The 1-Minute Food Pic

Take 1 Olympus Pen E-PL2 Camera
Add 1 unit of FL-36R Flash
Garnish with 1 softbox attachment
Fire the shutter
Serve hot on your Blog or Facebook.

Are you a food blogger or foodie? Or you simply have this compulsion to post everything you eat on Facebook? With a little effort you can improve your food pictures and even make your readers salivate.

I will show you how to get better pics without having to set up a studio on site. In the studio, a food photographer will typically use three strobe lights and an assortment of light shapers, reflectors and diffusers. The studio flash equipment is  equipped with ‘modelling’ lights that allow visual estimation of light ratio before committing the pixels.

There will also be a professional food stylist present. He or she will dress up the dish to make it look more appetizing and beautiful. Artificial steam, fake ice cubes, some oil to  make surfaces glisten, a little colouring and sprayed-on water droplets are routinely deployed. As a result, the food is usually inedible after that.

As a food blogger checking out a restaurant, you make do with a point-and-shoot camera and the on-board flash. You don’t want to scare the other customers or annoy your dining partner. So what can you do if you want a nice picture but do not want to mess with the food you are going to eat and pay for?

Food jumps out when it is lit by directional light. Enter the Olympus Wireless Flash System. Few Olympus E-PL2 users realise they have a very powerful and professional feature built into their compact camera. Pair it with the optional FL-36R (or FL-50R) and you can create magic with it. Since the camera communicates with the external flash wirelessly, you can place the flash at any angle or position to simulate directional window light. Accurate TTL (Through-The-Lens) flash metering and exposure is retained throughout, with the flash off camera.

The Olympus Pen E-PL2 can remotely control up to 9 external flash units in 3 groups. The power ratio and other settings for each group can be conveniently adjusted from the camera itself. For the food shots shown here, I used a single FL-36R flash with a mini softbox attached. The challenge to myself was two-fold. To get a decent picture within one minute of the dish arriving. AND, to obtain a useable ‘out-of-camera’ jpg without any further tweaking. In this respect, the combo (of E-PL2 & FL-36R) passed with flying colours (pun intended) and is truly a studio in a pocket (or handbag). Bon Appétit !

Olympus E-PL2, ISO 200, f5.2, 1/60 sec with Olympus FL36R Wireless Flash

Strawberry Puree On Thick Toast - Olympus E-PL2, ISO 200, f5.2, 1/60 sec with FL-36R Flash

3am at my favourite Old Town White Coffee outlet in Rampai Business Park. Since the flash sensor is concealed by the softbox, I needed another way to open up an optical path to the slave unit. Normally, it will work by bouncing the on-board flash which sends a digital pulse. I bet you didn’t know the pop-up flash can bounce :) . But the walls and ceilings at this restaurant are painted dark brown and will not reflect. So how? Easy. I positioned a couple of white paper strips near the flash to channel the IR signal.

Studio 5 Chicken Rice - Olympus E-PL2, ISO 200, f5.2, 1/60 sec with FL-36R Flash

Studio 5 Chicken Rice - Olympus E-PL2, ISO 200, f22, 1/60 sec with FL-36R Flash

Studio 5 Restaurant at Ampang Jaya belongs to my friend Paul and so I had to warn him not to make anything special or better looking than it actually is. To their credit, the chicken rice actually looks as good as it tastes. I carefully positioned the flash to highlight the fluffiness of the rice and to ‘rim’ the edge of the banana leaf plate. The grey background is actually the white cloth on the diffuser. The aperture was pushed to f22 to maximise depth-of-field and the quality held!

Orange Juice - Olympus E-PL2, ISO 200, f9, 1/60 sec with FL-36R Flash

Orange Juice - Olympus E-PL2, ISO 200, f9, 1/60 sec with FL-36R Flash

I was at first doubtful of the plastic mug and scratchy stainless steel table surface at Studio 5. Turned out better than expected. The flash was held diagonally overhead and I used a piece of white A4 paper below the camera to bounce some light back to the front.

Studio 5 Satay - Olympus E-PL2, ISO 200, f9, 1/60 sec with FL-36R Flash

Hot Satay - Olympus E-PL2, ISO 200, f9, 1/60 sec with FL-36R Flash

This is the only shot where I needed to dress the food a bit. Having ordered the satay by phone hours earlier, it looked stale and dry when I got there. I feathered the meat with some salad oil and got Paul to puff some cigarette smoke into a drinking straw hidden below the cucumber and onion slices. This is a common trick in food photography :)

Mango On Ice - Olympus E-PL2, ISO 200, f9, 1/60 sec with FL-36R Flash

Mango On Ice - Olympus E-PL2, ISO 200, f9, 1/60 sec with FL-36R Flash

Complimentary dessert from the boss. Since ice melts almost immediately, I took this shot the moment it landed on the table. After some practice, you will know how even fake silver cutlery reacts to diffused white light beautifully, if you angle it correctly.

The Set-Up - Olympus E-PL2, ISO 1600, f3.5, 1/25 sec

Look Mum, No Wires! - Olympus E-PL2, ISO 1600, f3.5, 1/25 sec

This is my simple set-up for all the pictures shown here. The mini softbox attachment on the flash can be folded flat for easy storage. All pictures here captured with the Olympus E-PL2, the standard 14-42mm kit lens and the FL-36R wireless flash.

See also:
The Art Of Art Filters | Chinatown Temple with E-PL 2 | The Bird Park

Tip: You can view larger versions of the images here, gallery-style. When the page finishes loading, click on any picture. Navigate via the arrows on each side of the frame.

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