Thursday, August 30, 2012

Gilded Otter, New Paltz, NY

Three Pines IPA
The best way to describe the Gilded Otter is to have you imagine what would happen if you built a brewpub around your brew tanks (clean shiny ones) so that no matter where you are, you can see the tanks. The concept works well here as on one side of the tanks is a large, warm bar and the other two sides are dining are. They have a second floor, more of a loft, looking down on the tanks. While it does have elements of what I call 'early modern brewpub' it is very tastefully done with plenty of wood and windows overlooking the Gunks. Oh, and some nice photographs and artwork as well.

Fried cheese curds
We went with another couple on a Thursday evening and it wasn't as crowded as the weekends. We were brought menus and asked what we wanted to drink. I ordered the beer special of the day, the IPA and my friend Dan got a blueberry beer. The IPA was good with a fresh clean taste, but I would have liked it a bit hoppier. I did have another. The blueberry beer, not my thing, had blueberries floating in it.
We decided on two appetizers to share, the calamari and the fried cheese curds. Both were good and both came with two sauces. I was tempted to get the mussels but I'll try them the next time.
Dan had the Jambalaya and I decided on the Brewmaster burger with blue cheese and bacon. My burger was good, but nothing spectacular. The fries however were excellent. Teresa and Kathy both ordered the fish and chips, a large cod loin on a bed of fries. I took a taste and they were crisp on the outside, yet moist and tender on the inside.
Fish and chips
Overall I was fairly impressed with the beer, the food and the service. 

Monday, August 27, 2012

Temptations Everyday Gourmet, Porters Neck, Wilmington, NC

Temptations Everyday Gourmet has two locations. One is on Oleander, near the Mall, and the other is in Porter's Neck. We went to the one in Porter's Neck. Inside it is a cute place with a whole wall of wine to choose from, tables and an exposed kitchen. We were seated and looked over the menus (I already knew what I wanted as we picked up a menu one night passing by).

Rachel ordered the chicken pot pie, shown on top, which was more of a thick chicken soup with a pastry puff on top. It was good, but a bit heavy on the rosemary. Teresa got a chicken salad and a bowl of onion soup. I ordered the Pimento burger with onion soup as my side. 

The Pimento burger I got was really good, one of the best in the Wilmington area. The pimento was plentiful and wonderful. The only thing missing was a strip or two of bacon, and I probably could have added it. I ordered it cooked medium and that's exactly how it came, a perfect medium. The onion soup was delicious. 

We finished it off with a classic creme broulee. The portion was just right for the three of us to share after a filling lunch. 

Overall, good food at reasonable prices (all of this was about $44 including three coffees), excellent service and a warm atmosphere. I'd recommend you try them.

Temptations Everyday Gourmet on Urbanspoon

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Food Photography tip #5- Get close

Get up close and personal with the food

This one was taken with a little Kodak P&S camera set at automatic. There was plenty of light but I used the flash anyway for color balance. I like to go in tight and fill the frame with the food. A macro lens helps, but I find the 35mm f/1.8 does a nice job with a close focus of less than a foot.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Food Photography Tips 2,3,4

Photo Tips Continued

# 2- Look at food photos

Sounds like a no-brainer, but it really is the best way to learn food photography. Look through food magazines, look at food ads, look at food blogs and you will see some good examples of proper photos, and what is in style. You will also see some really crappy pictures, especially on food blogs. When I go to a fast food restaurant I look at the menu photos and try to figure out how they were shot, and how I would do it differently.

You can look at the different styles of food photography and try to emulate, or improve. Many food photographers have different styles and they are all good, well most of them anyway.

#3- Shoot Fast

Food has a rather short window while it looks good. If you pre-plan it shouldn’t take more than two or three minutes to get a few good pictures of the dish, so this shouldn’t be a problem, and the food will still be hot enough to eat when you’re done. That’s a side bonus.

There is one trick I will share involving doctoring food. If you paint a small amount of olive oil on meats, especially sausages, it makes them look juicier. I say olive oil because the meat will still be edible. Don’t use anything on the food you wouldn’t eat.

#4- Be a Minimalist

Simple is better and the fewer things you have in the photo, the better. Too much can be distracting. Take a look at the beer picture below. I took it using available light. Note how the light is coming through the glass of Ruination IPA and you can see that you are in a bar, even though the background is blurred out. By the way, the drops of condensation on the table were a happy accident. 

The bread basket below was done in available light and I like the simplicity of the picture. The white of the linens, the glow of the basket and the warm look of the bread with a hint of dark in the upper right hand corner.

The Grouper photo shows a bit more background, but not much more. 

A little clutter can work sometimes too. This photo is busier, but I like the color balance.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Rx Restaurant, Wilmington, NC

I got a recommendation for this place from two people I trust and I was told they were doing a remix on a classic Carolina burger, they even sent me a picture. Of course I was down with that, and on my way. My first attempt to visit found the restaurant closed at noon so I left and went elsewhere. My second attempt went better and we found them open at half past five. 

Once inside I could see that someone spent a fair piece of change setting this place up. Ceramic floors, painted walls with artwork, wooden tables, each of which had a different design, and a nice wooden bar create a trendy, hip, warm atmosphere. We were seated and given menus. 

Now when I looked at the menu I saw no burgers of any kind, it was a simple menu featuring seafood, steaks, vegetable dishes and such. We asked our waiter Jason, who by the way was excellent, and he said they have a bar menu after the 10:00 which included that burger. I didn't really want to sit around for four hours so I looked closer at the menu.

I ordered the North Carolina shrimp, grits, tomatoes, bacon and corn (shrimp 'n grits) at $18.00 and added a side of mac and cheese for $5.00. Teresa got the chef's choice vegetable plate (chef decides on what goes on it at that time) for $14.00 and added a side of kale for $5.00. All of the dishes were quite good. The mac and cheese was cheesy enough and the shrimp dish was tasty. I like the fact that they removed the tails from the shrimp so I didn't have to get sauce all over my fingers as I ate. Nice touch.

Overall it was good. Service excellent, ambiance warm and trendy, food good, prices okay. Worth a visit, but I want that darn burger.

Food Photography Tips- Available light

Use available light when you can.

Photo above taken with a Nikon D3000 with 18-55mm lens set at 52mm. ISO 400, 1/160th at f/6.3 using available light. The backlighting gives a halo effect to the burger. I took this picture with the window behind the burger and I think it gives an ethereal halo effect. The trick is not to let the light wash out the picture. I metered on the meat and this allowed the rest of the picture to almost wash out.

Flash is nice, and it is often needed when the room is dark or there is some funky lighting in the room, but using natural light is usually better.

Often this will mean using a wide aperture to allow in enough light. Doing this creates a shallow depth of field and can make the photo interesting, like the one above. 

Most high-end food photographers usually work with several studio lights to create exactly the effect they want. I even know one guy who painted all of the walls, the floor and the ceiling of his studio flat black so he’d have total control of the lighting. Most of you who are reading this aren’t about to go out and spend over a grand on studio lights, and spend the year or so on the learning curve to figure out how to use them so we’ll concentrate on using the light we are given.

Notice the difference between the next two pictures. They are not the best ones I've taken, but they illustrate a point. The top picture was taken using fill flash and the bottom one relied on the restaurant's natural (and unnatural) light. The top one is crisper looking, but a bit harsh while the second has a softer look.

A word on flash. The light from your flash drops off with distance because the light spreads. This is called the inverse square law of light, which means that the quantity of the light is inversely proportional to the distance the light travels. So if you move the light twice the distance you get one quarter of the light. Did you ever see people at a baseball game taking flash pictures of the field? That flash has no effect beyond twenty feet. This isn’t really a problem since we are taking relatively close pictures of food, but it does affect how bright, or dark the background is. It can even change the color of the background a bit.

Food Photography tips and tricks- Part One

Techniques and tips

“Photography has no rules, it is not a sport. It is the result which counts, no matter how it is achieved.”  Bill Brandt

That quote will get quite a few people very angry. You see there are two types of photographers, the artists and the techies. The artists make great photos while the techies try to fix the mediocre photos they’ve taken. That statement probably angered some people too. 

It has been this way for as long as I remember. Want proof? Read old issues of photography magazines. I remember back in the 70’s the debates were over which developer was better, which camera had the better built-in light meter and such. In the 80’s it was which camera had the better autofocus system. Then it was about the features. Now it’s all about the electronics. Why do camera manufacturers add so many bells and whistles to cameras? There are two reasons; one, because they can and two, because they want to sell you a new camera. Photo magazines report on equipment, and gush over it, because camera manufacturers advertise in them.

Ideally the camera should become an extension of your mind, a tool to capture what you see, that’s the art, but you need to know how to make it happen. That said, I can give you a few tips and techniques that work for me, but first let’s look at a few things cameras do differently than our eyes.

The camera does not see things quite the same as your eye does. This can be a disappointment at first when you try to make an image exactly as you see it, but it can make the photograph unique. The trick is to exploit these differences, but first you have to know why things happen so you can make them happen at will.
Selective Focus- Remember that term Depth of Field? You can exploit this to create a mood by either blurring the background or showing the background.

Selective brightness- Film, and sensors, can only ‘see’ in a certain range of light while the eye can see more range.

Telephoto versus wide-angle- There is a rather interesting effect caused by the focal length used. A telephoto lens give the impression of compressing the photo making the foreground and background appear closer together while a wide-angle lens makes the foreground and background appear further apart.

Angle of view- This is how you position the camera for the photograph. 

Dragging the Shutter- Here’s a neat trick to lighten, or darken the background when using flash on a DSLR. Your camera has a maximum shutter speed when using flash. This is usually no more than 1/200th sec and the default is usually 1/60th. The reason is the shutter has to cross the sensor and anything faster than the maximum would only give a partial exposure.

There is no minimum shutter speed when using flash. Using a slower speed allows more ambient light to be recorded and gives a brighter background. Using the higher shutter speed makes the background darker. Fast enough and the background can go to black.

We'll be looking at these soon, but first let's look at using available light and decide whether to flash or not to flash.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Paddy's Hollow, Wilmington, NC

Paddy's Hollow is in the Cotton Exchange in Wilmington and we've passed by it a few times, mostly when I park at the Cotten Exchange and walk downtown. The entrance looks inviting and I've been meaning to try it for some time and today, when the place I wanted to hit didn't open until two, we decided to pop in. We being myself and two of my daughters for a father/daughter lunch.

Inside it looks a bit like an Irish bar with wood and brick and it is well lighted. Except where we were seated seemed like the only dark spot. Look at the picture below and you can see that, but it did make the background go to black even though I did drag the shutter at 1/20th.

After looking over the menu, I ordered the crab cake sandwich (shown here) for $8.99 with mac and cheese as the side. There are a few options for sides and the mac and cheese was a good choice. The crab cake was good and it was on a wheat roll that was fresh. I washed it down with a Guinness, it is an Irish place after all. I was going to go for the Po' Boy, but changed my mind.

One of my daughters got the corned beef on marble rye and I took a taste. Nice and lean. My other daughter had the cajun spiced chicken sandwich and she liked it. 

Overall a nice place and I'd go back again.

Blue Asia Bistro, Wilmington, NC

Blue Asia is a fusion place featuring sushi (they have all you can eat sushi for twenty bucks, twelve for lunch), hibachi, Chinese and Japanese at reasonable prices. The decor is upscale and clean and the people are very welcoming and friendly.

The food is good too. Not phenomenal, but good. I ordered the fried dumplings at $4.95 and the wrappers were light, the filling flavorful. Teresa got the Thai basil chicken at $12.95 and it was quite good. My entree was the Chen Du duck (shown above) at $16.95. It was okay, but I thought the duck was a bit overcooked and dry, something that happens when it is prepared too far ahead of time. The sauce was good though. 

Overall, not bad but nothing great. 

Food Photography- The Blogger

The Blogger

“Of course it’s all luck.” Henri Cartier-Bresson

The food blogger has changed the face of restaurant reviews, for the good and for the bad. Restaurant reviews used to be the domain of newspapers and magazines and the reviewer was often a pompous ass on whose words restaurants lived or died. Now anyone can be a food critic and a pompous ass.

If you are just starting to blog about food it is a good idea to have a theme. You may have noticed that most of my pictures were of burgers. That’s because I write about burgers and other simple food, that’s my niche. I have a friend who blogs about sushi, another who specializes in pizza, and another who loves fast food.

Restaurants often take the blogger more seriously than they do the newspaper because the blogger is often more honest. For the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and The Chicago Tribune that’s not the case. However in the case of the local paper or magazine they will very rarely pan the restaurant as the restaurant advertises there, or they want them to advertise there. The food blogger isn’t biased. I often post a picture I’ve taken to the restaurants Facebook page if I really liked the food and I’ve made some friends this way. Of course I never let them know who I am the first time I go there.

For the blogger, food photography is a bit different from that of the chef or home cook. Pictures have to be done quickly and usually discreetly. That means using available light if possible and no reflectors and posing. I took most of the photos in this series of articles in restaurants while doing a review.

This is where that little point and shoot is a blessing. First, you can carry it anywhere; a camera is no good sitting at home when you’re out. Second it’s fast, which means you can be discreet. Last, it can do a very good job if used properly.

But you can use a DSLR just as well. I have carried the Nikon into many a restaurant and taken pictures of the food without anyone commenting. In a city you’ll look like a tourist. I have taken pictures in hundreds of restaurants and only once did a waiter ask me why I was doing so. I simply told him the truth.

Here’s a trick, especially if you are with another person or a group. Play with the camera while you’re waiting for the food to come. Look at the images you have and pass the camera to your companion to show them. Take a picture of the person with you. This works best if you have children with you.

While you’re waiting for the food look at the lighting and decide on what mode to shoot with, you can even get an idea of the exposure too. Pre-plan your shot. Take a picture of the sugar bowl or the water glass to get an idea of the lighting.

When you are being seated ask for a window seat so you can use available light. If the available light is poor you will have to use the flash, but do so discreetly so you don’t draw attention, or bother the other diners. A neat trick is to use your cell phone or iPod as a mini flashlight. Find an ap that has a white screen and it gives of quite a bit of light. I also have a small flashlight on my keychain that does a good job.

Pass the plates and get some picture of your companion’s plates as well.

For the Blogger it really is all about luck, sometimes. But then luck is when preparation meets inspiration and with practice the photography becomes fast and automatic.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Burgers for a Buck- Burger King

Number two in the burger chain wars, Burger King has been around for a while. The location this bacon burger came from is in Castle Hayne, Wilmington, NC.

Bun- 4

Condiments- 1. The only thing on the burger was a massive amount of mayonnaise and sliced onions.

Meat- 4

Presentation- 4

Aftertaste- 5, no repeats

Overall taste- 20

Total Score- 39 of 50

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Poor Piggy's BBQ, Wilmington, NC

My friend Samantha has been singing the praises of Poor Piggy's BBQ truck for some time now and today was the day for a visit. It was boy's day and I went with my grandson and my son-in-law for lunch.

Mike got the brisket sandwich combo with slaw, baked beans and fries. My grandson had the BBQ sandwich and I ordered the BBQ plate (BBQ, slaw and fries). Total came to $24.00. I tasted Mike's and it was very good. Mine was probably some of the best BBQ I've had anywhere. Just a hint of smoke flavor, but not overpowering. 

I highly recommend that you stop by and pay them a visit.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Food Photography Made Simple For Chefs and Bloggers

Food Photography Made Simple For
Chefs and Bloggers


Chris Forman

Table of Contents

The Home Chef
The Restaurateur/Chef
The Blogger
Final Thoughts

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Food Photography- Chapter 4- Equipment


"The term accessories has come to include a host of photographic gadgets of questionable value..." Ansel Adams

Ansel Adams had a good point. Photographic equipment can get quite pricey and the camera bag can easily become a black hole that sucks in money at an alarming rate. Worse yet, you don’t really need most of the stuff you buy.

Once upon a time you went to a camera store and spoke to a knowledgeable salesman, generally one who was passionate about photography and maybe even a pro. Unfortunately most of the good smaller camera shops are gone now. If you are in a major city there are a few left, and there are some huge ones in New York. Now you’ll find cameras at larger electronics stores and if you’re lucky you can find someone working there who is quite knowledgeable. I found a man in the Best Buy in Downingtown, Pennsylvania who knows his stuff and he’s a very good photographer too.


DSLR or point and shoot?

Back in the days of film I was manager of a small, but high volume camera store and everyday people would come in wanting a camera that would do this or that. I told them that any camera in the shop would do the job; all they had to do was shot a few hundred rolls of film to get the hang of it. A few of them understood what I meant, and a few made a face and still wanted the best camera I had in the store. I was happy to sell it to them of course.

I had this theory that a simple point and shoot camera, in the hands of the right person, could do as well in most circumstances as a top of the line camera. So I bought a little Olympus and gave it a go. It worked, but I found that it took more time trying to make it do what I wanted than if I’d shot full manual with an SLR. If you know what you’re doing a simple camera works better.

Compact/Point and Shoot- I’ll start with the point and shoot camera, henceforth referred to as P&S. Actually the term point and shoot isn’t totally correct since they all have a certain amount of control and adjustments and a true point and shoot is more like a disposable camera with no settings.

The biggest advantage of the small camera is the size. You can carry it with you all of the time and you’ll always be ready to take a picture. I carry a small Nikon in my camera bag and I slip it into my pocket when we just go shopping or for a drive just in case we stop to get something to eat.

You can pick up a good camera from about a hundred bucks to four hundred. If you’re looking at the high end, I’d recommend you look at a low end DSLR.

Every camera has its strengths and weaknesses, and its own little quirks.

The biggest problem with a P&S camera is the lack of control. The DSLR gives you total control; unfortunately most people fail to exercise it.

Digital Single Lens Reflex or DSLR-

Here’s where you can rack up a serious bill on your credit card. Starting at five hundred bucks for a basic kit (camera and lens) all the way up to eight grand for the top of the line body only. Add a few lenses and flash to that and you can get a compact car for the same price.

DSLR stands for Digital Single Lens Reflex. Essentially you are looking directly through the lens when you focus and compose so what you see is what you get, for the most part anyway. The real advantage is that you can change the lens and put on a macro, a telephoto or a wide angle to suit your needs. 

Another huge advantage, to me at least, is having a regular eyepiece to look through. I find a view screen bothersome in bright light.  

So what camera is the best? All of them, it just depends on your budget and how many bells and whistles you want. Notice that I said want, not need. You really don’t need most of the features they put in a camera.

There are a few formats in DSLR cameras.

FX format- Also called full frame, the sensor is 24mm by 36mm, the size of a 35mm negative. This is the professional format and is similar in quality to what medium format is in film. Expect to pay well over a thousand dollars for a body only camera.

DX format (also called APS-C format)- The sensor is 24mm by 16mm, or 2/3 of full frame. Prices start at five hundred dollars for camera and zoom lens and go to fifteen hundred or so.

Four Thirds System by Olympus has a camera with a sensor of 17mm x 13mm.

The Nikon 1 has a sensor of 13mm x 9mm.

The smaller sensors allow for smaller cameras and lenses, however there is a drawback. The smaller sensors use smaller pixels and that means you get less sharpness and more noise. The plus side is that a medium telephoto on a smaller sensor gives higher magnification.

There’s also the issue of weight. My DSLR weighs about a pound, body only, and a top of the line camera checks in at two and a half pounds. Add a lens and flash and that’s a strain on your neck and wrists by the end of the day. So unless you are looking to do some serious professional work you might want to think small. The Nikon N1 is about a half of a pound, body only. My little pocket camera weighs under six ounces.

Lenses- The lens is the eye of your camera. This is where the DSLR shines because you can change the lens and customize your camera.

Zoom Lens- The standard lens that comes with a camera now. There are two ranges, regular and telephoto.

Prime lens- This is a fixed focal length lens, one without zoom. They come in all sizes from wide angle to telephoto and the main advantage is that they come with a faster aperture. One type of prime lens is what’s called a normal lens. For a 35mm film camera, as well as a full frame DSLR, this would be a 50mm lens. For an APS camera this is a 35 mm lens. The advantage to the normal lens is that it gives about the same perspective as the human eye, well roughly anyway.

Macro- Macro comes from the Greek work macros which means large. In photography a macro lens takes close up pictures and makes the image life size on the frame, and larger than life when enlarged. Often this is called a Close-up lens.  

Perspective Control-PC Lens- Sometimes called a tilt/shift lens. At about two grand this is an expensive, but really cool tool, or toy. What it does is allow you to control the plane of focus. I don’t own one so I won’t be showing you any examples.


Most cameras come with a built in flash and that built in flash is just a step above worthless, especially with a zoom lens. One of the biggest problems is that when you take a close up photo the lens blocks part of the flash giving a dark crescent shape. Since we’re talking food photography, that’s going to be a problem. 

Tripod- Buy a good one. Figure about a hundred bucks or so to get a stable platform.

Remote camera release- Handy to have, especially when you mount the camera on a tripod. Instead of pushing the shutter, and making the camera shake, you use the remote. For about twenty bucks this is a worthwhile investment. This also allows you to hold a piece of foam core board for a reflector.

Reflectors- These are generally white pop-out things used to reflect light onto the subject filling in light. I make cheap reflectors using white foam board and use water glasses to prop them up.

My recommendation is to get a moderate DSLR, like the Nikon D3100 or D5100, in a kit with a zoom lens. Next pick up a 35 f/1.8 prime lens and a small auxiliary flash plus a good tripod and a remote release.

Now that you know how it all works, and what equipment to have, let’s go over some simple techniques and tricks. 

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Epic Food Company, Wilmington, NC

The picture above is salmon on a flatbread with cilantro, grilled scallions and a few other things. The best way to describe it is simply amazing and say that you really have to go to Epic Foods in Wilmington. 

The service was warm and friendly, and helpful. The ambiance is bright and inviting with a surfer theme. The prices are downright reasonable. The food is fresh and delicious. Overall, a winner that I will be going to often.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Food Photography-Chapter 3-How Photography Works

How Photography Works

“Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst.” Henri Cartier-Bresson.

Henri Cartier-Bresson was right. Photography takes practice; it also takes knowledge of what makes it work before technique can be applied. It is both an art and a science.

The word photography comes from the Greek words photos, meaning of light and graphic, meaning brush and combined it means painting with light. Once upon a time the light would strike light sensitive chemicals (silver halides) and a latent image was formed. This latent image was then developed into a negative and then printed on paper. Now it is light hitting a sensor and the digital image is saved on a chip. That image is displayed on a computer or printed on paper. Sadly most pictures never make it off the chip.

So basically it all comes down to the light. All you have to determine how much of that light needs to hit the sensor and how it is focused. Well, composition is very important too. Your camera can do the first part automatically and there’s nothing wrong with allowing it to most of the time. It does help to know how and why things happen so you can manipulate the exposure, so let’s start with the basics.

Basic settings- The Trinity of exposure.

There are three elements that make up exposure and they are ISO, shutter and aperture. Change one and you have to change at least one of the other two. Let me explain each of them a bit and then I’ll explain how to make adjustments, and why you would want to.

Shutter- The shutter is a device that opens and closes in a camera to allow light to pass through the camera body to the imaging sensor or film. How long the light is allowed to hit the sensor is measured in fractions of a second. Standard settings are 1sec, 1/2, 1/4, 1/15, 1/30, 1/60, 1/125, 1/250, 1/500, 1/1000, 1/2000. Many cameras can go below or above these numbers and newer ones have points between the standard speeds. The faster shutter speeds stop action. This isn’t really an issue for the food photographer as the food rarely moves and if it does you may not want to eat it. I want to add a word on shutter speeds. To handhold the camera keep the shutter speed at 1/30th minimum to prevent camera shake from showing up. With a zoom lens I’d recommend no slower than 1/60th. Below that use a tripod and a remote shutter release, or the self-timer. 

Aperture- The aperture is the opening inside the lens that can change in diameter to control the amount of light reaching a camera's sensor or film. The diameter is expressed in numbers called f/stops; the lower the number, the larger the aperture opening. The standard ones are f/1.4, f/2, f/2.8, f/4, f/5.6, f/8, f/11, f/16, and f/22. Modern cameras can also give half stops. The bigger openings, the smaller numbers, tend to give a shallow depth of field while the smaller openings, the bigger numbers, give greater depth of field. I’ll explain this later.

ISO- ISO is adjusting the light sensitivity of the sensor. The higher the ISO, the faster the setting and the less light needed. So why not simply use a higher ISO? Well, there is a tradeoff here as the faster settings have more noise. This used to be known as film speed with the lower ISO having a finer grain and the higher ISO having larger grain. It isn’t exactly the same here, noise is actually stray electrical impulses striking the sensor, but it’s close enough for our purposes. Try to use the lowest ISO you can get away with, or let the camera decide by setting the ISO to automatic. Some cameras let you set a range of ISO. Standard film speeds are 25, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600. ISO 400 needs half as much exposure as ISO 200 and twice as much as ISO 800. In digital there are points between.

Exposure- To put it all together exposure is made by a combination of ISO, shutter and aperture. Think of it this way. You have to get a whole bunch of people into a room and lined up against a wall. The ISO decides how many people need to come in. The higher the ISO, the less people have to get through the door and conversely the Lower the ISO, the more people have to get through. The aperture is the size of the door and the shutter is how long the door is open. If you have a really big door to the room it only needs to be open for a short time. If the door is small you have to leave it open longer. Each f/stop either doubles of halves the light, depending on which direction you go.  Therefore 1/60th at f/4 is the same as 1/125th at f/2.8 and 1/250th at f/2. Well, sort of the same and you’ll se what I mean when we discuss depth of focus.

Megapixels- Essentially this is how many pixels the camera’s sensor can record. The first digital camera I ever held was in the early ‘80’s and it was a Canon RC-250 xapshot that looked more like a binocular than it did a camera. It held 50 images on a removable floppy disk. The resolution was a mere 1/3rd of a megapixel.

There are quite a few people who will say that anything above 5MP is adequate for a poster-sized enlargement. I’ve even read that 6MP can be used for a billboard. The reason? The larger the print the further back you have to stand to view it. I usually shoot at 10MP in JPEG format.

Depth of Field- This is the area from foreground to background that is in focus. A shallow depth of field may only have the subject in focus while the background is a blur. We use this a lot in food photography.

White Balance/ Color Temperature- Light has a temperature, or color, depending on its source. This affects the colors of your photographs. The temperatures I’ve shown below are from an old Eastman Kodak book. The best way to check is with a color meter but there really is no need for that.

Light Source
Temperature in Kelvin
Color tint
Candle flame
Sunrise or sunset
100-Watt Incandescent Lamp
Sunlight, Early Morning
Slight Warm Tint
Sunlight, Noon
Overcast Sky
Blue Tint
Winter Sunlight

This is why your indoor pictures without using a flash look a bit red and pictures on snow look a bit blue. Years ago film was predominately daylight film and balanced for about 5,000K. One added a blue filter to the lens to correct for indoor shooting and Tungsten film was available, balanced at 3,400K. Florescent lighting causes a nightmare of its own by being anywhere from yellow to green to even purple in hue. Now you know why some of the people in your portraits have green hair, and they’re not Goths. By the way, flash is daylight balanced so there’s no problem there, unless you try to mix flash, a light bulb and florescent lights.

The term White Balance is more of a video term and means to adjust to the lighting. All cameras can do this automatically and most will allow you to adjust as needed. I’ll let you in on a secret, for my DSLR I generally leave the white balance set on auto and it does a fine job. Once in a while I have to do a color correction to the image either in camera with the DSLR or on the computer.

JPEG or RAW?- JPEG stands for Joint Photographic Experts Group and is the standard for using images on the web. It is ready to use straight from the camera. RAW is more of a digital negative and requires a bit of work before it can be used, hence the name raw image. For most of the world I recommend JPEG since it is easier to use. If you know Photoshop, or a similar program, then by all means use RAW.

Camera Shooting Modes- There are a few ways to get the right exposure.

P Program- The camera sets both the shutter and the aperture. You can make some adjustments in this mode by using what is called program shift. Say the camera has set the exposure at 1/125th at f/8 and you want more depth of field. You shift to 1/60th at f/11 or 1/30th at f/16. Check your camera manual for how to do this, on mine I just spin the wheel on the back of the camera.

M Manual- You set both the shutter and the aperture. Here you have total control over the exposure. Generally you start by setting a shutter speed and find the aperture for correct exposure. It also works the other way around by setting the aperture and finding a corresponding shutter speed. The easier way is to use aperture priority or shutter priority.

A Aperture Priority- You set the aperture and the camera sets the proper shutter speed. Use this mode when depth of field is important. This is the mode I use most often.

S Shutter Priority- You set the shutter and the camera sets the proper aperture. Use this mode when you want to stop the action, or blur it.

Special Modes- In addition to the standard modes most modern cameras come equipped with a few modes for specific scenes. Some of these are; portrait, sports, close up, children and more. I have a compact camera that has a food mode on it, and the mode is basically worthless. 

Now let’s take a look at the equipment and get you even more confused.