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Experimenting with new lights and a little more styling

I've had a food blog off an on since 2009, called Improbable Pantry.  I've always struggled with the food styling piece, and sometimes taking the time to get the lighting right.  The blog is always a meal I've prepared, and I want to get it on the table.  I don't like fiddling with the details where to place the napkin, etc.  And I don't want to take over the kitchen with photo gear and lights. 

Unfortunately, natural light from windows rarely works for me.  By the time dinner is ready, it's getting too dark.  I do have one sliding glass door in my kitchen I could use, but that involves sliding a table over to it, which can be disruptive. 

So, I tend to use artificial lights.  I've had a Lowell Ego panel light with daylight color compact fluorescent bulbs that have worked well for me for years.  The problem with this is that it needs a power cord, and it's heavy and bulky so I need to mount it on a tripod.  I can stash it in the corner and set up a kitchen studio, but being in the corner, and don't get much in the way of being able to see the background.  I've migrated towards shooting from overhead straight down, but that can get boring pretty quickly.  See the picture in this post.

After watching the course, I thought I'd make an effort to the food styling, putting in a few elements such as salt/pepper shakers, some silverware, a napkin, and a little dish with the spices I used.  I set up in the dining room instead of the living room, so that I had some chance for an interesting background and could shoot from an angle.  I played with different angles as well.

I also modified my Lowel Ego light.  I removed the heavy flourescent fixtures (which take a while to warm up to full illumination) and put in instead a battery-operated LED light:  a Neewer CN-160.  This was a lot less intrusive, and the lighting wasn't too bad.  Here's the setup, with a coroplast reflector (that comes with the Ego):

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The bright idea I had this time was that when the meal was simmering and not needing my attention, I set up the lighting and the "extras" so that I wouldn't have to rush at the end.  Here's the test shot with a few leaves of beet greens I thinned from the garden:

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I liked that patch of green at the top that was a reflection from the window, but by the time the meal was ready, the sun had dimmed and it wasn't much there.

My first attempt at "from the side" shooting came out pretty well, but I realized I should probably put the chicken front and center.  I wasn't excited about the harsh shadow on the right of the food either:

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Next, I tried an overhead shot, making sure to include the spices, etc.  Still the shadow....I think I need to raise the light source a little bit higher.

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Finally, another shot from an angle, this time with the chicken a little more in front.  I probably should've put some more table settings down on the end of the table, or something to fill that space. 

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That was it for the other night.  For next time, I think I'll:

  • Raise the light source a little bit to see if that reduces the shadows.
  • Install a new light source inside the Ego.  I just ordered some battery powered LED light strings from Amazon.  I'm hoping I can put these inside to get more coverage inside the diffuser.  If that works, it'll make my light MUCH more portable.  Fingers crossed.

  Question for Will and Phil and other class participants -- any suggestions for lighting and setup given the constraints I've described?

Thanks!

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