Vaishakhi Lahoti

Photography

Hungry anybody?

Hungry anybody?

Food photography is one of those realms that I feel I am still so behind the curve. Its not so much lack of technique that hinders me, more so of lack of the right settings and of course the food.
Blame it on the craze for the show “Chopped“, in the past few years my quotient for beautiful food has increased a lot. I have always been the kind of person who did not care how the food looked as long it was edible and generally tasty. That may also give you an idea of how bad of a cook I am! Hubby on the other hand is a great cook (good for me) and as I grew as a photographer I grew the appetite for good food photos.
Most photos of food in magazines are very well choreographed. Let me explain, not only is the food plated impeccably, garnished colorfully but there are color coordinated shiny cutlery and some candles, and wine.  In contrast, after cooking a good meal at home, its generally left on the vessel it got cooked to cool. The cutlery if not the disposable stuff would be worn out. No pretty napkins here.
Lighting is also an issue, kitchens dont have very pretty lighting so a separate specialized lighting is almost necessary. You can get away with a diffused sunlight through a window in the day. Currently, I use my flash to bounce light into the food and try to get that “professional food”. That being said, I have to learn a lot of tricks for this kind of photography.
Most food photos are tack sharp, something that can only be achieved through really good glass and also from a very close range which would need some macro capability. For a long time the only lens I could use for this purpose was the 50mm F1.8. The problem with it was that it got very soft at the larger apertures and it had a minimum focus distance of 1.5 feet meant I couldnt get very close either. Ever since the 60mm F2.8 macro lens arrived, I’ve been on the moon. It can focus at 3.5 inches! And its so sharp that you could cut your fingers just looking at the photos (poor joke I know).
The following collection of photos are mostly with that fabulous lens and some from my old experiments. Do let me know if you like them, and more so if you dont because that is the only way I learn.
I found a cheap little soft box on amazon, hopefully with that in my arsenal I could kick up a few notches on my food photography. It will be fun though to see my dear hubby’s expression when he sweats out a super duper dish after hours in the heat and then I arrive with the softbox in one hand and camera in other, to ultimately claim accolades for the photos of his work!
Sunset in Jamaica

Sunset in Jamaica

I was eagerly looking forward to our vacation this year. Negril, Jamaica was our destination and its known to be one of the best beaches in the world thanks to the clear blue waters and fine white sand coupled with timid shallow waves. The photo opportunities were tremendous.  Most of the Negril beach faces west, which also makes it a fantastic sunset spot. I was hoping to get some great shots there with the sun swimming down into the Carribean waters, sadly all the three days that we were there , we had clouds covering the final few moments of the sunset. Even then the scene was nothing less than spectacular.
Which brings me to the creation you see above. Although not perfect, (boo to you clouds) it is in a way a nice way to show a progression of the sun setting.
The idea did not come to me while I was in Negril though. Like all other vacations, this one too left us with way too many photos to work with. In fact we were so enamored with the sun set that on all the 3 evenings we took about 50 photos just devoted to the sea and the sun. While I sat through trimming through our 450+ photos at home I realised that I may be able to do a collage of the sun set photos. Initially I thought of making it for the different days we had seen the sun set. Nothing fancy, a quick collage in picasa. But it was not up to my expectations.

Then it came to me, how about take the random photos taken on one single day and show a progression. Put the photos together and ended up with this

As you can see, still no good. There were photos with different zoom levels, orientations just didnt go together.
So I decided to choose the photos only with a constant zoom and orientation. My selection was limited, I had to crop to a pre-set orientation and try again. Much better.. but still not perfect. The horizon is all messed up, the exposures are mixed.

Needs more work, except it will now require a more complicated tool. Enter Paint shop pro. Lots of layers and and cropping later, you have the final results.
Ah.. I can sleep peacefully now 😀

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Spring is here

Spring is here

As a photographer it is an absolute joy to finally see some colors after a drab winter season. For me though, this year spring brought in enough work from my day job to kill any hopes of taking many photos. So I drove along the roads looking at the cherry blossoms blooming all around me and the dogwoods teasing me with all the flowers. One day there was nothing but bare branches and within a week there was color all around. It took a good amount of effort and will and love for flowers to finally drag hubby and baby to the Missouri Botanical garden- my mecca for all things flora. This year there was an orchid show that made it all the more enticing.
As expected, I could barely walk a foot without taking a photo. And after we were done with the Orchid show and all the Magnolias and the Cherry Trees, I was left with more than 300 photos to process. In the olden days (when life was easy and there was lots of time to spare) I would have worked on all of them. Now, I had to ruthlessly delete anything that was remotely similar or not perfect. Cutting it down to about 60 odd photos and working on them still took a whole week. By now, am so tired, I don’t want to look at them, but I know next year I’ll see these photos again and feel happy.
Although sometimes I wonder if it’s worth the late nights and the dark circles….
A foggy drive

A foggy drive

A picturesque opportunity can arrive any time.  This instance was when we were driving back from Indianapolis on a real foggy day. It was scary and amazing at the same time. My Canon 60D paired with the  60mm EF-S Macro did a great job except its not easy to continuously focus or hold the camera steady inside a car. Here is where Youtube comes to your rescue. The video editor feature is the coolest thing that has happened to youtube. It can stitch up your videos, fix them in all possible ways, and as I realized try and stabilize the video too. This video is a great example of that feature. One of the other feature in Youtube editor is the ability to rotate photos.
Often I just take a photo in a portrait mode and continue with a video in the same orientation. You could try rotate the video on your system before uploading it but it seems much more easier when I know my target audience is going to see the final result on the web. The cons of this process are the clear loss of clarity due to compression methods by youtube but if you have a fairly old system with a processor that cringes at the thoughts of churning videos, this may be a good alternative. Go Cloud!
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Be Silly.. be Splendid!

Be Silly.. be Splendid!

One of my oldest and very dear friend had baby last month. I was so excited I could hardly keep it to myself. I’ve known her for 19 years now, so this was a BIG deal. I took the first opportunity to drive to her place and give her a surprise visit. (Its something I don’t recommend doing to a new mother unless you absolutely know what you are doing.)
While I was there I had less than 24 hours to meet them and taking some photos was very high on my agenda. With a baby there is no good time to take a photo. or a good setting. After trying for hours to get everybody in the room together, after pacifying and feeding the baby we had about 30 minutes to take all the photos. And those are times you just have to get silly and start playing around with the surroundings.
Ideally, a photographer has a nice background,  a couple of studio lights and a enough time to figure everything out. I on the other had one flash and the house.
So step number one.. bounce your light if you cannot get a diffused light. This is a tip I’ve learnt from a photographer I’ve come to admire. Neil Van Niekerk. His blog about how to use a flash on and off the camera to get some great pics have helped me a lot with my Canon 320ex.
Step number two – Forget about the background, lets just use a plain wall and figure the rest out later. Actually I got a great idea a bit later to use a window as my background and then blow the details out to create a white background (another tip I got from Neil’s Blog)
Step three – Shoot at different angles and keep improving on the angles
It doesn’t hurt to have a particular pose in mind when you take photos, my Initial plan didn’t work out as well as I thought so I had to improvise a bit. My friend and her husband were ultra cool about all the crazy things I made them do. I tend to nit pick about little things like unkempt hair, asymmetric lockets etc. etc.
Most importantly… shoot in RAW. There is just so many options to fix things later on.
I think I made the best of the time I had there. I got some amazing photos of the new family that made me very very happy. I hope you like them too.