Cooking Light is the first assignment in the Lighting 102 course. The assignment is to take a photo of a kitchen utensil. While this sounds pretty straightforward to walk into your kitchen and snap a photo of a fork, the goal is to elevate this kitchen utensil into art.
Helpful Hint: I typically keep my white balance setting to Auto. This habit stems from a bad experience I had when taking photos of out-of-state family with a wrong white balance set. At that time I shot in jpeg, which made correcting those photos difficult and since they were out-of-state I couldn’t re-shoot them easily. I now usually shoot in RAW so I have complete control of all of my camera’s internal settings on my computer without degrading the image. This means that I can fiddle with the white balance, the picture style, etc. on my computer later and concentrate on composition, focus control, exposure, etc. during the shoot. There's nothing worse than finding out that you turned grandma green because you were using the wrong white balance.
The Auto White Balance setting on my camera typically does a good job of judging the correct white balance. That was until this shoot. The external flashes that I use are third party and manual (not TTL*) flashes. I love them but my camera doesn’t “see” them as external flashes. This isn’t really that big of a deal but it does mean that my Auto White Balance setting is inaccurate when using these them. I was saved again in this assignment by shooting in RAW because of course I didn’t realize this until I was looking at the photos on my computer. It turned a potential headache into a simple fix.
*TTL (through-the-lens) – without being too technical this is a metering method that uses the camera’s internal “brains” to determine how powerful the flash should fire. It’s a nice feature to have but I think it would actually handicap my learning of flash photography since the camera would be selecting the power setting of the flash instead of my brain.
The big draw back to shooting in RAW is that the files are huge. They will take up a lot more room on your camera’s memory card and on your computer’s hard drive. Another draw back is that you need to post-process them into jpeg’s. RAW files are, well raw; they need to be “polished”. Your camera automatically does this when you shoot in jpeg, but when you shoot in RAW you need to do this yourself. My camera came with software to do this but Photoshop, Lightroom, and others can do it as well.
In this assignment I was challenged to utilize the controls that I have learned so far to produce a final product that could, for example, be found in a catalog or hanging in a restaurant. I wanted to select something that said something about who I am, so at first I selected a chef’s knife. I like to cook so I thought by using it I could get some inspiration. Unfortunately, the knife wasn’t giving me the amount of inspiration I needed. True inspiration comes from things that I love. I like cooking but I certainly don’t love cooking. I do however love wine and I found my inspiration with a corkscrew.
I did want to show one of the photos I took of the knife to reinforce the idea that specular highlights define dark objects. Take note of the knife handle, there is a specular highlight that runs down the length of it that defines its 3-dimensional shape. Without this specular highlight the handle would just be black. In my last post I wrote about the difference in light and dark toned objects and hopefully this example drives home this concept.
It took me a long time to realize that to get the photo to really come together I needed to control the specular highlight by reflecting the light off the subject directly into the camera lens. Once I realized this I saw a huge improvement in my photos.
I found that keeping my key light as close to the camera as possible with the umbrella allowed me to more easily determine where the camera needed to be to capture the reflected light. I also had second light to the right just to take out the shadow caused by the key light.
I don’t know if this photo would be considered “high art” but I was really happy with my results. I never would have thought about trying to take an artful photo of one of my kitchen utensils and this is one of the reasons that I began the L102 course. The course gets me out of my comfort zone and gives me a reason to take photos of different things using new techniques. I find that practical experience is the best way for me to learn. I compare it to learning how to drive a car. A person can read all the manuals there are but they can’t really learn how to do it without getting behind the wheel.
The second assignment in the L102 course is up next and we are going back to live subjects. First step, finding my next victim!