A glimpse into the studio

Dessert

A Chocolate Fondue Cinemagraph

Part 1: The Shoot (fun with chocolate)

I decided to just have some fun with this shot, so I created this background with purple LED christmas lights layered behind red tulle fabric.  To add more “sparkles” I placed a silver reflective board behind the lights and aimed toward the camera.  Some additional tulle fabric wrapped around the bowl served to unite the foreground and background.

    

Note the long distance between the bowl and the fabric background, which allows me to throw the background out of focus, as well as prevent the main light from spilling on the background.

Since we are shooting both still images and video for the cinemagraph, I lit the shot with tungsten (continuous) light so I wouldn’t have to change the lighting for the video.  I used a 1000 watt tungsten bulb in a strip light softbox, positioned above and right of the bowl, which gave me a nice hilight along the side of the strawberry.  A gold reflector board on the left side filled in the shadows and leant a nice warm glow to both the strawberry and the chocolate.  You can see both the light and the reflector in the corners of the shot above.

Since, as you can see, the main light is shining towards my lens (causing flare), I attached a French Flag to the camera stand and positioned it to block the light from hitting the lens.
I also made use of Canon’s live view software (EOS utility) to give me a live preview on the computer so I could tweak the position of the strawberry.  I used a Manfrotto Articulated Arm and Super Clamp to securely hold the bamboo skewer and strawberry.

    

Meanwhile, Linsey was busy melting chocolate, and sampling liberally, which accounts for her smile.  She used a large syringe to drizzle the warm chocolate over the strawberry so we could catch just the right flowing drip.

    

Once we had the final still shot, we switched the camera (Canon 5D MKII) to video and captured a series of drips and drizzles, while being careful not to disturb any of the elements.  Using continuous light made it easy to switch back and forth between video and still captures, and ensure that we had just the right elements to combine in the final Cinemagraph.

Part 2: Cinemagraph lessons

A Cinemagraph is an image that combines a still photo with video to show small areas of motion… such as the chocolate drip.  It’s made by layering a still image over a video in Photoshop Extended, then masking areas of the still image to allow the video to show through.  The results are saved as a .gif file, which can be posted on a web site.  I have another example here, and a fuller explanation of the method here.  If you want to give this a try, I recommend you have a look at this video tutorial, which walks you through the process step by step.

I did run into some interesting challenges with this image however.  The background, which is made up of colored LED Christmas lights shining through colored fabric, has very intense hues and is almost blown out in the hilights.  I didn’t realize it as I was shooting, but the video capture rendered the tones quite differently than the still capture.  I’m guessing that it has to do with the compression that is applied to the video, which skewed the background tones quite severely towards the red/purple hues.  When I masked the still image, the difference in tones made a nasty halo around the drip.  I had to apply a few adjustment layers (Hue/Saturation and Color Balance) to get the video layer to blend with the still layer.

The same areas gave me some problems when it came time to save the final .gif file.  The .gif format is limited to 256 colors instead of the thousands or millions of colors in a jpeg or tiff file.  When I tried to render the intense colors of the background I saw a lot of posterization (hard color breaks rather than smooth gradations) around the sparkling lights, which I felt were distracting.  I ended up solving the problem by reducing the saturation of the reds and purples with a Hue/Saturation adjustment.  Basically, I sacrificed some color intensity to get smoother gradations.  Here’s a side-by-side comparison:

  You can see that the colors are a bit less intense, but the overall rendering is much smoother.  I also played with the settings in the “Save for Web & Devices” window, trying different combinations of color rendering intents and dithering patterns until I got a the best possible results, in this case Selective Color and Noise Dithering.  You’ll have to experiment on your own, as I find the results vary depending on the particular image.

So… a few lessons learned about shooting for Cinemagraphs!  When designing your shot, you have to bear in mind the tonal compression of the video format, as well as the limited color range of the .gif file format.  This means that you have to shoot a smaller color palette…. less saturated tones and softer colors.  This will make combining the video and still images much easier, as well as making for easier rendering into a final .gif file.

I hope this will help you when you give this fun technique a try.

Credits: Food Styling… Linsey Bell
Assistant & BTS shots: Nadia Cheema
Photography: Rob Davidson


Whipping up a workshop!

Linsey and I had a great time demonstrating this recipe and photo for a summer workshop in my studio.

The lighting and set-up is similar to the one for the Brunch Phylo.  But in this shot I used a lace fabric hanging in the background and gently blown by a fan.

  

You can see that my “floating” plexiglass table allows me to light and play with the background totally separately from the main subject.  I’ve lit the seamless paper with two umbrellas, and the lace fabric is hung in front of the seamless, but behind the plexiglass, so it’s a soft silhouette.  The fan creates gentle ripples in the fabric and lends a sense of movement to the shot.
The dessert in a lace patterned wine glass is very simply lit with a strip softbox to camera left, and a small sliver reflector on the right to throw some light into the shadows.

Test shot with "Stunt Food"

The rest of the shot is really up to Linsey!  She has to perfectly whip up the Sabayon, artfully arrange the berries, and finally torch the top for that Brulee Look….. all under the watchful eyes of the students!

      

The final results certainly justify the effort!

Thanks to Iden Ford and Nadia Cheema for the Behind-The-Scenes shots!


Sometimes Food is all about Texture

This shot is all about texture… from the crusted top of the pie filling to the red stones of the background.  In order to convey all these rich textures, I chose a gridded spot placed behind the plate, and aimed so it just lit the pie and plate.  A medium softbox from overhead, and dialed down to very low power, provides some fill on the pie, and just a bit of light on the background stones.

 

 

I like how this set up gives me very precise control over the amount of light on the subject vs. the background. I can make sure that the pie is just a bit brighter than the background so it pops forward rather than blending into the background.  I also added a slight warm gel (1/4 CTO) to the spot to warm up the tones of the pie and crust. This lighting also ensured that I could hold on to the detail of the white texture in the whipped cream behind the pie…. always a challenge!

Here’s Linsey carefully placing the “hero” pie on the plate, and we consult on the “look” for the whipped cream.  The final results:

Photo Credits:  Photography by Rob Davidson
Food Styling by Linsey Bell

Assistant and BTS shots: Adriana Garcia Cruz