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Adventures in Food Photography: Lemons and Textures – 3 of 4

April 1, 2010

The third lesson is about the texture of the subject and the effect of light on it. Think of the smoothness of a glass of milk and the rough surface of a chocolate chip cookie. The same light falling on those two subjects in a picture will display the properties of the subjects very differently. If sharp light falls from a low angle, it will overexpose the light-facing surface of the reflective glass and on the cookie it will form long shadows emphasizing the crumbly crevices. If diffused light light falls, it will nicely light the glass of milk but may make the cookie look flat due to the absence of shadows and will reduce contrast.
Rules of thumb:

  1. Diffused light works best with reflective or shiny surfaces.
  2. Hard light works best with flat or dull surfaced objects (bread, cookies)

Here are three shots of my milk and cookies photo. Photos 1 and 1A(outtakes) utilize a white background and the bottle of milk in 1 and a glass in 1A. There is too much white in the picture, the only contrasting object are the cookie and the print on the bottle, and the shadow of the bottle is on the plate. The edge of the bottle facing the light is out of the picture frame so its reflectiveness is not visible. Overall I don’t like these shots. To add a little drama, I added a yellow paper under the subject to add contrast as well as another cookie on the plate. I poured the milk in a glass that has horizontal rings. This makes the otherwise flat surface of the glass more interesting. Later I noticed that on the upper left corner of the picture I have a wrinkle which I should have fixed in Photoshop or adjusted the paper. The light falling on the subject was northern light so it wasn’t as hard as was needed to be to bring out the texture of the cookie. I also wish in this shot I had captured the left (lit) edge of the plate.. oh well.. next time.. but to me photo 2 is far more interesting than photos 1 and 1A.. live and learn!
Another important thing I learnt was the need to cut off excess light. I used to think the more light I have the better. But if there is too much light and makes the subject look overexposed it can be minimized by putting a foam core board masking the bottom of the light in such a way that the top of the board is just below the point of casting a shadow on your subject. This way you can highlight the top of the subject for example and take the attention away from a flat, overblown surface the object is resting on.

Translucent subjects are a lot of fun to shoot and I learnt just how easy and dramatic they can be. On a day when you have bright low sunlight coming in, put a translucent subject against it (such as a sliced orange or a jam jar in the window) and shoot it up close. You will see the dramatic and abstract looking layers of suspended fruits in it. You can mask excess distracting light by placing a black foam core board on either side of the middle of the jar a couple of inches apart. I don’t have a picture like this yet, but I will try to post it next week. Try highlighting translucent qualities of subjects like lettuce, citrus fruits, colored drinks, etc.

In the pictures of the lemon tian, I tried to highlight the translucence of the lemon. The light was to my left in the first shot. Not completely satisfied, I tried to shoot against the light with a flash in the second photo. The translucence certainly shined through but the rest of it didn’t look too appetizing. In both these shots there was a reflector against the light highlighting the dark side of the object (as I had mentioned earlier I would never take a picture without a reflector again! ). I submitted photo 1 as my homework and found out how I could have better captured the translucence.. by not being next to the light (photo 1) or against the light (photo 2) but half way in the middle. Why didn’t I think of that?! I can’t expect Talia to make the lemon tian again (especially since she didn’t even like the taste). Oh well I will have to await another translucent inspiration of hers! So remember, shoot translucent objects with the light slightly behind them (don’t shoot completely against the light or next to it).


In the next two comparison shots I would like to show you a picture taken with and without the reflector.. what a difference!


See the first lesson Adventures in Food Photography: Pears and Light – 1 of 4.

See the second lesson Adventures in Food Photography: Salsa and Lenses – 2 of 4

See the fourth lesson Adventures in Food Photography: Pepper and Macro – 4 of 4

See a list of my photography equipment.

-by Noerah

8 Comments leave one →
  1. April 1, 2010 7:38 am

    Lots of great suggestions… I don’t know what I would do without my gold reflector. Although I knew lots of things about photos from years in the film business (art dept) doing it was a different story.
    I wrestled with the equipment for months and lost my mojo. Now it is beginning to come together. I think in time it will be natural and I will have a sense of what the subject needs to be great…. not there yet though! Great blog, glad that I found you! I miss Brooklyn.

    • April 2, 2010 8:49 am

      The trick is to just go out there and take LOTS of pictures and your ‘mojo’ will return before you know it. It’s always had to start writing on a blank paper but once you start, it gets easier and easier. Thanks for visiting our site.

  2. April 2, 2010 4:45 am

    The reflectors really do make a difference. I love using the makeshift one I have. Adding foil to your reflector can extra light/shine if you need it. I like how the yellow background make your cookies look more appetizing. Great tips!

    • April 2, 2010 8:51 am

      Thanks! That’s a great tip for the extra oomph. And the cookies tasted good too!

  3. April 2, 2010 8:11 am

    Hi Noerah,
    Can you recommend a reflector to purchase? What size, color, brand do you use?
    Thanks so much for the great post!

  4. April 2, 2010 8:55 am

    Hi Nivi! I am finally virtually talking to you.. have heard a lot about you. Talia and I went to B&H and bought this Impact collapsible circular reflector disc – soft gold, white – 22″. Soft gold is recommended for food photography. It has white on the other side so you can experiment with that too. Glad you are enjoying my learning experience!

  5. April 2, 2010 9:04 am

    Nice tips. I really find it hard to take nice pictures for presentation. Maybe I don’t have the creativity needed in photography. 🙂

    • April 2, 2010 9:13 am

      Thanks, Kathy. Taking pictures and presentation are two different things. I am lucky to have Talia who makes beautiful arrangements and I just come and shoot. I hope I will learn to decorate from her some day. To me presentation is more difficult than shooting.

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