Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Do It Yourself Light Box for Food Photography

Austin Grill Tacos with 2010 Lar Ardilla Moscato de Valencia

Earlier this week I posted a related article titled “Do It Yourself Lighting for Food Photography” that discussed inexpensive and easy to construct light diffusion panels and lighting along with some tips for using this equipment to best effect for food photography.  In this post we will look at a table top light box (or light tent).

Light Box

The previous photograph shows my tabletop light box setup that cost about $10 to construct (reusing the sheet and spring clamps from my diffusion panels, and using the same lights).  I made this a bit larger than the commercially available light boxes and constructed it from two square frames (25” per side using 3/4” PVC) with a single tube on the back connecting the two side panels.  Commercially available light boxes are generally smaller and range from roughly $30 to $100.  Commercial light boxes are essentially a cube of translucent material stretched on a wire frame with one side of the cube open (think of a box with an open top which is set on its side).

I prefer my setup over a commercial light box for several reasons:

  1. Low cost
  2. Larger (better dimension for food photography)
  3. Greater flexibility (I can choose to close the top by draping another sheet or leave it open, I can choose to drape the material across the bottom of the box (or not), or could choose to expose any side of the box (or cover it).

So the real question is “why use a light box?”  Also, why would you want to use a light box rather than the diffuser panel set up I discussed in “Do It Yourself Lighting for Food Photography?”  One reason is convenience.  The light box setup is quick and easy…a slight advantage over the diffuser panels.  Second, the flexibility I noted above.  Third, the light box gives me the opportunity to light from the rear (either blowing out the background or controlling the light to add further dimensionality to the subject).  These advantages apply equally well to product photography.

1998 Jacquart Blanc de Blanc Brut Champagne

For me, the most important advantage of the light box is the ability to control reflections.  Because nearly all my food photography includes wine, controlling reflections from wine bottles and wine glasses can be a serious challenge.  The light box is an elegant solution.

1998 Jacquart Blanc de Blanc Brut Champagne-2

Glass reflects – you can’t cheat physics.  However, you can control what is revealed in the reflection.  A light box goes a long way to giving you the tools to exercise some measure of control.

2010 Lar Ardilla Moscato de Valencia

If you want to see the full coverage of the wine and taco photos featured here, go to Craig’s Grape Adventure tomorrow for the article on wine pairing with DC food trucks, and next week for a report on Casino Royale night including the 1998 Jacquart Blanc de Blanc Brut.

Have fun, and go make some great photography.


Monday, June 27, 2011

Do It Yourself Lighting for Food Photography

Apples and Oranges Difused 3 and 10-1

As many of you who follow my other blog, Craig’s Grape Adventure, where I write (and photograph) about food and wine pairing, I have put a good amount of energy into building my food photography skills since the first of this year.  In pursuing this type of photography, I quickly learned that I would not be able to rely on the natural lighting I prefer for the rest of my photography.  Not wanting to blow a mound of cash to set up a good food photography lighting rig (yet), I decided to go the DIY route as an interim measure.

Strawberry and Bananna-11

I followed a three step process:

  1. Constructing two PVC diffusers.
  2. Finding the “right” amount of light.
  3. Experimenting with the direction of the light.

First, I constructed two diffuser frames from PVC.  I constructed a large free standing unit that consists of a 42” square frame with support legs that bring the diffuser frame to table height.  This is a simple matter of cutting PVC to length, and connecting the joints with elbows and tees.  I constructed a second 30” diffuser frame for table top use – short legs so the unit could sit on the table.  Next it was a matter of draping bed sheets over the frame and securing the sheets to the frame with spring clamps.

Apples and Oranges Difused 3 and 10

Continuing with the budget theme, I used halogen work lights I’ve had for a number of years.  Note; using lights that are not white balanced will require you to adjust your in-camera white balance or adjust in post (possibly both – I manage color correction in post).  Not a big problem, just something to be aware of.

Getting the “right” amount of light was a matter of experimentation that involved moving the diffusers varying distances from the subject and moving the lights varying distances from the diffusers.  I don’t have a magic formula for this.  There are a number of variables, including the amount of ambient light, so I encourage you to experiment until you get the lighting effect you are looking for.

Pepper Zucchini Squash-6

The last step is the most important – the direction of the light.  The key to good food photography is giving the subject a three dimensional feel (the zucchini and red pepper above are good examples).  In other words, straight on lighting (from the direction of the camera) will result in a flat image.  As you move the light source to the side and back of the food, you begin to manage the light and shadow resulting in the addition of depth and dimension to the subject.  I spent the better part of an afternoon experimenting with this.

Because all food is not created equal, the location of your lighting can vary from subject to subject.  Said another way, food is not all the same shape, and adding depth and dimension to a banana is different than a piece of toast, a bed of rice, or an apple.  Through my experimentation, I found that to bring depth and dimension to the composition, the lights were never in front of the 3 o’clock and nine o’clock positions.  Using a two light set up, I frequently have one light at the 3 or 9 o’clock position and another further behind the food at say 10 or 2 o’clock.

If I don’t have time to play with the lighting for a particular dish (i.e., people are waiting to eat), my default is 3 o’clock and 10 o’clock.  This may not be “perfect",” but it yields solid results without much thought or effort.

You don’t need to spend a bunch of your hard earned cash to get satisfactory lighting for food photography.  After pulling the work lights from the garage, I invested about $20 in this lighting set up.  The real challenge in this rig is taking the time to experiment with light intensity (distance and more/less layers of sheets) and lighting location.  You can do it.

Too see more of my food photography and some mouth watering food and wine pairings, please visit Craig’s Grape Adventure.

Have fun, and go make some great photography.


Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A Few Thoughts on Family Portraits–it’s all about Emotion

Evans Family-17

Back around the first of the year, one of the regular readers of this blog, Natalie, sent me a note and asked if I would photograph her family.  Fortunately I didn’t have to explain to Natalie that “sure, I can do it, but the style you see on my blog is what you should expect.”  Natalie had been following my photography and asked me to photograph her family based on my approach.

Everyone was onboard with my approach, we quickly worked out the pesky little details, and we met in mid-May for the shoot.  We ended up shooting on a rainy, overcast and otherwise nasty day.  Perfect!  The passing rain gave us time to sit around and chat, and when the rain cleared, the clouds remained – a wonderful big soft box providing some great lighting.

Evans Family-45

Natalie and here family were great subjects.  Not only is this a remarkably attractive family, pulled from the pages of L.L. Bean, they made shooting easy.  In other words, they are a family that obviously liked each other and interacted in ways that allowed me to just click the shutter at the right moment.

Evans Family-29

So here is my advice for family portrait photography:

  1. Find a family like Tony and Natalie’s.
  2. If you are not fortunate enough to get a close relative of Tony or Natalie, proceed with the rest of the list.
  3. Place the family members in close proximity – gotta get them all in the frame.
  4. Wait for them to interact.
  5. Click the shutter.
  6. Congratulate yourself on a successful shoot.

Okay, not exactly what you expected.  The point I want to make is that you can find and follow all the rules or guidelines for posing, composition, lighting, blah, blah, blah, but if subjects are posing rather than naturally interacting, laughing, joking, and otherwise just having fun, you will be missing the best shots.

Evans Family-11

Sure, as the photographer you can tell a joke and get a reaction, but it is so much better when Tony tells a joke, and his son reacts to him.  If you, as the photographer, can move toward invisibility, and the family is having fun, you have a winning equation.  To get to some level of invisibility, you need to spend some time with the folks you are shooting.  Spending some sincere time getting to know each other makes the experience easier and more enjoyable for everyone.  Making new friends is definite plus.

Thanks so much to Natalie, Tony and your two wonderful children for letting me share this little slice of your life.

Have fun and go make some great photography.


Monday, June 20, 2011

Photographic Wrap-up of the 2011 US Open

Birdies on the Tee at 2011 US Open

As many golfers had hoped, Rory McIlroy redeemed himself from the Masters meltdown and won the US Open in spectacular fashion.  At the same time, the good folks from Guinness made a few extra bucks at the pubs in Rory’s hometown of Hollywood, Northern Ireland.  Congratulations Rory.

Padraig Harrington at 2011 US Open

Although not up to the withering pace set by McIlroy, several notable performances were recorded in the final round including Kevin Chappell (-5), Peter Hanson (-4), Carl Schwartzel (-5),and Louis Oosthuizen (-4).  And lets not forget Sergio Garcia who hung in with a –1 for the day to finish at –5 and tied for 7th.  Jason Day (-3) continued his excellent play to end at second place at –8, 8 strokes off McIlroy’s 16 under par finish.  Happy father’s day Mr. McIlroy!

12 Hole at 2011 US Open

Our wrap up post features some environmental shots from the US Open, and a creative conceptual shot as the title photograph (top of the page).  While at the Tuesday practice round, I tried to make several unique photos that capture the game while moving to the abstract.  This was the best of my efforts.  The shot was made by increasing aperture to f/32 and decreasing the shutter speed to 1/28 while shooting at a focal length of 200mm.  This is an example of breaking the rules – intentionally.  Without the context of golf, this photograph is undecipherable.  However, in the context of the US Open, the imagination kicks in and makes it understandable.

18th at 2011 US Open

One of the things I truly enjoy about the US Open, and the PGA tour in general, is the way players are treated as they should be – it is a pure meritocracy.  Rory was cheered with abandon.  All the players, regardless of their country of origin were welcomed warmly and applauded for their performance.  Golf seems to break down boundaries not seen in other sports.  Golf fans appreciate excellence.  Period.

Bridges on 11 at 2011 US Open

If you have not been following along with my posts from the US Open, here is your chance to go back and see some photography of select golfers you may enjoy.

Congressional Clubhouse at 2011 US Open

I hope you have enjoyed the photography from the Us Open.  The Open has certainly inspired me.  I played at Patuxent River Naval Air Station’s Cedar Point golf course over the weekend with three excellent scores (all things are relative).  I shot 80 on Friday, 81 on Saturday, and had a great father’s day gift on Sunday – a 77.  These scores will not make the cut on the PGA tour, but my golf buddies will be sure to enjoy this – my handicap will be suffering for some time as a result of these scores.  Less money in my wallet, and more in theirs.

Miguel Angle Jimenez at 2011 US Open

Have fun, and go make some great photography.


Sunday, June 19, 2011

Black and White Photography from the 2011 US Open

BW Hunter Mahon at 2011 US Open

Several regular readers of this blog have questioned me regarding my photography from the US Open.  All the questions asked why I was shooting everything in color knowing my bias toward black and white photography.

BW Miguel Angel Jimenez at 2011 US Open-5

It is true that I prefer black and white photography.  My decision process starts with viewing the photograph, from time of clicking the shutter button, as black and white.  I then go through a process that may lead to processing the photograph in color if the composition satisfies several criteria.  These decision points ask whether the color adds any meaningful information, and is the color distracting from the subject.

BW Phil Mickelson at 2011 US Open

With respect to the recent 2011 US Open Photography, I had two reasons for keeping the color.  First, when you view golf photography there is a natural expectation to see lush green grass.  The highly saturated green from a well maintained golf course is a clear part of the mental image one expects.  Second, golfers are known, for good or bad, for wearing brightly colored and sometimes quite outrageous clothes (go see some shots of John Dailey, Ian Poulter, or Ricky Fowler for a good examples of the more colorful).  I thought it was important to capture some of this color of the game.

BW Sergio Garcia at 2011 US Open

So in response to my friendly and helpful critics, this post is dedicated to black and white photography from the 2011 US Open.  I encourage you to return to the previous posts from this week, all color photography of the US Open, and form your own opinion of the relative merits of color vs. black and white golf photography.

BW Ty Tryon at 2011 US Open-1

Today is the final round of the US Open following some exciting play on Moving Day.  There was some interesting movement on Saturday, none of which did anything to shave away at the lead of Rory McIlroy who now leads the field by eight strokes – two better than the end of day results from Friday.

BW Zach Johnson at 2011 US Open-1

Among the notable movers on Saturday were outstanding play by Lee Westwood (-6), Jason Day (-6), Robert  Garrigus (-3), Fredrik Jacobson (-5), Matt Kuchar (-2), Sergio Garcia (-2), Kyung-tae Kim (-2), Henrik Stenson (-2) and Bo Van Pelt (-3) to round out the top ten.

BW Zach Johnson at 2011 US Open-2

There were also several players that had an opportunity but moved dramatically in the wrong direction including Robert Rock (+5), and Phil Mickelson (+6).

Sergio Garcia at 2011 US Open-4

Aside from the record setting play by Rory McIlroy, the outcome today will likely be influenced by the weather.  With rain over night and the threat of more rain during the day, the rough will become even more of a penalty for those not finding the fairway, and the greens even more receptive and slower which will allow the field an opportunity to attack the pin even more aggressively.

Sergio Garcia at 2011 US Open-8

As I am writing this, I am looking out on the Potomac from my secret Southern Maryland lair and witnessing a torrent of rain.  Not only will this rain affect play at the Open, but it is also diminishing my plans for hitting the links this morning.  Depressing.

BW Miguel Angel Jimenez at 2011 US Open-1

I have a few more photographs from the Open to share, so check back soon as I wrap up my coverage.  And finally, best wishes to Rory on continuing his record setting play and redeeming himself from the tragedy of The Masters.

BW Ernie Els at 2011 US Open-1

Have fun, and go make some great photography.


Saturday, June 18, 2011

Ernie Els at the 2011 US Open

Ernie Els at 2011 US Open-4

It is now Saturday, and the third round of the US Open – known as moving day – the day when players are trying to move up the leader board and position themselves for the final round on Sunday.  Unfortunately, 41 year old South African Ernie Els is not on the course today.  At six over par, Ernie was asked to pack his bags when he did not make the Friday cut of four over par.

Ernie Els at 2011 US Open

Ernie, aka The Big Easy, is a big guy with a seemingly effortless swing.  His size (210 and 6’3”) and the fact that he is a former rugby player make the nickname appear quite appropriate.

Ernie Els at 2011 US Open-2

By all reports, Ernie is a very personable guy and a fan favorite.  The fans above certainly appreciate Ernie taking a moment for autographs.  However, if you scroll back to the first photograph of the post, his downward look, appearing almost dejected, may have been a foretelling of his performance in the first two rounds of the US Open.

Ernie Els at 2011 US Open-3

With a world ranking of 122 and an impressive 9th rank in greens in regulation, we will likely see Ernie redeem himself from this cut in short order.

Have fun, and go make some great photography.


Sergio Garcia at the 2011 US Open

Sergio Garcia at 2011 US Open-5

Today we enter the third round of the US Open with Sergio Garcia tied for third place at two under par and nine strokes of Rory McIlroy’s lead position at 11 under.  I did not see Rory at the Tuesday practice round, but I spent some time following Sergio.  Sergio and the rest of the field have their work cut out for them after two record setting rounds by McIlroy.

Sergio Garcia at 2011 US Open

I don’t rub elbows with the pro golfers, but it was obvious that Sergio has a lot of friends on the tour.  After he finished the 9th hole and was crossing the practice putting green to the 10th, he made his playing partners wait several minutes as he hugged, shook hands, and otherwise greeted each of the 20 or so other players on the practice green.

Sergio Garcia at 2011 US Open-3

I don’t know many Spaniards, but having spent three years living in Venezuela, I can tell you this is a common scene among the Spanish speaking countries of South America.  Everyone gets a warm greeting.  Honestly, I found Venezuelans and the rest of South America to be the warmest and most welcoming people I have ever met.  And if you have the chance to sit down, have a drink and chat, you will have a friend for life.

Sergio Garcia at 2011 US Open-9

Best wishes to Sergio, and I hope he contributes to making the final two rounds of the 2011 US Open memorable.

Have fun, and go make some great photography.


Friday, June 17, 2011

Dustin Johnson at the 2011 US Open

Dustin Johnson at 2011 US Open-1

Continuing with my series of photos from the 2011 US Open, Dustin Johnson is today’s featured golfer.  Dustin is another exciting golfer who is emblematic of the new crop of young golfers making their impact on the PGA.

Dustin Johnson at 2011 US Open-4

We are now witnessing the process of the “changing of the guard” as this group of young players are routinely challenging, pushing, and often surpassing the elders of the game.  This group of young players is adding new excitement to the game with their crushing drives and aggressive style of play.  While this aggressiveness can be very entertaining, it can sometimes work against them as we saw at last year’s final round at the US Open when Dustin disintegrated after holding a three stroke lead going into the final round.  The nightmare began on the par 4 second hole, and within three holes he dropped his three stroke lead to three strokes behind the new leader.  And it got worse.  Johnson ended up with an 82, five strokes in back of winner Graeme McDowell.

Dustin Johnson at 2011 US Open-2

More recently, the youngster Rory McIlroy’s meltdown at 2010 Masters followed a similar path.  At the ninth hole, MIlroy held a one shot lead when the nightmare began with the 10th hole triple bogey.  He lost another shot on the 11th, and two more on the 12th.  After shooting 80 in the final round he ended up in 15th place.

Dustin Johnson at 2011 US Open

Although both Johnson and McIlroy have created a couple of memorable collapses, memories I’m sure they are trying to forget, I am confident they will be around for quite a long time and overcome these defeats with spectacular victories.  As a matter of fact, I am watching the second round of the US Open while writing this, and McIlroy is now five under par for the day through 14 holes and holds an eight stroke lead over another young gun – Zach Johnson.  The young guys make this game interesting.

Have fun, and go make some great photography.


Thursday, June 16, 2011

Phil Mickelson at the 2011 US Open

Phil Mickelson at 2011 US Open-3

This is the second installment of photography from the 2011 US Open and today I am featuring another one of my favorite golfers – Phil Mickelson.

Phil Mickelson at 2011 US Open-4

Phil makes my list of favorite golfers because of the excitement he brings to the game.  Phil brings this excitement by taking risks, making seemingly impossible shots, and pulling off miracles with his short game.  Prior to Tiger’s recent troubles, his exciting play was even more spectacular during the infamous duels between the two.  During the period of Tiger’s dominance, Phil was always there pushing and challenging.  This kind of rivalry (not always friendly) makes for great golf course drama.

Phil Mickelson at 2011 US Open-5

Phil Mickelson at 2011 US Open-6

The final shot in this series is a triptych of Phil practicing one of his patented flop shots over a bunker to a pin just a couple yards deep into the green.  What you don’t see in these shots is that the ball went nearly straight up and landed with nearly no roll, just a few short feet from the pin.

Phil Mickelson at 2011 US Open Triptych

Have fun, and go make some great photography.


Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Miguel Angel Jimenez at 2011 US Open

Miguel Angel Jimenez at 2011 US Open-1

Yesterday I had the great pleasure of attending the Tuesday practice round of the U.S. Open Championship being hosted by Congressional Country Club.  The great part of attending a practice round is that cameras are allowed – unlike the tournament rounds beginning on Thursday.  I also enjoy the practice rounds because the crowds are manageable and the line at the beer tents are short!

Miguel Angel Jimenez at 2011 US Open-2

Over the next few posts, I will be featuring some of my photography from the US Open.  Today, I am focusing on Miguel Angel Jimenez, one of my favorite golfers.

Miguel Angel Jimenez at 2011 US Open-3

Miguel is at the top of my list of favorites for a number of reasons.  Not only is Miguel a great golfer, but he hits the mark in a number of other categories that make him special.  Miguel has a great sense of humor – listen to any of his interviews and you are sure to get a chuckle.  Miguel smokes cigars which means he is a lot like the rest of us golfers – taking a nice stroll in a beautiful park, enjoying the scenery, and enjoying a nice cigar.

Miguel Angel Jimenez at 2011 US Open-4

Finally, at age 47 he falls directly into my age group.  I feel compelled to root for the “old guys” on tour and am always pulling for him.

Miguel Angel Jimenez at 2011 US Open

Come back soon to see more photography from my visit to the US Open.

Have fun, and go make some great photography.