Photography & Props

Photo Friday: Bouncing & Filling

by Shawnda on January 20, 2012

in Photography & Props

Bounce and Fill - Photography

One of the very first things I learned about food photography was the “bounce & fill.” It was the first step I ever took to improve my photography (back in my point-and-shoot days). And it is the easiest and probably the most inexpensive way to do so.

The concept is simple: You place a white object opposite of your light source to bounce the light back onto your subject, filling in and softening the shadows.

You can use just about anything that’s white – a napkin, paper, or a box. My first “reflector” was actually a piece of styrofoam, the kind that comes as packing material with a pricey electronic. The styrofoam was totally free, if you don’t count what we paid for the Xbox 360 inside that same box.

The two pictures of the Green Monster Smoothie above were taken with the exact same camera settings, just seconds apart. In the first image, I didn’t use a reflector. In the second image, I placed the reflector just out of the frame, and tilting it towards the shot… ~45 degrees, or whatever the angle is between 90 and my right hip. (And the straw is repositioned, but that’s totally the Toddler’s fault :) )

Bouncing Light

The first image of the Homemade Almond Butter was taken without my white board. The lighting is very harsh and, to me, the overall mood is very somber.

The second image was taken with my white board about 6 inches outside of the camera frame, standing straight up on the clamps. Better.

The third image was taken with my white board just outside the camera frame, tilted at a 45-degree angle towards the food. Being a big fan of “light and bright,” I think this image is best at conveying what I wanted to see – a nice, fresh start to the morning with breakfast.


I upgraded to a white foam core board for about $3 – you can find these just about anywhere they sell any type of craft supplies (mine came from Michael’s and I’ve also seen them at Hobby Lobby and Target). Mine is nearly 5 years old and is insanely beat up. But it still works wonderfully.

I also snagged a couple of my husband’s wood clamps from his tool chest in the garage. You can get these at your favorite home improvement store. They probably weren’t $3 each. Pinch the clamps onto the foam core board and you’ve got a reflector that stands on its own, freeing up a hand!



Photo Friday: How I Edit

by Shawnda on October 28, 2011

in Photography & Props

Tia To

Next to, “What kind of camera do you use,” the second-most common question I get is about editing: Do you use Photoshop? Do you edit your photos? How much do you edit your photos? What do you do?

No. Yes. As little as possible. I’ll show you.

And I’ll warn you right now – you might be underwhelmed.


I use Lightroom and absolutely love it. It has everything I need, from excellent cataloging and organization to an entire spectrum of editing. I can also shoot tethered directly from Lightroom but that’s a story for another day.

Now this isn’t the tool that you’d use to stick Simon Baker’s face on your ex-boyfriend’s body… but that’s not a problem I have so I can’t really make any recommendations if that’s a feature you need :)

While I do love Lightroom, I do not love editing photos. I spend as little time as possible, we’re talking seconds in post-processing. A minute, 90 seconds tops. The tweaks I make are only to make minor corrections and give the photo a little punch, not drastically alter it or fix major fouls. It hasn’t always been like that, but now, if I can’t give a photo that little extra oomph in seconds, I try to identify what’s wrong, fix it, and reshoot. And I try to save myself some frustration – I review the photos before eating the subject :)

Tia To (Before and After)

These are my post-processing Greatest Hits:
Temperature/White Balance - most of my photos come out a little on the cool side for my taste (white balance is measured with a temperature scale in Lightroom) so I almost always increase the temp for a warmer feel. I want my whites white, not blue-ish. What I do to the temperature is directly related to the time of day I shoot. Mid-day shots get little to no tweaking while early morning shots usually have to be warmed more. And late afternoon shots may even have to be cooled a bit.
*Exposure - Getting the exposure right on the camera is my goal but I usually find that I’m a little underexposed when I view the pictures in Lightroom.
*Blacks - I always increase the blacks. Few photos don’t benefit from the depth, definition, and richness that increasing the blacks gives.
*Contrast - Bumping up the contrast increases the difference between the darkest darks and lightest lights, it breathes life into flat photos and makes them pop.
*Lights - I increase the fill light just a bit to brighten the photo. Brighten is the wrong word. But it’s the one I’m going with.
Crop - I am completely incapable of holding my camera level so I have to straighten just about every photo. After I export the edited photo, I switch over to the 1:1/square crop and export a square photo for the “pretty food sites.” This lets me control the composition of the crop rather than using a site’s default square crop.

The areas marked with * are part of a custom preset I created in Lightroom. I call it “The Usual.” I realized that I was always applying the same edits to every photo so I used those settings to create a preset. With one click of the button, my usual edits are applied at once. Mucho time saved. It’s like my very own homebrew Instagram filter. Only not nearly as artsy.

Pears (Before and After)

The photo of the pear was a little flat, a little dull, and a little cool straight off the camera. 15 seconds is the difference between Before and After.

Figs (Before and After)

The photo of the figs, you can see I overexposed it a little bit on the camera. The amount of light flooding into the studio was… what’s a word for “incredibly magnificent x 1000?” It’s rarely a problem I struggle with at home – and I know you know what I’m talking about :) I applied The Usual and then had to decrease the exposure a bit and increased the blacks a little more than normal. Otherwise, it’s so bright that the warmth and detail are lost. The difference between Before and After here was probably closer to 45-60 seconds.

Chocolate Gravy (Before and After)

Too cool. A tad underexposed. The Usual. You get it :)



Food Styling Workshop

43 hours on the ground
6.5 in the air
2 trips to Trader Joe’s
1 trip to In N Out for a cheeseburger – animal style
12 hours at Todd & Diane’s faaaaabulous studio

Food Styling WorkshopFood Styling Workshop

2 big servings of Nancy's wonderfully addictive kale salad
207 photos
4 spring rolls
19 awesomely talented people
1 Kitchen Sink cocktail
1 suitcase half empty on the way in, completely full on the way out (see Trader Joe's mention above)

That was last weekend, in numbers. And this was last weekend, in pictures.

Food Styling Workshop

I had the opportunity to attend a food styling workshop led by Todd Porter & Diane Cu, the White on Rice Couple. There are few better ways to spend an entire Saturday than in a beautifully lit studio talking food styling and photography with two of our very, very favorite photographers. I absolutely love the passion and creative energy that Todd & Diane bring to a room. They love what they do. And Jason and I love what they do.

Food Styling Workshop

We spent a full day discussing the ins & outs of photography and food styling, shooting, working on styling techniques, learning how to build the perfect shot, and connecting. An entire room dedicated to prop storage, a large sliding garage-style door, a group of talented people eager to learn more, and beautiful southern California weather. Not exactly uninpsiring conditions :) I spent most of my hands-on time working on an area that I’ve wanted to improve on: backing away from the bright & happy whites and incorporating darker colors and mood.

Food Styling WorkshopFood Styling Workshop

Food Styling WorkshopFood Styling Workshop

And I’d be silly not to mention the food. Nancy, Rene, and Alex helped prepare some pretty outstanding food. The lunch spread was terrific: Red Rice Salad, Edamame salad, a dreamy Kale Salad with a super garlicky vinaigrette, Vietnamese-style pulled pork served with sesame crackers, and Katie’s Vanilla Bean Chocolate Chip Cookies.

Food Styling WorkshopFood Styling Workshop

And then there was dinner, a family-style Vietnamese spring roll celebration complete with table-top grills, fresh Asian herbs and vegetables straight from Todd & Diane’s garden, bottles of sparkling rose, and plenty of laughter and conversation. I’d actually never had a spring roll before much less cooked, built, and rolled my own right there at the dinner table. A little tutorial from Diane and we were all off and running. And cooking! And drinking! And laughing.

I came home renewed, recharged, and reinspired. With a new set of goals and a broader understanding for the art of styling.



DIY: Wooden Table Top Tutorial

by Shawnda on August 12, 2011

in DIY,Photography & Props

DIY: How to make a wooden table top prop

I promised many of you a “How To” on the table tops we’ve been using for the last couple of months. They’re super easy to do, the one pictured below I actually did all by myself today in under an hour… with the help of a couple of convenience items to help with the sanding.

The table tops are double-sided – two for one! – and are 2 feet square. The cost of the project will vary based on items you might already have but the biggest expense is the wood at about $25 – that’s $12.50 per “table” – not too shabby at all, especially when you think about the alternative of actually buying an entire table. Or the gigantic house you’d need to store all that extra furniture!

DIY: How to make a wooden table top

Items you’ll need:
A napping toddler
8 “wide” wooden planks 1/4 in x 24 in x 4 in
8 “skinny” wooden planks 1/4 in x 24 in x 3 in
Wood glue
Sand paper in medium grit (80-120)
Heavy items to weigh down the table top (books, canned goods, or boxes of leftover travertine tiles from the garage)
Wood stain
Paper towels
Paint brush

Awesome things that you don’t need, but if you have them, it will make this project faster and more enjoyable:

Cold beer
Electric sander

When you buy the wood, look for pieces that aren’t warped, excessively longer or shorter than the others, and, if you can get lucky, don’t carry the telltale “new wood” planer marks. We purchased the most inexpensive wood that we could find. You’ll likely find them in 2- and 4-ft pieces. If you have a saw at home, you might consider getting the 4 ft pieces to decrease the cost of your project a bit.

We mostly used the basic assembly instructions from Love & Olive Oil, who crafted a beautiful turquoise table top, and applied our own personal preferences. The possibilities and variations are limitless!

1. Pick a side of each plank to be the tabletop – by default, I made the non-stickered side the top.

2. Sand away the planer marks on the top side of each board. This is a personal preference, we preferred not to have the uniform lines show through the surface. If you have an electric sander, this is seconds per plank. Manually, a little longer. And a little sweatier. These are planer marks:

Planer marks

3. Sand off the corners of the long edges of the top side. Another personal preference. When you glue the boards together, this will help break up the top so that it looks like it was made of wooden planks instead of one solid slab of wood. You get the appearance of grooves without fussing with actual grooves, shifting boards, uneven gaps, and glue seepage. Check out the photos of the finished boards above or the one below after step 6 to see the “grooves.”

4. Protect your work surface with a drop cloth or newspaper. Placing the “top” side of each board down, lay down 8 planks (4 wide, 4 skinny), alternating between the wide and skinny planks. Line up the edges on one side – the edges of the “back” side will likely not line up properly due to slight variations of plank length.

DIY: How to make a wooden table top prop

5. Squirt wood glue over the surface.

DIY: How to make a wooden table top prop

6. Lay the remaining 8 planks down perpendicular to the bottom, “top” side up. Line up the edges on one side.

DIY: How to make a wooden table top prop

7. Weigh the table top down with something heavy – cookbooks, boxes, canned goods, whatever you have. Let sit for 24 hours.

DIY: How to make a wooden table top prop

You now have 2 table tops that just need to be stained and/or painted!

8. Working one side at a time, wipe the table top with a damp paper towel – damp wood stains better than dry wood.

9. Apply stain with a paper towel or paint brush, following the directions on the can.

10. Lightly brush on the paint color of your choice: we have white, blue, red, and a plain stained side that I might paint black… and the two unfinished sides from the pictures above. I’m thinking a light, bright yellow. Or maybe orange. No – purple!