The world is your oyster (or banana or burger) in this fun food photography project. Learn how to create a miniature landscape photo using model figures and mash…
Photo ideas don’t come much more entertaining than this. The idea of placing model figures in amongst ingredients can transform a meal into a miniature landscape. Fry ups turn into meat safaris and soup bowls become steaming savoury jacuzzis. Of course there are many other everyday household objects that make excellent settings for macro scenarios, but food is ideal. It can be easily sculpted and is instantly recognisable. Here, that great British staple, bangers and mash, works a treat as the Smash instant mash mix could be easily manipulated into the shape of a mountain. But there are many other areas in our daily life where miniature adventures can take place – all you need is a little imagination. Here are some photo ideas to give you food for thought…
In addition to a DSLR and tripod, you need:
Food is a wonderful material for making miniature landscapes. Just about anything will do if you use a little imagination. The budget sausages, tinned peas and packet of Smash used for the main image above only cost about £2.50, and they were perfect. And best of all you can eat your set once you’re finished. For a background we found a standard cleaning cloth, which produced a good-looking sky. Once you’ve located and constructed your miniature landscape it’s time to introduce the characters…
Sourcing the right figures for a scene is essential to creating a story. Hornby sells some wonderful sets of figures. For less than £6 you can pick up a themed collection of around six characters.Preiser has a great range too. Your local model-making shop can also be a good resource for other accessories to refine your figures, such as paint and brushes. Position your figures so they tell a story – a random collection of models on a plate of food will just look, well, random.
To light the scene, use two off-camera flashguns: one for the background and one for the subject. Use a home-made reflector to bounce the light. If you only have one flashgun, try using more than one reflector, carefully positioning them to create a sense of depth in the scene. To create a harder and more direct reflected light, try covering one of them with kitchen silver foil.
We used a 60mm macro lens. The figures are tiny, so you will be working at greater than life size magnification. You can of course fit close-up diopters or extension tubes on regular lenses, but a dedicated macro lens is more convenient. Longer focal length macros will give you more working distance between the camera and the models.
Camera settings and technique:
1. Camera setup
For macro effects to work here, you need to keep your camera setup as simple as possible. Because we were working with multiple flashguns, we needed to switch everything to manual, including exposure settings, focus and flash power. Start off by establishing a good general exposure, establishing the depth of field you want. This will vary from scene to scene, but here we used f/8, which was perfect for the scale of the set. Next, introduce the main light, adjusting the flash power rather than changing the camera settings. Use your DSLR’s LCD screen and histogram to assess the lighting, and once you’re happy with the main light, introduce the second background light. You’ll need to focus manually for precision focusing at close range.
2. Lighting tips
In our setup we used two flashguns and a simple home-made reflector to light the scene. If you don’t have two flashguns you can easily improvise with your on camera’s pop-up flash and a more elaborate combination of reflectors – try using silver foil as an alternative to white card. If you do have two flashguns, position one (set to Slave mode) to illuminate the background. Remember, lighting the background separately helps create depth. The other flashgun is taken off-camera, and positioned to the left of the scene to give a ‘sculptural’ feel to the mash mountain.
3. Additional equipment
We used a Seculine Twin Link T2D radio trigger to fire the flash remotely. A small reflector made of white card is perfect to fill in the shadow areas and was positioned to the right. Natural light can also work well, so if you don’t want to use flash, find an area near a north-facing window.
Top tip: think of a story
However lighthearted your scene, establishing a sense of narrative is really important. In our sausage shot above you can see that there’s a conversation between the characters. “Help, I’m stuck in sausage fat!” There’s an imagined dialogue between them that makes the scene seem realistic. So when choosing figures, try to visualise how they will interact and what type of scene will work best. Try to add drama (or comedy) for extra impact….
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