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:
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.