14 June 2012

Food Photography #2: Three Flavors of Light

Today, let's take a look at some of the different flavors of basic lighting: Ambient Lighting, Built-in Flash, Off Camera Flash.

“The quality of light by which we scrutinize our lives has direct bearing upon the product which we live, and upon the changes which we hope to bring about through those lives.” - Audre Lorde

©2012 Lee/Spinwave Photography
Click to enlarge photo.

Lighting Flavor #1: Ambient lighting

Ambient simply refers to the existing light. Ambient light can come from sources such as the sun, light bulbs, or candles. That doesn't mean the existing light sources can’t be manipulated to suit your needs. You could change the angle you shoot at, turn lamps on or off, move a candle to a different location, or use bounce cards to boost the amount and angle of the light.

To see what the ambient looks like, set the camera to “P” mode (it’s just like auto, except you can set the ISO and turn the flash on/off yourself). With the ISO set to 100 and the flash off, the Canon G12 calculated f/2.8@1/25th and took this:
With the ISO set to 100 and the flash off, the Canon G12 calculated f/2.8@1/25th
Click to enlarge photo.

That’s actually a nice photo and most people would be really happy with that (there’s a reason people say, “P’ is for ‘perfect’ “). I see gentle, mostly-even diffused light, adequate detail and texture, with enough specular highlights and shadows for visual depth.

There are, however, two things that really bother me. The first is the black-hole-ish area in the lower right-hand corner. This is a natural consequence of all the light coming in from one direction. The other is the blown-out sky that distracts you from the real subject of the photo, the food.

So how do we reduce the background brightness? The first thing most people think of is to simply dial down the exposure compensation. That’s moving in right direction, but this is a global adjustment and will darken the subject as well as the background. If only we could separate the two! Oh wait—we can, by setting the camera to manual mode and adding some light with a flash.

Lighting Flavor #2: Built-in flash

G12’s built-in flash, turned the mode dial to “M”, set the aperture to 2.8 and increased the shutter speed to 100
Click to enlarge photo.

I turned the on G12’s built-in flash, turned the mode dial to “M”, set the aperture to 2.8 and increased the shutter speed to 100 to darken the background.Whoa! Too much light on the subject! Using the G12’s menu system.

I adjusted the flash output as low as possible (1/3 power) and tried again:

With the ISO set to 25 and the flash adusted to 1/3 the power.
Click to enlarge photo.

Now that’s more like it. Increasing the shutter speed from 25 to 100, darkened the background. But now we have a different problem: the salad is only half-lit due to the position of the G12’s built-in flash.

A bounce card could help balance the lighting, but it wouldn’t get rid of the flash reflection in the window. And depending on the angle of the bounce card, a second reflection might show up.

Lighting Flavor #3: Off-camera flash

Time to bring out the big gun. Flash gun that is (or strobe, or external flash, or Speedlight, or Speedlite). I’ll stick with the term “flash“.

We could simply place the flash directly in the G12’s hotshoe. But without a nearby white ceiling or wall to bounce the flash off of (another lighting flavor for another day) this would create a similar effect as the built-in flash. We really need to get the flash off the camera body to control the direction of the light.

Flash Hot-Shoe

The easiest method of using a flash off-camera is by using an extension cord. In this case I used a Canon OC-SC2 cord (these were replaced by the OC-E3 a few years ago, but they have the same functionality). When paired with a compatible flash, all the TTL metering info is sent through the cord to the flash for a (hopefully) perfect exposure.
Flash Unit, Canon G12 and Off-shoe core.
Click to enlarge photo.
I dialed the flash down to -1/64th power and experimented with the flash in several positions, settling on 45-degrees to camera left and about 60-degrees above the plate:

-1/64th power, 45-degrees to camera left and about 60-degrees above the plate
Excellent speculars, shadows, depth, color and detail. With just a little bump in contrast and sharpness in post-production, we get the final image at top of post. (all other photos are straight out of the camera). 

Special thanks to Ed at Spring Creek Coffeehouse & Deli for the excellent Grilled Veggie salad (mixed greens, grilled onions, grilled bell peppers, grilled mushrooms, tomato, cucumber, avocado, feta, and olives) and for allowing me to photograph on location.

 My apologies to readers for the lack of set-up photos. All of my assistants had scheduling conflicts for this shoot.

 The tools: Canon Powershot G12, Quantaray QWC-900WA flash, Canon OC-S2 off-shoe cord; post-production in Apple Aperture.



3:16 PM, June 18, 2012 Reply  

Excellent photography. The second photo taken in built in flash after adjustment gives a specialized image.

12:42 AM, June 19, 2012 Reply  
12:33 AM, June 21, 2012 Reply  

Stunning Photos. Simple, clear and HD.!!

12:56 AM, June 22, 2012 Reply  

There are certainly a lot of tactics out there to creative, informative, and especially eye-catching posts.

6:05 AM, June 22, 2012 Reply  

Love your site!!

I have my own site for Cooking Recipes - http://cookingwithtricia.ca/ visit it when you get a chance.

8:09 PM, June 22, 2012 Reply  

hermosas fotos, muy naturales y se ve todo muy rico!

12:29 AM, June 23, 2012 Reply  

Excellent Photography modules are shown and they are fabolous and heart clearing!!

12:37 AM, June 23, 2012 Reply  

All the pictures are best but the ambient lighting 1st photo is excellent photographed and define its quality

1:53 AM, June 23, 2012 Reply  

Fantastic Blog..its look beauty and also photography.

3:59 AM, June 23, 2012 Reply  

Please write and I loved it. After that, I would follow you

12:19 PM, June 23, 2012 Reply  

Thanks for a very informative blog.
Cupcakes Maken

7:41 PM, June 23, 2012 Reply  

I am surprised at how great photography can change the way food looks!

10:24 PM, June 24, 2012 Reply  

Naturalized pictures with the significance modularization of all the views that best describe the picture nature and its features.

1:30 PM, June 26, 2012 Reply  

Really awesome photos. Thank you for sharing such a nice photograph.

6:29 AM, June 27, 2012 Reply  

Really nice photo's you really know what your doing .Keep them coming !

3:19 AM, June 28, 2012 Reply  

Very interesting post. so I’m bookmarking this for some helpful suggestions.

3:49 AM, June 30, 2012 Reply  

its a wonderful photography. nice post as well

7:27 AM, July 01, 2012 Reply  

Great tips! Kinda hungry for a tuna salad now...

10:29 PM, July 01, 2012 Reply  

Awesome Photography.. thanks for sharing food pictures..

2:00 AM, July 02, 2012 Reply  

Hi there
This is a great post and makes me think of where I can fit in.

Amazing Photography.. Best Ever So Far..

Brilliant tutorial! Food photography is also my passion but I can't get it right. This taught me a lot.

6:47 AM, July 05, 2012 Reply  

I am starting to like photography and that pictures looks so cool. This blog really helps a lot of amateurs out there! Thanks for sharing!

10:58 AM, July 06, 2012 Reply  

Hey, i loved the reading. Since i work doing gift recommendations, i have to keep up with different subjects, thats why it helped me so much. Oh, and could you please take a look at oqdar.com to check the tips i brainstormd from here? Cheers

10:30 PM, July 08, 2012 Reply  

performance in terms of eating food is very tasty, but you could try eating a typical Indonesia, especially Aceh, there are many delicious cuisine dishes: D

7:38 AM, July 11, 2012 Reply  

This post was more interesting than the class i took about photography hehe.I will memorize the guides because is on of the things i love to do the most!thanks for sharing!

5:38 AM, July 12, 2012 Reply  


Firstly thanks to post such a good article. I found it useful because it cleared my confusions about topic what you written.

11:59 AM, July 12, 2012 Reply  

thanks for sharing this with us

2:36 AM, July 13, 2012 Reply  

Thanks for the comments!

2:41 AM, July 13, 2012 Reply  

Nice Shots! But I was wondering about the food in the picture. It looks tasty and it suddenly makes me hungry. LOL

2:52 AM, July 13, 2012 Reply  

It's a "Grilled Veggie salad" (mixed greens, grilled onions, grilled bell peppers, grilled mushrooms, tomato, cucumber, avocado, feta, and olives). lol.

2:54 AM, July 13, 2012 Reply  

It makes me kinda hungry too!

3:58 AM, July 13, 2012 Reply  

translated from Spanish: "beautiful photos, looks very natural and all delicious!"

8:46 AM, July 13, 2012 Reply  

Hi Amber,

I really like you blog and this article. I see you are a BE member, and that's where I saw your info about your site-on the FB BE group. Nice to meet you, so to speak! You really know a lot about cooking and photography! Sally

8:10 PM, July 14, 2012 Reply  

You should check out the 1st installment of our food photography tips: Food Photography #1: Creating texture & depth. It is even better!

3:16 AM, July 15, 2012 Reply  

The content of the blog full of life's comprehension, and maintain positive, good state of mind, life can have meaning, just have the passion to create great achievements...Thanks for sharing...

11:21 PM, July 15, 2012 Reply  

I feel hungry to see your delicious food photo

9:08 PM, July 16, 2012 Reply  

Its very nice blog and great service.I found so many entertaining stuff in your blog,especially on this post. Keep up the good work.
burun estetigi

10:06 PM, July 16, 2012 Reply  

It was really new to me that to shoot a photo we should keep so many factors in our mind.

Thanks for explaining this so nicely to us.

1:49 PM, July 17, 2012 Reply  

Wow is looks great, I would love to taste a bite

2:59 PM, July 17, 2012 Reply  

Yummy the food pictures are all very delicious looking , I like to snap it for my own purpose also . I saw all pictures and very enjoyed after reading this article . thanks for sharing us with the great information.

8:37 PM, July 19, 2012 Reply  

This is an excellent post. You need to be extra keen on the details in order to have a nice photo. Thanks so much for sharing these details. True enough, you can never go wrong with these elements and some post processing at the end. Your photography is very much appreciated.

8:46 AM, August 02, 2012 Reply  

Looks like the off-camera flash has the best outcome... The food looks sharper and focused.

11:21 AM, August 03, 2012 Reply  

Love to see anyone publishing an interesting stuff on food photography. Hats off to you

5:23 PM, November 22, 2012 Reply  

Nice shot, the picture looks good, but I think it taste much better.. :)

6:57 AM, March 09, 2013 Reply  

It is amazing post all the best

10:22 PM, February 07, 2014 Reply  

Wonderful photography! i like it very much.Thank you.

5:36 PM, December 07, 2014 Reply  

Very interesting post.great tips and Awesome Photography.. thanks for sharing food pictures....

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