In my previous article I discussed what are the two most important concepts in food photography and also provided information on how an at home food photographer can construct a setup without breaking the bank. I will continue this article as an easy read with deep links to more information for those that are so inclined.
This installment will discuss something that is perhaps less glamorous, yet still a very necessary aspect of food photography. For the purists that think a shot should be “captured” completely on film and without aid of modern tools, stop reading… now!
Ok.. are they gone yet?
Good! There is a reason the most popular digital image manipulation program in the world is called “Photo Shop”. Few photographers take perfect pictures. Sometimes it’s just not possible, that’s why an often employed technique of professional photographers is Bracketing. Don’t feel guilty! You aren’t cheating by using post production techniques to achieve great photos. Embrace what these tools can do for us.
My approach to this article will be a problem/solution approach, whereby I show you a problem that is common in our at home food photography and then explain a solution to that problem.
Without further ado, let’s get into the first major problem!
White Point / Color Temperature
Ok, if you read my previous article I explained color temperature and made some recommendations that I hope everyone is following at this point. Even still, due to your camera settings, or lack thereof, we end up with pictures that often have a color temperature that is not what we wanted and not what we saw with our own eyes.
One of my most popular shots (much to my chagrin) was a shot of a dessert I constructed while playing with food photography. At one point this image was number 3 on yahoo image search for “food” for a few months, yet it began its life as a mal-colored nastiness that I contemplated never letting escape!
Here is an original, un-manipulated shot of it
A lot of things went right on the shot, the hanging drip of the sauce being one. However, it’s dull and it looks way too cool in color. It doesn’t “pop”
My main problem in this shot was the fact that my cameras color temperature (in some point-n-shoot cameras this is just referred to as “lighting”) settings were off.
So now let’s talk about how to solve this problem. There are many tools out there that cost between 400 and 2,000 dollars that help work with digital photos, but for the purposes of this article I am going to use a tool that EVERYONE can have for free. It’s called GIMP and that acronym stands for the “GNU Image Manipulation Program”
You can download the program for free at http://www.gimp.org/
The feature in GIMP that we will use to fix our color temperature issues is located under the menu items Tools -> Color Tools and is called “Levels”
I won’t go into explaining everything about the levels tool, it is a very powerful tool and as such there are many parameters that it allows. We are only really concerned with the ability for it to “auto adjust” the color levels. Here is a shot of the levels open on my version of GIMP.
Notice where my cursor is located. Next to the “Auto” button are three eye-droppers. They allow you to select a portion of your image to auto adjust the color levels. From left to right they are Black, Gray, and White points. So, this means that if we know that a particular spot should be white, we can select the third eye-dropper and simply click on that spot. The tool will automatically adjust the levels in the image based on that input.
I clicked here to indicate I wanted this part to be white:
Here is the result, breathing new life into the photo now that the color temperature is corrected
Photo touch up is a more complicated aspect of post-editing and can be more difficult both to perform and explain. As such, I've opted to record a short video to demonstrate how you might perform one form of photo touch-up within GIMP.
I will continue this article to cover additional techniques as time allows. For now, good luck with your food photos! Feel free to send me a message if you have any questions.