Thursday, 9 October 2014

Some Thoughts on Photographing Cookies (they're a bit vague and mostly about editing)

Photographing cookies is tricky. They're nearly always flat, small, and lots of them. Often they have different designs which you want to show off so piling them up on a plate isn't going to work. And then there's the lighting and backgrounds and editing. Not to mention that you don't want cookies freshly decorated for a client lying around in the open air for hours, with the knowledge that you need to get on with the next batch very soon.

So tempting to lay them all out on a piece of plain paper take a quick snap, so you can get them packaged up, delivered and on to the next lot.

But when you've spent hours on creating something that's intended to be destroyed, and the only record you'll be left with to show off your handiwork are photographs, it's important to get things right.

I really don't get it right nearly as often as I'd like, and I have a very long way to go up the photographic learning curve but I thought I'd share a bit about how I edited these photographs using Picmonkey, a free online editing tool (I have an old copy of Photoshop in a box somewhere, and I really need to dig it out, but for now Picmonkey will do as it's so straightforward and I don't have to learn a whole new vocabulary).

These cookies were all made with a smooth flooded base, dried and then sprayed with gold lustre. I then transferred the outline of the whole shape with a scribe tool, using the Camera Lucida Ipad app, and filled in this silhouette in white flood icing. Once that was dry I painted or drew the designs by eye, referring to the original illustrations. I used a mixture of food colour gels with water as paint, and a black food writer pen. This gave them some sharp details but minimal relief apart from the raised white 'silhouette'.

I photographed them on a small table in front of a pile of classic children's books, with a piece of wallpaper hanging from my desk in the background.

So on to the editing, using the Alice in Wonderland Playing Card as my example. This is the unedited original.

In the first menu that appears you can crop, alter basic settings like brightness and colour, and resize. I didn't need to crop this photo so I moved straight on to brightening  it. As I increased the brightness, I altered both the contrast and shadow to keep the picture sharp and clear.

Once I've done this I often find I need to reduce the colour saturation just a little bit to keep the balance right. So I move on to the colour settings to do both this and check the white balance by clicking on the 'neutral picker' and selecting something white in the photo to click on (the card's body). This tells the programme what's supposed to be white and it alters the whole photo to correct for this.

Now I have a nice, bright, colourful photo, but it's not quite 'vintage' enough for this theme. I want something old, out of an old nursery with faded books...

In the 'Effects' menu I selected 'dusk'. This gives a vintage overtone with increasing shadowing into the edges of a circle. You can alter how strong this effect is with the fade button. I often find that I need to brighten up the photograph up again a little aftewards if I want quite a strong 'dusk' colouring.

But now the cookie looks very faded. And a little unappetising... With this photograph I wanted the background to fade and recede, but to keep the cookie bright and clear. It's easy, if fiddly, to do this. Using the 'paint' box window that pops up in this setting, I maximised the size and strength of the brush, and left the 'hardness' a little fuzzy around the edges (fuzziness helps to hide errors!) and simply painted out the area of the cookie.

To make it easier to see, I reduced the 'fade' button to zero, to make the dusk effect really strong, then I could see what I was doing while I painted. Here you can see I've 'wiped off' the dusk effect over about half the cookie.

Finally I readjusted the 'fade' button to make the dusk effect a little less strong.

My next challenge is to get to grips with photoshop, and have a go at editing RAW files, the thought of which really makes me just want to go and lie down for a bit.