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Leaf Diet – a Photographic Case Study

leaf-diet.jpgIn this post Norwegian Joakim Tangstad from Strobe Blog Flash Frog has put together a fantastic case study post talking us how he took the shot pictured to the right.

Inspired by those delicious high-key food photos, I wanted to do something similar. I did shoot a dessert photo a couple of months ago, but this time I wanted to get both exposure and crop right in-camera instead of relying too much on Photoshop.

Getting the idea

I wanted a red-green contrast (must be my favorite) and since I had just finished the leaf shot for the dPS assignment, I started thinking about weight-loss food photos. These are shot in a pretty delicate way, but when you study what’s actually laying on the plate, you can’t believe that you’ll ever become full.

The setup

Our kitchen has some white tiles, making it and ideal background. I had to cover the bench with a white tablecloth. I filled a wineglass with red syrup. My wife wouldn’t be very happy if I had opened a new bottle of wine for this. I arranged the set and placed the leaves on the plate.

I was uncertain how to light this. In cases like this I’ve found it’s best to set up an translucent umbrella on camera left or right, pointing down at the subject at a 45 degree angle, just like standard portrait lighting.

I did a test shot and it turned out to work great. I got no ugly shadows or specular reflections. I probably didn’t have to use any reflectors since the entire setup was covered in white, filling the light where ever it was needed.

Exposure settings

To avoid too much post-processing, I wanted to get completely white surfaces while nothing was overexposed. Since almost everything in the arrangement was white, this was very easy using the histogram on the camera. I just had to increase the flash output power until the high peak curve moved as far to right as possible. The caption below is from Photoshop showing the histogram of the one of the correctly exposed untouched RAW files, which was how it appeared on the camera.

I also wanted a shallow depth of field, so I chose a wide aperture. These are the final exposure settings:

Flash: 1/16 power, 24mm zoom
Exposure: 1/200 sec, f/2.8, ISO 200
Lens: Nikkor 50mm f/1.8D AF
Camera: Nikon D300

Shooting and processing

I tried different angles and found that a slightly tilted camera worked the best. Including the fork was also important. There were a lot of bright blending surfaces so I wanted to leave some anchor points so that the scene is instantly recognizable.

Out of 10 photos, this photo was the one I was most pleased with (straight-out-of-the-camera RAW file):

After some basic adjustment in Adobe Camera Raw (whitebalance, constrast and exposure), I imported the file to Photoshop. Here I only adjustet the colors some, so that the wine became more red and the leaves got greener and brightened the photo.

The result

Leaf Diet

Leaf Diet


There are some reflections in the glass, that can be a little distracting. Maybe a strip light in addition would make the glass look a better. I should also have moved the glass further away from the plate to get it more blurry and/or used a wider aperture and focused on the leaf closest to the camera instead of the other one.

I would definitely not eat this, since the leaves are taken from a house plant. So I guess it’s a diet no matter how you look at it.

See more of Joakims work at Flash Frog.

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Darren Rowse
Darren Rowse

is the editor and founder of Digital Photography School and SnapnDeals.

He lives in Melbourne Australia and is also the editor of the ProBlogger Blog Tips. Follow him on Instagram, on Twitter at @digitalPS or on Google+.

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