Making A Mini Studio

As you've probably noticed, I've been posting a lot of food photos lately. It turns out that if you want a food photo that's nicer than your typical Instagram shot you'll need to put some thought into it. I made one attempt at a food shot by just winging it and the photo was horrible. So I had to put some more thought into it.  

I've been a longtime listener of the This Week In Photo podcast and one of the regular contributors is the very talented food photographer Nicole S. Young, so I bought her book.  Her book is full of great tips and ideas, but also assumes that the reader has a tabletop to work with, I clearly don't. So what I had to do was take her setup ideas and adapt them to the tiny truck.

When selecting the gear to shoot with I had to make several compromises. First off, I still have to be able to get the shot, otherwise this whole process is pointless.

Next up, the gear has to be small enough to store it out of the way. We don't have much storage space and every little bit counts.

And last, it still has to be fairly small when setup. Karen has to be able to cook with the entire thing setup. She needs far more room to work with than I do if we want the food to look and taste great. 

So follow along in the captions as I setup the mini studio. Sometimes I make small changes, but the general idea is the same for each shoot.

This is the space I have to work with. It's dark and the quality of the light is poor so I setup the camera to block out all of the interior light and rely on my flashes.

This is the space I have to work with. It's dark and the quality of the light is poor so I setup the camera to block out all of the interior light and rely on my flashes.

The first thing I do is create my big back light. This light simulates the beautiful indirect sunlight you would normally get from a north facing kitchen or dining room window. I use a LumoPro LP160 flash mounted to a Cactus V5 radio trigger hanging from a tiny GorilaPod that I close into the top of the passenger window. I face the flash to to window and prop this chunk of white foam core art board in there to bounce the light back into the truck.  By setting the flash at its widest zoom setting and bouncing back into the truck I'm making the light source appear bigger and softer.  

The first thing I do is create my big back light. This light simulates the beautiful indirect sunlight you would normally get from a north facing kitchen or dining room window.

I use a LumoPro LP160 flash mounted to a Cactus V5 radio trigger hanging from a tiny GorilaPod that I close into the top of the passenger window. I face the flash to to window and prop this chunk of white foam core art board in there to bounce the light back into the truck. 

By setting the flash at its widest zoom setting and bouncing back into the truck I'm making the light source appear bigger and softer.  

I picked up this folding 5-in-1 reflector/diffuser on sale for $44 last summer. I wedge it between the seat and door. The light from the flash bounces around between it and the foam core board. As you can see, it creates a giant soft back light using nearly no space in the truck.  If I had the room to setup reflectors around the food then this one light would be enough. But since my space is so small I need to add another light.  

I picked up this folding 5-in-1 reflector/diffuser on sale for $44 last summer. I wedge it between the seat and door. The light from the flash bounces around between it and the foam core board. As you can see, it creates a giant soft back light using nearly no space in the truck. 

If I had the room to setup reflectors around the food then this one light would be enough. But since my space is so small I need to add another light.  

To fly this umbrella over the seat I use a Manfrorto Super Clap and Magic Arm. The clamp attaches to the lip on an open storage space and I use a second LumoPro flash and Cactus to trigger it. The shoot through umbrella is the bi-fold unit found in the Strobist kits at Midwest Photo Exchange. These umbrellas are cheap to replace and fold up really small for storage and portability.  

To fly this umbrella over the seat I use a Manfrorto Super Clap and Magic Arm. The clamp attaches to the lip on an open storage space and I use a second LumoPro flash and Cactus to trigger it. The shoot through umbrella is the bi-fold unit found in the Strobist kits at Midwest Photo Exchange. These umbrellas are cheap to replace and fold up really small for storage and portability.  

Here I set a cutting board on the seat to use as my working surface. You can see that the light is significantly better than when I started.  

Here I set a cutting board on the seat to use as my working surface. You can see that the light is significantly better than when I started.  

Here I setup a couple more reflectors on the sides. I use these to help gather my light and fill in the shadows. The reflectors are just cheap foam core art board that you can buy for a few dollars a sheet at any Walmart, Fred Meyer or art and crafts store.  At this point I also grab a random object and use it as a test model while to set my exposure with. In this example I'm using salsa given to me by a friend. My settings are set in manual mode and typically fall around ISO 100, f/8 @1/200th with daylight white balance and "standard" picture style. The flashes usually land around 1/16 to 1/64 power. I use the histogram and "blinkies" as my exposure guides, getting it as bright as I can without overexposing it. 

Here I setup a couple more reflectors on the sides. I use these to help gather my light and fill in the shadows. The reflectors are just cheap foam core art board that you can buy for a few dollars a sheet at any Walmart, Fred Meyer or art and crafts store. 

At this point I also grab a random object and use it as a test model while to set my exposure with. In this example I'm using salsa given to me by a friend.

My settings are set in manual mode and typically fall around ISO 100, f/8 @1/200th with daylight white balance and "standard" picture style. The flashes usually land around 1/16 to 1/64 power. I use the histogram and "blinkies" as my exposure guides, getting it as bright as I can without overexposing it. 

As you can see here, this setup creates some wonderful soft light that totally wraps around the subject. There are nice, evenly lit, highlights and you can still see the texture.  

As you can see here, this setup creates some wonderful soft light that totally wraps around the subject. There are nice, evenly lit, highlights and you can still see the texture.  

To mix things up some I have a selection of inexpensive pieces of cloth to lay down and use as a tablecloth. I try to find complimentary colors or a pleasing pattern.  

To mix things up some I have a selection of inexpensive pieces of cloth to lay down and use as a tablecloth. I try to find complimentary colors or a pleasing pattern.  

You can see here that a simple piece of material can change the look and feel of the photo quite a bit.  

You can see here that a simple piece of material can change the look and feel of the photo quite a bit.  

So there you have it, a fairly basic and easy to setup studio for the truck. I'm sure that as time goes by I'll come up with some creative ideas to mix thing up a bit. 

New Photo: A Bowl of Noodles

It's kinda funny, I never thought I'd have a nice picture of a bowl of uncooked noodles, but that's exactly what I have. So how does that happen?

When testing new light set ups I need a test subject so I just grab something nearby that is a similarly size to what my real subject is. In this case it was a bowl of noodles that had been set aside. When I was do e I just happened to have a nice photo of a bowl of noodles. Go figure!

 

New Photo: A Play Stump

Dotted throughout the woods at my parents cabin are these stumps from the old forest, from when it was logged. This is one that my sisters and I used to play on when we were kids.  It is hollow and the opening was big enough that two of us kids could fit in it at one. The small section of rope we used to raise and lower ourselves with is still there, though I wouldn't dare use it today.

New Photo: The Dock Blues

Water can be a difficult thing to capture in a photo, especially the cold murky water of the northwest. Do you keep it realistic? Go for the surreal? Try to walk that fine line? Freeze the movement? Blur the movement? How do you put it in context?

New Photo: A Little Red Flower

While at my parents cabin I noticed these little red flowers at the end of the driveway, the neighbor lady planted them. The surrounding area was rocks and other ground level wild bushes, not great in a photo.

So to eliminate the background I would have to use the method taught by Arthur Morris: Use a big birding lens and get real close. This causes the background to melt into the lovely sea of creamy green you see here.

New Photo: Making a Meal of it

 

Part of shooting food on the truck is learning how to setup for the shoot. How am I going to make the most of what little space I have? How do I light it? And most importantly, how am I going to make it not look like I'm in a truck?

This was one of my early test shots. Karen was setting up to cook so I grabbed the food and started playing around. The first shots were ok, but this later shot is my favorite from the experiment.

Even better than this photo, was eating the meal! These are the ingredients that went into the Thanksgiving meal featured a couple weeks ago. 

 

Small Places, Happy Faces

 

"Won't you get tired of each other?"

That is one of the first questions people ask us when they learn we are living in a truck together. In the last two months we have spent all but one day with each other, side by side, talking, driving, cooking, sleeping and so on. If these last two months are any indication, then no, we won't be getting tired of each other any time soon.

"How long have you been married"

This is the next most common question people ask us. I just lie and say six months and move the conversation on. Apparently, the majority of people still think we are living in sin if I tell the truth, so it's become much easier to just answer this way.

Living in the truck together has created some of its own challenges. Right now, storage is our biggest problem. All of our storage bins are nearly full, and that's after creating a ton of new space that the truck didn't come with. We added cabinets to the top bunk, drawers inside of the factory cabinets and a storage bin on the catwalk. Even with all the new space, we still have food trying to attack us from all angles.

On a photography related note, I had to cut WAY back on the gear I keep on the truck. Karen wants me to bring it all, but there just isn't room for it. The bulk of what I left in storage is lighting gear, the modified body and Minolta lenses. I have ordered a few new items to make photographing food in the truck much easier though. Soon I'll write a post about some of the techniques I'm using to get good photos in the truck.

Karen has done a wonderful job of adapting to cooking in the truck. I gotta give her a ton of credit, the food appears and tastes as though it was cooked in a full kitchen. She is blogging about learning to adapt and the great meals she is able to cook on the truck. You can find her blog by looking in any of my recent food related posts.

Now that we are settling into our new lifestyle, I'll be getting back into the routine of blogging weekly. We have already had a ton of adventures that will make for some fun stories. 

New Photo: Tomato

I have a small soft box that attaches to my one TTL flash. I rarely have a shiny object to shoot so I took this opportunity to grab a knife and setup a quick shot. Managing reflections in a shiny object is very difficult, but with a little practice, it can look pretty nice.