This post is sponsored by the Adobe Creative Cloud Photography plan. We started using Adobe Photoshop in high school (1996!) and have learned with Adobe through our college education at Savannah College of Art and Design. For the last decade we’ve been using Adobe in our professional careers. To say the least, we’re excited to collaborate with them. Check out other posts in the series, 5 Step Workflow and How to Achieve Winter Light in Post-Production.
One thing that we both learned with our career experience is what it means to hone your craft and be a professional. Honing your craft is an ever-learning experience any creative embraces to make him or herself better at what they do. This can encompass how you approach your ideas, what methodical steps you go through and how to realize your inspirations. There are also the physical things you use to make this all happen: your tools. In our case, our tools are cameras, lights, editing software and other photography equipment. Now here is where we start to cross over to the professional. A professional is many things, but one of them is knowing what tools to use to get the job done right and realize your vision. We feel that this is what really separates someone from the pack. We’re not saying you need the best gear in the world (far from it) but you need to know how to utilize your tools and how to create with them. Knowing your tools is step one, and knowing how you can manipulate them, or bend the perceived rules, to achieve your vision is step two. As we said before, we are always honing our craft and learning new things, and that also applies to our tool set. It’s that moment when you find a new feature or way to use your camera, or you learned a new approach to editing a photograph in Photoshop, Lightroom, etc.
Understanding the thought process that we use, you can see how we put the process to work as we take on a new assignment.
Finding Home Farms produces their own maple syrup which has a unique smoky finish to it. To help them expand the idea that syrup is not just for pancakes, they wanted to show the concept of a maple syrup fondue. This was to go live in the fall/winter, so we would need a wintery light (to see how to achieve wintery light take a look here). We also wanted to portray the ideas of communal eating, conversation and family in a rustic, casual setting with a touch of humanity.
Our ideal fondue experience would have numerous dipping options, so you can discover new and unexpected flavor combinations with the syrup. This way the viewer can use their imagination and explore – we want the person looking at our images to eat with their eyes. For us, food photography is all about ‘looking’ at the food – how often do we hear people say, “That looks SO good!” in relation to food imagery?
Setting the Scene
We were just approaching fall when we started this shoot, so we decided to use natural light. The light was already starting to take on some of the characteristics of fall/winter with a slightly overcast day but it wasn’t completely there yet. The color temperature was still a bit warm for the season. We decided to backlight and positioned the back side of the set (the table we were shooting on) to face the southeast to avoid, and direct, hard light from the southwest, outside. This tends to give you softer shadows, which is what you would expect for the winter time.
We mounted the camera overhead using an arm attached to the tripod. We were not directly overhead – we pulled back the camera and pointed it up slightly. This allows us to see the front of the items on the table, like the syrup bottle and fondue pot, therefore creating more depth and giving the viewer a better sense of scale. We also added a 1 stop scrim (large white translucent fabric panel) to the background to diffuse the light even further. In the front, we added a white bounce (foam core) to help fill in the scene.
Now this is where our thought process kicks in, we mentioned earlier, about knowing your tools and when to use them. We want a wintery light, so we know it has to be soft like an overcast day. This is why we added the scrim in the background and the fill in front. Now with the scrim and white bounce this image is going to lose contrast and come out very flat. But by utilizing our tools and understanding what each one gives you, you can use the right combination to achieve our vision. In this case, we use the scrim and bounce to help create that perfect wintery light, and by knowing how we will use Photoshop later to increase the contrast by using the Curves tool we will be able to complete that rustic, moody, wintery look, therefore really letting our craft and professionalism shine.
As We Shot
As the styling of the food and props were being worked on, we had to make sure that we were not only capturing how delicious the food looked but also making sure there was some humanity to the image. What we mean by this is that it feels like there is a human element to the photograph. This does not mean that there has to be a human present, such as a hand, it just means that it has to look and feel like there has been someone there. One of the elements that we used to exemplify this was little cheese toasts. These little cheese toasts were drizzled with syrup as if they had been picked up and dipped in the syrup by someone at the table. This worked out really well, but we shot a few variations just incase one was better than the other. Small little nuances like this can help add that little touch of humanity to break up any stiffness in a photograph.
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Now we had a couple of objectives to achieve in the post processing. One; finish giving the image the fall/winter look. Two: Add more humanity to the image by adding another elemental option.
To give the image a moody fall/winter look we knew using the scrim and bounce were the first steps to creating the kind of light we wanted. Using the Curves tool in Photoshop to create more contrast overall was the second step. By masking out specific areas we were able to control how deep the tones would be in those areas and adjust them with the Curves tool. This gave us the desired effect.
To add humanity to the image we talked about the cheese toast before. When shooting this image we were not sure if the image would look better with or without the extra added elements of cheese toast for the fondue, so we shot it both ways. By the time we did the variations, the food had faded and wasn’t appealing anymore. After realizing the shot looked better with the additional cheese toast, we decided to add in just this element to the first shot where the food looked very appetizing. In Photoshop we added the second photograph with the additional cheese toast to the original image by using the Shift+Move command. This command allows the image on the top layer to line up perfectly with the the original image below.
We masked this second layer hiding all with a black mask. We then set the paintbrush set to white, to paint in just the cheese toast elements we wanted. This allowed us to combine two images, but be selective about what we wanted to include.
Next we imported the image into Lightroom to make it pop with a bit of Clarity. By adding the Clarity the shadows blocked up just a bit but made the highlights sing. So we then used the shadow slider to add a little detail back in. Now the image has just the right impact we want.
Even being a purist at heart and wanting to do the most in-camera as we can, we also know our limitations and what tools are available to help us achieve our vision. Using Photoshop to help us complete our vision is our idea of a great tool. Knowing you craft and getting a great image is the first part, then knowing how you can bend that and push it farther to fit your vision is the second part.
Adobe would like to help you hone your craft. We are giving away one copy of a one year subscription to the Adobe Creative Cloud Photography plan. Enter below for your chance to win. Good Luck!