" How To’s "

Food and Wine Photography

Editor’s Note:  Hello everyone….with Food and Wine just around the corner, Ben Hendel is back on the blog with a post about food photography while you’re sampling the fine cuisine around World Showcase……

 

The EPCOT International Food and Wine Festival has started! And with it comes lots of fun food and drinks to enjoy, and share with your friends and family… even if they’re not with you at EPCOT! How is it shared? Why, pictures of course!

It doesn’t matter if you’re sending pictures messages, Snapchatting, posting to Twitter or Instagram, or have a Facebook album for all your noshing; you’re taking lots of pictures of your food and drinks. So it seems timely to talk about taking pictures of food and beverages. While these photos are taken on a DSLR, do not let that scare you away from using your phone. Most of the principals I’ll go over do apply to any camera, and I’ll be sure to point that out where I can. Learning some of the more “manual” controls of your cameraphone before heading out will give you a distinct advantage in making your food look its best! This article will not limit itself to Food and Wine, however; it will also go over documenting fancier meals you may enjoy, from Disney Cruise Line’s Remy to the Grand Floridian’s legendary AAA Four-Diamond rated Victoria & Albert’s.

First, I’d like to talk about setting a scene. Just because you’re taking pictures of food on a plate doesn’t mean you can’t continue to tell a story. And there are a variety of ways to tell that story, not all of which apply to every situation. Firstly, a good background goes a long way to telling your story. While a trash can makes a great substitute for a table on a busy EPCOT weekend, do you want all of your pictures to have a lot of brown as the foreground? Do you mind the rivets or stamping where the pieces of metal meet? This is not to say that that trash can will ruin a picture, but think about what’s in the background of the shot as well. Take, for instance, this shot of the escargot croissant from the France Pavilion. While I would have loved to have a picture with the Eiffel Tower in the background, angles and places to put my food down didn’t allow for that.

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Instead, I chose a background that included France’s water feature and the recognizable water fountains. One lucky benefit of this was that droplets of water coming off the fountain reflected the sun nicely, and provided me with some interesting bokehs for my shot! I do regret, however, not cleaning my plate better and removing the errant piece of croissant. I find it super distracting, and you should too now that I pointed it out. Learn from my mistake, and make sure your food looks the way you want it before you take the picture. Whether that’s cleaning the plate, or perhaps accessorizing your food, it all will make your pictures better. How much more interesting is this sushi picture, when the shot includes not only the sushi, but common sushi “accessories” like chopsticks and soy sauce?

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Here, I spent time and thought about the layout of the Japan Pavilion, about a suitable background, and realized I could include the booth itself if I went to the landing halfway up the stairs to Tokyo Dining. Not only did the booth now feature into the picture, but so did the crowds, and the beautiful sand-and-bonsai garden. And these pictures were not taken with incredibly shallow depths of field. Both pictures were taken with my general walkabout lens, an old Nikon 28-70mm f/2.8, right in the lens’ sharpness-sweet-spot of f/5.6, though I have another version of the sushi picture that was taken at f/11 that looks fantastic too. How do you get such depth of field on a cell phone? Use selective focusing, usually activated by tapping on your subject on your phone’s screen.

Sometimes, you don’t have the luxury of choosing your background, or having great natural lighting, to make sure your shots shine. Sometimes, you’re lucky enough to enjoy a dinner at the fancier Disney restaurants, on land or at sea, where dishes are carefully constructed, like art. Once-in-a-lifetime meals scream to be documented. However, the ambiance isn’t always conducive to photography. The lighting is often dim very dim, quarters are often close, and you certainly can’t set up a tripod to nail your focus and enjoy long shutter speeds. You’ll be fighting to get a good shot, to get an interesting framing. But it can be done.

First off, you’ll want to equip yourself with fast, short (but not necessarily wide) glass. I don’t own any primes, but if you do, especially in the f/1.4 to f/1.8 range, you’ll want to bring them. This is like shooting any nighttime parade; you’re trying to get a sharp image in tough lighting conditions. A good, budget lens for this type of work is a photography’s trusty 50mm f/1.8 prime. Because of the light conditions, you’re going to be working with a narrow depth of field, whether you like it or not. When fighting low light, your aperture is your first line of defense. You will also want to shoot either in shutter priority or in full manual mode. Being able to set your shutter speed is critical for sharp images. Use the aperture to set your depth of field, keeping in mind that shallow is not necessarily a bad thing, and use ISO to expose the image properly.

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Because you’re likely working with shallow depth of field, make sure you pick the right subject for your dish. In the above photo, I made sure the picture focused on the octopus, and not the broth it was in. That dish, beyond behind delicious, was beautifully photogenic as well. The orange broth pops against the white bowl, and the greens (both the green ones and red ones) provided excellent contrast as well. Additionally, the bowl is textured too, and I love the way that it starts out of focus and then falls into it, before going back out of focus at the back. I didn’t have the luxury of time, because you can see there’s a bread plate hanging out in the background. Would I like it gone? Yeah, I would. But at the same time, I didn’t want to hold up dinner. It’s a fine line between documenting a meal, and being a nuisance.

Don’t just focus on food, as well. There are so many details at a meal that people may miss. One of our bread courses at Victoria & Albert’s had butter hand-carved off of an all-butter sculpture of a chef’s toque. Because it was hand carved, it formed the most beautiful ribbon curl, and the inside of that curl had a wavy texture to it. I had to take a picture!

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But it might not be butter that catches your eye. Both Victoria & Albert’s and Remy have stunning plates, literal plates, that greet you as you sit down at your table. They’re not used for food, just as a billboard to welcome you to dinner. Artist’s Palate on every Disney Cruise Line ship has bespoke butter knives that can’t be missed!

 

Editor’s Note:  The food looks delicious Ben!  Great job on the article.  

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Working in Layers – Symphony in the Stars Edition

I have had Adobe Photoshop Creative Cloud for Photographers for a little over two years now.  For me, the $9.99 per month ($7.99 from this Amazon link) is a bargain.  A buddy of mine is a 3D artist and has always been my go-to resource for getting help in Photoshop, but back when I was using Photoshop Elements (a program I was getting every year for the latest features) I would always stumble into something where Rob would try explaining something to me only to find that those commands / feature wasn’t available in Elements.

I know I’ve said it here before but I’ll say it again and a thousand times more.  I wish I wrote stuff down while I was in the parks or followed a checklist.  I knew exactly what shot I wanted to get of Symphony of the Stars.  I knew that the lights along the Hollywood Boulevard would be dimmed during the fireworks, so I was going to need a “plate” image when the lights were still on.  I knew that’s what I wanted to do, but I was still too dumb the first time I shot the fireworks to shoot a bracket of the image you see above.  What in the world was I thinking?  I was set up in my spot (just before the Sunset Boulevard intersection) thirty minutes before the show started and had plenty of time.  I just completely spaced it out.  Anyway, I was able to get a decent plate image (shown below).

Plate

I brought the raw image into Photoshop and made all of the adjustments I wanted.  Then I shot the fireworks as normal.  Remember when you are shooting a plate like this, you need to keep the camera in exactly the same spot without moving.  This is a concept I can completely understand.  But do you see those really tall, really skinny trees lining Hollywood Boulevard?  Those things are going to move on you, and sometimes they are going to move too much for this kind of merge technique to work.  It was pretty windy that night so they moved a lot on me.  Luckily there were several shots that things worked out ok.

Fireworks

So the above image is one of the fireworks shots.  Again, I opened it up in Photoshop and made all of my adjustments.  Then I selected Layer -> Duplicate Layer and told Photoshop to add it to the original image as a new layer.  And when you look at the combined image, initially it looks EXACTLY the image above.  But wait, there’s more Photoshop trickery to be had!   To get the image at the top of the post you have to change the blend mode for the layers.  There are a lot of choices, but what we want is Lighten.

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And Bam!  You get the image like the one at the top of the article or this other one here below.  I wish I had shot a bracket for my plate (and then I could merge it into an HDR image).  But such is life, maybe next time.

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Monorail Monday Sunset

Happy Monday everyone! For today’s post, I’d like to go through the steps I took to capture this photo over the weekend:

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Everyone loves an epic monorail shot. This one was actually the second photo I had taken of this monorail passing by. The first one was on the other side of the walkway facing the Odyssey building and the Test Track building. I completely botched that one, but as soon as I snapped it, I played Disney Frogger and evaded a bunch of people making their way through this part of the park to also capture the monorail coming through past this beautiful Flower and Garden Festival bed and the Imagination pavilion.

So, let’s talk settings. I knew that it was a pretty nice sunset, so I wanted to capture the colors in the sky. The water wasn’t as important, so I actually dialed down my exposure compensation to a -1. This made the edit on the computer a little more complicated, but it got me the oranges and yellows, so I was ok with it. I was in Manual mode, and had set my shutter speed to 1/320, my aperture at f/4, and my ISO to Auto. Since I would be running across the walkway, I really wouldn’t have time to set up everything and figure out the ISO on my own, so I elected to use the Auto ISO. With those settings, my camera decided to give me an ISO of 800.

Once getting home and seeing the shot on the computer, it was pretty underexposed. But, the colors were there, and the last bit of sunlight for the day was kissing the monorail, so I was happy. I warmed up the White Balance a tiny bit, and then did my normal editing process, which includes toning down the highlights a tad, lifting shadows, adding some contrast and saturation, and then sharpening. On a normal daytime image (and even some nighttime ones), that does the trick. But with this one, there were some other complications. The water area was essentially black. So, in Lightroom, I clicked on the little brush in the Develop module, and set my brush to be +1.20 on the Exposure dial, and I proceeded to brush the whole bottom of the photo. I got what you see in the finished result, but from pushing the sensor that way, there was some noise, so I also added some Noise Reduction, but only to the area that had already been brushed.

I also thought the sky could use a little bit more punch, so I created a second brush, boosted the saturation to about +35, and then brushed the entire sky.

At that point, you have the image seen here. Sunset images do tend to take a little more work to get going, but once you arrive at a point you like, they are rather satisfying. Have you ever shot the monorail, or anywhere at WDW at sunset? What tips do you have for everyone? Please let us know in the comments below.

For those curious, this was shot with the Sony a7 and the Rokinon 14mm f2.8 lens, both of which can be purchased at our Amazon store, along with anything else you may need for your daily life. Anything you purchase after clicking the link helps keep the site alive, at no cost to you! Thanks for reading!

What Happens When You Change Your F-Stop

Happy Monday everyone! For today’s post, we’re going to take a look at what happened when you adjust your aperture, or F-Stop. Understanding what this means is a crucial part of understanding photography, and knowing what situations to use certain apertures in can make the difference between nailing the shot and missing it.

That said, I have a composition from Hollywood Studios over in the Muppet area. I took the same shot roughly six times, starting at 1.8 and then moving up one full stop every shot, until I hit f/9. Check them out!

f/1.8

f/1.8

f/2.5

f/2.5

f/3.5

f/3.5

f/5

f/5

f/7.1

f/7.1

f/9

f/9

So, there are a few things to notice here. When you start at the lower numeric value, like 1.8, the corners are darker. This is called vignetting, and it happens the most at a lens’ most shallow aperture. Some people like that, others don’t. It’s really up to the artist whether to keep the natural vignette, or to correct it in software like Lightroom or Photoshop. The vignetting goes away the higher the f-stop number goes.

You’ll also notice that at f/1.8, the fellas in the boat are nice and sharp, but nothing else is. Using that works really well when doing portraits for a dramatic look, or when you are in low light and want to keep your ISO as low as possible. Once you get up to f/5.6 and higher, you start to see more things in focus and sharp across the entire range of the frame. For most landscape photos, you’ll want to do that to ensure sharpness. But, a higher aperture number will also require a slower shutter speed or bumping up your ISO, so be ready for that.

You may also notice, depending on the quality of the lens, that shooting with a lower f-stop number not only ensures sharpness on only certain parts of the photo, but you may see some softness due to the razor thin depth of field. Because of this, any time you are shooting stage shows or action, like Disney parades, that sacrificing some of that smooth bokeh may be worth it to get a sharp shot.

Hopefully reading about this can help you understand apertures a little bit better and improve your shots the next you are out in the field. The many variations on the Muppets were taken with the Sony a7 and the Zeiss 55mm F1.8, both of which can be purchased over at our Amazon store. We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments, thanks for reading!