I’m taking a little food break. So I thought I’d take a moment to talk about photographs. As you have probably gathered, I like taking photographs. In fact, my photography and my food are so mixed up at this point that I don’t know which I enjoy more. They are happy bedfellows, fortunately. All of the photos on this post were taken with my iPhone, though. I want to talk a little about my PIE pictures and my FUN pictures.
Disclaimer: I have hesitated to put this post up before because I do not want to represent myself as a gear expert or a pro. There are so many people who know so much more about these subjects. However, I’ve been asked often about what I use, so that is what I am sharing.
In case you have ever been curious, for PIE, I use a Canon 5D Mark II. It is a wonderful camera. Heck, the Canon 5D is a wonderful camera. There is now an even swankier camera out in this line, but I don’t see that little bit of fantasy gear arriving on my doorstep anytime soon. The one advantage that I have heard about the new model is that it is very good in low light conditions. And, I shoot in my kitchen in very low light most of the time. The ISO settings that I use make my husband cringe. But, that is what I do. And I’m fortunate that my camera is good enough to reduce the “noise” (or graininess) that this would usually produce. I’ve lucked into a gear setup that is forgiving of my flaws. Plus, I have given in to the fact that I need to use a tripod a lot. If you take a lot of photographs without a flash, eventually you will need to buy a good tripod.
Also, know that there is an active market in used camera bodies. If you have a reputable independent camera dealer in your community, you should spend your money with them. You can get new cameras, or nice refurbished used ones at a much more palatable price. In our area, we use Competitive Cameras. Don’t assume that the big box store prices are better than your independent retailers. They will often meet prices. Competitive is a fun spot, and they have something for everyone, not to mention all of the gadgets, bags, and other professional gear that you could ever want. Plus, they are VERY knowledgeable. So if you are having any trouble figuring out a camera that is really right for you, they can help. If you are going to make a large purchase like this, it is great to keep the money in your own community…wherever that is.
For my food work, I used a Canon EF 100mm f2.8L macro lens almost exclusively for the first two years. Macro lenses are for close up work. Really good macro lenses can show you a speck of dust on the eye of a flea like it was as big as a baseball. It is all about detail and reproducing images of a subject that are far larger than the actual subject. They are not necessary for food work, but I really like the lens. I use it for all sorts of things, including portraits. I have also added a very inexpensive 50mm lens to my kit. It is the Canon EF 50mm f/2.5 Compact macro. It is a ton of fun, but it isn’t of the quality of the 100mm. But for the price, it is a pretty fun little lens. And it weighs much less (because it isn’t built as well…but that is reflected in the price difference). It is also a little noisy to me, but that too is a relative issue. I have other lenses for doing other things, but these are my food lenses. The lens I turn to most for everyday use (so I don’t pack 6 lenses on a trip) is a Canon 24-70 standard zoom lens. It gives me great flexibility to frame shots the way I like. But it weighs a ton. We have other specialty lenses, but these are the three I’m using the most these days.
I shoot 99% with natural light. I have flashes. I have lamps. I have tried “natural” light bulbs. But, for the aesthetic I like, natural light is the only way to go. I use cheap white foam core boards to bounce a little light. It helps immensely. But I have found that I like shadows. Shadows and light can tell you a lot about what I’m up to. You can absolutely tell that the quality of light can change between the time I start something and the time that I finish it. Shadows tell you about time. I am not trying to achieve a studio result with plastic cheese and airbrushed meat on a cheeseburger like you would see for a commercial ad. Shadows provide a sense of depth. A world without shadows is a little strange if you are trying to tell a story. It is like a world without gravity. EVERY sort of photography is different though. I see some photographers do amazing things with flashes and huge light set ups. The ability to create drama with well placed light sources is the stuff or photographic and movie legend. I would love to learn about that some day. But that is not what I’m up to now. It is becoming increasingly clear to me that I’m going to need to secure a few more lifetimes to learn all of the things I want to learn.
And on that note, the photos I take for PIE are usually of food that is, quite literally, on the way to the table. I cannot continue to take photos until I have achieved perfection, because there are three people right out of the frame waiting to eat dinner. I’m grabbing photos of the food I am serving my family. That is why you will see messes in my kitchen and all around my prep area. PIE is a story about my life and the food I feed my family. When I take photos that someone is paying me for it is a different story altogether. Some would say that as a person who occasionally gets paid by others to do this, I should only present perfect photos. But, PIE isn’t about perfection. It is about eating. And, loving. And, capturing moments with family.
I owe my life to Photoshop. That is where I do my edits and how I put together these clusters of photos. I’m also slowly learning Lightroom. It is a powerful tool for organization and has very helpful export functions that allow me to size big batches of photos all at once. I’m a Lightroom novice, though. Heck, I’m a Photoshop novice for that matter, but it is true fun. I don’t know how to put anyone’s head on someone else’s body, for instance. And I’ve tried removing my own wrinkles but find I’m generally OK with my wrinkles, so I go back to editing my food. But I sure appreciate being able to brighten, sharpen, re-size and improve my photographs.
Once you start taking many photos, you also have to face the issues of transferring them to people, which can be a pain, given how large these files can get. I’m a fan of Dropbox, SmugMug and Flickr for sharing files.
[A shot from inside Bolsa Mercado while I was shopping for honey comb; Aunt Betty's Buttermilk Pie; A shot from an airplane window at sunset]
I ran into a professional photographer recently and I actually tried to have a conversation with him about the wonders of iPhone photography and how it was really giving everyday people the ability to make lovely images. Let’s not address what makes one a professional photographer as I do not know, and apparently merely getting paid occasionally to take photographs isn’t enough to confer that halo of superiority. But, he looked at me like I had sprouted a unicorn horn. My outlook, though, is that there is a type of photography, a process, and an end result for everyone. I am good at taking pictures of food in natural light. That is what I love to do. I wouldn’t hold myself out as a wedding photographer because that is not in my skill set. That is not what I enjoy. There is a type of photography for everyone who wants to try. But you will never know what you are good at until you start playing. My husband has often said that the good camera is the one you happen to have when you need to take a photo. When you start seeing the world as a series of beautiful images, your perspective changes. Everything is potentially interesting and beautiful and it is a wonderful way to see the world.
Good teachers lift everyone. I’m lucky to follow (like a lovesick puppy) several really amazing photographers who are always teaching somebody something, who ALWAYS share their outlook, and whose work ALWAYS looks so far and away better than mine or those of anyone else that there is no question as to who is the teacher and who is the student. The proof is in the pudding. I love the photographers who share their knowledge, not show off their knowledge. That is a line often used about Lefty Kreh, a legendary fly fishing angler and excellent photographer. He’s also the guy who said, that your candle won’t burn any brighter if you blow out everyone else’s candle. So don’t listen to anyone who tells you that taking phone pictures is amateur. Don’t listen to anyone that implies that you can’t take good photos with a point and shoot. Just take pictures. Take lots of pictures and look at them critically. Find good photographers online or in galleries and look at their work, too. And, come learn with me. In the dizzying array of totally valid camera gear is the phone in your pocket. Don’t NOT take photos because you don’t have a camera. You probably have a perfectly awesome camera within two feet of you right now.
As a mere human, and as a photographer, I love taking photos with my phone. There are a million moments where beauty happens and I don’t have my gear. There are a million moments when I want to catch a second of time to keep, but all I have is my phone in my jeans pocket. I’ve got two kids in a parking lot and arms full of groceries…for instance. Or we are at the pool and I’ve tossed my phone in my bag in case I need to call an ambulance because of a badly executed cannonball…for instance. Life is happening all around me at a dizzying pace. It is so dizzying that at the end of the day, I can sometimes not tell you what I did…or whether I saw anything lovely…or whether my kids learned something new. And, I take so many pictures of food, that sometimes I am exhausted of the “process” and I just want something to be easy and instant. And, as I mentioned, I am thoroughly addicted to technology and social media. Enter Instagram.
Instagram is an application (an “app”) that you download from the Apple App Store. It is free. You “follow” and you have “followers.” This might just be your immediate family and it might be 1000 strangers. Much like status updates on Facebook, you can post photos of whatever floats your boat at that particular moment. Your friends and family can see that you just dropped an egg on the floor, or that your baby, in just that brilliant moment, pulled up onto her feet for the very first time. You didn’t have an expensive camera around and you didn’t have a point and shoot, but your phone was right there. Click. You got it…and so did Aunt Betty and Grandma Carol or whoever else is in on the game. Or you can post the photo directly to Facebook or Twitter.
I took photos with my phone pre-Instagram, but Instagram caused me to want them to be pretty before I shared them. That led me to all of the photo editing iPhone apps. You have likely heard of a few of them: Hipstamatic, PhotoToaster, Snapseed, PS Express (as in Photoshop) and my all-time personal favorite Camera+. Camera+ has lighting adjustments, clarity adjustments, image rotation, cropping, borders and pages of lovely effects. You can save to Facebook, Twitter or Flickr, or you can save the image to your camera roll and then load it on Instagram or other programs. Everyone has their favorite, Camera+ is mine. Some people don’t know that you don’t have to take photos using Instagram. You can take photos with the regular iPhone camera, edit in whichever app you like, save to your camera roll, and then upload the edited photo to Instagram. and even if you never join Instagram, you will want to get to know these editing apps…more fun than a barrel of monkeys.
There are also several neat apps which allow you to make mulit-photo frames for your pictures such as Frametastic. You choose how many photos you want to upload and in what configuration, and then just tap them in. It is fun to play with.
Finally, now that I’ve turned pictures that used to be rather bleak into pretty images that I want to keep and use, I have fallen in love with an app called PostalPix. You upload your photos straight from the phone to the app, pay, and receive the printed photos a few days later. I have put rolls of corkboard all over my office and my walls are now filled with these photos. I love them. I have pictures of birds, butterflies, the sky, the kids, bubbles, bridges and leaves. PostalPix prints in small squares and really large squares so that you can turn your Instagram or other phone photos into wall art.
Now, this technology, this fun and cheap technology, has people everywhere churning out really beautiful little images. They are very “in the moment” and full of living. Some are awful, sure. Some people do ridiculous things with their cameras. But, it has also made photography and really interesting photo effects available to the masses. Download some of these apps and play around a little. They are very inexpensive (once you have signed away your life for the phone, that is) and you can delete anything you do not love.
If you are like me, there is not a lot of time for organized, formal education. I’ve got to grab a few bits of wisdom in the carpool line, or after my kids have gone to bed. If you are willing to part with some money, check out Creative Live. I am slowly working my way through a multi-day class given by one of my photography heroes, and fellow Texan, Penny De Los Santos. There are a number of other wonderful-sounding classes too. I’d like to take several of them. But, I found Creative Live to find Penny’s class, and I was glad that I did.
For other creative digital education you might also check into Lynda.com. This one has a subscription rate which allows you to take as many courses as you like. Their topics cover many of the basics of photography but also the software that is exciting, too, such as photoshop. Plus you can then go a step further and take classes on web design or other design software. If you have pockets of time, you might really enjoy it.
And then there is the FREE stuff. There are hundreds of websites and tutorials on Youtube that will teach you about all sorts of photography issues. Go to google and type in “how to take photos in low light” and see what I mean. You will have to sort through some garbage of course, but there are a lot of really credible professionals who are passionate about their craft and willing to share what they know. Also, google, “famous artists and photographers to follow on Instagram” and you can find lists of artists and photographers to follow and learn by watching what they do and how they see the world.
I also have to give a lot of credit to Ree Drummond, The Pioneer Woman, who has some wonderful tutorials and posts about photography on her website, not to mention free Photoshop actions that you can download to your computer. She fosters a lot of creative energy on her ranch and her website is worth checking out for the photography tips alone, particularly if you are a novice and find the techno-jargon intimidating. It is an extremely non-intimidating way to learn much about taking photographs, and there is food nearby, too.
And finally, if you have quality gear…keep the manuals handy.
That is enough for now, don’t you agree? But, I’d love to hear about your favorite photography apps. I’ve only covered the iPhone here but if you want to suggest any apps that I have not, or apps for other mobile devices, I’d love to hear about them and I’m sure everyone else would, too. We can all learn together. I’d also like to know if you ever even use your camera phone. I hope you do…or I hope I’ve talked you into trying it.
Follow me on Instagram: themeaningofpie
Also see my “not all food” favorite photos on www.kellyyandell.com