08 July 2007

The Cheating Curves (with how-to)

I'm not a photographer, but I do love the professional-looking works in the books I've seen, and you should see the depth and breadth of talent to be found on Flickr. But one thing I do take pride in is my Photoshopping know-how. I've been using the program since version 4 was out, and now it's in its tenth incarnation (Photoshop CS3). When I decided to photograph the food I was making, I used the principles outlined in sites such as Still Life With... and of course, what I wanted to emulate from the samples I've seen. It's been great taking criticism from and learning from the work of Graeme at Blood Sugar, Patrick at Samurai Delicatessen, and clicking on their respective influences' sites.

However, I know that Photoshop can be evil. I set my limits to correcting colors (the sky can be unfriendly and the camera uncooperative), erasing ugly details (sometimes your chocolate icing isn't perfectly smooth), cropping of course, and enhancing focus (a current trend). I think it would be cheating too much to graft objects that were not there in the first place. That would be an insult to the food (ask Kate Winslet). So, are you ready to take a look at how Photoshop makes life easier (and harder) for me? Check out this first sample:

The new picture is on the left. Obviously there are plenty of problems on the right:
1. The color is dull.
2. The carrots aren't orange (stupidity on my part, buying food color that was incorrect).
3. I wanted the red box to be purple, because it follows a triad of secondary colors.
4. I want focus on the center cupcakes, because they look the best.
With Photoshop curves, Selective color correction, and the Lens Blur filter, all these are possible.

Here the color balance of the tart on the left is just awful. What daytime sun can do. I used curves on selected areas of the image to make the white plate white. I also used Color Balance. Check out the areas I cropped out-- ugly, huh? Also, I applied a soft focus on the whole image using Gaussian Blur because the subject matter was, let's face it, cutesy-cutesy.

The soup was of course unstable while I was moving it around the house, making an unsightly oily edge on the bowl. I used the Clone Stamp tool to remove that. I corrected the white balance of the photo and used the Lens Blur filter again to blur everything but the soup.

Ditto for the green tea jelly. Notice how the green tea layer is tainted by the solidified splatters of the panna cotta layer. I used the clone stamp tool to remove those, as well as the smudge tool.

Here is a "before" pic. Can you tell what's wrong with it? Actually, when it comes to raw shots, I was pretty happy with this one, but that doesn't mean we can't make it better.

First of all, the dessert is French. The ice cream is French. Why not inject the charm of the old country by graying out the background? This helps to isolate the profiterole against the harsh reds of my ice cream carton.

The second step is obviously my favorite. Make the colors pop by upping the contrast with Curves. When you make the curve steeper, it does the trick.

The last steps involve blurring the background with Lens Blur and sharpening the ice cream with Unsharp Mask. Much better, isn't it?

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