Thursday, June 14, 2012

Photography Masterclass Series: Indoor Shooting

Want to be a better photographer? Get in the kitchen.

Lighting a subject is, for me, one of the most challenging things in photography.  You have to take special care to position the lights correctly, how to angle the speedlight, how strong to use it... ISO is even more picky than normal... There's no ambient light, so if you're not paying special attention to all of these things, every shadow is a hard shadow, and hard shadows are bad shadows.

Depending on your location, you may also have to battle the kind of lights that are installed in the location. For example, shooting in a friend's kitchen to capture the gorgeous cupcakes he or she makes can be difficult if they have huge florescent lights and few windows. In the kitchen I usually try to shoot near a window, but if it is absolutely not possible I set up a few test shots to play with my white balance until I find what I like. There's no one answer as far as indoor white balance goes, because every room and every light bulb is different.

Today I baked a banana bread and photographed my progress.

All images were shot under florescent lighting with a side window that had indirect sunlight filtering through. Today I am shooting with my Nikon D700 and I have chosen the SB900 speed light with Gary Fong's cloud dome, and the Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 lens. Projects like this can also look gorgeous with a 50mm f/1.8, too. I set the camera to ISO 200, set the speed light on TTL, set the WB to shade, and shot at f/2.8. 

Banana Bread Recipe

  • Prep time: 5 minutes
  • Cook time: 1 hour
  • 3 or 4 ripe bananas, smashed
  • 1/3 cup melted butter
  • 1 cup sugar (can easily reduce to 3/4 cup)
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour
  • 1 Tablespoon Allspice
  • 1 Tablespoon Cinnamon
  • 1 Cup Walnuts


No need for a mixer for this recipe. Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). With a wooden spoon, mix butter into the mashed bananas in a large mixing bowl. Mix in the sugar, egg, and vanilla. Sprinkle the baking soda and salt over the mixture and mix in. Add the flour last, mix. Pour mixture into a buttered 4x8 inch loaf pan. Bake for 1 hour. Cool on a rack. Remove from pan and slice to serve.

Yield: Makes one loaf.

As I shot I had difficulty with shadows, as I always do inside. The best way to cure this problem, I have found, is to just take a step back. I'm not the tallest person in the world, so I usually keep a step stool or chair nearby to stand on. I pointed the speedlight up and behind my head so that as I shot it was pointed at the ceiling behind me at about a 30 degree angle. This helped lessen my hard shadows.

Shooting food is an excellent exercise for any photographer, because shooting food is a very particular kind of project. Not only do all of the normal rules of photography apply regarding clarity and sharpness and lighting, but you also have to make the stuff look like it tastes good, too. There needs to be a certain amount of warmth and yumminess portrayed in the image. No one wants to eat dinner with a weird color cast from a wrong ISO, and looking at your image with harsh shadows isn't exactly going to make anyone's mouth water.

Mastering the art of still food photography is going to make you a better photographer, so get to cooking. It's loads easier to chase around screaming children with your camera in your studio once you have these indoor skills nailed down, so soak up all the practice you can while the subject is a stationary one that you can completely control, like walnuts.

Enjoy the banana bread!

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