I've been very bad with keeping track of time lately. I'm planning just a lot of things right now while trying to balance a life with a toddler, a hungry family and a million other things on my hand. I am mostly successful at this but my plan for doing a post on food photography Q&A kept falling outside the 'mostly' category. Until now! I was very happy to see lots of emails with interesting questions. I tried to pick three or four questions which were common and I am trying to answer them here today.
This photo got most of the questions so I'm discussing it first. Following is the camera setting for the photo:
Lens: 50mm f/1.4
Shutter Speed: 1/60
Photo was taken in the afternoon around 4-5 pm when sun was not very harsh in a room with just a single source of light coming from 3 o'clock right.
Question: I read that you use 50mm f1.4 lens for food photography. I want to know if you use the same lens to take top view photographs and what minimum f-stop range do you use so that everything is in focus?
Response: Yes, I use the 50 mm f/1.4 lens most of the time to take my food photos. In order to take a top shot and to keep everything in focus I first set my camera to aperture mode and then I try to use as high an aperture value as possible while keeping the shutter speed more than 1/80 seconds to prevent any shake (I hand-hold the camera). Typically I'd be happy with f8.0 but even a 5.6 is good enough. Photos with dark backgrounds and single source of light get tricky because the dark background and less ambient light usually ask for a small aperture value so that the shutter speed is high enough to prevent any shake. Again, I hand hold the camera - if you have a tripod that helps you position the camera well for a top view, that might be an option to explore (that way you can have long exposures and still not see any shake/blur in the image). For me the obvious option is the dial up the ISO, so I go as high as needed to prevent the shake. The downside of high ISO is high grain in the image but post processing software will allow you to remove that noise.
Another point that I keep in mind while taking a top view like this is to use props that are not too tall because taller props are more likely to go out of focus and become distracting.
Question: I see that you mostly use natural light. What if light in my house is not very good?
Answer: I'm lucky to have good source of light in the house but still sometimes its not very bright outside and if I still need to take photos I first try to get as close to the source of light as possible. Again, in this case too I rely on higher ISOs. Reflectors come to rescue as well. White foam core boards from art and craft store are my best friends. Set them up as close to the subject as possible opposite to the source of light.
Lens: 50 mm f/1.4
Shutter Speed: 1/400
f stop: f/2.0
Question: What's your thought process while styling a "not so sexy" food?
Answer: That's a fabulous question! That's what I asked the famous food stylist Tami who also blogs at Running with Tweezers once. You can get a detailed answer to that question on her post. As far as I am concerned, I try to make it look sexy by sometimes adding props, adding color to a flat colored food or sometimes by playing with light.
Lens: 50mm f/1.4
Shutter Speed: 1/250
Question: How much do you rely on post processing or would you recommend post processing software?
Answer: Although I don't like to post process my photos a lot but I do recommend having software that can help you brighten things up. I use Photoshop to increase the exposure of photos that don't look well-lit and I also sharpen them as needed. Curves is my favorite tool because it helps in accentuating the contrast while keeping the subtleties intact. I am also exploring Lightroom. A cheaper option is Photoshop Elements. If you don't want to spend money, then you can try using photo editing software that came with your camera. They will typically have very good implementations of common actions such as exposure and sharpness. I've heard good things about open source software such as Gimp as well.
I hope some of these were questions that were also in your mind and that I was able to answer them. If not then do let me know and I'll try to cover them in my next Food Photography Q&A post.
After seeing your wonderful response and having some great discussions with some of you I would like to request one thing here. If you have any tips/techniques that, even though small, help you in your photography, please share them here so that others can also benefit from them!