Thursday, October 02, 2014

How I Photograph Candy On The Go

I travel a lot, and when I travel I always find new and exciting treats to review.  The problem with many treats is they're not really easy to transport.  Treats like ice cream, chips, and bulk candies will rarely make the trip back home in good condition.  This often means that I have to do the review while I'm still traveling, this includes not only the writing, but also photographing the candy for the site.  The writing part is fairly simple, but with limited resources photographing the candy can be a really big challenge.  I've decided to share with you a few tips and tricks that I use to  shoot candy on the go.  Keep in mind that I like to travel as light as possible, so set up equipment and tripods are not a consideration. The set up described lets you shoot a package with a plain black background, but you can always change the colour if you want.

The most difficult, yet most important thing I deal with when shooting on the go is light.  This is also something I notice many other food bloggers don't really think about when shooting food.  The best source of light you'll get is the sun.  If you're lucky enough to have a place with big windows or a balcony that gets direct sunlight, this is the best.  If you can't get this kind of sunlight indoors, don't be ashamed to go outside to a park, or even on the street.  I've found myself shooting candy in front of a building on a busy street because it had a great strong beam of sunlight.  Hotel room lights are often a last resort for me, these lights are designed to make the room cozy, and not really well lit. This will make your life really difficult, particularly if you don't have a tripod or anything to steady your camera. Also, hotel rooms tend to use warm lights to light up their rooms, or bright florescent lights, both of these can really mess with the colour.
In my case I want to shoot the candy with a black background, to go with the theme of the site.  I chose to use a black background because candy packages are often brightly coloured, and the black background helps these colours pop.  You can of coarse use any colour you'd like, but for consistency sake, if you're a food blogger, I recommend keeping a theme about your photos.  It doesn't have to be the same background, but I really think a theme is important.  To achieve a nice black background I always try to pack a few black things in my luggage.  I always carry around a Moleskin sketch book for taking notes a doodling, this can work as a background, however depending on your light it can also be fairly reflective.  As you can see with the picture above this can make your black surface look white.  My go to surface for shooting is clothing, so I always make sure that I pack a black shirt with me.  The fabric absorbs the light giving you a pretty dark black background.  The only challenge with using a shirt is the wrinkles, but most hotel rooms come with irons which will flatten your shirt perfectly.
What camera I choose to shoot my candy depends on why I'm traveling.   If I'm traveling for work than I'll have my SLRs with me as well as my macro lens.  My SLR cameras of choice are Nikon over Cannon.  While Cannon cameras have great features and great quality, I find that Nikon lenses are great for low light.  In this case we're dealing with a situation with no lighting gear, so a good low light camera is perfect.  The lense that I use depends greatly on the size of the package that I'm photographing.  I'll use a macro lens to shoot gummies or any small bulk candies.  However if I'm shooting bags of chips or larger packaged candies I find any 50 to 60 millimeter lens works fine.  I often carry an 18-135 lens that can pretty much cover any of the medium to large candies that I have to shoot.
Having said all of that, don't think that you have to spend big bucks on a camera to shoot your favorite snacks.  When I'm traveling for vacation/fun I don't always bring the big camera gear with me.  In fact Allison will often forbid me from bringing the big cameras because she knows I'll starting shooting stock stuff (in other words working).  Any point and shoot camera today (and even most phones) really has the ability to shoot some great food shots.  If you pay attention to lighting, background, and composition, you'll find that you can regularly get great shots with any camera.  The two things you have to keep in mind are how your camera works under dark light (if that comes up), and what kind of lens you have.  Some cameras work really well in dark light, other do not, it doesn't mean you can't take great pictures, it just means you have to pay attention to your light.  Lens wise you'll find that for larger packages you'll often have no problems at all, since most point and shoot cameras are designed to take pictures of things about the size of most larger candy packages.  The problem you'll find comes when you're trying to take pictures of smaller candies.  First of all make sure your camera is set to Macro (this is often marked with a little flower symbol), this tells your camera that you're trying to take a picture of something really small.  Next take your time, and take several pictures from different angles, this will allow your camera's auto focus to work properly, and will hopefully get you a great shot.
When it comes to touching up your photos, people are on two sides of the fence.  Some people argue that photo retouching is cheating, others say that it's an artistic tool.  I fall right down the middle of this argument.  I do use photo retouching tools on my photographs, but I use them as sparingly as possible. My goal when I take a photograph is to take the best picture I can so I don't have to touch it up.  With Candy Critic photos I often find that it's almost impossible to  get them perfectly black, particularly when I'm shooting on the  go.  The photo above  was shot on a T-shirt with fairly good lighting.  I did everything I could to get the shirt smoothed out, but being too lazy to iron the shirt, you can see a huge wrinkle at the bottom and a few small ones on the right.  There's also the problem of the package not being cropped in perfectly.  This is very common shooting candy packages since none of them are a standard dimension.
To fix the shot up I simply used a magic wand tool and selected the black background.  The selection tool did grab a bit of the clear cellophane part of the package, so I had to adjust it a bit.  However, because I took the time to shoot it on a proper black background the selection tool had no problems.  I then feathered my selection a little and then I filled in the background with black.  Because I shot  this on a black background, the areas where the package was transparent didn't require any touch  up work at all.  Also, any reflection on the package from the background was also black, so I didn't have to alter the colours either.  The cropping got rid of most of the wrinkle on the shirt, and also made the package nice and centered.

While this seems like a lot of work to get a simple package shot, once you have a system you'll find that shooting packages and small bulk candies can be very quick.  The biggest challenge with shooting on the go is always going to be lighting.  The trick is not to be afraid to find the perfect place to shoot, and take advantage of well lit places, particularly outside.



John Lirween said...

I prefer the white background and I use to make a bit of photoshoping if i think the candy would look nice on screen. People should know that on screen thinks are hard to see like "on real". So the "don't touch the picture, leave it natural" is a bit "old styled" for me.

For shooting I use a very cheap Sony but with nice colours. In some cases, when travelling, iPhone shoots are fine for me.


Chris Stewart said...

You've got some impressive candy shots, I particularly like the shadows you get. I guess that's one of the disadvantages I have shooting on black.