I hope you got a moment to read about the photographer Mark Weinberg on Tuesday. I loved having the chance to hear him recap the shoot for BAKING WITH DORIE and, best of all, to go behind the scenes and find out about the challenges he faced making some of the images. Also, to learn which images he liked most and why. It’s fascinating to know what he’s looking for and how he works to get “the shot”.
Today, Mark gives us tips for getting "the shot" on our phones. Read through and then play around - I hope you learn as much as I did! Mark has graciously agreed to answer our questions in the comments, and you're welcome to share any before-and-after images by email (email@example.com) or on Instagram or Facebook by using the hashtag #bakingwithdorie. Me, I’m off to follow his advice and turn on the grid on my phone’s camera.
Have a great weekend. I’ll see you back here on Tuesday, when I’ll be talking – and recipe-ing – Thanksgiving.
Light is the most important ingredient for making a great image, and understanding a few basic points will greatly improve your photos.
One light source is better than multiple light sources. We only have one sun, and our eyes understand - even without professional training - that an image with multiple light sources doesn't look quite right.
If you're shooting in a kitchen that has two windows and pendant lights and light from an oven hood, you're dealing with many light sources that have different color temperatures and different intensities.
Daylight has a bluer cast to it than the lights inside your house. If there is a window and a light on inside, some parts of your image will have a blue cast and some parts will have a warmer cast and the result is kind of muddy.
How to solve this? Turn the overhead lights off and move your shot near a window. Or if you're shooting without any natural light (no windows or at night), try to ensure that there's just a single light source for your image. If you have a choice, light from the side is better light than from overhead. But if overhead lighting is what you've got, and if you find that your phone is casting a shadow, you can shift your subject to the side to remove that shadow.
Shoot, review your pics, and then adjust the light if needed. Small changes in the moment can make a big difference, as you can see in the following images:
In the first shot (top left), the lighting was soft and diffuse (artificial). In the second shot (top right), I pulled the window shade up to let in natural light. In the third shot (bottom left) I moved the table away from the shadows created by the window frame. The final image (bottom right) is just edited and rotated - more on that below.
Get on the grid. I find that the grid helps me keep things level in the frame and helps me with the overall composition. You can Google “how to enable the grid on the camera on a (insert your phone model),” but here's an example of what it looks like on an iPhone:
Explore lens options. Many newer phones have multiple cameras with varied focal lengths on them. On newer iPhones, you'll see options in photo mode to select .5x (wide) or 1x (standard) or 2x or 3x (telephoto) focal lengths. I probably shoot 75% of my images by starting in the standard 1x lens, and I use the telephoto lens around 25% of the time. If you're posting behind-the-scenes shots or capturing a tablescape, the wide (.5x) lens can be a good option, but the images are often distorted around the edges.
There are also third party lens attachments for phones, but I generally find the lens attachments to be more trouble than they are worth in most situations. Dust frequently becomes a problem with them.
Don't zoom in too close. I lean toward the standard lens in part because I like to leave a little room around the subject in case I want to resize the image - in case it gets cropped as a square or 4x5 image for an Instagram post, or a different shape for an Instagram story. If you've selected a telephoto lens and zoomed in too closely, you don't have as much flexibility to resize.
But zoom in enough! On the other hand, you don't want to be zoomed out so far when shooting that you have to rely heavily on cropping afterward. While it's possible to "zoom in" when editing and cropping, the image quality does suffer. It's better for the quality of your image to choose the right lens and zoom in correctly when shooting, rather than trying to correct this by cropping afterward.
You can see this in the pair of images below. The left side was shot with a telephoto 2x lens and not cropped in editing. The right side was shot in the wide .5x lens and then heavily cropped, resulting in a slightly blurry image.
Shoot a lot of images. Sometimes you get one magical frame, but frequently on a cookbook shoot each final image has between 50 and 100 steps leading up to it. Try different angles and experiment, and then select your favorite image. As a professional photographer I often take thousands of photos in a day with the end goal being around 20 final images.
Edit your images. Often I find that the difference between an OK photo and a great photo is the editing. Maybe it needs a little more contrast, or overall needs to be a bit brighter or darker.
I use Lightroom and VSCO. Sometimes I use the built-in filters they have, but I primarily use them to adjust the exposure, contrast and color temperature. Both apps have free versions that allow you use some of the functions without paying for them. iPhone and Android phones have built-in editing that allows you to adjust these same settings as well.
It's worth trying the automatic "magic wand" adjustment feature to see if you like the result, but auto-adjusting can do funny things to food. The resulting images can be too saturated or have too much contrast. But it's worth trying, and you can always undo. When I'm making adjustments, I usually start by adjusting exposure, contrast, and color temperature. I rarely touch the clarity/definition or sharpness settings - it's easy to go too far with those. You can also experiment with adjusting the tint, which controls the green and magenta in images. Sometimes tint is what's off.
Cropping also makes a big difference. As I mentioned above, you don't want to crop so heavily that you're essentially "zooming in" and lowering image quality. But cropping can help to focus our attention on what's important. Below, in the image on the left, the focus is on the griddle and the environment. I chose to crop in on the pancakes for the image on the right, so they are the focus, rather than the environment.
When I'm cropping, I'm also slightly rotating the images. Using the grid reduces the need for this, but it's easy to make necessary adjustments when cropping.
Your images will improve as you practice, similar to baking. Experiment with different lighting and framing and then review what you've shot. Take note what works well for you so you can repeat it in the future.
Got questions? Leave a comment here or on Dorie's Instagram or Facebook posts about this, and I'll do my best to answer them! You can also post any before-and-after shots as comments to those social media posts or using the hashtag #bakingwithdorie. I'm eager to know if these tips make a difference!