Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Shooting Your Food

Restaurants are pretty much the worst when it comes to photography. Anyone who has pulled out an iPhone at a mood-lit bistro to snap a photo of her dish knows this. Extreme low light and colored light sources can make the most mouth-watering entrĂ©e look disgusting in a photo. For examples, please look at any picture I ever took at Bootsy’s.

A big DSLR fares much better in low light, but say goodbye to anonymity when you pull it out in that brand new restaurant. And don’t forget that you’ll have to haul it around through sessions of pre-dinner cocktails and whatever you’re doing after dinner.

It’s a no-win situation.

In recent years though, compact camera makers have attempted to load point-and-shoots with specialized modes for low light situations. Higher end compacts offer bigger sensors with better light-gathering potential, but they also cost about the same as an entry-level DSLR.

Sony’s WX9 attempts to fight the good low-light fight at a reasonable price. I was recently invited to test it out with a group of food bloggers in San Diego over two days of diet-busting indulgence.

We photographed a lot of food that was styled specifically for our needs as eaters and photographers. Therefore, what you see here could be thought of as somewhat a-typical of normal dining circumstances. We had lunch under the open sky on the beach. This is not how I usually photograph food.

But putting that aside, it was really, really fun. The WX9 will make most of your photographic decisions if you want it to, and it generally does a good job at getting things right. You think less about your settings and more about how you want to compose your shot, and then more importantly, how you want to get the food on your plate into your mouth.

We were also turned loose on a farmer’s market in Oceanside. Note that in the image below hot oil had soaked through the napkin and was scorching my hand. I kept still anyway for the photo.

Like most other point-and-shoots, the Cyber-shot WX9 fared very well in the ample sunshine of the farmer’s market. A lot of food bloggers aren’t going to do much editing or tinkering with settings anyway, so it might be ideal for the person who wants to snap a photo and move on to the next one.

We were also provided with plenty of interior lighting during dinner – all twelve courses of it. Chef Chris Ivens-Brown, VP of Culinary Development at Compass Group prepared a beautiful meal for us to capture with our cameras and our forks. It was a delight.

Dinner was served at Sony’s San Diego headquarters in a lovely dining room on a top floor, providing us with the opportunity to use the camera’s Sweep Panorama mode. This is a feature that Sony pioneered and now offers on nearly every Cyber-shot camera. You’ll press the shutter and pan the camera across a horizontal or vertical scene while the WX9 captures a handful of rapid-fire images and then stitches them together to create one panoramic image. It’s intuitive and mindlessly easy to use.

As point-and-shoots go, the WX9 has a lot to offer at a tasty price. For my money, it doesn’t solve the low light problem, but it is a lot of fun to use. And here’s the better news – Sony has provided me with a Cyber-shot DSC-WX9 to give away to a lucky Chickpeas, Please reader! Leave a comment on this post and tell me about what you most like to photograph and you'll be eligible to win. I'll keep the contest open through a week from today - Wednesday May 18, at which point I'll randomly pick a winner. Good luck and good shooting!

Disclosure: Sony paid for my travel to and from San Diego, ground transportation, two nights at the Rancho Bernardo Inn and all of my meals over the course of the trip. The WX9 camera I used was mine to keep when I went home. A review of this camera was published on Digital Camera Review where I'm the site editor – we did not keep that product sample, and we never keep the cameras that we review.

23 comments:

Josh O. said...

I usually take pictures of my lunches at work and beer I'm drinking, neither of which come out well when photographed from my Samsung Captivate. Inexplicably, they manufactured this phone without a flash option. Absurd.

Alexandra said...

I honestly love to shoot my food. I sometimes can get my point and shoot to make the food look good - but the darned light bulbs keep going out in my kitchen! ;)

Scott said...

I like to take mouth watering pictures of burgers I eat! And, you know me...I eat a lot of burgers! Also, I take far too many pictures of my dogs. I can't even imagine what's going to happen when I have kids. PICTURE OVERLOAD!

bsherm said...

Yeah, I'm one of those annoying food photographers. The difference when I lug the Sony Alpha along is substantial, but A. Don't always want to lug it, B. Forget to bring it. It does show that the compact point and shoot still has a place today. The Droid X takes OK shots, but not that great, and Josh, having a flash is not all that helpful in a camera phone.

Kitty said...

I do love a melty grilled cheese picture. That and brightly colored vegetables or dishes are always fun. You make a great point with lugging the DSLR around--it does get HEAVY, and it can be bulky, even in my gigantic purse. I'm jealous of Bob's camera for that reason alone.

About the anonyminity thing, though, I can count on one hand the amount of times that someone's actually asked about the DSLR or we've had different treatment because of it. We act really nonchalant about it, and I think most people just assume we're crazy tourists.

Josh O. said...

bsherm:

Mainly the only reason I'd like a flash is that I like to take pics of special beer bottles that I get to try when I'm in a bar. Unfortunately, most bars aren't noted for spectacular lighting. I can't think of many other times when I'd use it, though.

5chw4r7z said...

I'll take a picture of almost anything, but food and architecture the most.
Josh and BSherm, I need a hot shoe flash, my built in just blows everything out.

Julie said...

Food, yes, and I agree that a DSLR just screams "food blogger"-- even if no one says anything, they're thinking it. This would be a perfect compromise between DSLR and iPhone 4!

And Josh-- I never use my flash on my iPhone, and photographing food with flash? Baad.

Anne said...

hoping for a win here ;-)

i love to photograph everything around me. it sounds cliche, but there truly is beauty in everything. and what i love about photographs is that each person can be taking a photo of the same subject but the results can be very different. that said, our blog does feature more food and architecture photos :-)

the Minty said...

great post! It was such a wonderful trip!

Intuitive Eggplant said...

Lately, I’ve been photographing more food prepared by others – especially by Cincy’s great food truck and farmers market folks - than food prepared by me. I usually snap pics of lunch at my office desk, which gives me more control over lighting than in a restaurant. Thanks for sharing pics of your tasty trip to CA!

Rachel said...

I think I'm a little jealous of all these trips you take :P

I love photographing people, whether they know its coming or not. And lately i've been on a flowers kick. Probably because its spring, and I can't really have flowers in my apt (darn you allergies). But I just take pics of whatever I can when I can steal the boys camera cuz his is better, and I only have half a screen lol :P

Andi @ udandi said...

I came to your blog to ask what kind of camera someone like me might benefit from if a DSLR is too intimidating especially if I just want to photograph my projects and lunches (nothing like your non-blog coworkers wondering why you need another photo of your lunch).

Plus, I'd like to do one of those photo365 projects but I need a new camera.

Rachel said...

Blogger ate my comment :(

But I'm totally jealous of these trips you take!

Lately I've been on a flowers and nature kick (probably because I can't have them in my apartment-darn allergies) But I also love photographing people, whether they know its coming or not ;) There's just something about peoples faces that can capture so much. Lately though its been whatever I can shoot using the fiance's camera as 1. his is better than mine, and 2. mine only has half a screen >.< lol

soozycue520 said...

I am new at food photography, and my friends and family think I'm totally nuts!! But my pics of food bring back good memories!!

soozycue520@yahoo.com

Scott said...

I love to take photos while on Vacation.

joe said...

I'll take a picture of anything that piques my interest: food, robots, graffiti, nature, odd things people do, etc.

My main challenge right now is taking pics of my two-year old. Since she is one that rarely holds a pose, I get to play nat geo photographer to try to get that elusive smile.

jessamine said...

I'm the kind of person that likes having a camera on hand, just in case. You never know if you're going to come across something that you want to capture, so it's better to just be prepared! I photograph anything that catches my eye: food, people, animals, the sky, etc.

lyn said...

I enjoy taking pics of food, especially of any homemade desserts! Cobblers, cookies, cakes, pies, brownies, oh my!

Rachel said...

So who was your lucky commenter? :P

Claudia Yuskoff - Mmm Me Gusta said...

Great post, Amanda. It was great to meet a fellow #SonyFoodie in San Diego! Best of luck to all of you that entered the contest!

Allison Johnson said...

We have a winner ala Random.org: Joe! Good luck getting that two-year-old to stand still. Send me an email and we'll sort out the details allisonjo1@gmail.com

Thanks to everyone who entered! I enjoyed reading what you guys are all into photographing. Since, you know, I'm a geek about photography.

joe said...

:)