When you are photographing food you need to make the image look so good you want to eat it. Having a plate of food in front of you is different … it can look sloppy and have no color, but our other senses kick in, such as smell and taste, so it looks appetizing at the time. However, with photography we lose most of those senses and can only rely on our sense of sight, so what the food looks like is extremely important.
This is where styling your food comes into play. The first photo only has pasta in the dish … well, that’s all you see, right? What you don’t see is that hidden below all those carefully placed mounds of linguine is a half-dome of styrofoam. The bulk of the styrofoam gives height to a bowl of pasta that would normally be flattened and caving in. After placing the styrofoam I took five strands of linguine and wrapped them around my fingers, then placed them down carefully so that none of the ends of the pasta strands were showing. I continued until the pasta was covering the styrofoam and looked balanced.
Next I took a pan of pearl onions and tomatoes that had been lightly sauteed and added each element to the dish separately. I used the live-view feature on my camera to help see the bowl of food as it will look when I take the photo – I found this feature to be very useful, btw. The last element I placed was the basil, and I tried to find the best looking leaves in the bunch.
I also added a few items that would typically be in a dining scene – the water glass and fork. The ice in the glass is actually fake – I got the ones in this scene from eBay, but you can find them all over the place (here’s a link to some simple acrylic ice cubes I found on Amazon.com). The ice and splashes you see on high-end commercial photographs are most likely custom-made acrylic – they are quite pricey but worth if if you have the budget. When you are adding these additional elements you want to remember to keep it simple and relevant to the scene, and if you want to add color then remember to either repeat your colors or keep them complementary to your food dish.
Earlier this year I made a cool photo of my face with a crack on my head, and was asked by a few people how I did it. Well, I finally got around to making a video tutorial on it, and used it for NAPP’s “So You Think You Can Teach Photoshop?” contest (details here). I also created two other videos for the contest, and you can view them by going to my profile on Vimeo.
I’m not sure what my chances are for winning the contest, since there were over 100 video entries by a lot of really talented artists. We should find out mid-November who the winners are … wish me luck!
This “Before & After” is a simple cross-processed image with a little bit of Photoshop layer styles added to give it a white border. Above is the finished version … here’s the straight-out-of-camera RAW image:
I did some white-balance and tonal adjustments in Adobe Lightroom, and also added a cross-processed effect using the “Split Toning” panel. The adjustments are visible in the image below:
I then brought the photo into Photoshop and added a Black & White adjustment layer with the blend-mode set to “overlay” (I clipped it to the main image so it wouldn’t affect the layer style). The layer style is a stroke using a pattern (one of the white paper patterns), then I added a simple drop shadow to give it some depth.
When I process photos I go through two main image processing software programs: Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 2 & Adobe Photoshop CS4. Lightroom is where I organize the images, pick the ones I want to use and do global RAW adjustments like white-balance and subtle tonal adjustments. After I export the image (as a .psd) I do a LOT of my processing in Photoshop. I thought it would be fun to show some before/after of my images along with a brief description of each of the steps I took to get to the final product.
So, to begin, here is the straight-out-of-camera RAW file I started with:
As you can see, the white balance is way off and it’s slightly underexposed. I also wanted to do some cropping to push the focus onto the baby. Here’s what I ended up with after doing some adjustments in Lightroom:
To get to the final image I used several layers in Photoshop. (The image at the top of this post shows each step, or you can click here to see the image on Flickr with notes added to describe each layer.) Here are the steps I took in Photoshop to process this image, starting with the bottom (background) layer moving upwards:
1) I started with a DUPLICATE layer of the background to clone out the logo on the pants (necessary for stock images).
2) Next is a BLANK layer to do some additional non-destructive cloning.
3) There are two LEVELS adjustment layers. The first one is for RGB tonal adjustmens (brightness/contrast), and I did some masking of the shirt area so it wasn’t too bright in the final image.
4) The second LEVELS adjustment layer is to tweak the color balance in the image.
5) After that was a BLACK & WHITE adjustment layer that I blended using the SOFT LIGHT blending-mode to add some drama to the image. I masked out some of the areas of the flower to balance out the look of the image.
6) For the top and final layer I merged of all the layers below it while still keeping them intact (Mac keyboard shortcut: CMD+OPT+SHIFT+E) and added a HIGH-PASS filter to give it some sharpening. I then changed the blend-mode to OVERLAY and used the mask to selectively sharpen certain areas of the image.
Here is the fully-processed photo:
Camera: Nikon D200; Lens: Sigma 70-200 f/2.8; Exposure: ISO 100, 1/320 @ f/2.8