Godiva Chocolate Truffles

February 20th, 2014

As I have something of a sweet tooth, the most difficult part of this shoot was not eating the truffles before I photographed them! Below is the rest of the back story about this shoot.

I was going for a sophistocated and rich look. I knew the moment I opened my prop closet that the small shimmering gold plate was the one to use for the "environmental portrait." For the candy cups, the best I could find on short notice were white lined gold cups. I knew that the white interiors would be too prominent and contrasty for the golden look I wanted to achieve, so I got out some acrylic paint, mixed up a soothing brown and toned down the white. For the truffles in the box in the background, I placed a couple of layers of foam core hidden from view to bring the truffles up to just the right height so that they would be visible in the box from the angle from which I was shooting. The original concept did not include the shimmering backdrop. Inspiration struck though, when I saw a roll of gold mesh amid all of my props. The resulting subtle lens flare adds another layer of drama. I used the same mesh as the base for the second set up. For those of you who are into lighting, I triple diffused a Dynalite head that was my main light with a piece of Rosco Frost on the flash head in a Westcot softbox placed behind a big sheet of mylar. My fill was a big piece of white foam core and I added bits of highlights here and there with small white cards and a tiny mirror or two. Most of my work in post production was about perfecting the chocolate by eliminating the tiny defects in the chocolate's surface. It was akin to smoothing someone's skin in a portrait — love Photoshop's spot healing brush tool!

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A Real Estate Photography Success Story

February 1st, 2012

Late last fall, the parents of one of my childhood friends with whom I grew up in a lovely neighborhood in Rutland, Vt., gave me a call about shooting their house. Like many homes on the market today, their's had been languishing with very few people  coming to take a look. Both the homeowners and the realtor thought it was priced right, but the homeowners, Dr. & Mrs. R., thought the realtor's photos were let's just say, not doing the house justice. 

 

Although built in 1959, the house has contemporary lines on the exterior and  a modern, open design on the interior. Years back, to add storage space for the small galley kitchen with a beautiful slate countertop, Dr. & Mrs. R. had added a spacious and now well stocked pantry. The casual ambiance of the open main floor that houses the kitchen, dining area and the "great room" is counterpoint to the formally appointed living room a few steps up from the main floor. 

 

Mrs. R. directed me to the realtor's website to check out the existing photos. I was not surprised at the lack of photographic quality, but I was at the lack of staging and the indecipherable shot of the kitchen and missing shot of the pantry. 

 

Prepping a home for a real estate shoot is similar to what one does for a magazine, an architect or a builder. Take the kitchen for example. For those of us who cook a lot or have a family, all of that "essential" stuff on the counters like coffee makers, knife holders, food processors, mail, the kid's artwork and schedules haphazardly placed on the fridge door…. we couldn't live comfortably without it all, but for a photo shoot, most has to be tucked away, clutter gone from the countertops, the dog's dishes removed from the floor. 

 

Over the phone, I talked with Mrs. R. about prepping, staging and styling on shoot day and how bringing in my lighting would create a pleasing effect in the photographs. We discussed what rooms to shoot, the schedule and my plan on how to get a good front facade shot and emphasis the architectural lines. She was thrilled about everything, but told me not to get too carried away with styling. 

 

Below are some of the shots from my shoot paired with what was originally shot for that room by the realtor. Did I want to do a bit more staging and styling especially in the pantry, like remove some of the contents and really neaten up all of the shelves? You bet, but for me a shoot is about what will do the best job for and fulfilling the needs of that particular client while being cost and time effective. It's not about my artistic vanity.

 

In the end, Dr. & Mrs. were very, very happy with the photographs and here's the best part – they sold the house! 

 

This is the realtor's solitary shot of the kitchen. That big white spot on the cabinet is the reflection from the flash sitting on top of the realtor's camera.

 

 

With the help of Dr. & Mrs. R., I "decluttered"the kitchen. Introducing off camera lighting provided even lighting without any "hot spots". I chose to take the shot from an angle that would highlight the now visible slate eat-in kitchen counter and accentuate the kitchen's length.

 

 

Here's my second shot that shows the open floor plan from the dining area to the kitchen. Note the open door leading to the pantry in the upper left side of the frame.

 

 

This is my photograph of the pantry. The realtor never took one of this space even though the lack of storage space in the kitchen was a big concern to him.

 

 

This is the realtor's shot of one of the bedrooms. The room looks pretty unappealing. 

 

 

Here's my photograph of the same bedroom. I moved the floor fan out and a small bureau into it's spot. I set up one light at camera left as my main light and another hidden from view to the left of the bureau as a fill light. Both were balanced with the ambient window light. I liked the airy and more expansive look of the sheers parted and the windows opened. 

 

 

Above is the realtor's first view of the formal living room.

 

 

In my first photograph of the formal living room, I set up three lights. One as the main light and two others to fill in the darker areas in the room. You can now see that the "white objects" on the back wall are actually elegant wall sconces. 

 

 

This is the realtor's second shot of the living room with light blasting through the windows. 

 

 

Here in my photograph you see a balance between the light coming through the sheers and the rest of the room. Although the vantage point of the realtor's shot and mine are similar, I felt that it was very important to show that the windows span the entire back wall.

 

In my next post, I'll share with you some photographs and behind the scenes info from one of my magazine assignments. 'Till then…

Welcome to my photography blog

December 22nd, 2011

Welcome to the launch of my redesigned and expanded website, which now includes my brand new blog. Thank you to my colleagues and friends for all their valuable comments, many of which are reflected in the new design, and to my web designer, who steered me through the process.

 

And now, down to business—your business. No matter what business you are in, a website that shows your product off in the very best light is critical to your marketing. More than likely your website is your potential client's first stop when he or she is choosing an architect, a builder, an interior designer, vacation accommodations, a restaurant…. Great photography on your website can clinch that sale, poor photography can make a good product look bad. There's too much competition out there to have mediocre, unprofessional photography in any of your marketing, be it electronic or print.

 

Let's take the hospitality industry as an example. Here's the scenario: your potential customers are planning a February vacation at a ski resort. They've picked out the location and now they are looking for a place to stay. They google "inns, b & b's, resorts, Jackson Hole, WY, Stowe, VT," or wherever, and click on a link for a website that features accommodations in that locale. A list pops up with small photographs, a brief description of each place, and a link to their individual websites. Out of the places that pop up on page one, only a few have a photograph showing that inn or resort in the winter—the others all have pictures shot in the summer. Your potential clients make a mental note of those welcoming "winter" places first, picking out a small group that all look good and are in their price range.

 

They go to one of your competitor's websites first, probably the one with that inviting winter shot. Wow! The first thing they see is the opening montage of gorgeous photographs. There is a large, close-up shot looking across a beautiful comforter on a sleigh bed to a window seat with a view of snow covered mountains, an evening shot of the inn taken from the entry gates, which are decorated with garlands wrapped with strings of holiday lights and then a tight shot of an elegantly set table in a dining room that is softly lit.

 

Next, these future guests click on the individual room pages and like what they see there as well. There are pictures of cozy, smaller rooms, uncluttered and inviting and larger beautifully appointed suites. They glimpse a soaking tub surrounded by glowing candles in the adjoining bath. Clicking on the Dining button, they see a photograph of two places set for a breakfast of waffles with fresh fruit, orange juice, and coffee. It looks yummy. There are even photographs of guests cross country skiing and others with guests enjoying the inn in other seasons. This place is really looking good for their winter holiday and maybe a summer one too. After this impressive photo tour, your potential clients are considering springing for one of the more expensive rooms at this inn.

 

Now they go to your website for a comparison. You have been in your competitor's inn and you know that you two offer the same amenities, your rooms and prices are comparable, you have a great chef (maybe it's you!), and you have better views from many of your rooms. You hired a company this past year to revamp your website, but you skimped on the photography. On your home page, your potential clients find one small opening shot that shows your place in the summer. They click on the Rooms page and see all wide-angle photos with distorted perspectives and a peculiar yellow color to them. In a few, the view through the windows is visible, but the rooms look very dark, and your potential guests can't make out much of the furniture. In others photos, no view is visible through the windows and the windows and all of the lamps look glaringly bright, but the room details are visible…all of them: including the electrical cords, outlets, trash cans, the old style television, the a.c. in the window, the alarm clock, the telephone. Those things remind your potential guests of deadlines and the mundane, instead of a relaxing vacation. In place of a roaring fire in the dining room fireplace, the potential guests see just a flicker and the breakfast in your one closeup shot doesn't look at all appetizing. The wonderful ambience and intimacy of your place is totally lacking in the photography. No matter how great your website features are, it’s the photographs that will draw in your guests and yours are not. Your inn looks ho-hum at best and not worth the money. You do not get the booking. So what is wrong and how can your marketing photographs get your potential clients to actually sign your guest register?

 

Great photography is about composition, lighting, styling, equipment, digital post production and most importantly a photographer who knows how to use all of them for the subject at hand. Architectural and food photography is very specialized and not all photographers are trained. Want those close up, magazine style shots of the cookies you serve at afternoon tea? I'll shoot those with my Nikon 105 macro lens so I can get close to my subject and have them almost fill the frame. I'll style the scene checking the placement of plate, cookies, napkin, glass… so it looks perfect for the camera's eye and the resulting photograph. I'll adjust my depth of field to bring the cookies into sharp focus, but pleasantly blur the background. My final photograph may look like it was illuminated with just soft, natural light, but I've actually set up in your dining room, a strobe light fitted with a grid set low and on one side and bounced in a bit of fill from a small reflector on the other. That low directional lighting will illuminate and bring out all of the delicious detail, texture and depth in the cookies and the plating. In each room, I'll find the most intriguing angles, remove the extraneous, supplement and enhance the natural light with my lighting, style and prop. I'll use a variety of camera lenses for varied and appealing effect. And if you want to check in during the shoot, you can see it all on my 17" Mac laptop as I go.

 

In coming posts, I'll talk more about my techniques and walk you through some new and recent projects. Please be in touch…..