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Critic's CornerMozzarella Sticks and Marinara Sauce

Simple dishes, elaborate layouts, individual products are all welcomed. If you have a recipe to go with the photo all the better.
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Mozzarella Sticks and Marinara Sauce

Postby Steven G Webb » Fri Aug 11, 2017 10:10 pm

Portfolio building shot taken for Michael J's Diner in Saluda, SC
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Re: Mozzarella Sticks and Marinara Sauce

Postby Charles Haacker » Fri Aug 11, 2017 10:59 pm

Lighting, good high back light, and color look good to me. There is nice strong texture on the mozzarella sticks. They look alive and sparkly and tempting. I have not shot a lot of food, but I have shot enough that I know it is very very hard to do it well.

Bearing in mind that I don't have much experience with food, there's a few things I see.
    Since there is nothing to see beyond the checked paper but bright wall, too bright, actually, I wonder if a horizontal framing would have worked better.
    If it was shot vertically then I wonder about cropping it square mostly from top. There's a lot of negative white space up there that doesn't seem to add anything.
    I'm a little bothered by the end of the left-hand mozza stick being clipped by the frame
    If I had shot it I think I would have chosen a slightly higher camera angle to look
    I would suggest a smaller aperture to hold all the mozza sticks sharp. I checked the exif and you shot it at f/8. Your lens stops to f/22 (although some lenses degrade at their smallest apertures due to diffraction). Maybe stop to f/16 and check your DOF preview.
I'll bet the client loves it, and they should, but we all learn photography pretty much the same way, one plod at a time. :)
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Re: Mozzarella Sticks and Marinara Sauce

Postby minniev » Fri Aug 11, 2017 11:45 pm

Steven G Webb wrote:Portfolio building shot taken for Michael J's Diner in Saluda, SC

I am not a food photographer so I'll respond in a generalist way, and as a potential consumer! So you should take everything I say with a grain of salt!! Be sure to listen well to Duck in particular because he does this kind of work.

I would prefer to see a bit more focus/sharpness through the food part of the frame, starting with the nearest mozzarella stick and continuing to the rear of the bowl. There are good opportunities for rich color (red is always a strong color) but this version doesn't seem to get as much richness and contrast out of the sauce or the reds in the checkered paper as you might could. The white background and a small part of the paper on the right near side may have lost detail to exposure. So I'm wondering if there may be a slight overexposure. Perhaps a smaller aperture and slightly lower exposure might get more in focus and make more of the colors? The central mozzarella sticks look crunchy and sharp and very appetizing.

Keep sharing, and we may all learn from your work. I know from a few experiments that food photography is much harder than it looks.
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Re: Mozzarella Sticks and Marinara Sauce

Postby Steven G Webb » Sat Aug 12, 2017 4:54 am

Charles Haacker wrote:Lighting, good high back light, and color look good to me. There is nice strong texture on the mozzarella sticks. They look alive and sparkly and tempting. I have not shot a lot of food, but I have shot enough that I know it is very very hard to do it well.

Bearing in mind that I don't have much experience with food, there's a few things I see.
    Since there is nothing to see beyond the checked paper but bright wall, too bright, actually, I wonder if a horizontal framing would have worked better.
    If it was shot vertically then I wonder about cropping it square mostly from top. There's a lot of negative white space up there that doesn't seem to add anything.
    I'm a little bothered by the end of the left-hand mozza stick being clipped by the frame
    If I had shot it I think I would have chosen a slightly higher camera angle to look
    I would suggest a smaller aperture to hold all the mozza sticks sharp. I checked the exif and you shot it at f/8. Your lens stops to f/22 (although some lenses degrade at their smallest apertures due to diffraction). Maybe stop to f/16 and check your DOF preview.
I'll bet the client loves it, and they should, but we all learn photography pretty much the same way, one plod at a time. :)


Thank you. I appreciate all the input. You are right, food is more difficult than it looks. Great advice. I wonder if a tilt-shift lens would not help.
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Re: Mozzarella Sticks and Marinara Sauce

Postby Steven G Webb » Sat Aug 12, 2017 4:57 am

Charles Haacker wrote:Lighting, good high back light, and color look good to me. There is nice strong texture on the mozzarella sticks. They look alive and sparkly and tempting. I have not shot a lot of food, but I have shot enough that I know it is very very hard to do it well.

Bearing in mind that I don't have much experience with food, there's a few things I see.
    Since there is nothing to see beyond the checked paper but bright wall, too bright, actually, I wonder if a horizontal framing would have worked better.
    If it was shot vertically then I wonder about cropping it square mostly from top. There's a lot of negative white space up there that doesn't seem to add anything.
    I'm a little bothered by the end of the left-hand mozza stick being clipped by the frame
    If I had shot it I think I would have chosen a slightly higher camera angle to look
    I would suggest a smaller aperture to hold all the mozza sticks sharp. I checked the exif and you shot it at f/8. Your lens stops to f/22 (although some lenses degrade at their smallest apertures due to diffraction). Maybe stop to f/16 and check your DOF preview.
I'll bet the client loves it, and they should, but we all learn photography pretty much the same way, one plod at a time. :)


Thank you. I appreciate your taking time to comment. I'll apply your suggestions in future endeavors.
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Re: Mozzarella Sticks and Marinara Sauce

Postby Duck » Sat Aug 12, 2017 7:07 pm

Oh, goodie... food... :clap:

Before I say anything else, let me share my thoughts about portfolio vs. client shots. In my eyes, there is a difference between shooting for a client and shooting for one's self. Some may argue that you could consider yourself as a client and theoretically that's true, however, the motivations and emotional connection are different (as well as the needs.) I'm also not talking about client shots that eventually make it into a portfolio either as that is a different entity in itself. This is about purposely creating an image that is specifically for a customer's needs versus images to fit your portfolio needs. I will also prerequisite that these are my own guidelines based on how I want to present my photos to my clients. Your needs may be different but hopefully the basis for the decisions will give you something to mull over.

First, what is the purpose of my portfolio? It is not to showcase anything and everything I can photograph. It is about presenting to potential clients what I want to photograph; what my passion is. For me, it is commercial products and food. Can I do headshots? If I had to. Can I do landscapes? Absolutely. How about pets or flowers or street photography? I do those also but that is not the focus of my portfolio. Therefore the majority of the imagery on my portfolio will be around my concentration of work.

Second, who are my target clients? I target small to medium sized businesses, mom and pops, small corporations with home grown roots, local eateries and such. All of these people will be viewing my portfolio on some kind of digital device, whether it be a smart phone, laptop or desktop. The best presentation of any photograph or video is in landscape format. With the exception of portraiture, all my images are presented in that format in order to maximize the presentation to the screen.

Last, only the best of the best, as they say. This will mean you will always show more than what the client will need. Hero shots are sexy but not every client needs or wants a hero shot. I've shot some pretty mundane stuff but they'll never see the pages of my portfolio. Doohickies and gizmos on a white background tend to be a staple for the commercial photographer but seldom make for a great portfolio shot. Does this mean you don't know how to shoot it? Absolutely not, but a client will infer that if you can make a couple of mozzarella sticks look sexy you should be able to make their zinc plated nuts and bolts look good too.

My portfolio, therefore, is to showcase the glamorous and sexy product and food images. I can be super creative and even artistic with many of my shots, giving them a look that would otherwise be impractical to a business owner. Think of the differences between a catalog shot and an editorial shot. I'll lean more for the editorial type shots than the catalog shots for my portfolio.

So what's the difference?
When I shoot for a client I need to know what the intended purpose of the image is going to be. This allows me to "shoot to layout" even if that layout happens to only be a loose interpretation. Often it is for advertising and will require some type of orientation (I'll touch on this for my own work in a bit) as well as room for copy (text.) While many small businesses may not have a fully realized layout, I need to keep (several) layouts in mind as I shoot their product. I also have to understand that one (or a variation of that one) image will be used in several ways; digital media or print media (i.e. website, flyer, menu, magazine ad, coupon book, facebook or instagram post, etc.) The days of limited licensing is going by the way of the dinosaur, but that is a different topic.

When I shoot for myself, I too have the end use in mind and I definitely "shoot to layout". My layout, or rather, my website's layout. Even if I am shooting for a client, I'll try to shoot a couple for my own website use in the mix. For example, let's say the client wants all overhead shots of his product in a portrait orientation but I would rather have one with perspective and some depth of field, etc. Remember I mentioned orientation above? This is where I will shoot a landscape shot for my portfolio, keeping in mind where I want the viewer's eyes to be (usually on the right side of the screen for me*.) I will fulfil my obligations to my clients but will also shoot that scene for myself. Plus, you never know if you could upsell your shot to the client. :wink:

* I chose the right side because my first website template had the menu on the left. By bringing the point of focus to the right I balanced against the menu. My current design now has a top menu so that point is moot unless I ever want to return to a left menu template. I also use my portfolio images as desktop wallpapers and all my desktop icons are on the left. We also read left to right so the payoff is always on the right.

While the shot of the mozzarella stick here may fulfil a client's obligations it may not present well for a portfolio. Also, if you are formatting the client's images for print it may not translate the same for web use. Keeping some of these things in mind, here is a quick rework of the image if I were to use that client's shot for a portfolio. (Yes, there is some artifacting due to the limitations from the original JPG)
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Re: Mozzarella Sticks and Marinara Sauce

Postby Steven G Webb » Sat Aug 12, 2017 10:30 pm

Thank you, Duck for the very insightful response. I appreciate your taking the time and lending the voice of experience. I originally began a move toward food and small product photography out of necessity. Like you, can I shoot head shots or weddings or senior portraits? Yes to all and so does every frustrated mother turned photographer or school kid earning gas money. I hoped that a profitable client base existed at every experience level. Turns out I really, really love several aspects of this genre. From the precision in lighting and getting hard and soft detail to compositions where the universe is on a tabletop I love it all. You've given some great suggestions and I'm thankful.
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Re: Mozzarella Sticks and Marinara Sauce

Postby Charles Haacker » Sun Aug 13, 2017 1:18 pm

Steven G Webb wrote:Thank you. I appreciate all the input. You are right, food is more difficult than it looks. Great advice. I wonder if a tilt-shift lens would not help.

Duck is THE go-to guy for food! That said, I do think a tilt-shift could help with insuring that everything you want sharp is sharp front to back. Duck uses a view camera with a back modified to take a DSLR body so that he can take advantage of what are called "swings and tilts" on these unique cameras. The caution is that learning to effectively use the tilts can be tricky, and you still need to stop down to smaller apertures. I suspect Duck would agree. I still have my beloved old Graphic View II but I keep it mainly because I just can't let it go. :(
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Re: Mozzarella Sticks and Marinara Sauce

Postby Steven G Webb » Mon Aug 14, 2017 2:01 am

Charles Haacker wrote:
Steven G Webb wrote:Thank you. I appreciate all the input. You are right, food is more difficult than it looks. Great advice. I wonder if a tilt-shift lens would not help.

Duck is THE go-to guy for food! That said, I do think a tilt-shift could help with insuring that everything you want sharp is sharp front to back. Duck uses a view camera with a back modified to take a DSLR body so that he can take advantage of what are called "swings and tilts" on these unique cameras. The caution is that learning to effectively use the tilts can be tricky, and you still need to stop down to smaller apertures. I suspect Duck would agree. I still have my beloved old Graphic View II but I keep it mainly because I just can't let it go. :(


For sure a tiltshift lens would afford me many creative advantages. Presently I will need to grow where I'm planted and work within both my means and the gear I currently possess. I'm not near to approaching clientele who have discriminating taste or who have an eye for absolute perfection. Much as I'd like to have the ability to offer an ultimate, I'm more likely to be attracting businesses who at the moment are making do with cell phone camera photos.
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Re: Mozzarella Sticks and Marinara Sauce

Postby Duck » Tue Aug 15, 2017 12:41 am

Thanks for the accolades, guys, but I'm just like you all; pushing forward to learn and make good images.

I love my overly sophisticated and fancy tilt shift lens but I very seldom use it for food. I prefer the selective focus shallow DoF gives to food. That doesn't mean shooting wide open either. Depth of Field, in commercial photography, is just another tool in the arsenal of tools available to us. Just as in portraiture, DoF helps to create mood and adds a level of richness to the image. Where one needs to be careful is in the placement of that area of focus. A little off and it can potentially ruin an image.

Where that lens really shines is when I want to change the angle of my field of focus to match the perspective of the product. For example; if I shoot a box and I want the entirety of the front of that box in focus I would have to make sure that the plane of the box matches the plane of the sensor. That makes for a pretty boring image. A perspective shot is much more dynamic but for that the angle of the plane of focus will need to match the angle of the box. That lens contraption of mine will allow me to do that in a (for me) more controlled manner than a typical TS lens would.

There are trade offs though. LF lenses tend to be a bit softer than standard SLR lenses. The camera is larger and bulkier to handle and there will never be such thing as hand holding it :lol:
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