Flax Cafe Shoot

A Flax coffeeI have a favorite cafe here in the west of Auckland, called Flax, it’s owned by the family of my friend and neighbour (who is also manager there). A few months ago they had a wedding function and asked me to take some photos of the event for their website, in exchange they offered to either pay me or I could eat free for a while, I chose to eat free. Apparently they were very impressed with my work because last week they asked me to do some more work for them. The photos are for their website and brochures and will be focused on the cafe itself, staff and food. 

Getting this assignment has been fantastic for my confidence and the kick in the but I needed to get some of my DIY gear happening. I finished building a lightbox, and a diffuser for my strobe which both worked great. I did find that my box was a little too small to do everything I wanted and that I should have had it raised at a higher level (kneeling on the hard floor hurts after a while). I was also lucky enough to have my friend stand in as assistant (or extra tripod for the strobe) which was wonderful. Having someone there to bounce my thoughts of was so nice and helped me really think through my shots and actually take the time to think about what I was doing. 

This first session took 3 hours, I shot 3 food items and a bunch of coffee & hot chocolates. As soon as I got home I downloaded the photos to the iMac and sorted them, deleting the really crap and rating the better. I learnt a lot from just looking at the various photos of the same item, such as angle and focus point. One thing that I did prior to the shoot was pop into Spotlight (craft supplies) and picked up a huge range of scrapbook papers, including some metallic ones (which included a shiny silver and gold which are great for reflecting light. The papers work as fantastic backdrops for the food & drink, although if they had been a little bigger it would have been even better, I’m thinking expenses, fancy wrapping paper next time.

Here’s a couple of pics of my DIY lightbox:

 As you can see, this isn’t the prettiest of lightboxes, it’s held together with “electrical” tape and the material is a triangle bandage I cut up from our first aid kit.






Only the base still has all it’s cardboard. The top, sides and back have all been hacked into with a box cutter, leaving about a 2″ frame.


 I have a large piece of white card as a seamless backdrop and then I placed different backgrounds over that. The white helps to reflect some of the light too. I’ve also got a piece of the shiny metallic paper stuck to the right hand side (not in the picture at the moment as I was starting to pack things up). The silver paper really did help with reflecting the natural light coming from the left through the window. I also had a lamp with a warm white globe (I wanted a daylight globe but they didn’t have any) clipped onto the front left corner of the box. 

I tapped a translucent (is that the right word???) fabric across the front of a small box and then fitted it around the lamp to soften the light from the lamp. I did the same to a plastic container for the strobe. I really did find that doing this softened the shadows a lot.

One other thing, ALWAYS check your gear the day before. I checked mine the night before and meant I had to do a rush to the shops in the morning before the shoot to buy batteries for my strobe. I also got to the shoot and realised I didn’t have my lens cleaning cloth.

I’m going back today to take photos of some of the fresh cooked food (like hamburgers and mushrooms on toast). The weather is very gray and rainy, which I think might be a good thing as the natural light will be more diffused. I found that when the sun was playing peek-a-boo with the clouds it was a real pain because I had to keep adjusting my camera settings.

So things to remember today:

  • Focal point
  • Shooting height
  • Aperture size (DOF)
I’m also going to take along some of my favorite cookbooks for inspiration. Ohh, and I may have a wedding to shoot soon too. I’m really going to need a better strobe and bigger reflectors for that one.
I think my current order of priorities, purchase wise, are:
  • New strobe & slave control
  • Good tripod (old one can be used for strobe)
  • Reflectors
  • Lights (mostly because I want lights that are energy efficient with white light globes)

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