Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Tupperware and Trash Bags, Part 2 of 3

Picking up from the last post in this series from an afternoon of shooting cold food for the features section at The Sun, this week's entry will detail a quick shoot of a bean salad in an ice bowl.

As with the gazpacho, we shot using a just pair of SB strobes in the designer's kitchen. We used normal kitchen surfaces, and found objects as light modifiers when needed.

This ice bowl shot was the main reason we were not working in our paper's studio. We had no freezer, and these things like to melt. Fast.

So I used a technique I employ on almost every lighting job I shoot. I used a subject stand-in.

For shooting people, I will test the light by having my left hand stuck in the general position that the subject will occupy. This gives me feedback on both the quality of the light and the exposure.

Product shots are no different. I had the added variable of a subject with a fast (melting) half-life. So the stand-in approach helped me out there, too.

I would be using the light-oak kitchen table as a surface, and choosing a shooting angle that would give me a smooth background gradient. This, and the backlight, was what I would test by shooting an extra snoot as a stand-in.

This photo allowed me to get a base exposure on the background light. It also let me get in the ballpark exposure on the (snooted) main light. I would be using my subject to hide my battery powered background strobe. I also used this test to choose the aperture that would give me a nice seam at the end of the table. More on that in a minute.

Here, using batt-flashes provided the additional advantage of having no cords to hide, and only a small light to obscure with the subject.

I have noticed that one of my SB-800 puts out cooler-temperature light than my other flashes. You could see this as an annoyance, or you could remember that this flash is just cooler, and use it in that way. That's what I did here. This is a white wall, but it came out cooler when exposed down to medium-grayish.

The takeaway idea here is to test, test, test, test, test.

And write the variant info on the piece of equipment, (on tape) so yo know what you are dealing with.

(One of my D2h's, for instance, handles fluorescent light better than the other one. So it is marked that way. When I have a critical shot in fluorescent lighting, I'll use that body.)

So, the background flash is sitting on the table, set to very low manual power (either 1/64 or 1/128 - I forget) to establish my background exposure. Next, we dialed up the snooted main light until the stand-in subject looked pretty close. We'd quickly fine-tune when the ice bowl showed up.

Here's a quick test of the bowl. Thirty seconds later it was back in the freezer, until we were ready to fill it with beans and shoot a final.

Note that the light came through the empty bowl much better than it did (see up top) when the bowl was full. Were I shooting a product shot of the bowl, this would have been very important to try to maintain. But as the bowl was only a prop for the food, I was OK to let it go a little darker.

With the lighting tested out, we filled the bowl and quickly shot the version you see at the top of the article.

Taking a second to talk about the light, you should note that the backlight is a bare strobe, synched by a Pocket Wizard. The beam is set to 70mm, giving us a nice gradient on the wall.

The front light on the food (which is really more of a top/back light, actually) is snooted. This controls the spill onto the wall, and keeps the nice background glow.

Speaking of gradients, note the smooth transition from the foreground to background tones. You can get this with a low shooting angle and control it by the aperture selection. The "foreground" surface is really a reflection of the lit wall off of the oak table. The tones blend a little, too, which I liked. You have to get the lens right down to the table's surface to get this effect. The bottom third of the lens was actually below the surface, off the front edge of the table.

Use depth of field (aperture) to control the focus of seam between the table and the wall. (I chose the aperture first, then adjusted the flash power to zero in on the exposure.)

Here is a wide shot, exposed to bring up the surrounding environment, which shows how simple the light was.

And here is a second look in which we surrounded the base of the bowl with ice.

I could have gone more complicated with the light. But I was pretty worried about the third shot, which was to be tuna tartare. For this, the designer had chosen a stainless steel, spherical (convex and concave) spoon.

Thank you so very much. No, really. Now, ninety-eight percent of my brain was in use figuring out how to hide myself (not to mention my camera and lights) from that fun-house-mirror of a spoon.

Which will be Part Three.

Next: Tupperware and Trash Bags, Pt. 3 of 3


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4 Comments:

Anonymous Charles said...

It just blows me away how simple that lighting was, yet how elegant and modern the shot turned out to be... I personally don't like beans, but that shot just makes me want to get some... excellent job, what were the settings on the camera it self? and how did you meter for shot?

August 16, 2006 2:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Working in a food studio with many strobes, I do like the simplified lighting approach you used. If I may critique, I'd say adding a silver card to the bottom left to reflect some of that into the shadow areas would help make the image look a bit more lit and fresh. I woudln't worry too much about the lighitng being too flat but if it did come out that way then you can always position the card back a bit. Good job on facing a tough location challenge.

August 16, 2006 3:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi all, im following along and am amazed with all your progress so far. Im actually just reading about this stuff for now as I dont have any lighting except for a 420 EX canon... but when i do finally get some lighting, ill be joining! All your work is giving me the incentive to sell stuff on ebay to buy some of the "cheap" protable lighting reccomended here.

August 21, 2006 9:32 AM  
Blogger Dom said...

Great approach as usual. I think it worked that the bowl was dark or it would have overpowered the beans. I would like to say that the maker of the bowls might have tried what the person does in this video link:

http://www.metacafe.com/watch/809620/make_crystal_clear_ice/

Basically, if you boil the water twice and then freeze it you get 'crystal' clear ice, no air bubbles. I tried it and it worked. This was impressive because we have pretty murky water where I am.

I thought it would be helpful if i needed perfect ice. In the case of your shots, I think the bowls would have had more visual impact if they were clear.

Thanks for the sharing as always.

February 17, 2008 1:30 PM  

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