OFFICIAL LIVE BLOG – Session #2 (1-2:15 pm), Visuals Track: "Principles of Photography"

Session Description:

Also known as White on Rice Couple, Todd Porter and Diane Cu are professional portrait and special event photographers, photojournalists and cooking instructors. In this Principles of Photography session, they'll cover important principles to elevating your photographs to their maximum potential. Basic discussions such as Aperture, Shutter Speed, ISO, shooting on Auto vs Manual settings will be covered to help you understand your camera better. They'll share simple techniques and tricks to capturing the best image possible in a variety of situations: in your kitchen or in dynamic/restaurant/food festival settings. Topics also included are camera choice/selection, point-and-shoot vs. DSLR's, equipment and lighting, the value of a good lens, and studio vs. location photography. As obsessed food bloggers, they'll gear the discussion toward photography in the food blog world.

Session Liveblog:

Principles of photography - what it takes to get the image you want, and what the principles are behind the images you want. Hopefully everyone will walk away more able to understand their cameras better and sharpening their focus on what kind of photos you want.

Photography comes in a lot of different flavors but it's all about capturing images, moments and memories. It's beyond just food blogs -- we all have a life too. Understanding the camera helps us capture our whole lives.

We're going to discuss the technical aspects of getting the best pictures in your kitchen at night, especially.

There are so many different types of light: Artificial. Natural. Whatever's available. A combination of everything.

You're always going to be going through dynamic situation; it's never the same twice. Understanding the principles behind photography will help you adapt to real life situations.

Reading the manual can be a WTF moment, but you need to understand your camera:

* Learn basic principles
* Practice
* Improve your skills
* Practice

Even after you're done today and some things make more sense, you'll forget in a week if you don't go home and practice. Eventually you'll become more creative.

Now you start to ...

* Capture the images you want
* Practice
* More freedom to be creative
* Practice

Photography is about LIGHT:

* How to harness it
* How it enters your camera
* How your camera measures it
* How to control it to get the images you want

The camera doesn't care about your perfect plate or your Brad Pitt photo op; all it registers is LIGHT.

Different levels of options come with different cameras:

* More control
* More options
* More flexibility
* More money spent

But you can upgrade forever and it won't matter if you don't understand your camera and read the manual.

Things all cameras use in common:

- Lens
- Aperture
- Shutter Speed

All are main ingredients that help you manage the light that enters the camera. These are the principles that people struggle with the most, and that we'll talk about today.

Now we'll show you some excellent point & shoot bloggers - Mark shoots with a Canon point and shoot; edits a bit but can capture the images he wants
- - Kamran is a 17-year-old with a $110 camera; we're amazed at what he's able to do just by reading his manual.


Exposure is the total amount of light used to create the photo: Shutter speed + aperture + ISO = exposure.

How bright and how dark is the image getting? How much light is getting captured? If images are coming out too light or dark, you're having problems with exposure.

Sometimes over- or underexposure can happen in a number of ways - you can choose to over and underexpose for creative purposes.
There's no right or wrong; there's what you want to get. With food, sometimes slightly overexposed and very dark shots come out really well.

The first element of exposure is SHUTTER SPEED:

* Shutter speed controls how long the camera lets light through
* It's about time
* Measured in speed of a second

When you look at your camera you see a bunch of jumbled numbers and maybe fractions. Look at the bottom number if they're fractions.

1" = 1 full second, a very long exposure.
Most of the time you're seeing the fraction of a second abbreviated 2 = 1/2 second; 80 = 1/80th of a second; 800 = 1/800 of a second. The bigger number is the quicker speed.

Shutter speed's about capturing motion. When you're taking a static plate it doesn't matter; nothing's moving. When you're taking action and prep shots, then speed comes into play.

Liquids: use a fast shutter speed to capture every single droplet (1/800); use a slower speed to create blur (1/25, 1/10, 1/4, 1") -- each setting has a different effect to create blur.

Q: What if you don't have a digital camera and you can't see the effects immediately?

Todd: Experience. It's much easer to learn photography now than it was before digital. Before, you'd have to meter the shot with film to record everything.

Diane: Practice. Back then we'd shoot a few different shots just for the experience.

The second element of exposure is APERTURE.

* Aperture controls much light it lets through
* It's about AMOUNT
* Measured in size of hole opening

Aperture numbers look like these: f/2 f/2.8, f/8, f/16.

It's hard to associate the number to what you're actually doing. f/2 is the biggest hole opening; f/16 is smallest. Think of it is controlling how much light is getting blocked; f/16 blocks the most.

Shutter speed and aperture have an inverse relationship. If you let less light through the aperture (with a higher aperture number, aka f stop) you have to make the shutter speed slower. If you let more light through the aperture you have to make the shutter speed quicker.

Aperture is about depth of field, controlling how much you want to have in focus in where, whether you want focus to fall on:

Front = foreground
Mid = midground
Back = background

Here are several slides of the same three objects.

At 1.4 f and 1/200 sec shutter speed, the three objects in the slide show only the foremost object in focus, mid and back are out of focus.

At 4 f and 1/60 sec shutter speed, the midground comes into focus.

At 10 f and 1/8 sec shutter speed, all three objects come into focus.

Now you can make stylistic choices and decide what you want to come into focus. Looking at the two extreme examples we showed you, you can see that:

Fast shutter speed + low fstop = only foreground is in focus
Slow shutter speed + high fstop = everything is in focus

Q: If you camera doesn't go that high with an fstop, can I get that effect?

Todd: That's why expensive cameras or expensive; so you have those options.

Diane: It's all about light so if you have a flash or a strobe you can achieve a similar effect with a lower fstop.

Todd: These objects are placed very close together; you can create the visual illusion by placing objects actually farther apart when you're shooting; it's not as easy to do.

Q: So, when you're dealing with an aperture, you have to adjust for the shutter speed because you're not getting in enough light, right?

Todd: Aperture and shutter speed work together to create the same thing. If you have a big hole you need a fast speed; little hole, slow speed.

Q: If aperture & shutter speed achieve the same thing, why would you choose one over the other?

Todd: It depends on what you want to control. If you want to control motion, select for the shutter speed and control for it with the aperture. If you want to control depth of field, select for the aperture you want and control for it with the shutter speed.

Q: How do you deal with camera shake?

Diane: Tripod.

Todd: If your shutter speed is 1/50 or lower you will get camera shake just by breathing; you'll have to stabilize somehow. It could be a tripod; it could be as easy as resting the camera on a pile of books.

The third factor in creating exposure is ISO.

ISO is the International Organization of Standardization's rating for how sensitive film or a digital camera is to light.

The higher the ISO the more sensitive it is to light - good for low light situations (800, 1600).

THe lower the ISO, the less sensitive it is to light - good for high light situations(200, 400).

The problem with high ISO is noise, when you start seeing the grains on the images. You'll actually start recording things other than light, like heat, which you can't see but your camera senses it. You'll see "grain."

Try to use the lowest ISO you can and slowly pump it up to get enough light for the exposure you want.

So those are the three elements of exposure. Start playing with one thing at a time, going to your shutter priority to play with motion, aperture priority to play with depth of field. Allow the camera to do the work for you. If you're not on full manual, the camera will usually correct for the other elements of exposure. Later you can take it to full manual to fine-tune.

Now we'll talk about some other principles.

WHITE BALANCE is about your camera reads different temperatures of light.

The goal is to get accurate color: To have whites look white.

Sometimes when you take a picture you'll get different shades because all light has a different temperature; it's never just pure light. Cloudy light will be a different temperature than shaded light than fluorescents. Our eyes aren't as sensitive, which is why some shots show color when we see it as white.

When the color of your shots isn't what you want you have to control the white balance; this is an aspect particular to digital photography.


Your camera will have an auto mode, and images for different presets for things like fluorescent, but it's just a preset guess. A lot of times light is mixed outdoor/indoor and all bulbs are different.

A lot of white balance corrections come in editing too but we want to get as close as we can to what we want in the image itself: more time shooting less time editing.

Within your camera there's a white balance option to balance with a white sheet of paper. Shoot the paper in your lighting situation; put the paper where your dish will be. Your camera knows it's supposed to be white (or gray, gray cards exist and work too) and correct for that.

There's an expo disk you can put on the front of your camera lins to do the same thing. You'll shoot FROM where the light is coming. Instead of shooting where your dish will be, you'll shoot in the direction of the light. It sends the light into the camera and scrambles the rays. It comes in handy when you're going to light situations that change constantly like a party. They come in different sizes depending on the lens you have and work for point and shoots and DSLR. Buy one that's bigger than the lens you want to use; it can screw in to a fixed size but bigger ones slide right on top of any lens smaller than it is.

You can also shoot a gray card and note in editing that all thumbnails from the point of the gray card should be balanced to that card. There's a free gray card iPhone app.

We've controlled the light with exposure, the color with white balance, now the next aspect is Lens Focal Lengths, and now we're moving into DSLR territory.

* Wide-angle= less than 50 mm
* Normal = 50 mm (as a rule of thumb)
* Telephoto = over 50 mm

The second aspect of your lens is its speed - a fast lens has a big aperture.

The faster a lens is, the more expensive it is.

Prime or fixed lens? Prime lenses are your primary; you have to move to get closer up to your subject. With fixed lenses you have to physically move.

Zoom lens - similarly, they will do the moving for you. Zooms become your flexible lenses with multiple focal lengths. You lose a little speed, you won't be able to have quite as low an f stop but you'll have more range of focus.

Q: I bought my first SLR and got a 50mm/f1.8. I need a lot of versatility. Can you recommend a lens that's versatile with low aperture and all the different features?

Todd: Most major companies make one called a 24-70mm; it's great but expensive.

Diane: Your general lens is 18-35mm, they often come free with the camera. You may want to save money on the lens and splurge instead on something like a flash.

Q: YOu can get the 50mm/1.8 cheap and the 50mm/1.4 for like $200 extra; is it worth the extra money for food photography?

Todd: It depends on what you want to achieve. The focal length is a little different; you'll get more of a depth of field with the 1.4; for a professional photog the 1.4 may mean a gig as it's more professional; the "bokeh" (out of focus area) looks a little more attractive with the 1.4, so that's a little compromise. But for the most part on a food blog you won't notice it. If you want to do it professionally, then choose the 1.4.

Diane: If you have the money go for it, but I'd be happy with a 1.8.

Todd: There's a great 1.8 for about $200 for Nikon users.

Audience comment: Part of the cost different between the 1.4 and the 1.8 is the build - 1.8 is plastic and the 1.4 is metal, more weatherproof. The optics themselves are a bit different; you can see the flaws in the lens of a 1.4 when you develop the pictures yourself.

Todd: Camera companies are making really cool fast lenses but making them cheaper. Compromising a little on glass and construction but aren't built for a pro.

The next aspect is LIGHTING.

* Natural
* Artificial
* Combination

Natural is the best free source of light but you're at the whim of what's there. Artificial light such as flashes and strobes - or taking the shade off a lamp and moving the lamp near your subject - will add light to your shot.

Pretend this (artificial) light on the stage is natural light from a window. It's natural but it's not what we want for this shot, say it's giving a hard shadow or a shadow just from one direction so that one side will get totally shaded out. You'll want to diffuse the light, with a thin sheet, tissue paper, artists' vellum paper, as Heidi mentioned in the last session, she pulls a curtain across her window. A basic white trash bag works great. Put a hanger in it or tape it, it gives a really soft filtered light.

You generally want to soften things a bit. Shadows create drama but you don't want too much.

Or you can fill in your shadows by holding up a foam board parallel to the source of light - you're now bouncing the light to fill in both sides of the shot. Think of it like a bank shot in pool. You can even place foam boards on both sides of the natural light source.

Now, we move to tricks for KITCHEN SHOTS.

We usually need artificial light in the kitchen -- nighttime or too few windows.

Speed lights are cheap and work great, but only for a DSLR. Attach it to the camera like a pop up flash. With a pop-up flash the light comees from teh same direction you're shooting from; it gives you a flat image. You need to bring light coming in off angles to create more visual interest. Speed lights have a rotating head so you can move the light around and bounce it.

Say you rotate the speed light to point to the ceiling of the kitchen; you'll bounce it off the ceiling and the light will come down and fill in the shadows. You can also aim it to the side to create interesting shadows.

You can also use REMOTE TRIGGERS for lights on a tripod. You can take the flash off the camera, put it on a tripod, and add different effects to your lighting. Now you can start firing your flash from whichever direction you want. You can use it as a dramatic main light or a fill light to fill in areas you can't capture with your main light.

Audience comment: If you're in a restaurant with a point & shoot, take a paper napkin 1-2 layers and put it over your flash and it works really well.

Q: What about mirrors?

Todd: Sometimes they're so reflective they're too dramatic, but if you want that they're great.

Q: I'm a baby who hasn't even opened her site yet. I have very young children who move really fast, it's impossible to capture them. What's affordable and versatile enough to capture my twins and my beautiful cakes?

Todd: For $400 you can get a used digital body & take the Nikon 35mm/f 1.8 lens that goes for $200 I mentioned and you have a great setup.

Q: Do you have quick tips for point and shoot at night?

Todd: Napkin on flash was just mentioned. Take the shade off a lightbulb and put a plastic bag over it. You'll have to meter it as the light temperature will be off, but it's just using things from your house.


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