Equipment for photographing in a pizzeria

Packing the right gear is for me the last stage of a process where I try and understand the least I can use to get the look that I want.

In the pizzeria I wanted to achieve a good backlight effect. I had tried, without success, with a smaller and sturdier beauty dish, but eventually settled for my largest softbox, an Elinchrom Rotalux 90×

The best lighting for pizza

Pizza is food so, traditionally, benefits from (moderate) backlighting. Pizza is also large and flat: a large(r) and flat light source was my choice. The Elinchrom Rotalux 90x110cm softbox, placed about 30cm above the pizza, slightly angled, was large enough that I could use its “tail” like some sort of moderate backlight. A small reflector carved out of cardboard provided an almost invisibile

Warm, soft light for food, with one light source

I would not call a 90x110cm Elinchrom softbox “portable”, however I set for myself the limit of one light source or when I want to shoot food outside of my studio, and albeit I tried and get the results that I wanted with a beauty-dish reflector (smaller and sturdier), I decided I would not settle for less than my biggie.

However, since I still need something to fill up the shadows a bit, I prepared some foam board.

Inside the softbox I used the golden reflector for warm light. In order to achieve some colour contrast and fill the shadows with cooler light, I prepared my foam core boards with some blue paper stuck on it. I also added some aluminium for extra reflection.

My softbox was placed hanging above the food, slightly inclined, so that most of the lighting surface would be “behind” the food, and lower.

In the end, this is what I got (Fujifilm X-T1, Fujinon XF 35/1.4 @ f/7.1):

Morning light for food

My aim here was to re-create a bright morning light and illuminate with it some food objects. Not very happy with the composition but the subject was hastily arranged to test the light, of which I am rather satisfied.
At my right I used a double-baffled softbox with neutral light (translucent internal reflector, powered at 1.0). At my left, behind the table, I used a beauty dish with a golden reflector (powered at 2.9).

The set, with Elinchrom stuff, photographed more or less from where I was with the camera

Things to note:

  • I did not get a soft light but, rather, something more similar to direct sunlight. In fact I used a reflector as main light. A softbox would yield a rather different mood.
  • Typically food is lit with a backlight. My light was behind the subject, but not directly behind.
  • The softbox that I used as a fill: I prefer keeping it rather low, in order to fill also those shadows that fall below the plate’s border, if visibile.

About the warm look that I wanted to achieve: I used a golden reflector inside the beauty dish, however that alone would not achieve the intended look. In fact, if I simply wanted everything tinted in yellow, I could have easily done this “in post”, digitally, by simply keying in a different overall colour temperature. However, my intention was to give a warm look to  the main light only, exactly to simulate direct sun, that normally enters a room which also is illuminated, perhaps through other windows, by the sky and therefore with bluer/whiter light. This is why I kept the shadows cooler, using a fill-in softbox with neutrally coloured light.

Headshot portrait in “chiaroscuro” style

“Chiaroscuro,” light and dark. The light usually comes at some expense (I used one Elinchrom strobe), the dark is very cheap.

For a simple portrait I wanted a simple lighting scheme: one black cloth backdrop, about 1m behind Vincenzo, and one light, at my right, quite close to him, but not too close
The most difficult part, the make-or-break aspect of the portrait, was the exact placement of the light: I wanted Vincenzo’s face lit better and more than his shoulder, so I moved the strobe until I was pleased. I made sure that the strobe was close (in order to enhance the chiaroscuro effect) to his face but not too much to his shoulder, where the light mostly arrived “feathered”, that is from the transtion light/dark.

I took two portraits because I wanted a soft one and a harder one. I used, respectively, a gridded softbox and a gridded beauty-dish.

On my left, there was a white wall, at about 2m, that provided a really minimal fill for the shadows.

Here a used a gridded beauty-dish
Here I used a gridded softbox

Strobes in continuos-light mode for shallow-focus effect

Studio strobes can be used in continuos light mode with their modelling lamp, which obviously give a lower light output than the flashes. Besides videos, this mode can be used in combination of large lens apertures in order to have a shallow focus. Unfortunately, it usually happens (but it depends on the strobe model) that whilst the minimum setting for flash gives too much light (and hence a smaller aperture should be used), the maximum that the modelling lamps can output is not enough for relatively fast shutter speeds, even considering that a portrait ought to be… still in most cases.
I experimented a very soft light, pointing two large softboxes towards a white wall and placing the model (myself in this case) in front of a lightly coloured paper backdrop. The light investing my face was coming from the white wall, uniformly illuminated, windowed somehow by the softboxes themselves. This can be seen in the reflection in my eyes, where at the centre of the white wall the tripod-mounted camera can be seen.

The portrait, lightly edited
The two softboxes pointing at the white wall which in turns illuminates the model
The reflection in my eye

I used a Fujifilm X-T1 with the 35mm at f/1.4 and a shutter speed of 1/6s at ISO 200. Of the two Elinchrom strobes, I only used the modelling lamps at their maximum output, although all diffusing baffles were in place so the light output was greatly reduced. Perhaps the biggest drawback of this scheme is the lack of contrast given by the virtual absence of the black pupil, which gets the reflected light.

Cup stuck inside a mug: how (not) to free it

quite a problem: a coffee cup stuck into a tea mug! They are perfectly matching in shape

I do not want to advocate it is the best solution – I don’t even go as far as saying it is a solution at all. But, when all else failed, this is what I did and it worked.

It worked twice, even, because I was so dumb to let them get stuck twice, in two separate occasions. It worked where hot water and ice, WD-40 and oil did not.

I thought I had lost them so I decided to sacrifice one – the inner one, I decided. I wanted to break it (free). I took a burin and a mallet, I placed the steel tip onto the coffee cup stuck inside the tea mug, and I hit. I expected a crash and a crack but I simply dislodged the cup and after a few manoeuvres I freed it.

So, perhaps there was a reason I liked so much these cups: I could see they were well made and they wonderfully survived a hard hit that would break most cups.

When all else fail, try this.

Making toys for your own pet

Satisfaction and economy are two reasons that come to my mind to justify why I tried and make toys for my Dafne, the English Bulldog. Dogs love ropes (shoe laces as well) and although several toys that you can buy, ready-made, already resemble or incorporate a cord in the design, a real cord gives you the chance of designing the shape you wish and save some money.

You need:

  1. a nice cord
  2. cable ties

You need the cable ties to limit the fraying that your cute pet will cause to the cord ends. As with all pet toys, you should check that there are no bits about to become loose that your ferocious little beast might swallow. You need the cable ties also to shape the cord the way you want.

You may wish to select a different diameter for your cord, to suit the teeth of your little beast.

Parmigiano come premietto per l’addestramento del mio bulldog

This three-months old female bulldog is enjoying the sunshine

“Del maiale non si butta via niente”… nemmeno del parmigiano reggiano! Non che sia l’unico modo per utilizzare la crosta, ma sicuramente è quello che preferisco io: farne piccoli premi per addestramento della mia piccola bulldog!

A crust…
…first sliced…
…then chopped!

All the photos were shot with an iPhone SE and edited in Snapseed.

Trousers’ pockets, or how bad design can propagate

There is an almost universal consensus about the QWERTY keyboard: the reasons behind its choice and evolution would not be today’s most logical ones. Nobody would design a computer keyboard like this. It is an example of design evolution where not necessarily the fittest element propagates forward in time.

The QWERTY is just one example of poor choice in terms of design of everyday’s objects; I would like to vent about another one: trousers pockets. Since I am a photographer, I will try and shut up and let the images speak.

Sitting on a chair with the rear trousers pocket uncomfortably full, bulging out of the body shape. Why not using trousers with pockets alongside the legs?
Sitting on a chair with the rear trousers pocket uncomfortably full, bulging out of the body shape. Why not using trousers with pockets alongside the legs?
Multi-pockets trousers can be worn comfortably even with lots of content, because bulging pockets do not interfere with a correct seat on the chair
Multi-pockets trousers can be worn comfortably even with lots of content, because bulging pockets do not interfere with a correct seat on the chair

Horrible, isn’t it? Why on earth would anybody put something behind their butt when a much more comfortable position is possible and obvious? If the QWERTY keyboard was designed to slow down typists and avoid key jamming, I would almost suggest that rear pockets were designed to keep people stand.