Hi, all! I'm going to start a regular-ish feature here showing the steps I take to get the shot I want. As anyone who photographs food knows, what you envision isn't always what you get right away, so I want to go through my process. I'm sure there are as many ways to approach this as there are photographers, so if you have a process that works better for you, please leave me a comment or email me. I'm always looking for ways to improve my work flow!
Today I'll be discussing the opening shot for my most recent Field to Feast post at Minimally Invasive. I'd say about 95% of the time I have a pretty clear vision of what I want the final shot on the blog to be and take concrete steps to get there. At other times, I really just want to eat before my food gets cold, so I snap a quick picture. But this shot was set in my mind from the start. What I wanted from this image was a dark, moody look with pops of color coming from the golden beets and an emphasis on the rough texture of the skin.
1. My first shot. I set up next to a northwest-facing sliding glass door in late afternoon so I had moderate, diffused light for this shot. I shoot in manual mode (always with a tripod!) and measured the exposure with my light meter at 1/30 sec at f4. The X-Rite Color Checker you see in the shot, in combination with its Lightroom-compatible software, ensures proper white balance.
2. With the beetroots facing the window in the first shot, I got exactly the opposite look I was going for, so I turned the board holding the beets 180 degrees to have the greens facing the window. In Lightroom, I increased highlights and darkened shadows just a tiny bit.
3. The green stems were a little too shaded, so I used a piece of white foam core board to reflect a little light back onto them. I held it up and to the left of the shot, about two feet away.
4. Added a little more fill light by moving the foam core board closer, plus I wanted more of the shot in focus, so I changed my settings to 1/4 sec at f8.
5. The beet in the upper-left of the previous shot looked dry and was reflecting too much light, which draws the eye, so I turned it over to make sure it looked more like the rest of the beets in the shot.
6. Another styling change. I felt the golden beets were spaced too evenly to be visually pleasing, so I grouped them together at the bottom of the shot and about 2/3 of the way up. This is a pretty good example of the Rule of Thirds, as the top golden beet sits at the upper-left intersection of the imaginary rule of thirds grid. At this point, I was pleased with everything and took one final shot:
To get the exact feel I wanted, I made a few final adjustments in Lightroom. I took the Blacks and Shadows sliders down to deepen the dark parts of the image, and increased Clarity a touch. (This slider increases contrast in the midtones and can really make your images pop in a pleasing way if you use a light touch.) With my Nikon D700, oranges and reds can be overpowering, so I decreased the saturation a little bit overall, and also decreased just the yellow saturation to make the stems less muddy-looking.
Of course, if you're really tweaking color, you need to make sure your monitor is calibrated. I used the Spyder system for a few years, but found it difficult to navigate and thought the calibration was inconsistent. I switched over to X-Rite's ColorMunki Display last year and love it beyond all measure. I recalibrate every two weeks unless I'm working on a big project, in which case I do it more frequently.
Overall, I was very happy with the way this photo turned out because it's exactly what I was looking for. I'd say this was pretty typical of the way I approach shots; I try to get it right in-camera as much as possible, then tweak it in post. Before putting the beets up on the blog, I added a Tom Robbins quote because TR makes life a little more enjoyable.
Hope you found this useful! If you have any ideas for a future installment, or need clarification about anything, drop me a line.