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Good Food Bad Pictures

post #1 of 31
Thread Starter 

I've been thinking alot about plating and pictures as they have been discussed on other threads.  My feeling is that in order to make something look good in a picture you have to be a food stylist.  And from what I understand food stylists don't always use food in their pictures.  They use all kinds of tricks to make the food appear delicious.  There's no way I can achieve that at home because I am neither a food stylist nor am I a photographer.

 

Take this dish for instance that we made for dinner just yesterday.  This is Giouvarlakia, which are a pork/beef meatball made with onion, rice, parsley, and mint.  They are then boiled in chicken broth and made into egglemon broth.  It was by far the best giouvarlakia I've ever made.  The meatballs didn't fall apart, there was just enough rice and mint in them, the broth was really flavorful, and the egglemon didn't separate.  However when I look at it in the picture it looks so unappetizing.  The meatballs are pale, the broth looks flat and if I saw this picture on a menu I would skip it. 

 

DSCF5302.jpg

 

Then there is the yellow split pea puree with boiled dandelion greens that is so fresh and flavorful.  But in the picture the dandelion greens look dark and menacing and the fava bean puree which is lightly drizzled with evvo just looks like there is a puddle of grease on the bottom.  Can't win!  I swear these dishes are delicious but you'd never know it by looking at them.

 

DSCF5295.jpg

 

 

"You are what you eat, so don't be fast, cheap, easy, or fake."

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"You are what you eat, so don't be fast, cheap, easy, or fake."

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post #2 of 31

Put the fava beans in a smaller dish.  Use a spoon to indent the top and then drizzle the olive oil over.  Then shoot it closer or crop the picture.

 

Same with the meatballs.  Put them in a smaller dish to make it look more abundant.

post #3 of 31

KKV, you're a little too hard on yourself concerning posting pictures here. At least you do post pictures and I enjoy them.

Also, I suppose it's greek food which should be served as simply as possible. Same goes for Italian food and many others!

 

One thing to improve the picture quality is to not use the flash lightning on your camera. Digital cameras can shoot good pictures without a lot of light. They will be a little dark, but, lighten them up a little in any image manipulating software program and you're good.

I always use a simple Canon Powershot A610 camera wich makes pictures at 5 megapixels only! Most of my pictures are also taken with very few ambient light, then processed in Photoshop CS3; mostly reducing files to 600 x 800 pix often only using part of a picture, then tweaking colorbalance and taking the sharpening just a little higher. There are many simple image manipulating software programs that can do exactly the same thing as Photoshop does.

post #4 of 31
Quote:
Originally Posted by Koukouvagia View Post

I've been thinking alot about plating and pictures as they have been discussed on other threads.  My feeling is that in order to make something look good in a picture you have to be a food stylist.  And from what I understand food stylists don't always use food in their pictures.  They use all kinds of tricks to make the food appear delicious.  There's no way I can achieve that at home because I am neither a food stylist nor am I a photographer.

 


 

    Hi Koukouvagia,

 

     You don't need to be a food stylist to take good food pictures.  Just look at the plates RPM would post in this forum.  Many times we got to see when two of his interest met, cooking and photography.  I believe he did use some minor photo manipulation (slight adjustment of contrast, colors) with software like photoshop, or one of the far lesser versions.  Even much of the free software that comes with digital cameras nowadays would do the job.  Then you also have to have just a little bit of talent to put it all together with good lighting.

 

    This being said, I've got the software, a decent camera and many of the pieces needed to take good food photographs.  However, I can't!  It just doesn't seem to come together good and most of the time.  Catching the interior color of meat is especially difficult for me, among other things.

 

   I have got no working knowledge for manipulating photo's.  But here are both of your pictures with minor changes using only windows photo gallery.

 

 

kouk.jpg    

 

 

 

kouk2.jpg

 

 

 

 

I'm sure others will be along to help you...but you're not alone.

 

 

 dan

post #5 of 31

KK, I think you're needlessly frustrating yourself. Ask yourself a fundemental question: Are you oriented towards producing good-tasting food for your family; or towards taking pictures of it?

 

While not mutually exclusive they do reflect differences that can effect the final result.

 

Take the Giouvarlakia. I wouldn't presume to tell you how to improve the taste. But to take a great picture would require some changes.

 

Right off, let me say that your camera angle is perfect. Could be slightly lower, but that's not a major issue. So let's look at the composition.

 

First, look outside the bowl (just as an aside, I love the bowl. Interesting in its own right, but it doesn't impose itself in a way that detracts from the food).There's part of the label of a beer bottle. No other "props." But anytime you show a whole-plate there should be other elements to help provide interest. Even a place setting would help. Or, perhaps more germane, Pour the beer into a pilsner glass and have it show in the photo.

 

What I'm saying here is that filling the frame with a plate of food is almost always disappointing. You have to either open up the scene, or close it down.

  

However, close is almost always better than far. Come in tighter on the bowl, showing only part of it, with at least one of the meatballs only partially on screen. For instance, you might just shoot the top two thirds of the bowl, from a lower camera angle, with some appropriate props included.

 

I would also get some additional color. Something that doesn't detract from the dish, but which adds visual appeal. Perhaps a sprig of mint? Or finely chopped parsley sprinkled on each meatball. Or...... but now we come close to changing the recipe to suit the camera.

 

Next, the reason stylists use those tricks and techniques is because the camera does not see the same way as the human eye. So, meatballs that were appetising when you ate them look pale and incipid when the camera looks at them. Which merely means you would have to do something to darken them up---and that might mean changing the nature of the dish.

 

The greens & puree shot suffers from the same outside the plate problem. But it has some of its own.

 

The main problem is lighting. That's why the greens look so dark. The other problem, from a photographic point of view, is that the plate is out of balance. There is far too much puree compared to the amount of greens. Again, this may not matter to the eater. But it does to the camera.

 

The way the lemon is sliced is visually boring. I'd have either gone with a couple of wedges, or cut the large piece with a serrated edge. Something, on other words, to provide a textural break.

 

BTW, contributing to your dissatisfaction is the fact the photo is out of focus. This makes the puree look like a pile of paste. If the onions were perfectly in focus, the whole thing would pop.

 

Personally, I would have plated that differently. The puree would be alone on the plate  with the greens in a separate bowl. If possible I'd go with a boat-shaped bowl, rather than round or square. And, again, I'd have composed it so that most (but not all) of the main plate, and only a part of the secondary plate, were in the frame. I would probably lay down a curved row of sliced red onions, with the puree mostly covering them, for additional color contrast.

 

Now we talk about a major change. To enjoy the dish, you drizzle evoo over and around it, as you did. But, as you discovered, the camera isn't happy with that. Instead, this is when the spray oil comes out. That would apply just enough oil to provide some sheen, but avoid the puddling effect.

 

Please understand that I am not criticizing what you did. What I'm trying to do is show you why food photography and good eats aren't always the same, and if you want good food photos you may have to resort to some of those tricks and techniques.

 

Incidentally, I don't know how it works with digital cameras. But with regular cameras your choice of lens can have a major effect on the final frame. F'rinstance, I often use a 200 mm lens for table-top pix, because of the way it "sees" partial plates and the like. Until you've actually tried it you can't appreciate the difference in a final shot between using a long lens, from a distance, vs. moving closer with a short lens.

They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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post #6 of 31

I agree that there are lots of "less then spectacular" food photography out there. It dosn't come form using "real" food instead of fake. I find that it is becouse people just take a "snap shot" of the food.  There is lots that goes into makeing great photography. Each type of photography also has it's own little tricks to it.

 

I really do like your photographs. They don't make my head hurt because it is in focus.  combine this with it being fairly evenly lit, and you you have  some good photographs. So far doing very well.

 

As to the meatballs, if you want to make my darker color you can try browning them in the oven under the broiler.  This will give them a nice browned look. Making the broth  just off the stove and still steaming would help it look less flat.

 

The lighting in the second photograph looks like the white balance is a little bit off. I'm saying this because the plate looks like an odd color, and I suspect it was supposed to be white. This could also  help the colors in the dish. Decreasing the saturation of both the yellows and greens would probably help a little. Adjusting the luminescence could probably help as well.

 

One  thing about the visual arts is that what is included is just as important as it is excluded. Everything that goes into a photograph has to have a reason to be there, and improve it. I personally am really really bad at doing this. But now what to watch for, they can avoid having hairdryers, pets, shoes, makeup, photography supplies, and the next thing on the list to take pictures of, in the photograph.

 

 Like I said, you're doing a good job of taking photos. with time it will become easier to get great images. It took me a whole two months just to get an in focus image. 

post #7 of 31
Thread Starter 

Dan my photos look much better this way, thanks for taking the time to do that.

 

KY, thanks for saying I have the most boring slice of lemon in the world.  Just kidding though, I know what you mean.  It's hard to balance what the camera wants to see and what I want to eat.  That's really the only amount of lemon I required for the dish and just didn't think of it being cut any other way.  My bad.  I definitely don't want to plate things pretentiously, I want to plate them the way that they are going to be eaten at home and in that way I was true to my dishes.  I could stand to learn a lot more about photography especially since I've been photographing my food more and more lately.  I would benefit from a Photography 101 course for sure.

 

I'll see if I can start playing around with photoshop a bit and also taking more adventurous pics.  I'm not doing too bad though, at least I've started coming in from an angle lately rather than bird's eye pics.  Thanks for all the tips.

"You are what you eat, so don't be fast, cheap, easy, or fake."

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"You are what you eat, so don't be fast, cheap, easy, or fake."

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post #8 of 31

It's hard to balance what the camera wants to see and what I want to eat. 

 

Precisely the point I was trying to make.

 

Why are you photographing your dishes? Because you want a record of meals you've prepared? Or because you want to produce great photos? That is the fundemental question.

 

If you're only creating a record for yourself, do the photographic flaws really matter? Yes, from a visual standpoint, your lemon is boring. But so what? You're goal isn't to produce art; just a record. And whether you cut it the way you did, cut it in wedges, or even sit down and carve it into a fanciful shape, it won't change how the lemon juice contributes to the dish.

 

On the other hand, if you want to produce art, you have to sacrifice your normal approach to food prep; sometimes radically so. But I don't think that's the direction you intend going.

 

One nice thing about digital cameras is that you immediatly see what you've done. And can make adjustments that jump at you. If you mess up with film, you don't know it until it's developed. And that can mean redoing the whole shoot.

 

If you're serious about learning photography your first need is to understand light and shadow as it applies to imagery. Get yourself a high-intensity desk lamp, and boil about five eggs. Pile the eggs in a decorative arrangement, and draw a circle around them. You want he circle to be outside the frame. Set the lamp on the circle and turn out all other light sources.

 

Now then, take a photo with the lamp in the, say, 3 oclock position. Then start moving it, stopping at every "hour" on the clock to take another picture. Then sit down and interpret the changes caused just by a change in directional lighting. Try it again, but make the light source higher or lower. Then try it with an overhead light on, as well as the directional lighting. And then repeat the whole thing, changing the cameral angle.

 

You'll be surprised how how quickly your compositions improve just by understanding the light/shadow thing. Just ask Rembrandt!

 

Another problem is that we all tend to think of food as being somehow different. But the fact is, everything on the plate (and the plate itself) is merely a graphic element. If you want to learn more about food photography the first thing to do is learn about graphic design. Really, that's all your plate of food is; a graphic design. Forget the food, and ask yourself whether the design pleases you. If it does, you're good to go. If it doesn't, no amount of manipulating the image will make you happier. So change the design before clicking the shutter.

They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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post #9 of 31

Actually, those pictures are not bad or maybe i'm not a professional to determine what is bad. smile.gif

post #10 of 31

Here are a couple pics of a local chef's competition at our farmer's market in August that I took photos for.  I had good lighting (it was an outdoor event under shelter) and the plating was done by the chefs. 

 

I have a nice camera and a developing eye.  The more I practice with the camera, the better I get.  I used to attribute good photos to a good camera.  Then a photographer friend of mine said, "That's like complimenting a chisel for making a gorgeous ice sculpture".  Sure, it helps to have a good quality tool, but the finished product is a collaboration of things (skill, will, practice, etc.). 

 

My photography skills are underdeveloped.  My plating skills even more so.  I'm learning by observation of talents greater than mine and practice (with both plating and photography), and I've been able to see noted improvement. 

 

MarkIronChef1.JPGMarkIronChef2.JPGMarkIronChef6.JPGMarkIronChef7.JPGMarkIronChef3.JPG

I don't like food, I love it.  If I don't love it, I don't swallow.
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I don't like food, I love it.  If I don't love it, I don't swallow.
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post #11 of 31

Some interesting photos from the competition.  My favorite is probably the square plate with the round pile of food on it, with the two leaves heading off the plate giving a bit of visual interest.  I also like the octagonal plate - nothing really fancy, but it does look like something I want to eat.

 

The stuffed peppers on the white plate has a problem, in my opinion.  The juice running under the base of the glass detracts from the overall appeal of the presentation, it just looks messy.

 

mjb.

Food nourishes my body.  Cooking nourishes my soul.
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Food nourishes my body.  Cooking nourishes my soul.
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post #12 of 31

The photographs are good. 

But could you please watch what you put into your photographs? Every thing that doesn't have a reason to be there, is just getting in the way of a great photograph. 

post #13 of 31

Teamfat - They actually only plated for the judges as presentation wasn't supposed to be a factor in the competition.  The challenge was to use ground beef (the 'secret ingredient') to make 200 samples for patrons in 1.5 hours.  The audience picked and winner and so did the judges.  The samples of the open-faced cheeseburger on the Dixie plates were the overall winners.  They finished early and I didn't get to photograph their judges plate complete with presentation.  In your pick, those were pineapple stuffed meatballs and they were delicious.

 

That's also the resason there's the corner of the trash can in one of the photos (and hands, people, etc.).  It was a timed competition and they were rushing around so I sort of had to get the photos when and of what I could.  People were already lined up at each station to get samples when they finally plated for the judges.

I don't like food, I love it.  If I don't love it, I don't swallow.
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I don't like food, I love it.  If I don't love it, I don't swallow.
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post #14 of 31

 

Love the creativity.  The square black plate with what appears to be meatballs is my favorite pic.  It can be hard to learn a new art form like photography, and I think you are well on your way to taking some great pics.  

 

I agree with ChrisBelgium, you don't need to have very fancy equipment to take good photos.  I've had a chance to play with some of the fancy digital SLR cameras and I have to say that they are way too complicated for me to use (and I'm a tech guy).  I'm sure you could get good results with the camera you have and a little photo manipulation, but before you go out and spend major cash on Photoshop, there are a couple of free options you might want to try out.  Picasa is a good simple program that's available from Google.  Also lets you create online photo albumns.  

 

If you need something more advanced than Picasa, a full-featured, Photoshop replacement that is worth looking at is GIMP (Gnu Image Manipulation Program).  There are versions for Windows, Mac, and Linux.  You can find out more about it here and download it from here.

post #15 of 31

The black plate at the bottom is the kind of plating I like.  I want a plate with food on it.  The chef obviously took some extra time in the plating, but in the end, the food is the focal point.  The dixie plates are humorous. 

post #16 of 31

Koukouvagia, there's a lot of good advice in this thread. I do think that when you are cooking for food to eat, and you have others that are interested in eating, you simply don't have time to shoot photos that are more than just "candid", however, using natural lighting and practicing on your composition can still produce really great shots. I actually wrote a blog post on doing food photography for "at home cooks", it's in my signature line if you are interested.

post #17 of 31
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by eastshores View Post

Koukouvagia, there's a lot of good advice in this thread. I do think that when you are cooking for food to eat, and you have others that are interested in eating, you simply don't have time to shoot photos that are more than just "candid", however, using natural lighting and practicing on your composition can still produce really great shots. I actually wrote a blog post on doing food photography for "at home cooks", it's in my signature line if you are interested.



 That was a great blog post eastshores, very helpful!  Now all I have to do is get in gear and start experimenting a bit with light sources.  Well written.

"You are what you eat, so don't be fast, cheap, easy, or fake."

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"You are what you eat, so don't be fast, cheap, easy, or fake."

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post #18 of 31

I often take pictures of my food but I don't care about the arty side of it, I just want it to look like I want to dive right in and eat it. I generally use a simple point and shoot Lumix and let the camera decide whether it needs flash.

6jelwh.jpg

post #19 of 31

That is a great food shot Indianwells. Sometimes it just doesn't have to be arty. Eastshores I read your blog and it is very helpful, for those of us who work in catering it is good to be able to promote our work through photography such as DIY websites and flyers. I know the big guys pay for bespoke websites including photography be we can't all afford to go to that expense. 

post #20 of 31

Doesn't have to be expensive, Bazza.

 

F'rinstance, if there's a college nearby that has photography classes (the art department is often the best place to check), the students can be a great resource. For a meal and a couple of bucks they'll bend over backwards because they're more interested in the credit line than the cash.

They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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post #21 of 31

I think that's a great idea KYH and to further this, you should offer to write them a "letter of recommendation" or something similar, even maybe a short snippet that they can use in their portfolio along with obviously releasing for them your food images for use in promoting their photography services, although technically the photographer owns the image anyway.

post #22 of 31

although technically the photographer owns the image anyway.

 

Not necessarily, Eastshores. In these circumstances----a specific "fee" to produce specific images---it could easily be construed as a work for hire situation.

 

But being as the whole idea is that you're trading a professional opportunity and credit line in order to get the work done, I can't see how anyone would object to the photographer using the images as part of a portfolio or other self-promotion.

 

They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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post #23 of 31
Quote:
Originally Posted by ChefBazookas View Post

 

I have a nice camera and a developing eye.  The more I practice with the camera, the better I get.  I used to attribute good photos to a good camera.  Then a photographer friend of mine said, "That's like complimenting a chisel for making a gorgeous ice sculpture".  Sure, it helps to have a good quality tool, but the finished product is a collaboration of things (skill, will, practice, etc.). 

 



That may be true, but there's a reason the best ice carvers use the best tools, and reasons why the best photographers use the best equipment. Trust me, it makes a lot of difference. However, a great camera doesn't take great photos on its own.

 

Those are some interesting shots. I really like the photo of the square black plate. I don't care for the plating as much, but I like the way the photo was taken. One of my favorite things to do when taking photos is to play with the depth of field. This works particularly well when taking pictures of food. You want the food to be the most important element of the shot. Use the lowest f-stop you can, the longest lens you can, and get as close as you can to the subject. This will make the depth of field very shallow, meaning the food will be in focus, and the rest of the shot will be relatively out of focus. I think it's a cool way to frame a photo with a definite subject.

"We make our food; thereafter, our food makes us." - Winston Churchill (with a slight modification)
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"We make our food; thereafter, our food makes us." - Winston Churchill (with a slight modification)
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post #24 of 31
Quote:
Originally Posted by tylerm713 View Post


Use the lowest f-stop you can, the longest lens you can, and get as close as you can to the subject. This will make the depth of field very shallow, meaning the food will be in focus, and the rest of the shot will be relatively out of focus. I think it's a cool way to frame a photo with a definite subject.



When I took these shots I'd had about a 7 hours on this camera.  I used the 'Creative Automatic' setting and my standard lens.  I kick myself for forgetting to bring my longer lens but at the same time, I wasn't all that familiar with the settings and effects to use the manual settings so it might have been a waste.  Months later I'm still trying in my off-time to figure out how all the various settings work.  The accompanying booklet has only been marginally helpful.  My camera's a Canon EOS Rebel T1i just like below.  I'm sure it can do all sorts of little goodies that I haven't figured out how to tap into yet.

 

canon-rebel-ti.jpg

I don't like food, I love it.  If I don't love it, I don't swallow.
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I don't like food, I love it.  If I don't love it, I don't swallow.
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post #25 of 31
Quote:
Originally Posted by ChefBazookas View Post

I kick myself for forgetting to bring my longer lens but at the same time, I wasn't all that familiar with the settings and effects to use the manual settings so it might have been a waste. 



Using manual settings is not all that complicated, and it allows you to do so many things, as opposed to using automatic settings. The great thing about a digital SLR is that you can take unlimited practice shots. Using the same subject, take lots of photos with different settings and see what happens. I haven't upgraded to a digital yet, because I love my camera and don't have the money for a new one. But mine can still take some awesome images. Just a pain to deal with film sometimes.

"We make our food; thereafter, our food makes us." - Winston Churchill (with a slight modification)
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"We make our food; thereafter, our food makes us." - Winston Churchill (with a slight modification)
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post #26 of 31
Quote:
Originally Posted by KYHeirloomer View Post

although technically the photographer owns the image anyway.

 

Not necessarily, Eastshores. In these circumstances----a specific "fee" to produce specific images---it could easily be construed as a work for hire situation.

 

KYH.. not sure "for hire" ever was construed as a "meal and a couple of bucks". Would make an interesting court case, but I am aware of copyright law, and work for hire. I suggested they release them to avoid the ambiguity, but when in doubt, the photographer holds the copyright. The purchaser owns the "prints".. that's the way it's done I believe.

post #27 of 31

Work for hire refers to the contractual relationship, Eastshores. The amount of compensation is irrelevent. If I bring you in to do some photography on a work-for-hire basis, doesn't matter if I pay you with a million dollars or a nice meal. Whatever fee we agree to covers the fact that I then own all images you produce during the specified work period and location.

They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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post #28 of 31

ChefBazookas;"... I kick myself for forgetting to bring my longer lens but at the same time, I wasn't all that familiar with the settings and effects to use the manual settings so it might have been a waste..." 

 

Forget about the longer lens, Chef! If your camera is equipped with the 18-55mm lens as in your picture, you're totally fine with that. Go as close as you can to the plate and... thé trick you should pull out of the hat... use the macro setting for close-ups! It's on any Canon and on most other cameras, often represented by a small black flower-icon on the back of your camera. Canon; mostly under the "setting-wheel". I use it all the time for snapshots of food. Also, don't zoom in.

 

As always; RTFM! (read the f** manual), there's a CDrom delivered with the camera that contains a very extensive manual. You can get it online too.

 

When photographing food, the first things I do is to shut down the flash and to activate the macro-setting (both are on the Canon "setting-wheel"). I mostly hold my (compact)camera with it's back fermly against the upper hanging cabinets in my kitchen, just to stabilize the camera. Under the cabinets is a permanent light source like in many kitchens, this is mostly the only light I use to take food pictures! But, again, you have to stabilize the camera to avoid blur. The whole operation takes only a few seconds.

post #29 of 31
Quote:
Originally Posted by KYHeirloomer View Post

Work for hire refers to the contractual relationship, Eastshores. The amount of compensation is irrelevent. If I bring you in to do some photography on a work-for-hire basis, doesn't matter if I pay you with a million dollars or a nice meal. Whatever fee we agree to covers the fact that I then own all images you produce during the specified work period and location.



My point was simply that the photographer has an inherent copyright. If you don't have a contract, you're going to have to argue that an agreement was made or prove that compensation was made.

post #30 of 31

No argument with that.

 

One minor point: The last time but one that the copyright laws were revised they did away with the automatic copyright concept. So, while the work is yours, it's only copyrighted if you actually register it.

 

The net result is the same, except that without registration the burden of proof of ownership is on you.

 

Anyway, this is taking us far from our muttons, and, I'm sure, the rest are rather bored by it.

 

They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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