Notes About Photography

by Matt on December 13, 2006

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Food_collage

I was inspired and motivated by Lara’s recent post on Still Life With… about photography. You should spend some time on her site if you’re interested in digital food photography, if you haven’t already. The information, tips and techniques she’s shared with us all have been invaluable. She’s one amazing photographer and it makes me happy to call her a friend.

Several times a week I get questions via mattbites and my Flickr account about photography. “Which lenses do you use?” and “What’s your lighting source?” are the basics, as well are first-time camera buying questions. I try to answer all those emails, but since it’s the season for sharing I thought I’d create an entry here for everyone.

I picked up a camera for the first time and took my first picture a little over 2 years ago, and while that may seem recent it’s not. I’ve been an art director for 15 years, and in my career I’ve been on hundreds of photoshoots and spent countless hours with photographers. Over the years I observed, asked questions, and absorbed quite a bit of information about photography–it turns out it was the best classroom I could have had. When I began shooting I already had a network of colleagues, fellow photographers and friends I could turn to for advice and questions. In fact, it’s no secret that I only know .00000000289% about photography in the traditional sense, but I love everything about it and learn something new every day.

I am by no means an expert, a fact I want to make perfectly clear. I could never compare to the photographers I’ve worked with in Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles. They’re the masters, I’m simply a student. Having said that I’ll jump right into what I use to take a photo.

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Equipment
I shoot with a Canon 5 D, a full-frame, 12.8 megapixel camera. I love this camera more than anything and have only good things to say about Canon. Previously I used a 20 D and a Rebel, which are both excellent cameras. If the 5 D (or higher models) are in your budget then I’d definitely encourage you to go that route. If not, Canon’s other models are still excellent investments.

If I’m out and about I shoot to a 2 or 4 gigabyte card, but if I’m in my studio I’ll shoot straight to my Mac. I use Phase One’s Capture One Pro to shoot, and my images are displayed on my laptop where I can adjust color or contrast and check my focus. Capture One’s overlay feature also allows me to check for logo and headline placement since I shoot many images for work (ads, magazines, etc.)


Lenses
For food photography I’m partial to my EF100mm f/2.8 Macro lens. It’s sharp, clear and lets me get in close when needed. I also like my EF 50mm f/1.8 lens – it’s a cheapy but has served me well.  When I want a particular look, one that allows me  to play with my plane of focus, I’ll shoot with my 90mm Tilt / Shift lens. It’s quite a bit of fun. When I’m traveling or outdoor and a super sharp file isn’t required I’ll use my 28-200mm. It allows me to zoom in and stay out of the way.


Film Vs Digital?

Although I love the immediacy of digital, I have also shot medium format film with a Contax and Mamiya camera. Polaroid backs, film magazines and light meters are fantastic things, but to me I have a hard time seeing the difference in the end now that digital has improved so much.

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Lighting
When it comes to food, natural light just can’t be beat. Food simply looks better that way, in my humble opinion. Because of my job, I review submitted professional photographer’s portfolios on a regular basis, and there are only a handful of food photographers out there who can harness strobe in a way that doesn’t look cold or artificial. Sunlight is simply more pleasing, but it’s ever changing and can require you to think fast on your feet.

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In order to coax light where I need it, I’m never without foamboard, reflectors and diffusers. Even simple paper can work when set up properly.  The goal is to soften and wrap the light as much as possible (depending on the desired effect).  Full harsh sunlight is tough (again, unless that’s what you’re going for.)

And for the record, yes, I’m quite the sucker for backlighting.

If I use strobes . . .
I use them extremely judiciously when it comes to photographing food. Or I go all the way, practicing the “if you can’t beat them, join them” philosophy. See the fruit below.

Playing_with_strobe

Post-Processing
I do my post processing in Adobe Photoshop and Bridge. Sometimes color correction, balance, contrast, cropping and sharpening is needed; sometimes it ain’t. For me there’s just no rule and it’s on an image-by-image basis. For example, the pancake image at the beginning of this post (in the collage) is straight out of the camera – nothing was done. But the pluot shot a few lines up required sharpening and a boost of extra contrast. I don’t believe in over manipulation; I do believe in using what we have to get the best image possible.

RAW vs JPEG
It really all depends. If I’m shooting for work and my image will be reproduced on a poster or in an ad in the LA Times I’ll shoot raw so I can have as much information as possible. Other times where it’s not so crucial JPEG is fine with me.

I hope that answers some questions you may have about what I use to take my photographs. If you have any other questions feel free to email or IM me.

Happy Holidays!