Food Photo 101 – Lesson 1 Recap

The Sunday Recap is Nika’s review of the week’s lesson. I look at this as kind of the instructor’s review of my work. So, in Nika’s words…

It has been a fantastic week! We have had more than 80 people sign up to participate and we have several submissions of image sets at the flickr Food Photo 101 group. We have gotten so many lovely emails that have thanked us for starting this series. Thank you for your support.There are quite a few sites out there that do pointers and such for food photography but I think that this series has one huge difference – You! Because we are working through this together this will be a much more interesting process. I can’t thank you all enough for participating.Curt has crafted an amazing newsletter that you can get at this link (pending) in which he reviews his lesson outcomes and that of some of the other participants. Curt has done an amazing job of taking this first lesson to heart and really going analytical.

Some notes first

At the outset, I have to say that the lesson was “simplified” in one way – I had you set your non-testing settings to auto. This is flawed in a way because the auto implies that the auto setting will vary to compensate in some way as you change the other settings, depending on the camera’s algorithms. I didn’t want the lesson to become this massive matrix of different conditions.

Someone on the blog asked what a DSLR is. I have been compiling a glossary, that may be helpful. A digital single-lens reflex camera (digital SLR or DSLR) is a digital camera that uses an automatic mirror system and pentaprism to direct light from the lens through the viewfinder. The non-DSLR shows on the LCD what is hitting the sensor.


Click this link to see his set with better resolution

As you can see in Curt’s series of images, he stepped through the various settings that his camera allows him. In the white balance section, you can see how the image changes from blue though a bit neutral into yellows and greens. When you are shooting to capture to a JPG format, its often best to optimize in-camera instead of waiting to go to your Photoshop or other image editing software. If you are capturing to a RAW format then some of these settings are not as relevant (you have a greater latitude in post-processing). I agree about liking the “warm white” setting. There is a bit of a blue cast but the whites do not seem that far off. A bit of post-processing can modify that.He next went on to his exposure settings. I think this set is a good example of the auto compensation by the other variables. Even at e +3, he has not blown his highlights. If this were repeated with non-auto settings, we may have seen greater extremes. In general, you can see the change that increasing exposure makes.The next setting was aperture (an aperture is a hole or an opening through which light is admitted). I have put up a description (from the Wikipedia) on the glossary page for people to review to gain a greater understanding of aperture. Curt found that the larger f-stops were not what he wanted because the image was getting too dark. His aperture sweet-spot for this particular photo seems like it was f/2.8.Curt notes that at the smaller f-stop (2.8) he had more light but his background got sort of blurry while the larger f-stops gave him more of the image in focus but he had less light to work with. This is an example of how these settings effect Depth of Field (DOF – see glossary).We will talk in more about DOF in later lessons.

You can see a big difference in the photos in the second part of Curt’s lesson. His “old” settings gave him an image that had a pretty serious color cast that he would have either lived with or compensated for in post-processing. His “new” photo is much closer to balanced. Depending on his own aesthetic, he may leave it this way or go in with Photoshop and warm up the blues just a tad.

Some of the other participants submitted some great sets that showed all the variations they produced with their settings. I know that this was a lot of work and I really appreciate people jumping in like they have.From Big Mill B&B (link) we have two neat sets.
In this one we see a nice progression of settings used to shoot a red tomato on a white background. As Curt mentions in the newsletter, the white background is helpful as an intuitive internal reference for our human eyes. We can see when the image has a bad color cast (white turns green or blue or yellow) and you can see the hue change (white, gray, black, etc).In the next set, Big Mill B&B shows a delicious slice of quiche with several of her optimized settings as well as the “cuisine” setting on her camera (the right most).
The left most and the right most images are the ones I prefer. The middle image is too blown and data may not be recoverable enough to pull out details.
The cuisine setting on auto is a bit dark but is good in other ways. It would be helpful to boost the ambient light and also modify the light on the forward right (we will talk about this next week). These are things we didn’t discuss in this lesson. I point this out because if one were to use the “cuisine” setting in a dark restaurant, things may go bad very soon. I wonder if the cuisine setting, in that situation, would pop open the on-camera flash (yikes).
From Vegan Noodle we have a large set of images of a variegated squash.
If you click through to her flickr image page ( you see that she has labeled each sub-shot with links to the page for that specific image. She is so organized! Read the comments on that image or the newsletter to learn how you can do the same thing with your flickr images.You can decide for yourself which one you like and then see what those settings are. I rather like the 2nd one in on the second row and the second one in on the 6th row.
njyar submitted a group of images that also have a nice variability.
I am liking the 4th image in on the top row. It has nice colors. njyar says its not surprising this is the best – I assume its because it matches his lighting situation (incandescent). How about you all?
larecettedujour submitted some citrus oriented shots.
His lemons vary by f-stop and also orientation! You can see some differences in tonal quality and texture.


I think that each of you have done a great job with this first exercise. It looks like you were able to begin to zero-in or calibrate for the best setting for a particular subject. I hope that you did not find this too pedantic or frustrating, keeping you from using this or an abbreviated method with your next shots!

Looking ahead

This week we will be learning some tricks that will really boost your food photography immediately. Its a foundational activity that you will always use whether you are an amateur or professional shooting for Gourmet Magazine!

Class Resources

To register for the newsletter that reviews each week’s topic, fill out the contact form at the bottom of this post (or on the Food Photo 101 page) and type “Food Photo 101” in the subject field.

By next week, there will also be a links page for blogs of people following the course.

About Curt McAdams

I guess I'm a bit of a foodie, learning to cook from my mom, then getting obsessed with outdoor cooking, competition barbecue, bread baking and just about all things food. Lately, I've been trying to upgrade my photography skills a bit, though I still have a long way to go.

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