Tutorial: Lencarta product photography workshop part 3

food_1So, every now and again, when the mood takes me, I run a free lighting workshop at the Lencarta studio. The studio measures 50′ x 25′, with a high ceiling, so is pretty much ideal for any kind of subject.

The idea is to help photographers to learn their craft.
Sometimes, we hire a model, this time we decided to run a workshop on product photography and we simply asked people to bring along something that they would like photographed – a dangerous game because, unless we really know how to approach literally any lighting challenge, we could end up with egg on our face 🙂

But, it worked out OK.
A group of people came along from Yorkshire, London, Wales and just about everywhere else, very keen to learn, and they brought along a pair of shoes, a trombone, a crash helmet, a bottle of beer, some food, a table lamp and various other things. It was a good day.

This is No.3 in this series

Food to go
This was in fact someone’s lunch, and he wanted to eat it once we’d photographed it, which meant that I couldn’t treat it like a normal food shot – I’ll get back to that later.

Camera height is vitally important. Often, we shoot level to the subject, sometimes we shoot from slightly below it (heroic viewpoint) to make it look more important. On this product, the camera had to be higher, looking down, otherwise most of the food wouldn’t have been very visible.

We started off with just a large overhead softbox, to create the main lighting source and to provide soft overall contrast, meaning that there would be no areas that were in heavy shadow.
We can often struggle to get enough depth of field, especially with small subjects photographed from a short distance. I wanted the bag that the food came in to be quite well back in the set, so that it didn’t dominate the actual food, and shooting at something like f/16 (my normal ‘safe’ aperture on a full frame DSLR wouldn’t hack it, so I decided to get the food sharp and put the bag out of focus. This is actually very effective as long as people can read the logo easily – because it is out of focus people have to (subconsciously) strain to read it, which according to marketing psychologists makes them notice it more. And anyway, the bag was err… not wonderful, it had a strap that was creased, in a real food shot it would have been a perfect example but putting it out of focus made it look less bad. Normally, I would have just put it further out of focus in PP, but the shots you’re seeing here are SOOC.

It may not be realised by everyone, but serious manufacturers are in fact willing to pay pro photographers to use monorail 5” x 4” cameras, utilising the Scheimflugg principle to shift the plane of sharp focus as required. Someone did in fact ask me whether I had ever used tilt/shift lenses instead, the answer is no. I’m sure they’re wonderful as well as being wonderfully expensive, but Sheimflugg relies on swinging the rear standard as well as the front one…

The first shot was at f/5.6, the other shots were at f/4, to achieve this.

In the shot below, I’ve added a honeycomb, fitted to a standard reflector. As you can see from the shadow, it’s off to camera right and is skimming across the food to reveal the texture. You’ll have noticed that the angle of the tomato has been changed to accommodate this and you can see too that we’ve removed the plastic cup from whatever it is on the far left of the shot. It sort of works, but I don’t want that harsh shadow


So, in the shot below, I’ve mitigated that shadow, i.e. I’ve reduced it but not removed it. I can’t remember how I did that, it might have been a reflector pushing back some of the light from the honeycomb or it may have been an extra light, to camera left.


Of course, as well as that long shadow on the ‘floor’, parts of the horrible beautiful trays had shadow on them too – easily avoidable by repositioning them, but it was really about finding solutions to the challenges I was presented with rather than removing the challenges, and after adding that fill I felt that a degree of shadow actually added to the shot. But on a real shoot, I would have ended up reducing it a bit in PP.

But, what is seriously missing from this shot is psazz – the food just doesn’t look appetizing. And the reason for that is that it’s edible (I suppose)…

food_closeupIn a real world shot of this type, the food stylist would have given me the product to set up on and would then have given me a fresh product to actually photograph, once I was ready for it. And although of course I would never admit to personal experience of this in case the Advertising Standards Authority saw this thread, I’ve heard that some photographers would spray the vegetables with a mix of glycerine and water so that they had tiny droplets on them, and would even coat the meat with baby oil, to give it a nice sheen. And that of course would improve the shot dramatically but make the food unfit to eat. So, we ended up with very little sheen and very little psazz, as you can see in the crop below

I have to be fair to the owner, he did offer me the tart to eat – obviously he didn’t know that a diabetic had to say “No” to that :)