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March 24th, 2011

Better blog photos from your point-and-shoot

Katie Walker (our editorial assistant and The Green Earth Girl blogger) asked me to help her take better photos for her blog. My first impulse was to have her come to one of the food shoots, to see behind the scenes. (We will do that in future blog entries, I promise. But the reality is this: Most of you bloggers won’t have professional photographers, art directors, assistants, and prop and food stylists  in your kitchens.)

Katie brought a sandwich from the Rodale cafeteria and her point-and-shoot camera to the studio. I had her set things up for her photo the way she would at home. Then we worked together to get better photos from her camera. Here are some things you can do right now, with your point-and-shoot camera, to get better photos for your blogs.

1. Keep your props simple.
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This shot is an exaggeration—Katie loves this plate, and I love this glass. Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in the cool dishes and glassware, but remember what my photo professor always asked, “What are you taking the photo of?”

2. Watch your backgrounds.
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Take a look in the background of your photo. Are there distracting people walking by? Can you see electrical cords, appliances that have nothing to do with the photo? Clear away the clutter; it helps emphasize what you want the focus of the picture to be. Less really is more.

3. Take your object out of  harsh shadows.
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Yes, high contrast can create a mood, but you don’t want your sandwich to look like it’s being served in prison. Look for even lighting in your kitchen. In the future, we’ll do a post about color balance and reflectors. For now, just drag your food away from the dungeon.

4: Keep your subject out of harsh sunlight.
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Watch out for bright sun. Even with the miracle of Photoshop or other photo-editing software, it’s tough to add information to a blown-out photo. It’s so much simpler to move your subject out of the sun and make the image nicer in your camera. Those blasted highlights also wash the color out of your photos.

5. Look at things from all sides.
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Move around, zoom in, stand back, get up tall, get low. Katie asked me if there were any recommended angles for food photos. I think the key is to mix it up—if you move the camera around, you can sometimes eliminate distracting backgrounds. If you shoot overhead, you can get a nice graphic shot. If you have multiple photos in a blog entry, sometimes taking it from different angles makes a more interesting pace.

In the end, I showed Katie how I would shoot the same sandwich with a digital SLR. loDSLR_6801
In my shot, I used the rule of thirds in my composition. I also changed the camera angle to eliminate the background completely. You don’t have to have a fancy camera to do either of those things. You improve your photos by keeping it simple, watching your backgrounds and lighting and mixing up your angles. You’ll know your photo is effective when people stop by your office to talk about art and keep getting distracted by wanting to eat the sandwich on your screen.

Katie blogged about our day here.

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January 27th, 2011

how to see a zucchini

2010 found me shooting more photos for Organic Gardening. In the Feb/March 2011 issue, you’ll find a photo that I consider to be a personal victory.  Meet the ‘Cavili’ zucchini.

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Most of the test garden photos come very easily for me. I try to get to the garden at 6:30 or 7 once a week when the sun is low and both the plants and I are fresh and un-wilty. It’s quiet there, and (after I chatter with Brad, Josh, and Lisa) I’m quiet, too, and settle in to find my angles and frames. Kneeling in the dirt, away from in box and voice mail and office distractions, taking photos is a meditation. Moving the camera even half an inch can completely change the composition for me, and I can get lost in seeing the same thing in so many different ways.

Sometimes I get stuck.

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The zucchini and I were at a standoff for 3 straight days. Some would say this is because in the past, zucchini (and all squash) have rated very low on my “likeable foods” scale. I would like those people to know that thanks to the delicata and other gateway winter squashes, I’m getting over my low opinion of this vegetable. For whatever reason, I just had trouble seeing this plant. I walked around the plant and looked at it from all sides.

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When that didn’t work, I looked to the beans and took a break to hang out with my farm-friendly Domino Cat.
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I returned to the garden on different mornings, in different moods, and I tried. I looked at dark green zucchini varieties and pale green zucchini varieties and baby zucchinis and full-grown zucchinis and bees in blossoms.

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Domino’s expression says it all. Clearly, I was making this harder than it needed to be.

By the third day, this was seriously turning into a case of, “Kid, shoot your vegetables.” It was 7 a.m. and no one was in the office. The sun was getting higher. When I went to my car to get screens and a giant umbrella, I found a brown paper bag. I decided to play.

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After a couple of shots of “too plain, too crowded, needs something more,” I finally got the shot that was just right. Feeling victorious, I zoomed back here to the office, excited to show Gavin and Ethne my work. The zucchini didn’t beat me. And I have to confess, it tasted pretty good in a curry.

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