Photography & Props

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!



Photo Fridays: Behind the Scenes

by Shawnda on July 22, 2011

in Photography & Props

A few weeks ago, a reader left a comment asking about what it looked like behind the scenes. This is what it looks like when you take 5 steps back. On a good day.

Behind the Scenes

On a more normal day, there are a gajillion toys on the floor in the background and a toddler trying to climb on the table to get at the goods. She’s either screeching with excitement about the thought of sinking her hand into a bowl of guacamole or she’s… just screeching.

Landry Kate

Taking a picture for the blog goes down pretty quickly. It has to. I try to work during naptime. I get the brightest light in the living room and all screeching toddlers are quietly sleeping upstairs.
– I decide which of the four DIY tabletops surfaces look the best with the dish (you can probably tell I’m partial to the blue & white ones).
– I go through my box of misfit dishes, thrift store flatware, and remnant bin fabrics and assemble some supporting characters.
– After arranging the shot on the tabletop in the kitchen, I carry the whole thing to the coffee table in the living room and drag the table over to the window.

The tabletops are about 2ft x 2ft. Some shots work better landscape, others portrait. The decision to shoot straight-on, 3/4, or overhead sometimes takes a couple of minutes to decide but I usually know what I’m going to do when I’m arranging things in the kitchen.

I’ve been using the same $2 foam core board for… 4 years? And it shows. It bounces the light back onto the shot to fill in the shadows. Because I like “girly light.” And shadows are evil in “girly light” :) I also have black poster board that kills the glare.

The clamps came from the garage. They were initially purchased for a DIY poker table project 6 years ago. (6 years!) I can always use an extra set of hands, but when he’s at the office, the clamps will do. When I shoot back-lit (like this shot), I use the clamps to hold a cheap white sheet onto the curtains to diffuse the light.

The tripod in the background wasn’t used for this shot. I use it in low-light situations so I can slow the shutter speed way down. When I use the tripod, I usually shoot tethered – my camera is connected via USB cable to my laptop and I pull the trigger in Lightroom. I have both hands free to clean up the shot and move things around. And usually I can see right away when I’ve accidentally included the toe of my show in the photo. Or the eggshell I decided not to use but forgot and left it in the shot anyway.

Behind the Scenes