of dark images that are moody and have black backgrounds and are really dramatic. You see a lot of that on like, Starbucks ads that are very like, have a deep dark background and very bold up front, so it's very easy, it's almost like the opposite of a high key image where it's really easy to see what you're getting and see what it is and it looks great. So dark panels help me achieve that without actually needing to cut too much light. I'll use, if we're doing a three quarter shot going in like this or even, I love, my favorite perspective is actually coming up from below, but any background that is dark helps me cut the light so I don't have to cut it using gobos or any additional... But it really just depends, I love, we're getting more and more into sort of lighter, brighter conceptual images, so we have you know, more light backgrounds. But any background that doesn't, everything in an image has to be there for a reason, it has to be adding to the image or it's taken away, and the story has to make sense. You can't have, we couldn't put Thanksgiving stuffing in here for no reason and people would be like, "Why, are they going to school on Thanksgiving?" So there has to be a reason, you have to know what story you're telling and why you're telling it in one shot. So here we have to be really careful and we're gonna second-guess ourselves, is something adding or is something taking away? A majority of the things we're putting on set are orange, and the toast, the peanut butter, the jam, everything's that way kind of for a reason, and everything that's not food is cool in color temperature for a reason, and especially in a flat image you use that to your advantage. The cool colors recede, the warm colors, and you're already creating, we haven't even gotten to the lighting yet and you're already creating sort of a separation in your relatively flat image, which is crucial for overhead shots. So yeah, we'll get back do it, are there any other pressing... Let's get kind of a 1/3 shot, or a 1/3 cut of...
I already got it, the grapefruits?
Oh, see you're all over it.
I'm all over it. Do you want me to, I was gonna put the napkin in one, is that how you wanted it?
Yeah, I kind of like the rustic look. Is there a, there's another one right? Can you do like a wedge almost? Like a watermelon cut?
I'll put this on, I'll actually take three of these. You always like to, I always like to work in odd numbers, it's a basic kind of art concept. I don't always do that, but having a... And let's actually peel, I'll get rid of the spoon. Alright, so I peeled one of those, now you have to separate the artistic from the does this make sense sometimes. Occasionally I'll be tempted to make an artistic decision sometimes, like I want to peel, I want to make this look more textural or more... And so you start to peel and cut in bizarre ways, but you also have to say, would that happen? You have to think for real like, depending on the shooting situation or what the client wants, does it make sense that that's the way it is? 'Cause remember I did a shot of cassoulet that I think is on my website, and it's mid-prep of the French dish which has tons of different ingredients but I calculated, I didn't just do artistic decisions, I did decisions based on what would actually be happening when you're actually making that dish and what time it would be happening, 'cause I had a pot of boiling water on there, and there wouldn't be that boiling water if this wasn't cut or that wasn't cut, so you have to think through your dish and figure out an image that makes sense, because a lot of people will just read right through it, "Oh, I've made cassoulet and that just doesn't make sense." Please.
How does the cropping work actually, this is pre-cropped? I mean can you go back after the fact and get more information or it's just for composition?
The great thing, the reason I shoot loose sometimes, and especially when things are flying around, is that none of this is permanent. Especially in Capture One you can always go back, 'cause it doesn't get rid of the information, so you'll shoot another image and it will apply the crop, but you're not losing what was, it's not cutting out what was there, if that answers your question.
So you're getting the crops, you're getting the composition when you download and then you still have the option to go back.
Which is really important because you don't know, they might say, "Oh, we'd love to see the edge of the table, "it's really cool." I mean it dropped off to this concrete floor but it didn't look like concrete floor. You know what I mean, so you need to be able to do, there is a lot of, especially in commercial stuff where they're coming back to you saying, "Oh, did you shoot that?" And they weren't necessarily clear on it, and it's always good, I mean Jack will always get a shot of the surface before we add anything so that if we have to eliminate something we can actually just draw it out in Photoshop and there's no... It can just be drawn away and the lighting has been changed too much so it's easy to do, so we get base plates of everything, we get the final shot, and then he's also marking what shots, at least you should be... (laughter) He marks shots like what this shot is, if it's nothing we still keep it, we don't get rid of it. But he'll mark, he'll write a note in the notes section saying, or on a piece of paper, saying shot number, "Oh, we nailed it on this shot with this." And then we'll nail something else. With food, maybe you have peanut butter or something that's time-sensitive, this peanut butter is not gonna go anywhere, so we can shoot that to our heart's content. But when something's on set that will wilt or do something else, we shoot typically, especially in a commercial setting, for that only. Sometimes even for just a leaf, I mean we wanna do a really nice leaf where we actually style droplets of salad dressing on a leaf and that's it. And so that sort of layer, so that's why it's so important to have consistent LED, whereas natural light you're forced and you're in this rush to make everything happen on set all at the same time and you're freaking out, and it's always fun to do that, but to have some control and especially with food to kind of break it down, slow down a little bit allows you to do better images, to create better images, but it does require some knowledge of at least layering and layering masks in Photoshop. So we're trying to get everything in one shot so that won't be a requirement of this, 'cause you can get, Photoshop is an unending learning experience, I'll never master it. So we do very basic stuff, we like to get everything in the shot, even when it's a really complex image in one image, and then push certain areas. We'll redo the salad or rinse something that's kind of wilted on set. But these lights are so cool that we have a lot of time to work, so it's not too bad. So let's get back to it.
I have some wedges if you want those.
Yeah, let's put them on. I just love to see, oh, yeah, yeah, yeah.
Is that what you wanted?
This is cool. This one...
Yeah, those are nice.
And I might even separate one of those open, 'cause every time you see a flat cut, and this is a really good way to cut citrus is to cut them where you can actually see the segments, you don't want to cut a lime where you're going along with the segments, it just kind of looks like this weird, you almost can't tell what it is. This says grapefruit, and I think I might even peel them apart so you can see each individual... And that seems like something that would actually happen... as opposed to just peeling that like that. So we'll have this, and it somebody were to cut it they wouldn't be cutting it into sections but they might cut it in half if they're trying to... I think these will work.
I'll put another one of these on there because they look so good. Maybe three. Alright. And always ask, you know Malina and I have worked together a lot, but if you are working with a food stylist you've never worked with before, always ask who will be touching stuff on the set, because you know a lot, if you don't have an open relationship they can kind of, they'll want to work on the set, they'll want to do the detail work, so we always talk before hand. It depends on what kind of shoot it is, who's gonna be doing the final kind of little minute stuff or placing stuff, or am I allowed to touch stuff on set? So just you need to ask beforehand to figure out where those boundaries lie.