Boot Camp II: Assignment #2

UPDATE(S): Added picture link to the haggis. Think twice before clicking. Also, for those of you who follow Strobist on Twitter, I will be dropping in more food photography resources there.

The second Boot Camp II assignment will be easier than the headshot assignment, logistically. But calorically speaking, it will be far more dangerous.

And since you will not have to wrangle a model for this shoot (not a living one, at least) we are going to up the difficulty level by tightening up the deadline a bit.

Hit the jump for the details -- and some internal and external resources to help you out.

A Little Belt Tightening

It's probably safe to say that many of us are eating out less often than we were at this time last year. But that is not the kind of belt tightening of which I am speaking.

For me, it is not so much the belt itself that is getting smaller, but rather that the job the belt has to do has gotten larger. Me and food, we were made for each other. And we have had an especially close relationship over the last six months or so, when I have been on the road more than off. So this summer I am practicing a little girth control.

Which is why I am already questioning the wisdom of the second BCII assignment -- to photograph a gastronomic subject so well that it will cause me to go off the wagon.

The vast majority of you are using small lights, and they are especially well-suited for this kind of an assignment. In fact, as we showed last week, you can create very elegant light for food with one bare speedlight and some household paper products.

But don't settle on a thrown-together quickie of some tomatoes -- those were just done as a convenient example to work with the light. For this assignment, you should be looking to create a mood -- to make a photo that would look at home on the cover of a high-end food magazine.

Complicate Things at Your Own Peril

The trick, of course, if to balance the mood-setting stuff with what is probably the most important axiom in food photography: Keep it Simple, Stupid.

Before you even choose what you are going to shoot, spend some time looking at a lot of examples of food photography and see what you like. It's not like there isn't a lot of inspiration out there, so your first stop will probably be Google.

Don't try to shoot a whole turkey, or a crown roast or anything like that unless you are insane. You'll do yourself a big favor by aiming for something you can pull off with style and simplicity.

Lighting-wise, whether you use an umbrella, a soft box or a DIY "lunch box," you will want to at least consider lighting your food from the top/back. It creates depth and texture, and gets you a long way toward a nice photo with little risk. Not that that style is required, of course, but many people who have not shot food before will make the mistake of assuming you would light it from the same angle you'd light a portrait.

Also, be sure to be in control of your shadow detail. Not that it has to be flat -- and there is no rule that there has to be any shadow detail, to be honest. But you want to be in control of it. The easiest way will be through the use of small reflectors.

Again, the scale of the subject works for you here. They can be folded sheets of paper, aluminum foil, whatever. If you are from the UK, maybe the mere act of standing near your subject will suffice. (I can say that, because I wear shorts all summer and am still pasty on Labor Day...)

Food for Thought

I did promise an opportunity to do good with each assignment, and this one is no different. The following is not a requirement for the assignment, but rather a chance for your effort not to go to waste -- even if it does end up going to waist.

The fact that you are probably eating out less frequently probably means that some local restauranteurs in your area are feeling the pinch, too. So, you may wish to double up on this assignment by shooting your favorite dish at a small, independent restaurant.

The owner probably does not have the excess cash flow to be funding food shoots these days, and you might be able to be of help. Sometimes all a restaurant website needs is one, killer food shot. That could be you.

What's in it for you, other than an excuse to go out to eat? Well, I am thinking that food is gonna styled pretty well when it leaves the kitchen. Probably better that you would have done it. And no stylist's bill to deal with, either.

A little advice -- call first and let them know what you are up to. Try to sked it in the middle of the afternoon, when you won't interfere with meal rush time and will have your pick of tables to shoot at. We used to shoot all of our restaurant reviews at The Sun in the 2:30-3:30pm neighborhood.

If you explain what you are doing (and why) and offer to share your photos with them, you will probably find yourself in a very collaborative situation -- with a nice environment in which to shoot. Especially of you are a regular there who genuinely wants to make an image of some value for the restaurant.

I am starting to feel like we are putting Roberto's kids through college, as often as we eat at our favorite Italian place. And that is exactly where I would head if I were doing this assignment.

Again, the restaurant tack is not required. But it could solve some problems for you very symbiotically. From experience, I would suggest that the chef keep things very simple, as their first instinct is to throw in every visual thing but the kitchen sink. Bring some examples of food photography that you really like (it will probably be simple and sparse) and show it to them as an example.

Home-Grown is Okay, Too

You are more then welcome -- especially you foodies -- to do it all in-house, so to speak. No brownie points or demerits either way.

And for clarity's sake, let's make this one pretty broad. If it is food, or drink, it's eligible. Some of you international types might even take this as a point of pride, featuring something that is a special delicacy in your country.

(Please -- no haggis.)

But whatever you do, keep it simple. Consider the photographic shelf life of your food. Grilled and roasted items are especially hard -- typically significantly undercooked and sculpted with char-marks by using a blow torch. Don't make it harder than it has to be.

Non-frozen desserts are pretty stable, for example. Don't make things harder on yourself than they have to be. Simple comfort foods can be great subjects.

Resources Abound

A quick Google of "food photography" brings up lots of useful stuff:

DPS: Food Photography -- An Introduction
Still Life With: Food Photography Blog
Vegan Yum Yum: Food Photography for Bloggers

Those were right off of the front page of Google results, so there is no shortage of information if you are willing to look.

Of course, photographers are visual people. So sometimes it actually helps to watch a seasoned professional at work:

(Lest you take yourself too seriously.)

How to Enter

As with the first assignment, you enter the photo through Flickr, by placing it in the Strobist Flickr Group pool, and by tagging it thusly:


If you need technical help on the Flickr stuff, try this thread. Please read the thread before asking any questions, lest someone reply that "your father smelled of elderberry" (or words to that effect.)

(UPDATE: They have already started in with the general craziness, so you can skip to the more relevant stuff by jumping to this point if you like.)

If you are successful, your photos should appear in this search within a few minutes. Please, only submit one entry. As we are hoping to create an inclusive slideshow, please do not tag photos which are not appropriate to this assignment with the SBC2ASSIGN2 tag.

For the same reason, please do not turn in any photos which are NSFW.

In fact, the more I look at this Cheeto shot, the more inappropriate it is starting to look. But maybe that's just me. As we noted yesterday, breaking these rules will get (at least) your photo removed from the Strobist pool, and thus, this assignment. Thanks much.

Please note that your photo must be tagged correctly and in the Strobist group pool to show up in the search.

And please, this is a lighting blog. So even tho you obviously can do a lot of amazing food photography with natural light, use flash for this one. You are free to combine it with ambient, tho. And, as always, put your lighting info in the caption of the photo.

If you want to ask questions, or otherwise discuss this assignment, you can do so in this thread.

And you can check out some of the other bloggers following along, here.

And the Winner Is ...

One winner will be chosen from qualified entries. That person will receive the following, shipped anywhere:

• One Strobist Lighting Seminar 8-DVD boxed set (more info)

• One set of Strobist Trade Secret Cards (more info)

and, I am very excited to say that our external prize this week is:

• An Orbis Ring Flash Adapter, which turns just about any speedlight into a ring flash.

Not coincidentally, the latter is something I have found to be pretty darn useful for small object photography, including food shoots. (Think awesome, shadowless fill to smooth out your edgy, sculpted light from other sources...)

Don't Overcook It

Since this shot is the simplest of the four (deceptively so, some might say) the deadline for completion will be end of day, your local time, on Saturday, July 11th.

You procrastinators will want to make sure you get started by about dinnertime on that date...

And, Just to Keep Things Honest

While it is very possible that you may have some beautiful, pre-existing food shots in your portfolio, we are not interested in those. So just to make sure we get the one you shot after this assignment was released, the winner will have to produce a shot very similar to the winning entry -- with two coins somewhere in the foreground of the shot.

So, don't forget to make that additional 2-coins verification shot -- just in case you win...

Full, "On-Assignment" posts for the food shots featured above can be found at:

:: Lemon Cake ::
:: Flavored Vodkas ::
:: Macaroni Shells ::
:: Cheeto (and various other Munchie Porn) ::


New to Strobist? Start here | Or jump right to Lighting 101
Got a question? Hit me on Twitter: @Strobist
Have a passport? Join me in Hanoi: X-Peditions Location Workshops