Chilled eggplant with polka-dot cucumber at Kajitsu
Chilled eggplant with polka-dot cucumber at Kajitsu

I was finding some shortcomings in the photos I had been taking for the restaurant reviews in the NY Times (don’t tell my editor, OK?) so I revised my methods and gear a bit for a recent assignment, to shoot Kajitsu, a Japanese Buddhist vegetarian restaurant in Murray Hill. (Fair warning: this post may be of more interest to obsessive gearheads than to most others.)

First the issues: I wasn’t getting as much depth of field as I wanted in the plates, and I was not entirely happy with the lighting. The cures were simple, had a bonus advantage or two, and, unlike many cures for photographic problems, only involved a small expenditure. (Links for gear are to several suppliers I use. I have no financial interest in any of these suppliers, and earn no fees if you buy through them.)

I solved the depth of field issue by moving up to a tripod instead of a monopod. This allowed for the longer exposures required for smaller apertures. As a bonus, my Manfrotto 055X has a column that will go from vertical to horizontal, so it allowed me to shoot from directly above the plates, a real advantage in shooting Japanese cuisine, where the design is critical to the presentation. (And if you don’t think that’s true, you haven’t heard a restaurant manager tell you which side of the plate is meant to face the diner. Nor have you waited for 3 minutes while he rearranged the chopsticks and their rest several times. But I digress.)

I was having two issues with the lighting. I’d been mounting s small panel LED on a Gorillapod, which gave me a nice backlight, but I couldn’t get it up very high. And if I held it in one hand for the shots of the plates, I had a hard time doing that at the same time as managing the camera and monopod. So I brought along a lightweight light stand and adjustable shoe mount, which solved the backlight problem. I also got a double-headed Nasty Clamp to hold the bounce card. Great piece of gear, despite the name: clamps even to a thick tabletop at one end, and the smaller clamp at the other end holds the reflector while the arm is bendable in 3 dimensions. Here’s the setup, with Tough Spun over the light, a silver bounce card in the jaws of the Nasty Clamp, and no camera on the tripod:

Set up for an editorial restaurant shoot
Set up for an editorial restaurant shoot

The downside to all this is that the tripod and light stand adds to the weight and bulk of the gear. But the photos are better, and I don’t have to take insurance shots in the event the monopod isn’t all that steady.

Here are the images from Kajitsu the Times ran, and my select photos from Kajitsu.

Entrance to Kajitsu
Entrance to Kajitsu

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