Food Photography and Depth of Field

Photographing food and sharing meals and recipes through pictures has taken off over the last few years. Depth of field, is something to consider when composing your food shots. Do you want a whole plate of food and surrounding dishes in focus or just one item on the plate, or a bite? The answer will be your guide to choosing the aperture value.

pineapple, orange, apple and persimmon

F/16

pineapple, orange, apple and persimmon

F/3.2

When the food is on the same focal plane the choice isn’t as critical, as is exhibited in the two examples above. But change your angle of view a bit, creating more distance between you and the items being photographed, and there is a marked difference.

pineapple, orange, apple and persimmon

F/16

pineapple, orange, apple and persimmon

F/3.2

As you can see, the second photo taken at a wider aperture has a smaller area of focus, the pineapple, and the other fruit is out of focus. Using the wider aperture puts the emphasis on the pineapple rather than the entire grouping of fruit.

Use a wider aperture when the goal is focusing on a specific area in a photo.

pineapple, orange, apple and persimmon

F/2.2

At f/2.2 the orange can be singled out for highlighting or the apple.

pineapple, orange, apple and persimmon

F/2.2

To achieve focus throughout, a smaller aperture is best.

pineapple, orange, apple and persimmon

F/16

The greater distance between the items being photographed, the more exaggerated the effect will be.

pineapple, orange, apple and persimmon

F/11

At f/11, most of the food is in focus whereas at f/2.8, the pineapple surface is the focal point and the rest of the fruit fades out of focus.

pineapple, orange, apple and persimmon

F/2.8

   Taking an overhead shot puts the food on an even field,

pineapple, orange, apple and persimmon


F/13

except when the food is differing heights, as with these pieces of fruit. If achieving focus throughout is your desire, use a smaller aperture. With an aperture of f/13 most of the food is in focus as well as the pineapple top, the tallest item.

In photography, the settings you choose will help you realize your artistic vision; with food photography, there’s nothing like a little playing with your food for honing that vision.

Lots of good food for playing with at this time of year!

~ Susan

Gifts

Chester and I set out on the trail this morning, a day that is cold enough for a sweatshirt, but not scarf or gloves. The December California sun is bright, yet low in the sky. It’s a beacon, a headlamp I walk toward with sure strides even though its light blinds.

DSCN3478

Go toward the light, I say aloud and giggle because I’m so serious and so kidding at the same time.  I’ve been praying hard – for my students, so many of whom write so eloquently about being sad or lost; for my friends who’ve lost loved ones and face a new kind of emptiness this season; and for those strangers I might touch with my writing or teaching in ways I won’t ever know.

Maybe it’s the light, or the drawing near end of the year, but I feel a taunting melancholy and longing for something I can’t quite put my finger on.  I wonder how to hold the fullness of this day and season, how to share this expansive blue, the thrilling sound of twittering bushtits hidden in the scrub oaks that raise a grand chorus as we pass. What am I supposed to do with all this beauty I ask the sky.

Chester thinks I’m speaking to him, turns his head, cocks his ears, then crashes through the sage to chase a roadrunner. Right, I think. You’re simply one anonymous creature among the myriad in the canyon today.There’s nothing to do but be here.

The trail winds past a row of California pepper trees with weeping branches laden with reddish pink Christmas berries.  As I walk past the grove, a little too close, one slender green wispy branch slides its gentle finger from my cheek to my neck and I feel I’ve been caressed as if by a mother, touched by nature as if to say what am I supposed to do with all this beauty here? Goosebumps rise on my arms.

I laugh again, accept the touch, accept the sky, the birdsong, the quiet crunch of loose dried mud under my shoes and Chester’s soft nudge against my thigh when I call him toward the homeward path.

Isn’t this what the season is about: not only giving gifts, but openly receiving? I think, if we are attentive, we can fill the quiet spaces with appreciation and acknowledgement of all the gifts we’ve experienced this year. The unexpected visit. Daisies left on the front porch. Goulash dinner and homemade bread for no reason other than longtime friendship. Tilt your head skyward and be attentive. You might feel the caress of gratitude from others upon our cheek at the most unexpected moment.

~Catherine

How Shallow is your Field?

angel tree topperThe halls are being decked, the tannenbaum’s lovely branches are becoming adorned with lights, beads and ornaments and the spicy aroma of molasses crinkles cookies baking in the oven is filling the house. The perfect time to grab the camera and capture some of the details. This week we are exploring shallow depth of field.  A shallow depth of field will be achieved by using a large aperture which is represented by the smaller f-stop numbers. Using an 85mm f/1.8 lens and opening the aperture to its widest or almost widest, is my method of focusing on a specific area or item in a scene.

_MG_2653With the aperture open to f/2.8 I can focus solely on the mug and blur the books or…

_MG_2655focus on a portion of the books only and everything else will blur. If you want to isolate your subject from the other elements in the photo this is an excellent method. Shutting down the aperture to f/8 will allow you to achieve focus in most of your scene.

_MG_2659At f/1.8, the focus is on the top book and cider inside the mug;_MG_2662 at f/7.1, all the items on the tabletop are in focus.

_MG_2661  A shallower depth of field can be used to isolate ornaments on the tree.

_MG_2666

_MG_2668Also, using a large aperture enables focusing on one item in a group.

_MG_2671Which depth of field is used is based on what you are trying to communicate in your photo. With people gathering to celebrate at this time of year, there are many opportunities for experimenting.

~ Susan

The Weekend Dish-Christmas Quiz

You know that golden moment we dream each holiday will hold? The one where we’ll pause for one beat, inhale the scent of cinnamon and cloves, look around in candle glow at the family gathered around, listen to laughter and stories, and say this, yes this is what Christmas spirit feels like.
079I know this feeling is something that doesn’t come in a box from the mall and yet, like a hamster on a wheel, at some moment in December I find myself wandering from shop to shop wondering what the people I care most about want or need.

It was after one of these seemingly futile ramblings that I developed the Christmas quiz, a short fill-in-the blank opportunity for the entire family to reflect on gifts of the year while also offering glimpses into what might be treasured under the tree.  I tried to cover multiple topics – learning opportunities, gifts of time, ways to have fun, needed or desired things, ways to make memories and guidance on how to make another feel loved.  These lists guide me, not only as a shopping list, but as a way of discovering how to spend special time together in the coming year.

      The Christmas Quiz

I only wish I could learn to…
I wish I had time to…
A long-term fun goal for me is…
If I had one whole week off I would…
The best Christmas present you ever gave me was…
If I could have one new item of technology it would be…
If I could have one new item of clothing it would be…
If I could have one new toy it would be…
If I could have one new item of self-care it would be…
If I could have one new thing for the house it would be…
My favorite date this year was…
I would feel very loved if you…

My family teased me at first and wondered why we couldn’t just exchange lists like “normal people.” But after the first year, we looked forward to taking a moment to really reflect, not only on the many things that we dream of, but the many ways we do gift each other in ordinary time.

I wish I’d saved these lists from year to year. If I had it to do all over again, I would.  I recently discovered those dated December, 2004 and I’m amused and amazed at how these quizzes offer a snapshot and time capsule.  What was important once, still threads through the things we like best.

When my son was 17, he wrote that he felt very loved when “you keep providing me with food.” My daughter treasured Disneyland trips as her favorite date, and J wished he could “learn to play the piano.” Funny thing is, nine years later, I still show my son love by cooking when he’s home, still know that my daughter’s favorite dates are to the Magic Kingdom, still remember the year I gave J piano lessons because he plays the piano – quite well – all the time now.

You want to know one more funny thing? In 2004 I wrote, “If I could have one new toy it would be an art easel.”

This year, I again asked for an art easel, thinking it was some random new tangent, me wanting a space to create images as well as word play. I’d entirely forgotten my previous desire, but they say if you write something down, set a desire as your intention, that eventually it will work its way into being.

Some times repeat gifts – of time, love, and attention – are perfectly fine. In 2004, my daughter wrote, “I would feel very loved if you do the same things you always do.” So I guess once again I’ll pull out the Christmas quiz. Want to join me this year?

~Catherine

O Come, All Ye Fearful

This may sound like a story of faith, but mostly it’s about mistrust and fear.  Not the kind of fear big enough to scream over, more the slow-moving variety that makes me squeeze my soul and lips tight like the clasp on a granny’s purse until I don’t recognize me anymore.

To the beginning, 16 days before Christmas.

IMG_0340

I pull into my driveway.  It’s raining. Night. No one is home.  No light is on.

I have a trunk load of groceries.  Four and a half minutes separate my ranking as either good mom or bad.  I lose if I’m late to pick up my daughter from ballet class across town.

A rustling on the wall that divides my home from my neighbor’s startles me as I open the trunk.

“Hey!” says a young man, jumping out of the shadows.  He hops over the wall and drops two feet from my toes.

“Hey,” he repeats as if maybe I didn’t hear him, see him, already have time to wonder what he’s doing materializing from the storm like this at 8:30 at night. He talks fast.

“I’m not looking for charity, see, I’m just trying to make a better life for myself, see, all’s I’ve got to do is sell magazines, get to 15,000 points and I’ve earned my way, see, I only need 300 more points and your neighbor, Ron, he just asked me in for cinnamon rolls and bought a magazine and all I need is 300 more points and I’ve earned my way do you want to buy some magazines?  Say, is that McDonald’s in there?   Something sure smells good for dinner.  Did you go to McDonald’s?”

He pauses for air, flashes big, clean white teeth at me.

I lean in, trying to smell cinnamon on his breath.  I search for crumbs or icing smudges on his lips.  He’s dressed in a well-knit sweater, navy blue pants, heavy boots.  He has that wide, wide smile.

I turn away.  Walk up the steps to the porch, to the shelter.  It’s still dark. He follows.

I never buy anything from doorway solicitors I prepare to tell him.  I already have six subscriptions to magazines I don’t read.  They were bought from my children as school fund-raisers.

The children.  It’s a good thing they’re not here to see their mother so foolish as to lead a man who jumped out of the night onto the porch. I pause, keys clutched in my hand, ready to use as a weapon.

“Sure, I’ll help you out,” I say.

This startles both of us.

He smiles again.  I see no cinnamon streaks.  I look into his deep brown eyes and catch a straight gaze.

“Here, let me just give you $20,” I say, glancing down at my purse.  I am not following those eyes into any sort of trust.

“Oh no ma’am,” he says, shaking his head.  “They won’t let us take money.  No cash.  You have to buy a magazine subscription.  You can pay by check.  Boy, that food smells good.”

I blink.  I’ve already leapt off my cliff of prudence, talking to this man alone on the porch in the dark and now I’m feeling guilty because I’m not giving him my dinner and I don’t want to give him a check.  There’s a lot of information on a check.  My name.  Phone number.  Address.  Signature.

My credit information was stolen once.  Some lady was charging up jewelry at JC Penney and televisions and calling herself me.  I didn’t find out until I went to buy a new house and discovered my credit report was marred with dozens of delinquent accounts for tens of thousands of dollars.  The police traced the theft to a ring of credit pirates working at a car dealership where I’d written a check as down payment.  It took two years to clear my name.

No, I can’t give this stranger a check. Tomorrow I’ll start to be a more trusting person.

“Let me see what magazines you’ve got,” I say, surprising us both again.  He replies with that wide smile, all teeth.  I wonder if it’s the good fortune of not being turned away, or the thrill of having duped me.

I open the front door and turn on the porch light.  We stand like moths, hovering in the circle of light, not in, not out.

“I am really late now,” I say, flipping through a phone book size listing of magazines and prices all written in tiny script. I say I’m in a hurry because I have to pick up my daughter and then he asks where she is and I imagine he’s gauging how long I’ll be gone so he can steal all the presents piled under the tree.

“Man, your neighbor, Ron sure is nice.  Man, those cinnamon rolls were sure good,” he says rubbing his navy blue sweater with his big hand.  Grinning.  Again, I lean closer trying to smell cinnamon.  I size him up.  Me versus him.  I’m not sure who would win.

I try to pretend he’s the Messiah and I’m the old innkeeper who would like to invite him in this time to prove that 2,000 years have brought changes, that my faith is bigger than my fear. I can’t do it.  I tell myself it’s because I don’t have time.  What I don’t have is faith in strangers.

I order Catholic Digest, partly because it’s the cheapest magazine, but mostly it’s my personal challenge to God. You’ve given me faith to trust a stranger now don’t let me down.

I get a yellow receipt.  The stranger gets my signature, address, phone number, bank account.

I lock the door, leave the porch light on and roar out the driveway, windshield wipers flapping.  I slow to wave goodbye to this stranger, to get one more good look at him.  He’s gone.  Not in my yard.  Not on the porch next door.  Not across the street.

I think about calling Ron and asking him about those cinnamon rolls. I think about calling the police. I veto any action that involves telling a soul how foolish I was.

My bank statement shows the check cashed on December 24.

I wait.

Then one ordinary day, Baby Jesus arrives in my mailbox disguised as a magazine. Tucked between bulky campaign literature and my new Crate & Barrel catalog is the January issue of Catholic Digest.  I don’t think I’ve made a mistake with this selection because it has a nativity scene on the front even though the cover says January. The lasting gift.  I see this as a private joke and chuckle.

“What’s so funny?” my daughter and son wonder, pawing through the pile of mail.

I tell them how I was just thinking that the world is mostly a beautiful place and they better remember that always.

Two days later, the February and March issues arrive together.  I suppose that too is some sort of private joke.  Make no mistake now, they seem to say, you are caught up on promises made by strangers.

I suppose that means it’s my move again.

treeWith an eye toward the light of the season,
~Catherine

p.s. This story, in a slightly different version, first appeared in Los Angeles Times Magazine, Dec. 3, 2000.

Searching the Depths

“I can’t believe it’s December! Where has the year gone?” These phrases are uttered often at this time of year.  Personally, I can’t believe we have arrived at our last month of focusing on a photographic term. It seems like only last week we were compiling the list, challenging ourselves to concentrate on one subject a month. Wrapping up this photographic term-of-the-month year will be a closer look into depth of field.

Depth of field refers to the range of distance in an image where objects appear acceptably sharp. Sometimes, a photographer chooses to keep most of an image sharp which is known as deep depth of field. Other times, just a small part of the photo is kept sharp, thus emphasizing the subject by separating it from the background and foreground by making them blurry or indistinct, this is known as shallow depth of field.

DSC_0244One of the main methods of controlling the depth of field is the aperture. The aperture is the opening in the lens which lets light in and can be adjusted, becoming larger or smaller. The larger the aperture, represented by a smaller f-stop number, the shallower the depth of field. This week I am contemplating deeply. Deep depth of field is achieved by using a smaller aperture, a larger f-stop number. The f-stop for the photo above of Griffith Park Observatory on the hill was f/8. In the next photo, the f-stop was 13.

_MG_9157The kite surfers are at varying distances from me yet they are all reasonably sharp.

_MG_8802An f-stop of 16 enables the water’s surface to be sharp in the photo above.

It can be beneficial to occasionally sit back, entertain deep thoughts about what you are trying to communicate with your photos and whether the use of a deep or shallow depth of field could be one of the methods of accomplishing your goal.

This week will find me out in the field,

~ Susan