How to take these photos.
July 16, 2011 3:06 AM   Subscribe

How does one take photos like these?

Many of the images on this blog have a very specific look. Same here. It seems a fairly ubiquitous look on many blogs of a rural, back-to-basics, food loving nature. Soft, shallow depth of field, warm fuzziness, strong colours etc. How does one take photos like that? Advice on camera, lens, setttings, photoshop techniques etc used would be welcome.
posted by R.Stornoway to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (15 answers total) 38 users marked this as a favorite
Looks like a little bit of a contrast boost and a little bit of desaturation with a little bit of a brightness boost to bring out shadow detail (thus the more visible digital grain).
posted by tmt at 4:03 AM on July 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Shallow depth of field is from a wide open aperture, f1.4-f2.8 area. If you have an aperture priority mode on your camera, use that. If you have an exposure compensation setting available with the aperture priority, set it to +.5 to start. If you're shooting digital, just experiment - take a few at +.5 with one aperture, then +1, then switch up a fstop.

You can use an exif viewer such as to see what settings a photo was taken at (unless the photographer intentionally removed such information). Exif will generally capture the camera settings a photo was taken with, such as shutter speed, aperture, ISO, etc. I don't see it on the pictures here, so maybe the blogger stripped it out.

If your camera supports shoot in RAW instead of JPG to make color corrections more easily. You can then use software like Aperture or Lightroom to edit your RAW files, but the latest Photoshop Elements will also work.

I'm assuming you're shooting with a SLR here - if you have a point and shoot, you're unlikely to get images with this clarity. That's largely a function of how good your lens is. If you have a SLR, get a f 2.2ish 50mm prime lens, which will get you pretty far in terms of nice clarity and a good aperture without being super crazy expensive.
posted by lyra4 at 4:07 AM on July 16, 2011 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I think there's a few things going on. Absolutely the shallow depth of field mentioned above. Some of them look like they were taken with a macro lens with a wide aperture. Possibly used (carefully) a tilt-shift lens, or a Lensbaby. You can also 'cheat' and get some background blur by masking the subject in Photoshop and applying a heavy gaussian blur to the background. Much of the 'soft' look, though, is due to the quality of the soft window lighting. The shadows are probably lightened with a diffused flash or simply by boosting the lower end of the town curve (or the Fill Light slider in Lightroom).

As for the processing, they are a bit grainy - looks like digital noise from using a high ISO, but I suppose it could be a simulated film grain, it's hard to tell as the jpg's aren't the highest quality.

The color looks like a cool (blue) white balance with a split tone application. Actually, I just checked, and this look is very close to the Lightroom 3 preset Color CP 2 (which appears to be increased local contrast with a split-tone treatment).

Since the pictures are all so uniform, my bet is on the Lightroom preset.
posted by jhs at 5:22 AM on July 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

(The following is nothing but educated guessing). For jpegs, I would be thinking something like...

On the camera:

Aperture: somewhere between f2.8 and f4 on most of those.
Exposure compensation: maybe -1 to -2
Colourspace: probably "bright" or "muted"
White balance: "daylight" or "cloudy" - even if your picture is in the shade. (That's why a lot of those pictures in your first example are blue-ish, even on white teatowels etc).
ISO: As always, low as you can go!

On the computer:

tmt is on the right track with desaturation, but that's not actually what's happened here, I don't think. The photos from your first link (imho) have a bit of selective desaturation going on - both from a composition standpoint (i.e. taking certain colours out of your mise-en-scene), and from a software perspective (desaturating a particular channel, e.g. red in the first two examples, blue with the raspberries etc.).

If you have a DSLR an couple of hours experimenting will help get you there. Make sure they're the right couple of hours; don't shoot in the middle of the day. Most of those outdoor photos were taken in the morning or at dusk. :)

FWIW, some people claim that Sigma lenses have a slightly bluish colour cast (at least, compared to the pentax lenses I shoot with). It's certainly true in my opinion that pentax tends towards more ochre/reds, but the careful composition and post-processing will eliminate all but minor differences in my opinion.
posted by smoke at 5:27 AM on July 16, 2011

Don't discount the value of combining images to create a mood or style — most of the pictures from your second link are not particularly interesting in themselves, beside a shallow DOF and some colour cast & vignetting / gradual filters, but they work well together with repeating compositions and motifs.

Working with fairly large light sources might be a key to getting that flattisch look of some of them — experiment with differently sized and reflectors perhaps?

The images on the first link are all over the place; except for many small details, what would you say they have in common?
posted by monocultured at 5:48 AM on July 16, 2011

• Low contrast -- might be increasing "fill light" slider (which tends to add noise)
• Slight desaturation or selective desaturation (might be lowering the "vibrance" slider)
• Color cast / tint / subtle split tone effect
• Vignette effect
• A bit of grain added
• Shallow depth of field
• Directional diffused lighting
• Looks to be a "normal" lens, 35mm-50mm
posted by starman at 6:26 AM on July 16, 2011

Use natural light or soft fill. Use a large aperture lens on a DSLR that can give you shallow depth of field (like a fast 50mm). In processing, maintain or boost contrast and brightness (levels) while reducing saturation. No more to it than that. It's a fashionable look at the moment.
posted by normy at 8:10 AM on July 16, 2011

I can't speak to the software approaches described above, but definitely the wide-open aperture to get that really short depth of field.

No one's mentioned a good sense of composition and lighting, though. The guy seems to be good at finding or building nice compositions in the viewfinder, and he's good at working with his light sources (at least in many of the shots from the first link). A decent eye for texture, too.

Those things are just a matter of practise.

Also I suspect, as has been mentioned, that the effect of arranging the different pics beside each other like that adds something.
posted by TangoCharlie at 9:30 AM on July 16, 2011

I'm seeing the awkward bokeh, low contrast, and cropped field-of-view characteristic of old lenses adapted to digital bodies. That would be my guess.

Here is a Flickr pool called "C-Mount on Micro 4/3," where you'll find similar examples. Look for the ones that clearly haven't been "auto toned" in Lightroom.
posted by tapesonthefloor at 9:49 AM on July 16, 2011

The guy in your blog link uses film, at least sometimes, according to his flickr. So the film grain may be real.

The vignetting and the low-fi look of some of these might be done in-camera with the right kind of camera (see lomography) or a lensbaby.
posted by DarkForest at 9:50 AM on July 16, 2011

Best answer: Yeah, a great deal of his images are film. For instance, all of the images in the post "Summer so far..." are film. Photos in "The 4th..." are digital.

According to EXIF, the photographer's digital rig is a Canon 50D, and the most frequent lens he uses is the 50mm f/1.4 -- he shoots it wide open at 1.4 a great deal of time, usually in manual mode. The inside shots are usually around 400 to 800 ISO. As for film, he's using an Epson WorkForce to scan the images in.

Like lyra4 mentioned, you can view EXIF info on files for clues on what's going on. The Firefox add-on I use is FxIF.
posted by Hankins at 10:58 AM on July 16, 2011

huh. it appears they are all shot on film.

There's a chance they could be shot on Fuji Tungsten balanced film. I can't remember the product #, but that could give them that blue tone.

There's a lot of soft lighting, probably window light. He may be bouncing light back with a big white card in some of them, because the shadows are not super contrasty.

Medium low f-stop but I don't think these are wide open at all.
posted by sully75 at 11:03 AM on July 16, 2011

I can even go so far to say that the photographer is using color negative film (as opposed to transparency) because there are a few small white specks on the photos (they would be black if it was positive film) and I saw some cloning where a hair or something was on the scanner bed and it was removed in photoshop.

Looks like some post processing to boost saturation though.

You don't say what sort of camera you have.. but you should get a normal lens with a fast aperture for your camera.
posted by j03 at 11:37 AM on July 16, 2011

A lot of photos like that are largely the result of judicious application of canned Photoshop actions.
posted by ErikaB at 8:22 PM on July 16, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks all, lots to go on here, appreciate each answer!
posted by R.Stornoway at 7:12 AM on July 26, 2011

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