Food Photo 101-4: Curt’s Results

December 6, 2007 in Food Photo 101, photography

(The following is Curt’s results for Lesson 4. You can also see this post at his blog, Bucky’s Barbecue and Bread Blog. I just wanted to point that I too went to Architecture School (Tulane) and feel that training was helpful in some ways. Mostly what I got tho was how to stand up to weekly brutal juries where your stuff gets torn to pieces. Ok, we dont need to go there.)

Lesson 4 starts pushing us down the path of thinking about the subject of our photos instead of how we’ve set up our things around the subject. Previous lessons were about settings on the camera and lighting, but this time I had to actually think about what was in front of the camera.

Nika had us thinking about energy spirals. Here’s my first one, in light of the holiday coming up…


I call this one my “Spiral o’ Bumbles”. Ok, maybe not a lot of energy, but it is the holiday season, and I’m willing to bet that anyone reading these posts will be subjected to at least one Rudolph related shot per week for the next couple of weeks, and no “Bah! Humbugs!” from the blogosphere!

Ok, back the lesson…

I have something of a confession to make; the reason I think I’m drawn to learn how to take better photos is that I have something of a background in fine arts and visual presentation. I started out in life thinking I was going to be an architect, and I went to Carnegie-Mellon University to study architecture. I also worked several years as a landscape designer, where visual presentation meant a lot in getting clients to visualize designs. So I have some history in thinking about this kind of stuff, though it’s been a LONG time!

What does this have to do with the lesson this week? Not much, but it kind of sets a level of my own expectations. And I think I’m realizing that, for the past couple of years, I haven’t always thought of what was in the photo so much as what the food was, if that makes sense. If I made ribs, I took a photo of ribs. Sure, I tried to make it look decent usually, but I somehow forgot all that stuff I had once done in art classes and for project presentations. Nika’s lessons are helping me remember some of that, so I am expecting my photos to start improving.

I wanted some food shots for this week, but due to things going on around the house, I don’t have much here, so I picked on a banana that was on the counter staring at me. Natural light wasn’t great, as we’d had our first real snow of the season and the sky was pretty grey. I remembered lesson 1, though, and upped the exposure so more light would come into the camera. White balance was set at ‘Shady’ and aperture was set at f/2.8.


My handy utility knife made quick work of the banana. I don’t know if this is a great shot, but it’s one of the first shots in a while I’ve taken that isn’t just a close up of the food. Here’s what I thought the spiral was in the shot:


I used Nika’s arrow (thanks, Nika!) to mark what I thought the Spiral Of Energy (SOE) might be. I’d be happy to hear from anyone that disagrees.

I didn’t particularly like this shot, soI kept going. I found in this next shot one of the things I hate about my camera… The viewfinder doesn’t show me nearly enough of the shot, so I ended up getting a corner of white board in the shot, but I still liked it for the purpose of this exercise.


This is the same banana and the same configuration, but a different angle and closer shot. The lighting is a bit better, too, I think, but I haven’t decided if the light coming in behind from the window is distracting or interesting. I’m going with distracting for this shot; I should have covered the window with a screen of some sort. I do think the shot is more interesting due to the angle partly, giving the shot a bit of perspective with the knife coming out to the left corner, and the closeness of the shot allowed the knife to blur a bit toward the front of the shot, too. I also like the reflection off the knife. The white board helped soften the shadows a bit, but I think the shadow under the banana helps the shot. In effect, even though the banana is cut through, the shadow gives is a look of continuity.

Another thing I like about this shot is that there are three slices of the banana. Groupings work better and are usually more pleasing to the eye in odd numbers, especially in informal compositions. Even numbers feel off a bit, though even numbers work well in a formal setting because we expect that balance in that setting. I also like that the peel kind of disrupts the other stuff without clashing; in fact, the curve of the peel kind of starts off the SOE.

Things that don’t work in this shot are the white board, of course, the reflection behind the banana on the table, and the chair behind the table. Better depth of field use would have negated the chair, but not the reflection.

Here’s the SOE for this shot, in my opinion:


I decided to look through some of my old photos to see if I could pick out any SOE that I might have used, too. One shot I actually thought did a decide job was some scotch I photographed at something like 5:00 AM one day.

Lagavulin 8

And here’s the SOE, as I see it:


I think that, in this shot, the vertical labels on both the bottle and box helped set up a flow, ending in the glass of scotch in the front. The lighting wasn’t all that great in this shot as I should have softened by turning off the overhead incandescent light, moving the other light to the left and bouncing that light off of something on the right. I do, however, like the shadows on the cloth napkins.


This is, to me, getting to the crux of a lot of shots I’ve seen and taken myself. Lighting can be worked on in Photoshop. White Balance is pretty easy to change in PS, too, and you can even fake some depth of field in post processing. What you can’t fake, though, is what’s in the photo. You can crop out stuff here and there, or mask it off, but the photo subject is what it is, and the only way to change it is to take another shot. This is where I know I need to work more.

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