Hochzeiten heist feiern. Und feiern heist v.a. eines: Essen! Und die Gerichte vom Knappenstöckl im Schloss Halbturn waren einfach phänomenal!

(c) Martin Phox http://phoxography.net

  1. And because I’ve been asked about this several times by people who don’t all speak German, here’s a little behind-the-scenes tutorial on food photography. But sure, you can also just enjoy the images!!!

(c) Martin Phox http://phoxography.net

As you can imagine, this being a wedding and all, I didn’t have much time to set up my lights, food, camera setup, background,…In fact, I shot this salad just walking out of the kitchen, putting the plate on a white cocktail table in the yard and standing on a chair. Look closely and you’ll notice that there’s next to to shadows, because I was standing under huge beach umbrellas . Now, you’ll agree that it’s a good enough picture but it doesn’t quite pop as much as the steak above it. Two things save the image: I’ll talk about my choice of lens later on, but the main thing is that while the salad is quite complex visually, the focus and shallow DOF help orient the viewer in the image. This makes it an image that you will look at for a couple of seconds at least. But probably I should have re-shot this with a bit more light. Especially looking at the following shot:

(c) Martin Phox http://phoxography.net

Again, it’s a good enough image of a rather boring soup (though ridiculously tasty). Again, the shallow DOF saves the image. By the time I had gotten back with the salad, the soup was already waiting for me, cream half melted. I had about half a minute to get it outside and shoot it, before it would’ve melted completely. Because it was getting darker and darker by the second, and because I had a a bit of time before the main course, I set up in the lobby.

(c) Martin Phox http://phoxography.net

Again, very simple. And again, pay attention to the shadows. Exactly, there are almost none – almost! Yet, you’ve got highlights; on top of the steak, behind it on the dish and the lighter part on the right side of the steak. The trick is a very simple one: reflecting light back into the frame. I put up a shoot-through umbrella on camera right, as close to the table as possible. And even though that makes for a very soft light, you’d still have fairly dark shadows, because I blocked out all ambient light (ISO 100, f3,5, 1/250). After all, soft light only means that the gradient between light and dark is very, well, soft. So I simply put my table right next to a large white wall. That gave me a huuge neutral reflector, giving me more detail in the shadows.

(c) Martin Phox http://phoxography.net

From there, it was as simple as moving around (mainly up and down), moving the plate and just experimenting. I had my camera on manual exposure and my flash (SB-900) on manual power, triggering it with a YN-602 wireless trigger. That meant, I didn’t need to worry about my exposure (unlike before, shooting outside). Though I have to admit, I kept moving my umbrella forward and backward a little bit, and also moved the dish closer to and further from my light. Be careful when you do that, though. Because of the laws of physics the direct light from the umbrella changes much stronger than the reflected light, and I couldn’t change the distance between my umbralla and my reflector. (That’s why you normally use a white cardboard to reflect the light for maximum control.)

(c) Martin Phox http://phoxography.net

I noticed moving very low, almost to the level of table, made for very nice reflections on the plate, and for a very nice background. The white circle-segment you see in the back is just the edge of my cocktail table. Because I was blocking out all ambient light, and because there was lots of empty space behind the table, it is simple and black.
Now, there’s one thing you will immediately notice in the image: the extremely shallow DOF. I was shooting with the absolutely gorgeous Nikkor 105mm f2,8 VR Micro makro lens at f3,5. On my D7100 APS-C camera that’s the equivalent to a 157mm f5. Probably I should have stopped down to f5 (f8 equivalent), but as I was running very low on energy at that point, I failed to notice that the risotto was almost entirely out of focus in this shot. (Because, crouching down on my chair to change the angle, I also increased the relative distance between the tomatoes on top and the risotto.)

(c) Martin Phox http://phoxography.net

Now let’s talk lens. I’ve shot food photography with a cheap 18-55 kit lens, a Sigma 50-200, a Nikkor 50 1,4, even a Tokina 11-16; nothing beats a 105 makro lens! The 105 Micro is the best lens I have ever shot with. Image quality is insane, focus super fast, contrast rich, and ultra sharp. (In fact, I’ve shot almost the entire wedding with this lens.) What makes this lens so perfect for food photography, is the compression you achieve with it. I’m not one for too much technical talk, but basically it makes everything move together, so that it looks more compact. With a wide angle (and even with my 50mm) the dishes seem to fall a little apart. But of course, not everyone has €1000 lying around (though if you do, buy it, buy it, buy it!! it’s beautiful! and also a fantastic portrait lens). There’s a few things you can still do, though:

1.) Borrow it! Seriously, borrow it! In Austria, this will cost you about €30 for 2 days and you’re sure not to regret it!
2.) Use a 200mm zoom lens, zoomed to about 150mm. You probably already have this one. For me, it was the first lens I ever bought. Of course, (ultra) zooms have a very bad name, but the truth is, if you shoot in RAW and know how to increase the micro contrast in post-production, you will get similar result. Only thing: you wont achieve the same shallowness of DOF. And if you don’t already have one, I would get Sigma’s 50-200. At least for Nikon this lens is actually fantastic. Much better than Nikkor’s own 18-200, anyway.
3.) Use a 50 1,8.This will give you the shallow DOF without the compression. Sometimes this works out beautifully. But of course, this works best in combination with a 200 mm zoom. Good thing: this lens is really, really cheap. And if you have a camera body with its own AF-motor, you can even get the old 1,8D. This lens is even sharper than the newer AF-S, much tougher and much much faster to focus. It does suffer from horrible lens flare but that won’t be an issue when doing food photography.

(c) Martin Phox http://phoxography.net

Most importantly, however: Set up your light and camera, and then move around A LOT. Move up, down, left, right, in and out. Not every image will be a taker, but you will certainly discover the very best angle this way. And when you think, you’ve found it, see how you can improve the shot by moving your lights (or anything else).
(c) Martin Phox http://phoxography.net

In this shot, for example, I moved the dish closer to the light to bring out the highlights and moved the light a little bit back, to get that contrast on the steak. A happy accident: because I had moved quite far to the right, you can see the doorframe of the lobby, barely illuminated from my umbrella’s spill. Gotta love serendipity!!


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