[thechat] Digicam advice

Luther, Ron ron.luther at hp.com
Fri Jul 23 15:21:12 CDT 2004

Hassan Schroeder noted:

>>Madhu Menon wrote:

>> I've been trying all day to shoot some close-up pics of food and 
>> cocktails. All the pics come out either blurry (possibly because I don't 
>> have a tripod), with muddy colours, or not sharp enough even with 
>> 1600*1200 resolution. 

Hi Hassan!

>I'm not speaking for Ron, eh, 

Oh go ahead! (That guy talks waaaay too much!)  ;-)

>I think you absolutely need a tripod for this kind of thing. 


Yup - "blurry" shots are generally a clue that you have some unwanted 
movement / vibration in the shot. (The other possibility would be just 
being too darn close for the selected focal length.) Now, if you get 
a tripod ... get a "good" one.  A crappy tripod is a complete waste 
of money.  While there may be some new players these days, the last 
I looked there were three "good" companies: Bogen (American. Easy to 
use, probably the cheapest, and probably the heaviest. I bought one of 
these a while back.), Gitzo (French. Very light. Very expensive in 
my neighborhood. This is what I would have bought if I had the money.), 
and Benbo (British. Kind of an eccentric choice - but the absolute 
best for 'weather' locations like setting up in a river or pond.).

Now *some* people (no one here of course) MASH the shutter release 
button like it was a PS2 controller in the middle of a heavily 
contested FPS game!  Oddly enough, this behavior can also blur your 
shot. I would recommend an inexpensive cable release. I really would  
- but a lot of digital cameras won't accept those.  You could try 
'squeezing' the shutter release slowly - while exhaling in a 
controlled manner as if engaged in zen meditation on the 'objectitude' 
of your chosen subject matter. Or ... your could use the camera's built 
in timer and keep your meat paws off the camera while the shot is being 
taken. Whichever you find easier.

[Oh! I think Martin mentioned half-depressing the shutter to "lock" the 
focus to increase response time.  Great tip! (Keep reminding your buddies 
with those point and click film cameras too!)  Anyway, to piggyback onto 
that tip for a second ... if you can guess how far away your subject will 
be when you want to take the picture, then you can prepare in advance by 
focusing on a tree or a skinny gal's behind at that same distance to 
"lock" the focus. This trick works well at sporting events that have a 
finish line or to let you already be in focus at the apex of the corner 
and waiting for that car to come drifting into the viewfinder ... sometimes 
it even works with taking pictures of kids.]

It's all about the light, dude!

{An award winning outdoor photographer once told me: (Okay, he probably 
told me several times cuz I can be kinda hard-headed.) "Put your camera 
away between 10am and 2pm.  If you want a dramatic outdoor shot you *have* 
to have low angle light. That means early in the day or late in the day 
when the sun is low in the sky.  Midday sun causes harsh shadows that 
give you crappy pictures."  More on why that's relevant in a flash. (Heh.)

>You might even consider a Cloud Dome (http://clouddome.com/); I just 
>recentlybroke down and bought one, and *so* wish I'd gotten it sooner.

Wow Hassan!  What a cool toy!  (And a *heck* of a lot cheaper than those 
'circle flash' gizmos normally suggested for that kind of photography!)

It's all about the light, dude!  

The center of the flash _on_ your digital camera is probably within 
2" of the center of the lens on your camera.  What's that mean?  That 
means the light goes straight out from the flash and reflects straight 
back into the camera. That's harsh lighting (kinda like noonday sun) 
and very unflattering.

Take a look at an attractive magazine ad with a person in it. Stop 
looking at her legs! Take a magnifying glass and look at the eyes. 
how many white 'flash highlights' can you count?  Three is pretty 
normal.  That's three flash units just on that person's face to get 
that good picture.  At $500 or so per flash unit plus the 'slave' 
equipment, that can add up to real money pretty quickly!

So what does a person on a budget do?  In SLR photography the first 
thing you do is go out and buy a "PC" cord to get that flash off the 
camera body. (That's that cable thing between the camera and the 
flash - kinda like you see the wedding photographers with.) Can't 
always do that with inexpensive digital cameras.

You can also try colored papers over the flash, (tissue and otherwise), 
lens filters, and some other tricks ... but my guess is you won't be 
overly pleased with the results.

The step after that is (as Hassan noted) a "home brew of lighting arrays, 
deflectors, and diffusers". Hit the hardware store and pick up some 
clamp-on shop lights. Hit the photog supply store and get some blue 
light bulbs for those shop lights. Clip them onto mops and kitchen 
chairs aimed at your subject. Turn off the flash on your camera.

Then you fiddle with bouncing the light off light colored walls, the 
ceiling, and/or gizmos like these:

The next option might be going into a studio.  Here's a neat article from 
database guru Philip Greenspun on studio photography:

(Does that darn guy ever write anything that *isn't* good?)

I think we've talked before about food photography being a black art 
with lots of carefully kept secrets.  Sorry, I don't know too many 
tips in this area:

1) Get a plant mister. Spritzing those fruits and vegetables with water 
makes them look more appetizing.

2) IIRC, certain brands of aerosol furniture polish can be used to make 
bread crust and some vegetables look 'shinier' and more appealing.

3) (Now illegal in the US for advertising use.) But 'back in the day' 
some folks would add marbles to bowls of soup to bring the ingredients 
to the surface and make the soup look more filling.


(A hobbyist who does most of his photography outdoors because (a) that 
flash stuff is hard to get right, and (b) that flash stuff can be 
expensive to get right.)

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