Food and Beverage Photography. Overhead shot.

The topic today is this overhead shot.

Final Picture

Final Picture

The setup is quite simple: just one light source, a strobe with a big soft box and four white boards as reflectors. 

The only specific gear for this picture is the special arm attached to the tripod to set the camera right over the table. 

The issue to take this picture was that the composition is made with many different dishes and drinks and they don’t look fresh for too long. Something like the beer foam last less than 3 minutes, the fresh leaves and sauces start to look bad after 10 min and the bubbles from the aperol spritz last just seconds. All the items cannot get out of the kitchen at the same time, so the trick was to set the composition using empty dishes and glasses (as usual) and start to add the items and shot them one by one composing the final picture in postproduction in Photoshop.

Final composition in process

Final composition in process

In order to safe time in the editing it is crucial to don’t move anything during the shooting process. That’s why I use tape to fix the tripod to the table and some at the floor to advise people to don’t walk in. 

For this overhead picture you have to pay special attention in the depth of field. I wanted everything on focus and sharp, but closing the aperture to the maximum reduces the image quality (distortions and sharpening problems in the edges because of the diffraction and chromatic aberration, all the photographers knows that the lens “sweet point” where the it performs the best is in some point close to the middle aperture). So, like always, I used a laser meter plus the iPhone app called iDoF Calc to optimise the aperture (please check my post "My Equipment").

And if you have any question... Please ask me ;-)

Food and Beverage Photography. Drinks.

Today I would like to show you how I took this picture at a bar for the drink menu.

Final Picture

Final Picture

This is the set general view. Just two symmetrical strobes with narrow softboxes. You just have to try different angles to get the desired reflection in the glasses and bottles.

Setup general view

Setup general view

The only problem was that the shooting was at daytime with a lot of natural light coming in.

Available light

Available light

When I kill the natural light for the drinks (using a combination of aperture and shutter speed) and I use my strobes to light the drinks, I am killing the artificial light from the background shelf too and it looks boring and poor. I wanted to keep some light in the background in order to have some reflections so I set the aperture to get the depth of field that I wanted (f5.6) and I set the shutter speed to 1/80. The result was this.

Just with the strobes to light the drinks

Just with the strobes to light the drinks

Then what I did was to hide a couple of speedlites behind the bottles at the shelf. I used a blue and a red gel to add some color to the background.

The result was good but I founded some reflections at the background that were very distracting for me.

I used some snoots to cover those areas (you can use black clothes, boards or whatever, I use these snoots because I always carry them, check the post "My Equipment" for more information).

In this diagram you can see the technical gear info.

Like always in this kind of photography I sprayed water with glycerine over the glasses with cold drinks to make them look more fresh.

For this shooting I think it is very important to have a precise control of the depth of field. To get it I use a laser meter combine with an iPhone app called iDoF Calc. You can find more information in my post "My Equipment".

The post edition of this picture in Photoshop was very simple. I just rid off some reflections and I did some dodge and burn.

Do you have any question? Just ask me :-)

Shooting on Location

Hola, here I would like to explain you how I took this picture for a restaurant manager in Shanghai.

I set the camera to kill all the ambiance light: aperture f10, shutter speed 1/60 and ISO 100.

Then I started to light the scene's elements one by one using a strobe with a 70cm diameter beauty dish with a honey comb to control the light as a main light source for the subject. 

For the champagne bottle I used a speedlite with a snoot to avoid the light run over my main subject. 

I found the left side of my subject too dark so I  used another speedlite with a snoot to get some rim on it but avoiding the light to contaminate my background because I wanted it quite dark.

Then to get some more light on the background wall I set a third speedlite with another snoot reproducing the original light in the restaurant. 

This was the making off setting:

In this sketch you can find more technical details:

If you want more details about the equipment that I use, please check the post "My Equipment" in this blog.

The edition should be pretty easy, just to correct some curves in Lightroom and small details like a shadow on the bottom right and some reflection on the wall, but I had a mistake and there was a table behind the table where we put the champagne bottle and that one was not even, so I had to remove it in Photoshop. Usually I shoot tethered with my laptop so I can check the result on location but in this case the restaurant was full of customers and I didn't want to disturb too much with more equipment so, my fault, I didn't notice the mistake in the table when I checked the picture on my camera screen. 

Here you can compare the image right from the camera and the processed one:

If you have any question feel free to ask me ;-)

Things to check when packing for a shooting

You might think that this is too obvious but trust me, if you forget something you can have a big problem, so is better to have a check list and be sure that everything is ready.

- Charge your batteries. This not only includes the batteries for your camera. We use a lot of equipment (power packs for strobes and flashes, triggers and receivers, monitor if you shoot video, flashes, etc.) and running out of batteries in any of them is a nightmare.

For the camera, I always take at least two batteries, and I always carry enough batteries to change the batteries of all my flashes and receivers at least once. (Think about the extra waste of battery when using Live View).

- Check flashes and receivers. Take one shot with each of them. Sometimes you change something by mistake (like the channel in a receiver) and suddenly it doesn't work anymore. It's better to check these things at home rather than wasting time during the shooting.

- Format the memory cards. If you do it right before the shooting and suddenly find out that you still have pictures on a card that you didn't previously download, you will spend a lot of time or capacity on your cards.

- Check your camera setup. Maybe for the last shooting, you set it up your camera in a specific way (white balance, picture format, etc.). If you forget it and start taking pictures, you can end up having pictures in low resolution, high ISO, etc.

Don't forget to set all your lenses on autofocus!

My standard setup is RAW, 100 ISO, AWB, Manual Mode, Highlights alert on, preview with histogram, focus beep off and silence shooting mode for events.

- Clean your lens. I take my camera and lenses to the Canon official service center every 6 months for a deep cleaning, including sensor. But for minor stains like water drop marks in the lens, I do the cleaning by myself. If you don't check it, you may end up wasting a lot of time later with Photoshop.

- Choose the corresponding equipment for every specific case. Obvious? Packing 5 minutes prior to leaving can be risky. Try to imagine all the situations that you could find yourself in during the shooting, and pack a few hours in advance (if you can). Even if you think that you will not need it, always take the chargers, card reader and laptop with you. 

 

My Equipment

Ok, this is just my actual equipment, what I use according to my needs. In order to make this list not too long I will focus on the portable photography equipment more than in the studio gear, and only the remarkable things. About video I will write another post.  

Well, "needs" is a very subjective word... I always want more and more! If you too are suffering from PGSA (Photography Gear Shopping Addiction), please send me a private message ;-)

Having more equipment and buying only the most expensive gear will not make you a better photographer.

The cook said to the photographer "I like your pictures, what camera brand do you have?", and the photographer answered "I like your food too, what oven brand do you use?"

But I have to say that if you want to be professional (and get paid for it), you have to use gear that you can trust and usually they are not the cheapest. Of course, I can use a piece of cardboard as a snoot but I think this would damage my image in front of my clients (sorry David Hobby!)

Camera:

• Canon 5D Mark III (always have an extra battery). I have actually 4 batteries and I have tagged them with numbers from 1 to 4. I always start to use the number 1 so I always know which one is full charged. 

Memory Cards:

I use CF and SD, different brands, speeds and capacities. I don't like to use cards with big capacity for photo. If something goes wrong with the card I don't want to loose too many files.

People say that CFs are more reliable but I only once had a problem with a card in my life and it was a compact flash.

You have to know that if you are using a Canon 5D MIII the CF slot supports the fastest speed that you can get from the card, but the SD slot is ridiculously slow. It doesn't matter what your SD card speed is, the maximum data transfer that you can get is 133x. So if you need speed (for sport shooting in burst mode or raw video for instance) forget about the SD, which is sad as they are way cheaper than the CF. The only reason to have a fast SD is to download the files faster to your computer.

Cards Reader:

Lexar USB 3.0

After very bad experiences with cheap readers, now I  use a Lexar USB 3.0, (165 RMB in Tmall, China), and I'm very happy with it. It reads CF and SD (I don't need a ten types card reader), you can close the slots to protect them and it's crazy fast. 

Lenses:

• Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM

• Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8 IF EX DG HSM

• Canon TS-E 17mm f/4L. This lens is a must for professional architecture photography. It is a tilt-shift ultra wide-angle lens.

• Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM. My treasureeeee! Every time I look through the viewfinder my heart starts to beat faster and I feel that is one of the best investments that I have ever made. The autofocus is pretty slow, desperately slow, but I use it mainly for portraits or still life so it is not a big deal. This lens is sharp, bright (heavy and big) and in my opinion the best portrait lens from Canon.

• Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM. I have my 85mm so I use this mainly for macro although it is also great for portraits.

• Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM. The f/2.8 version is great but too heavy for me (1.5kg vs 760g)

• Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II. Yes the cheap one. I've found it useful in situations when you care about the weigh, don't want to bring expensive equipment, for video shootings for the internet, etc.

• Canon TS-E 17mm f/4L. The widest tilt/shift in TS-E Canon lens line up. Essential for architecture ad interior photography. 

Tripod Head:

For architecture photography is essential a fine adjustable head, I use a Manfrotto MHXOPRO-3WG.

Filters:

• I don't use UV filters. If I invest 2.000 USD in a lens I don't want to add a cheap piece of glass to it. I have some good UV filter that I only use if I'm shooting during a windy day at the beach to protect the lens against scratches from the sand.

• ND filters. I find the neutral density filters very convenient for shootings during daytime with slow speeds. I like the variable ones but you have to invest some money, the cheap ones produce a star shadow effect in the picture. I have a NISI Multi-Coated Variable ND2-400, it costs around 200 USD but I've tried some cheaper ones and they are not suitable for professional photography.

• To use with the TS.E 17mm you need 150mm filters. I use a Nisi holder and a polarizer HD CPL and a neutral density Nano IR ND 1000 (3.0), 10 stops for architectural photography.

Flashes:

• Canon Speedlite 430EX II

• Canon Speedlite 580EX II, Canon stopped the production of this flash, be careful of fake copies that you find now in the some stores. If you want to know if you are buying an original one, try the high speed synchronicity button, it doesn't work on the fake ones. (It happened to me in Shanghai at the Xietu Lu - Luban Lu mall, in almost all the stores they have only the fakes).

• Canon Speedlite 600EX-RT

• Yongnuo YN-565 EX

Power Pack for flashes:

• Godox PROPAC Lithium Power Pack PB960. I can plug up to two flashes at the same time, it really improves the recycling time (1 second) and battery duration (it still uses some of the battery from your flash). I can fire 1800 times my 600EX-RT just after 3h charging and it's incredible light (540 gr). I can carry it with the shoulder strap or a belt clip. 

Godox PROPAC PB960

Paul C. Buff Vagabond Mini

Paul C. Buff Einstein E640

Photitx Odin

Flash trigger:

• Phottix Odin TTL Flash Trigger + Receivers. I really love this system, it allows me to control the power and zoom of all my flashes in three different groups from my camera. Very reliable. The problem is that it only controls original Canon TTL flashes (and Nissin Di866 II & Di622 II) but you can fire any kind.

Srobes "to go":

• Paul C. Buff Einstein E640 (a couple of them) + Vagabond Mini Lithium battery pack.

These strobes are amazing: 9 f-stop power variability (2.5 Ws to 640 Ws), all-digital control from enormous LCD display and color consistency +/- 50° at any power.

The Vagabond Mini allows you to plug two strobes at the same time, it is very compact and light (1.5kg).

There is only one problem: How can you get it? If you don't live in the US, you are in trouble as they don't ship worldwide and you have to pay with an American visa card. However, if you manage to get these strobes, you will never regret the complicated process.

Umbrella softbox

• Jinbei Discovery 600 Flash head + Ring Flash head + Battery pack.

Modifiers:

I have plenty of softboxes in different shapes and sizes, beauty dishes, umbrellas, etc. They work perfectly in the studio or for big productions when you travel with a few assistants, in a van and you don't have to worry about the weight and portability.

But when I shoot in locations (alone or only with one assistant), or traveling, I like to take my reflective umbrella softboxes with me. You can use them with your strobes or speedlite flashes, they come in different sizes.

Light stands:

Phottix Varos II

Phottix P200

 Jingbei M2

In the studio I use heavy, sturdy stands with wheels. Out of the studio I love these stands from Phottix; P200, compact, light and 200cm tall. They can hold my Einsteins without any problem, I've been using them for years without any issue. Avoid cheap ones, after few uses the screws will turn loose.

When I want to put  my flashes on them I use the Phottix Varos II Multi-function Flash Shoe Umbrella Holder. 100% reliable and stable. 

Snoots

Out of the studio I use this Jingbei M2 boom set that you can use as a regular light stand too:

Other Flash accessories:

When I work with flashes, I find it a must to use snoots and gobos in order to control the light direction. I use them in combination with umbrellas, and other modifiers. I love this kind, flexibles and with velcro. You can find them in different sizes in China for 60 RMB the biggest one.

 Flash holder

Gels

A flash holder is cheap and makes everything easier when I don't want to use light stands and I use the flash off camera.

Laser meter

Of course I use gels to adapt the temperature of my flashes lights to the dominant light when I need it. For this I follow David Hobby's recomendations and I use small velcro stickers to fix my Rosco gels:

SUPERTIP:

DoF Calc

Sometimes I want to control the Depth of Field (DOF) very precisely, or I want to find the hyperfocal distance. For these purposes, I use an app on my iPhone called iDoF Calc and a laser meter.

Graphic Tablet:

Wacom Intuos Pen & Touch Small

• Wacom Intuos Pen & Touch Small. Once you get used to this you cannot live without it. For professional digital retouching, it is indispensable. The bigger is not the better: I know many graphic designers and retouchers that prefer to use a small or medium size tablet despite owning a big tablet as the smaller ones are much more portable and confortable to use.


Hola, welcome to my blog.

Here I would like to share with you what I've learnt (and keep on learning) from my experience as a professional photographer. 

First of all, notice that I'm Spanish; English is not my mother tongue (not even my cousin tongue). So get ready to find misspellings and grammar aberretions... I mean aberrations, see?

I will talk to you about equipment, techniques and useful tips. I wish somebody told me all this when I started!

Here we go!