2014—A Glass Of Zin

Food photography is an art…and not an instinctive one at that. After I viewed a food photography how-to by Joe Glyda on KelbyOne, I was astonished to learn that pancakes are sprayed with Scotchguard to keep the syrup and butter from soaking in, that a steamer wand produces the steam off “hot” vegetables and other “steamy” foods, and sometimes the milk splash shooting out of a bowl of cereal is plastic! If I’d known some of the things I learned on this video when I was photographing food for the Famous Mo’s website, I would have done things a bit differently.

That being said, and fresh off my experiment with water drops the other day, I had in my mind something I’ve seen in many wine and beverage ads: an incredible splash as the liquid hits the bottom of the glass. Let me just say that my bottle of wine is very well aerated! I kept pouring it back into the bottle (using a funnel) so that I would get the best effect. I learned that I need to improve my “studio” lighting (two Ott lights in front of a white trifold board supplemented by an off camera speed light setting on the kitchen granite) and I need to perfect my pouring technique. I didn’t start this experiment until well past the time I normally pour myself a glass of Zinfandel and was so intent on what I was doing that I didn’t pour myself a glass until after 8PM, about the same time I ate a bowl of microwaved lentil soup that was not particularly blog-worthy, given what I now know about food photography.

But, rest assured that this is the real deal! Rancho Zabaco Sonoma Heritage Vines Zinfandel was my model this evening. And I must say, it is pretty good! I think I bought it at Costco. I have much more experimenting to do on this technique and I’m sure there are “tricks of the trade” that I should learn but I was pretty happy to get a “crown” in the glass. I also did quite a bit of processing to remove the weird shadows that appeared because of my inadequate lighting and to get the high-key effect I was after.

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2014—Just Drop It!

But, of course I couldn’t…just drop it, I mean. A rainy afternoon gave me the perfect opportunity to spend time with my camera, my macro lens, and my speed light. After reading the section about recycle time and flash duration in “Understanding Flash Photography” by Bryan Peterson (author of the outstanding book, “Understanding Exposure”) I had to experiment with the example he showed in the article, which was photographing water drops. I set up (almost) exactly as he described, setting a box in my kitchen sink, covering it with a brightly colored striped dress (I didn’t have a Hawaiian shirt), adding a bowl of water, and adjusting the faucet until it dripped into the bowl. I didn’t have two speed lights so I used for one. I set the light on my Joby Gorilla Pod (I now have a use for it again…I stopped using it when I got a conventional tripod) and attached it with a TTL remote cord (I wanted to get right to the task at hand and not hassle with the wireless settings), attached my 105mm macro lens, which he used, and spent the afternoon photographing water drops.

I discovered that it is exceedingly difficult to focus on a water drop. I manually focused on my fingertip while the drop was hitting it and at various times, decreased the aperture so I could get more of the area in focus. However, that goal proved elusive and I never did get the little water crown that I so wanted to capture, in focus front to back. Here are a few of the hundreds of photos I took today. It is addictive!

The first shot is the only one I really liked that used the settings Bryan recommended: ISO 200, f/11., and 1/250 shutter speed. I took the little “crown” of water at f/14, 1/320; the third shot at f/22, 1/250; and the final shot at f/20, 1/320.

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2014—Big Green Bug

My macro lens has somehow given me courage to walk right up to creepy crawlies and photograph them. This afternoon I got my camera and macro lens to photograph a spider (!) I’d discovered in the yard clinging to its web but when I returned to the web with my camera, the spider had disappeared. As I wandered around the yard searching for something else to photograph, I noticed a big green bug on a green leaf so I shoved the camera as close as I could and fired away. The breeze caused the leaf to sway and it was very difficult to manually focus and keep the camera still. I got my monopod and that helped with steadying me and the camera but not the leaf. I attached a small clamp to one part of the branch that pulled the leaf with the big green bug down a bit but it didn’t provide enough stability to keep the leaf perfectly still although the big green bug seemed frozen in place. The lens went in and out of focus as the leaf swayed and I managed only a few in focus shots. I think this is a stink bug; it’s about 3/4 of an inch long.

I took this at ISO 200, f/20, shutter speed 1/80

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2014—Blocked From View

The local neighborhood squirrel pranced by my patio door this afternoon so I followed with my camera. I found him seemingly transfixed atop the fence; it was only after viewing the shots that I discovered he was eating something. I approached, releasing the shutter as I neared him, in an attempt to get a clearer shot; a cluster of leaves obscured his face or part of his body but when I was within six feet of him, he turned quickly and scampered into the Xylosma where he completely disappeared from view. It’s a good thing one of my recent Flickr challenges is “blocked” because now I have three shots to choose from!

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2014—Swinging On A Star

It’s a real stretch of the imagination I know, but the lip of this lovely moth orchid makes me think of somebody swinging, arms up holding the rope, legs and feet straight out and, with the petals forming a five-pointed star behind, well, there’s my title, ‘swinging on a star.’ To enhance the little trio of ‘swingers’ I desaturated the greens and yellows.

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2014—Apple Blossom Time

I’ve been singing that Andrews Sisters song ever since I saw my brother’s Gravenstein apple tree in bloom in Santa Rosa this past weekend. Gravensteins are my favorite pie apples but sadly, while Sonoma County where I grew up was once a major producer of Gravensteins, most of those orchards have long since been converted to vineyards. As much as I love wine, I can still appreciate the need for other crops in Sonoma County, Gravenstein apples being one of them. Despite the dearth of Gravensteins in the area, John harvests enough apples from his own tree to make two or three pies per season; I have been lucky enough to get a taste of one of his delectable apple creations from time to time. I hope these apple blossoms give John a good crop this year.

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2014—Fan Dance

There’s no Sally Rand around here but these tiny dandelion florets fascinate me and the seed attached to the end of each floret reminds me of a ballerina’s toe shoes while the floret looks a bit like a fan. I took this shot on a magnifying mirror so there are reflections.

I am trying to familiarize myself with my macro lens, which familiarization is proving to be somewhat elusive. Alas, I am going to have to actually read something instead of trying to figure it out by trial and error. What I did learn today is that the background is extremely important. With a macro lens, every piece of lint shows. I first tried using the shiny black granite sample that I have but the mica flakes within the stone seemed to compete with the delicate dandelion florets and the background was not solid black so I changed to a black suede which has a matte finish but the light was completely absorbed by the suede and the photos were too dark. I finally laid the three little florets onto a small magnifying mirror after cleaning it with lens tissue. I can’t really explain why the background is black but I presume it is because the camera, which is black, was directly over the mirror providing the black background and shielding the mirror from the overhead lights.

The other thing I learned is that the closer I get to a macro subject, the shallower the depth of field, even with a small f/stop. I wanted the seeds to be in focus and in order to get them in focus, I used an aperture of f/51! I didn’t realize the macro lens had that small an f/stop. To get this photo, I had to set the shutter speed at 25 seconds.

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2014—Magic Carpet

I found this gorgeous carpet of ice plant in full bloom just around the corner from my brother’s house in Santa Rosa this weekend. Ice plant always puts on such a stunning display in the early spring and is such a welcome carpet of solid color after a drab winter that I had to photograph it. The bee was an added bonus.

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