Monday, May 26, 2014

food photography :: coffee at dawn while sleeping till noon

Today, I'm going to share with you how to achieve this awesome look, coffee at dawn while sleeping till noon.

The holiday weekend had been fueled with good people and good times. Catching golden hour for this shoot would be comical to say the least. There were no worries as this shoot would take place in studio, the power and control of light were in my hands, not mother nature's.

Join with me to understand this process that is much easier to pull of than you may think.

The Storyline

A woman awakes before sunrise and brews her best batch of Bolivian beans. She brings her reading glasses, a book and her steaming hot cup of Joe to the dining room table. She sits quietly by large windows, blinds open just a peep to allow the wonderful warm sunlight to spill across her lap.

Queue the jingle.

A project assigned to yours truly by yours truly. Personal projects are the recipe for growth. Heed those words or be damned to your demise. I promise.

The Good, Bad And The Ugly

I've been on the fence for a long time about iPhoneography and its place in my creative career. I've gone through the pros and cons over the last few years with no side coming out the victor. A few weeks ago I was banging out an Instagram at least once a day. Since then I may have posted one photograph.

Does it suck away desire to do legitimate shoots or does it add fuel to the creative fire? Hone or hack at your skills? Very debatable.

This is not to say I haven't made some bad ass iPhone photographs. Nor am I here to say that there aren't many others that are straight pimps on the portable.

Let me stop myself right here and now. I was trying to speak about the vast sea of #FoodPorn that hipsters and foodies post across the social networks with the speed that would rival a coke head's heart rate. Fast.

I'm one of those hipster foodies.

Although I've seen lots of awesome stuff, some of the food photographs are, eh, uh, well, blah. I'm not hating though. Shit, some of those Instagramers may be simply showing the life that they are enjoying that evening; a perfectly grilled filet mignon.

On the other hand, lots of you iPhoneographers are trying to nail the shots that you see strewn across the latest issue of Food and Wine magazine. Or not. Look, I'm not here to critique or judge either way. I'm just here to share with you how to take your food photography from the ordinary to the extraordinary.

Excuse me I may get a little technical here and there. Run for the hills if you aren't wearing your nerd suits.

This shot serves a couple of purposes.

First, It helped to build my exposure. Next, and just as important, it shows that, yes, this is a very usable image. Very stock photography. Very blah. Many of the Instagramers out there get this type of shot with their mobile device, prior to blasting it with the Hefe filter cranked out at 100% and a piss load of blur wrapped around it. Hey, I'm guilty as charged.

One of those times, and I know you've all been there, no matter what you do, no matter how much you tweak and blur, Low-Fi, 1977, whatever, nothing works. The Instagram photograph you thought would change the game just plain out sucks.

When working with the proper tools and the right dose of creative vision and knowhow, you can achieve whatever your heart desires.

I knew this exposure would not be for the final product but a brick in the wall of creation. Again, usable but not what I had envisioned.

Thinking about sunrise and the storyline, think darkness meets light, deep rich colors and shadowing alike.

Time to bring out the tool belt.

The Setup

Speaking of iPhoneography. . .  after the shoot I took a step back with the old iPhone 4, yes, my dinosaur, to capture exactly what was happening at the moment of creating the money shot.

Let's dissect, going clockwise. Um, never mind, too messy to work that way. Just follow along if you can.

First is Betsy (Nikon D4) perched atop the Feisol carbon fiber professional tripod system. I have Betsy aimed directly down, just about perpendicular to the coffee setup, cup dead center.

Behind Betsy you find the large shaded window. This is the base ambient light, way underexposed.

If you look for the MacBook Pro's keyboard, you will find blocking that line of sight is a Canon 430 ex ii speedlite. That will be the keylight of the scene, gelled with one 1/4 CTO and one 1/2 CTO Rosco gel. Nice and warm.

Moving towards the left you will notice, clamped to a lightstand, some sort of slotted contraption. My friends, finally, I've found a use for those empty Victory Golden Monkey boxes! This box was cut into a comblike shape and then gaffed at the end to create a gobo that resembles a home's horizontal window blind system. On the floor you see the pieces of sliced cardboard that hadn't been picked up at the time of shooting.

Pretty messy for such a richly designed photograph, no? Trust me, it ain't ever pretty when I'm shooting but I sure as shit get the job done.

Anyway, as I go through the variables that were involved in the creation of the photograph, are you starting to visualize how each element plays each of their roles in the final product?

Once everything's in place it's time for nailing the exposure, the balance between ambient and strobe, white balance, everything.

The Nerd File ::

Here you go my fellow nerds, the juicy stuff. . .

Shutter :: 1/13
ISO :: 200 (ISO and shutter could have swayed in either direction but I felt 200 was a sweet spot)
Aperture :: f/8.0 (enough DOF but not so deep as to tax the speedlite's recycle times)
Strobe Ratio :: 1/16 (Nice!)


Your Instagram filters are fun but when it's time to step it up and play in the big leagues, you better learn how to manipulate that light, no matter what time of day it may be. And I think that with this single strobe setup, you see that a boat load of gear isn't necessary to create power food photography.

Until next time...