The Strobist – Cooking Light

Sarah here. In my quest to learn how to bend light to my will, I’ve been working through the Lighting 102 class over at the Strobist. I did the early exercises, but got stuck for a bit on the first assignment, aptly described as “deceptively simple”:

The assignment is to photograph one or more kitchen utensils – knives, forks, spoons, whisks – whatever you like. The look you are going or is that of ordinary object elevated to high art. Or at least commercial art, as this is the kind of thing that might appear as a catalog cover or in a calendar or on the wall of one of those ubiquitous “fast casual” restaurants.

It’s harder than it sounds. I finally buckled down and knocked it out today, using my super-fancy homemade cardboard light box to make a single speedlight nice and soft and less unidirectional. One of the harder parts was getting my subject to stay in position; I built a little mountain out of a dome diffuser and old corks to hold the corkscrew at a good angle, but it was less stable than a house of cards. More than once, I got everything set up perfectly, was juuuuuuuust adjusting the focus, had my finger resting on the shutter button……… and then the whole wobbly structure collapsed unceremoniously. Le sigh.

But eventually it held together long enough to pull off a few shots, and I actually kinda like a few of them.

Strobist - CookingLight

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DIY Light Box

Sarah here. After fighting with speedlights in my last attempted portrait shoot (and eventually giving up in favor of window light), I’ve been spending a lot of time over at the Strobist. If you haven’t already heard of him, David Hobby is a genius with flash and a great teacher. I read through Lighting 101 and am now making my way through Lighting 102, exercises and all. I’m a bit stuck on an assignment right now, but more about that later, perhaps.

In the meantime, I poked through the Strobist page on DIY projects, and came across these instructions for a cheapo light box. It’s super easy to do (materials: one box, white tissue paper, tape), and makes lovely soft wrapping light for small objects. If you wanted more even light, you could put a second light on the other side (maybe the top and front, too, if you really wanted to go nuts?).  If I’d closed the barn doors (i.e. box flaps) a bit, I might have gotten some bounce on the front… especially if I lined them with white paper, too.

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I’ve told Andrew that I’m claiming any reasonably sized cardboard boxes that come into the house, because I have my eye on a cheapo softbox next…

Always Stop for Gelato

Andrew here. I still intend to revisit a few things from my recent trip to Iceland and I’ve got a couple of gear reviews in the works too, but last month I spent a few days in another “I” country — Italy — and decided the story and this shot were worth sharing.

I was in Florence for work and I knew I wasn’t going to have the opportunity to do most of the main tourist things, so I made a point of going walking around in the early mornings and evenings. Turns out this was a good plan.

One evening, I was walking back toward the hotel via my favorite Gelato shop (somehow *every* walk back to the hotel took me past there even though it was a mile or so from the hotel …how odd), when I noticed the sun starting to set over the Arno river. It wasn’t an epic sunset yet, but the height of the clouds and the stillness of the water told me that the scene was just going to get better.

To make a long story short, I spent over an hour (and a melon gelato) there watching the sunset progress and go through a variety of stages. This is the peak of the saturation and color, but I came away with a series of nice shots.

Over the week there, I’d gotten used to the locals being thoroughly uninterested in everything I found intriguing. After all, life in Florence was just everyday life for them. In this case, however, the bridge was lined with both tourists and locals, cell phone cameras in hand like electronic butterfly nets trying to capture the amazing colors. At one point, a police officer stopped his car in the middle of the road, came over next to me (I had the prime spot in the middle of the bridge) and took a few shots with his cell phone too. I asked if he minded if I take a photo of him taking the photo (always a good idea to ask law enforcement – especially in foreign countries – before photographing them), he cheerfully obliged, then asked me what camera I had. Turns out he’s a photographer when not working as a police officer and was wishing he had his trusty D700 with him instead of his iPhone.

The moral of the story — always stop for gelato.

Sign of Life

Sarah here… I promise, we’re not dead! We’ve just been swamped. I stole a little time this weekend for an impromptu photoshoot and Photoshopping, though, which was very soothing.

I fought with speedlights for a while but just wasn’t getting the look I wanted, so I eventually scrapped the flash and used window light instead. Filtered through the blinds, it was very soft and smooth light, just like I’d been hoping for. I still want to master the tricks of artificial light, but sometimes you just have to admit that nature does it better.