Interesting Composite Food Cover Shoot

We just completed an interesting Restaurant Guide cover shot for a Greek Restaurant.  It had several issues to overcome.  First was timing; through a snafu in scheduling, we got the go ahead late, running into several scheduling conflicts and finally were able to shoot but on the same day the files had to be on the way to the printers.  Plus the magazine had just redesigned their cover layout.  So we were hoping for a simple shot that would require minimal post processing.

Yeah, good luck with that… Let’s see how that works out, shall we?

When we arrived first thing in the morning, the owner could not have been nicer or more helpful … a pleasant surprise from some recent interactions… and since we had to shoot and process as quickly as possible, there was no time for multiple set-ups, so with input from the owner we agreed on a single shoot plan for two dishes that was to use a painting of Santorini hanging on their wall as the background.  Sounds simple, eh… just like we hoped for, eh?

Well not so fast bucko…

To accomplish it we set up the camera behind the bar which gave us a great surface of blue tile and the height we needed but no working distance.  And there was no way to line up with the painting.  And the chef brought three dishes in long platters not the mix of rectangle and round plates we had agreed on and planned for, and at the last moment in our crowded little space he wanted us to add two bottles of Greek beer to the shot.

Why not…???  And, after all, the owner was really nice and helpful.  Cynthia got some sprigs of parsley and stuff from the owner and had her work cut out for her dealing with the now crowded set.  I had down some rough lighting and camera position planning based on the sample platters the owner provided.  That was now completely tossed out the window and watching the new array of items going into position made it clear the original and hoped for simple shoot was little more than a fond memory.

So… after re-thinking the shoot it became obvious that we had two options; in order to use our common style of atmospheric lighting there were two options.  We could light it for one shot with about 6 tightly controlled instruments… or plan it as a multi-shot composite.  Since we only had 4 lights and barely room for three and none for modifiers, the composite approach started to look better and better.

So here is the sequence of images.  The first is the base shot of food on the bar.  In the background is Cynthia using our really high end camera to record the event.  Having her in the field of view is no problem since the entire background will have to be replaced and the painting dropped in as a separate shot.

Base shot for composite.  Shot with Canon 5D Mk III and 24-70mm at 24mm.

Base shot for composite.  Shot with Canon 5D Mk III and 24-70mm at 24mm and processed using Photoshop CC.  You can see the painting to be used for the background against the wall.  The wide angle lens, mandated by the lack of working room behind the bar, made it small in the background not to mention the keystoning distortion of the angled view.  Note too the slope of the back adge of the bar that will have to also be straightened.  There remains some distortion that could not reasonably be taken out given the time constraints for retouching.

The background was dropped out and replaced with black in the edit and the back edge of the bar was straightened. During the shoot once the food was shot, the bottles of beer were then set in place and lit with a light behind and some front fill.  This could not be done during the main shoot since the bar was too narrow to hold a properly placed reflector and the size of our lights created a flare when lit from behind the bottles.  So they were put in place, relit, then trimmed out of their own shot and blended into the base shot.  This was easy since the camera was locked down and the bottles were shot in the set — only the lighting changed.  So now they slip in nicely.

Stage 2 shows the bottles trimmed out of their own shot and blended into the base shot.

Stage 2 shows the bottles trimmed out of their relit shot and blended into the base shot.  The background was now turned black to make it easy to select for the final assembly.

Now that the food and bottles were captured, we turned the lights around to light up the painting and took it straight on to avoid any distortion or keystone effect.  That shot was placed on a layer beneath the food/bottle shot ab0ve, the black selected and erased revealing the painting as if it were right behind the bar top and food.

The black "background is selected and erased to reveal the shot of the painting.

The black “background is selected and erased to reveal the shot of the painting.

Now that all of the parts were assembled,  the assembly is then edited using normal procedures to enhance the shot as if it had been taken as a single capture.  A vignette is created for inserting the title on top and accomodate the bottom copy which is usually “reversed” type.  The background painting is darkened so the food will exist in a pool of light and not get lost in the simmilar colors of the painting.   The layers were then flattened and some final burning and dodging to enhance texture and form completed the edit and here is the final image ready for the graphic artist.

The final edited file ready to send to the publisher's graphic artist for dropping in the necessary copy then off to the printer.

The final edited file ready to send to the publisher’s graphic artist for dropping in the necessary copy then off to the printer.

So that is all there is to it.  From the first “cold view” of the space to on-line delivery was about 5 hrs of work (plus travel and a lunch break).

Time for a cold one…





About ndking

Commercial Photographer and Professor of Photography at San Diego City College
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