Greetings, volks. Welcome to Hohenfels Volks, THE place for our place! Things have been rainy here, but that gives us the chance to show the stormy side of Hohenfels and our surrounds. I trust you’ve bagged some cloud shots!
One of our Facebook readers, Lili, asks “For those of us who don't own an external flash unit, or simply can't afford any sort of lighting equipment; what are the tricks to making food look more appealing and vibrant, and not so flat and 2 dimensional?” We’re addressing that in tonight’s post, so bring your appetite and let’s get going.
The first thing to know is that flash, while an important part of your kit, isn’t necessary for all types of photography, nor at all times. Flash can help by adding light, allowing the use of faster shutter speeds, and by allowing us to shape the feeling our images evoke by shaping the light. There are other ways to accomplish this, though. Let’s look at how we can achieve that.
There are multiple ways to shape existing light. Let’s start by moving your food toward an area that has plenty of the light you’d like. From there, you can modify that light with everyday household items. A pillowcase can be used to soften and spread the light, covering a larger area with nice gentle light. You can use it to shape the light by varying your angle and position. In a previous post, we mentioned the inverse square law that says doubling the distance between a light source and subject gives ¼ the light level. You can see that by tilting the angle between your pillow case diffuser and subject creates the illusion of distance and depth.
Another way to add or shape light is to use a reflector. You can use foil or a 5 in 1 kit to bounce light in from outside the immediate area. This allows you to concentrate your light where you want it, and increase your luminance levels. Again, tilting and angling your bounce can shape the light. A nice little thing to try is bringing your light in from about 45 degrees above your subject, illuminating the top and side. This allows the light to taper, and when you add the softness of the light, creates some depth. You can use a large white piece of gator foam, a piece of matting, or even a cookie sheet.
Another thing you can do is use your pop up flash. I never thought I’d say that, but with a little ingenuity, some foil, and a diffuser, you can add some depth. The trick to this is bouncing the light in from off the lens axis. I’ve used my external flash on camera to bring in lighting from 45 degrees to the side before, just with a piece of white mat. Remember, though, that bouncing your light costs you some of its power and range.
Now we’re going to move on to the best way to add some detail and vibrance. The big secret is DOF, depth of field. Using a longer focal length at a very wide aperture will give you a limited DOF. If you are shooting at 50mm, f/5.6, and focus at 2 feet, your DOF runs from about half an inch in front of your focal point to about the same behind it. You have a little over 1 inch of depth. Anything outside that range will become progressively out of focus. Taking into account the angle from which you’re shooting, you can create some nice little focal points within your scene. I like to think of it as pools of focus. When you place these at locations other than the center, you get some nice depth and intensity. Shooting outside in open or semi-open shade can also give more light and add elements of interest. The key to this is distance between the background and subject. You also want to make sure your focus is spot on where you want it, allowing your subject to leap out from the background in the finished image.
An easy thing to do is set up some Christmas lights or other small lights several feet behind your subject and shoot focused on your subject at your widest aperture. Do this in lower light, bringing in light with a flash or reflector. You’ll see some small circles of light that are incredibly out of focus, adding immediate interest to the scene if done right.
To boost the intensity of your color, shoot at about 1/3 to 1 stop lower that you meter for. By slightly underexposing your scene, you improve color density, saturation, and vibrance. It makes for less time spent editing and more time shooting.
Here are 2 images that show how using DOF can create an interesting sense of the meal or food.
ISO 800, f/5, 1/30, 44mm
Notice the DOF on this. By focusing toward the center of the ribs and allowing the highlights to fall higher than normal, interest is added in the meat, even though the pepper would seem to dominate. The pepper is diminished in strength through a shallow DOF, and the sharply blurred foreground end of it.
ISO 800, f/5, 1/60, 41mm
By focusing on the back edge of the meat, sharpness is retained along the kabob, while bringing down the interest in the cucumber and tomato through minimizing DOF. The spices and browning on the meat hold quite well. Having dominant, complimentary colors, such as red and green, can decrease interest in the main subject. By decreasing their dominance through either DOF or lighting values, interest is brought back to YOUR subject.
Thank you, Lili, for the great question. I hope this gives you some ideas and helps you shoot what you eat the way you like it!
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