Food photo colour balance

Discussion in 'Color: Film, Paper, and Chemistry' started by Michel Hardy-Vallée, Sep 3, 2006.

  1. Michel Hardy-Vallée

    Michel Hardy-Vallée Membership Council Council

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    Apart from the use of selective focus, the thing that strikes me the most as characteristic of contemporary food photography is the very neutral colour balance achieved. I would characterize it as contrasty, with rich blacks, very neutral whites, and low to normal saturation of colours.

    So I was curious: is this the result of a specific film choice (EPN?) or simply the fact that a lot of effort is spent on filtration in order to achieve the proper result? I know that digital is probably involved a lot now, but I wanted to know what is used on the side of film (if it's still involved at all!).
     
  2. roteague

    roteague Member

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    Food photography is an artform in itself. I haven't done any myself, although I have done a bit of reading about it. I believe a neutral film, like Ektachrome or Provia is generally used.
     
  3. Flotsam

    Flotsam Member

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    The stylist is the artist.

    I once worked in a studio that did a lot of food. We shot Ektachrome.
    I assume that today it is all done digital.
     
  4. roteague

    roteague Member

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    I saw something on the web about a year ago about photographing for a big food magazine (I don't remember which one now), and they were shooting 8x10 Ektachrome.
     
  5. HerrBremerhaven

    HerrBremerhaven Member

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    Ektachrome 100 Professional (EPN) is a good choice, since it is very neutral in colour balance. The newer Fuji Astia 100F is another excellent choice, and can actually be a little better for green food items. The other benefit of Astia 100F is that has less grain than EPN.

    There is still an issue of controlling the lighting. You can use gels to do that, or involve a gel fitler holde and CC filters to do slight corrections. This is also something you can do in post processing, though in practice you want to be as close as possible on the transparency.

    The only way to find out if you can make this work is to experiment a bit. Starting with a neutral film colour balance is one good launching point for this, but only a beginning step.

    Ciao!

    Gordon Moat
    A G Studio
     
  6. Roger Hicks

    Roger Hicks Member

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    Dear Michael,

    To a vert large extent, it's the publisher's/editor's choice, and there are fashions. When I was shooting Barbecue the editor liked seriously warm trannies: I ended up shooting on one of the warmer Japanese film-stocks, with an 81EF as well.

    That was around 15 years ago. There have been many fashions since. As for whether you shoot film or digi, I can't answer for nowadays, but in those days they often insisted on 4x5 and turned their noses up at 6x7cm, even for pics that would only be run whole-page, i.e a maximum of about 4x off 6x7cm. This wasn't anything to do with quality -- it was blind prejudice and stupidity, which are common in the publishing world.

    Cheers,

    Roger
     
  7. Mick Fagan

    Mick Fagan Subscriber

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    Ektachrome 100 Professional (EPN) is the film of choice because of it's neutrality.

    Basically one does a test shoot to see exactly where it's at.

    Nearly always you end up pushing the film ¼ to ½ a stop to get nice pure whites and almost always one has to use minor CC filters. Often a CC filter of 5 red, or like, is all that is needed. This is with flash in a studio environment.

    After your test film(s) are processed, you put them on a colour corrected light box and use different filters to ascertain just what, if any, colour cast you have.

    Using a 4x5 camera, we tended to put the CC filter inside on the rear of the lens, this way we avoided possible flare from the myriad of light and dark reflectors one tends to use.

    Trust me when I say that the better the food looks to eat, the worse it actually is.

    Food stylists do all sorts of things to make food, look on film, what it looks like on a plate.

    Mick.
     
  8. Flotsam

    Flotsam Member

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    Our stylist would make a beautiful but inedible dish for the camera and then often make a delicious, edible version for the photographers and assistants to scarf down for lunch. She was very popular :smile:
     
  9. Aggie

    Aggie Member

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    Doing a bit of work for the short lived "Taste" put out by Williams Sonoma, I know they used digital for their in house work. Personally I could never understand why they did the selective focus thing. Yet it looked more arty, but I was personally turned off when they would describe the food and you looked at the picture. "Here is a wonderful reduction over braised...... asccompanied by garden fresh steamed veggies.... What you would see is a bit of the slice of meat, with colorful blobs of something surrounding it. There was no way to tell if the green stuf was a sala or zucchini. I wanted to see the in focus image not the blobs. I wouldn't make up the recipes if all there was to tell me what the final product would be, was a color spot of a blob. Why is it that food stylists love blobs out of focus?
     
  10. David A. Goldfarb

    David A. Goldfarb Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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  11. Michel Hardy-Vallée

    Michel Hardy-Vallée Membership Council Council

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    Thanks all for the answers! I was curious about this recent fashion because, as Roger points out, these things come and go. I'm sure warm colours were meant to look enticing twenty years ago, and now they spread bokeh like butter.

    That makes me wonder: what if Jim Galli started to shoot food with his delicious Dagors &c?
     
  12. Photo Engineer

    Photo Engineer Subscriber

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    Most all food in food photographs is fake or touched up with paints and glazes to make them look right and endure the long sessions with hot lights and not wilt or discolor.

    They showed how to make a 'baked turkey' for a photo session in a television workshop about a year ago, and basically it is all chemistry. They could literally retouch the food to match any photographic system.

    PE
     
  13. Amund

    Amund Member

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  15. Philippe-Georges

    Philippe-Georges Member

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    Having illustrated a few cookery books right now [http://www.photoeil.be/books/photoeil-library.html], I never faked or touched up the food I was shooting. The only thing I did was substituting ice cream by butter, slightly coloured with the juice of carrots. What is shown on T.V. is show.
    I also never worked with an stylist, I really do not know why.

    Food only looks like food when it IS ‘food’, this is of course a very personal statement!

    Technically, the whole thing is an chain of settings and quality control.
    It starts whit the choice of the film emulsion and goes on whit the kind of coating of the flash ‘bulbs’, the reflectors on them, the filtering, as well on the flash head as on the lens, the calibrating of the E-6 process and, of course, the the use of a good colour temperature meter. The camera format depends on what kind of atmosphere one is seeking. I have shot food on 13c x 18 cm slides whit an Rodenstock Imagon at 1:1 reproduction rate, superb lens. The last book, who will be out at the end of next month, was shot on 35 mm (slides). All film is FUJI Provia 100, to me it is a neutral basis to start with, Polaroïd is the proofing tool. I tried Digital but this is very good for magazines but not that acceptable for books YET.

    Philippe

    P.S sorry again Roger, for my pigeon English!
     
  16. David A. Goldfarb

    David A. Goldfarb Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    I don't think there's as much fakery as there used to be. I believe that in the US now, for advertising, the food that is being advertised has to be the real thing, though the surrounding items need not be. You can pick through 20 heads of lettuce to find the perfect lettuce leaves, and you can spray with olive oil and such to improve the gloss, but I don't think you can put shoe polish on the turkey anymore, if you're using the photo to sell turkey.
     
  17. copake_ham

    copake_ham Inactive

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    You are correct about the switch to digital. Until last week I rented a studio apartment to a well known food photog (has worked with all major chefs on numerous publications etc.). He originally used the apartment as a photog studio then as an office.

    Over the course of his five year tenancy he went from full film to full digital.

    BTW: These are some of the food books he shot: http://www.bestwebbuys.com/Ben_Fink-mcid_2841340.html?isrc=b-authorsearch
     
  18. roteague

    roteague Member

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    My understanding is that it depends upon whether the image is of a recognized product, or being used for a specific product, in which case you don't have the liberty to falsify the product. There are a lot of things you can do to enhance them, like undercooking the meat, or just a particular lighting angle.
     
  19. roteague

    roteague Member

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    These guys probably aren't using a run of the mill DSLR, more likely MF digital or a scanning back.
     
  20. Photo Engineer

    Photo Engineer Subscriber

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    I wish I had paid more attention to the program and could remember better what I did see, but this was a TV presentation that showed how they prepared various cooked foods, not major brand products, for display in TV programs. IIRC they concentrated on a Thanksgiving dinner including how to prepare a turkey for a long session of photography, and it seems to me they included varnishing the turkey for a well baked brown look.

    Everything they had was inedible. The question that prompted this show, again IIRC, was "What do you do with all of that food after taking pictures of it? Do you give it away to the needy?" and the answer was purporting to show why they didn't. The food was not edible food.

    I'm not saying I agreed with it, but rather just bringing that particular program to your attention. I don't believe I enjoyed the program or I think that I would have remembered more of it.

    PE
     
  21. roteague

    roteague Member

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    I remember the show as well, unfortunately, I can't tell you what channel it was on.
     
  22. BrianShaw

    BrianShaw Member

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    I've never cooked for the camera, but I understand that it is VERY different from cooking for eating. I've heard (famous last words, eh?) that food stylists have a jillion tricks up their sleeves to make the food look great... ranging from cold food to sprays/coatings to substitutes for the real food. I once wondered why I cooked a recipe and it tasted great but didn't look nearly as nice as the photo. Then I learned a bit about the difference between cook, chef, stylist, and photographer!
     
  23. mark

    mark Member

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    David is right, and PE is right. If you are advertising food you have to have the actual food. Everything else can be fake. The milk in the pictures on cereal boxes is usually Crisco. Not lard. Lard melts too quickly. In cooking magazines and cook books the food is the real stuff, only touched up with real stuff that is in the recipe. I had a long talk with a food photog who shot for publication once. This was at the time when natural light was all the vogue and he would have the cooks bring the food to his set up under a tree. or whereever the best light outside was. For television shows anything goes and I was told by a camaera man once that he learned the hard way NOT to sneak a cookie off the set.

    Food photography has always been an interest for me. Never was anygood at it though.
     
  24. roteague

    roteague Member

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    I read in a book somewhere, that if you were photographing soup, for example, you couldn't add extra vegetables or meat, it had to be whatever was actually in the can. However, there wasn't anything stopping you from putting marbles in the bottom of the bowl to make the vegetables and meat rise to the top. So, there are a bunch of little tricks that you can use. Like you, food photography has always interested me, but I've never tried doing it.
     
  25. Roger Hicks

    Roger Hicks Member

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    Dear Phillippe,

    I sincerely hope you didn't think I was getting at you for the way you wrote. Far from it; I was thinking of those whose mother tongue is nominally English, and who have failed to master even the basics. Moi, apres trois ans je peux lire en francais mais pas ecrire; if I could write French as well as you write English I should be a happy man.

    Having said that, 'pigeon' is apparently a back formation from 'pidgin', the origin of which is obscure. That's the only correction I'd dare make.

    Like you, I did very little fakery on food. Sure, I used sugar or salt in beer to make it foam, or occasionally a bit of olive oil painted on meat to make it glisten more, and I've often found that slightly undercooked food photographs better. I shot four cook-books across several years (1989-1994 or thereabouts), so presumably my style was acceptable, though I've not done one for over a decade.

    I was under the impression (garnered not only from my own experience but also from other food photographers I used to know in the UK) that the heyday of fake food was well in the past; and indeed, with my wife Frances I wrote/edited the Rotovision Pro Lighting book Food Shots (1994) which confirmed this impression. Perhaps it survives more on the other side of the Atlantic? Or perhaps it has been revived?

    Cheers,

    Roger
     
  26. Aggie

    Aggie Member

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    To make a turkey look good for a photograph, use a product called Kitchen Bouquet. It is a darkening agent for gravies. Thin it down with a bit of oil and water. Then brush it on a baked turkey. Take a Creme Bruelle torch and brown the whole thing. There you go guys the perfectly looking juicy browned turkey. I know that the milk WS used was actually elmers glue. Hair spray gives a more matte finish, olive oil in a spray can makes things glossy. Spray acrylics make lettuce stand up and look shiny like they are fresh. A bit of an egg wash brushed on the tops of baked goods, thinned with wagter to the desired look then flash torched will give that wonderful brown cooked look. The heavier or thicker the egg wash the glossier it is.