Sometimes it’s just fun to get back to basics and keep it simple. So after a brief, chilling trip to the local supermarket; I returned home with my bounty of food. I don’t think this was how hunter, gatherers worked way back then, in fact I’m sure my ancestors would be greatly disappointed in my lack of animal tracking skills or my ability to pluck fruit from nearby bushes and trees. Those days are gone, they’re so retro. That said, those days were also a lot cheaper, free actually; but today I guess I’m paying for someone else’s hunter, gathering skills and to have it presented to me in nice, neat packaging.
I digress, where was I, basics, food, blah, blah? So I wanted something simple to photography, but nothing too dark and moody, and also healthy. We all know that photographing cakes is simple just part of the job right, if we had a choice of sugar packed sponge, over yummy fruit, we’d pick fruit, right? The burden of having to eat the chocolate coated delights afterwards is so hard, but I’m happy to ‘man up’ and not waste those wonderful desserts; that’s what I keep telling myself. Enter the box of raspberries, colourful, cute, coated in texture and if you get your light right, a little bit translucent now and then to give you a fabulous ruby-red glow.
I wouldn’t say I have an endless collection of crockery, it’s very limited to be honest, but I had in mind a great little espresso cup with the raspberries overflowing from it, simple but effective. The hardest part I find about any food setup is the layout. Lights play a big part true, but you can pretty much get away with one big, diffused, soft light source and then a few flags to either enhance the highlights or shadows. Being an IT Tech for a number of years gives you a bit of a logical, hopefully organised, mind; which can often create hurdles when it comes to creativity and design. Turning that part of me off is my first step to success. If you’re not careful, your layout can look too structured, clinical or contrived if you over analyse it; creating an image that for some reason just doesn’t feel right. Time to go all Zen and empty your mind of logical thought, go with the flow and throw caution to the wind; in this case and many others, literally throwing caution to the wind is often a good start; It helps a collection of objects look more natural and creates a pleasing realistic feel. Basically, don’t over think it.
Raspberries all set, random natural feel hopefully sorted, now just the angle. It’s a good rule of thumb to look around the subject first, figure out where your light is coming from and find the most interesting vantage point. I’m not expert, but I find it looks better from two main points, either with the light passing from side to side across the food, or with the light in front of you, giving you backlighting and allowing translucent objects to really shine, forgive the bad pun. Nothing in photography is set in stone, you may find that particular foods work well with light coming in from another direction; these are just simple guidelines to use and then build on or break.
Usually I’d shoot with a tripod, and if I were doing this for a paying client I’d certainly do that, unless the room or scenario didn’t allow for it in some way. That said, I do like the freedom of being able to move around a surface without having to move that three-legged contraption every five minutes. With freedom though comes sacrifice, certainly if you’re only using a lower powered, constant light that in no way can match the power of the sun. The ISO has to be pushed up allowing noise to creep in, and you need steady hands or a high shutter speed to keep those images sharp, avoiding motion blur. If you don’t want to push the ISO too much or your camera can’t cope with it, you’re then looking at a wider aperture setting, which in some shots will give you a lovely shallow depth of field; but you may want the whole plate of food in focus or at least a whole raspberry, just so it stands out from the rest. So it becomes a fun juggling act of what to change, what to keep and does it produce a pleasing image at the end of it all?
The final problem I’m sure many photographers come across is, how many is enough? You may shoot fifty, sixty a hundred shots, but do you need them all, are they all groundbreaking images that people will want to look at over and over? Variety is the spice of life they say, so I try to pick a collection that has variety, even if it’s the same subject; maybe a different angle, different depth of field, more zoomed in etc … eventually though you’re going to have to put your pride to one side and decide which are the best, and that can be a tough one as you’ve just spent the last two or three hours working on them all. The way I tend to work these days is, gut feeling, if it grabs me in the first few seconds of seeing it, I’ll mark it as a possible and look past the ones that don’t. I rarely go back, because then you start to doubt your choices. Once you have that first choice, then look at the variation in what you have, if you have two or three that look similar, pick the best and discard the rest. Finally you should have the best of the bunch, with some variety to make a collection seem inviting enough to put together.