Food blogging — and cookbook writing and recipe sharing and … Those are things that many of us do but it’s now no longer just a “writing” activity. To be noticed, to have impact with competition, and to convey the power of your food or recipe message, you need that perfect picture married to your words.
Like that beverage at the top. What is it? Well, it’s a vodka drink from a wonderful new book called Vodka Distilled by Tony Abou-Garmin. The recipe for this delicacy will appear in the very next post. I promise.
This post is about the picture. How did I get that great and oh-so-tight depth of field? How is it arranged so delightfully?
It could be done two ways.
First, I could have gone to my camera store and bought a terrific lens for my Canon T2i. I may do that someday. Of course, there are lots of lens choices there and you want to try them all and if you really, really purchased them all, your bank account would be very low. We are talking hundreds to thousands of dollars. And, how often will you actually use one or more of these special lenses?
Second, you can do it with the brilliant — and I mean this — software program called FocalPoint 2, part of the Perfect Photo Suite 7 from onOne Software. onOne specializes in software for digital photography. You think everything you want is in Photoshop? No, digital photography has infinite dimension and the onOne Perfect Photo Suite takes you down some wonderful paths. Perfect Photo Suite has high end tools for black-and-white, portraits, special effects and masking, resizing [too often a maddening task], and then FocalPoint 2.
FocalPoint 2 offers powerful tools to craft artistic blurring and to control depth of field for that critical “fuzziness” that we all crave now if food shots. With FocalPoint 2, you have the ability to take your digital image and process it as if you had used a very expensive high end lens. In this case, the photo of the drink has been edited as if I had used a very fast lens with very wide aperture. And a depth of field just about one ice cube wide.
The effect here is clearly dramatic and I believe successful. It catches your eye and your attention. You stop to look. And in our world that is the goal: getting people to stop, look, and perhaps read on.
You can download a trial of Perfect Photo Suite 7 and play with all the components and features. It is play, I know. The piece I have used here, Focal Point 2, is very fast. It could be complicated with many features, but the onOne team has built a “Photoshop” like user interface that will familiar to use if you have used other photography programs, like Photoshop or Photoshop Elements. The interface is clean and intuitive. And certainly inviting. There was a long list of simulated lenses for me to play with in FocalPoint. Using all those alternative lenses, and the blurring features, is amazingly fast and easy. By the time I was done with playing, the only difficulty was deciding which picture to use here.
What is not hard is to recommend this software for foodies. If you want to get the message across, and you want that message to have both power and beauty, then the products from onOne software are due your consideration.
I say this without ego. That’s a great photograph. No, I did not spend hours in Photoshop getting that clarity and all those highlights. All I did was use a wonderful software tool called HDR Efex Pro. So should you.
I know. You finally got that great camera at Christmas time. You’ve started to photograph yoru food and … Something may just not seem right. That camera has a zillion megapixels, but your photos lack something. It’s not clarity, because you focus carefully. You’ve worked on getting great light. You’ve even worked on setting the white balance. And, yes, you are using a tripod. So why isn’t your photo what you see with your eye?
The “problem” is rather practical. Despite the great lens, the computer chip in the camera and all those megapixels, here’s a simple fact of life: no camera can match your eye. Technically, your eyes can see a far wider range of light – from dark to light — than your camera can capture in one shot. In a decade or so, that may not be an issue. But now it is.
I remember going to the Grand Canyon, taking one picture, looking at it, and putting my camera down. The camera could not capture the dynamic range that my eye automatically saw. Not in one shot.
One shot. That’s the trick. In the past few years, a new photographic technique — HDR or High Dynamic Range — now lets you capture on your screen or in your documents the vibrancy that is real. Here’s what you do. You don’t take one shot. You take a few — say three — or many — nine or more with newer cameras. Doing that means you need to use a tripod and need to set your digital camera for something called “bracketed” shooting. What happens is that you take several pictures of the same scene. One of those shots will be the one would have shot anyway. But the others will be split between being underexposed and overexposed. The underexposed shots capture more of the detail in dark areas than a “normal single shot” can capture with its limited range. And the overexposed shots capture more of the detail in the highlights, detail that is just “whited” out in that standard single shot.
Okay, you have several photos. Now what. You need a software program on your computer to take those multiple images and combine them. That combining has to respect all the edges, so there is no blurring [which is why you used a tripod]. And the combining has to be “smart” so all the previously lost details in the dark and light regions are revealed.
There are many HDR software programs out there now, some for purchase and some for free. I’ve read many reviews, downloaded a dozen programs to try them out, and found that there is one clear best program: HDR Efex Pro from Nik Software is brilliantly the best. It’s fast, can save output as JPEG files [so you can edit more with Photoshop], has a load of built-in tools to make adjustments [so you don't have to use Photoshop], and comes with 20+ filters that let you create products with special effects including classic black and white.
I run HDR Efex Pro as an add-in to Adobe Lightroom. Whether you own a PC or a Mac, a photo management tool — either Lightroom or Aperture — is really a necessity. I take thousands of food shots a year, and Lightroom is my database to manage all those files. But now, I don’t want snapshots any more. I want great shots. Shots with the vibrancy that HDR offers. HDR Efex Pro automatically installs inside Lightroom and lets me easily explore, experiment, and manage the results.
You have that camera. You have that food. Now you just need HDR Efex Pro.