Food Blog Camp: Seeing the Light

by Shawnda on January 6, 2011

in Food Blog Camp,Photography & Props,Travel

9am comes earrrrly when you go to bed late… and then you lay in bed because you’re too excited about the next day’s photography workshop to sleep.

Diane Cu and Todd Porter of White on Rice Couple led the first photography workshop, Using Natural Light and Its Movement, on Day 2 of Food Blog Camp. After the presentation, we were turned loose on a gigantic table of fruit, vegetables, breads, and other baked goodies to experiment with shooting in natural light.



The exercise emphasized one of the points that Todd and Diane had presented earlier – shadows add depth, drama, mood. A picture of the same plate of food from 4 different sides will tell you four different stories. It also explained why some of my very favorite photos on this site are the ones that took the longest (and most of the time, both of us) to set up.

I’m so guilty of putting my subject in the same place, regardless of time of day or lighting, grabbing the camera and hitting the shutter button. I’m guilty of grumbling about the light but not doing anything about it – like moving my subject to a brighter area. And then I grumble about not being able to get good photos. Sometimes I’ll even try to blame the equipment. I’ve taken plenty of bad pictures with good equipment.

But the shots where we actually took time to analyze the situation – take a few test shots, think about the light, where it was coming from, and what that meant for our subject – those photos consistently turn out beautifully.

After The Foodie Groom and I uploading our photos, we swapped laptops to look at the other’s photos. The exercise further confirmed what I’ve known all along: he and I have two very different tastes in food photography. The “12 o’clock light” style (or backlit) is my favorite. It produces crisp whites and bright photos (aka, “girly photos”) with hardly a shadow in sight. He likes moody pictures. Darker. Shadowy.

I’ve always done whatever I could to try to eliminate shadows from my photographs. I’ve always seen shadows as the enemy – imperfections in what could have been a great photo. And this why we came to Mexico, to be shown the light. Literally.

It took every ounce of strength that I had to upload my shadowy (on purpose!) food photos to Flickr and share with the other campers. Shadows are beautiful. Shadows are beautiful. Hit Upload. Deep Breath. Repeat.

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jenn January 8, 2011 at 2:48 pm

Great post! So jealous of the incredible experience I know you must be having, and wonderful thoughts on shadows. Like you, I usually think of shadows as the enemy, and do my best to get rid of them and make them disappear. embracing shadows is very difficult for me as well – I think your shadowy pics are wonderful :)

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2 Kate January 8, 2011 at 4:11 pm

Great job in going outside your comfort zone with photos. The last shot is my favorite because the shadows really do make the cookies look much more interesting and they seem to be marching off the table cloth, which is really cool

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3 Jenn January 9, 2011 at 11:03 pm

Sounds like you’re having fun!! I have a friend who takes a lot of her food photos outdoors on her patio to get plenty of natural lighting. I’m way too lazy for that (not to mention I mostly only cook dinner and it’s way too dark this time of year to do that!)

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4 Happy When Not Hungry January 10, 2011 at 3:55 pm

Great photos! I always try to eliminate shadows in my photos as well and I also complain when the lighting is bad, but don’t really try to switch things up. Thanks for the helpful advice!

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5 The Poet Herself January 10, 2011 at 9:07 pm

Very cool! I’m pretty sure my neighbors think I’m nuts since I’m always lugging plates of food outside to take pictures. LOL! I do try to eliminate shadows, too, but I can see how they really do change the mood. Nice job!

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6 Cooking Agents January 10, 2011 at 10:49 pm

Gorgeous. Thank you so much for sharing the pictures and the helpful tips. I would love to attend one of those workshops.

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7 Diane and Todd January 12, 2011 at 10:33 am

The both of you are just astonishing and what a great team you both make up. It’s so refreshing to see two people are who genuinely dedicated to their craft. Look forward to seeing all of your success in 2011. xo

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8 marla January 12, 2011 at 2:15 pm

It was awesome meeting you guys at camp! Your blog is lovely & I want to dive into all of these photos of the goodies we saw in Mexico. Hope to connect with you again live this year :)

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9 Sally January 12, 2011 at 5:40 pm

Shawnda, I loved meeting you and Jason and enjoyed this post about how you processed all the information. I, too, am intrigued by the darker shots and mysterious shadows (I’m a 12 o’clock gal, too) and hope to get out of my comfort zone. Look forward to watching your progress, reading and viewing your photos. We have a lot to learn from each other!

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10 Kimberley January 14, 2011 at 12:06 am

Ha! I have the same problem. It’s so hard for me to accept a photo I take when it’s full of shadows. And then I marvel at the dramatic, wintry quality of photos with long shadows and dark spaces. Thanks for such an insightful post. I’m going to try to embrace shadows too. :)

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11 Wendy February 17, 2013 at 6:48 pm

Man, I love photos with shadows. But only a certain kind of shadow, really angled and soft, like late afternoon or early morning.

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