On Assignment: Raw Ingredients

by | Nov 5, 2021 | Assignments | 2 comments

When it comes to a real-life photo assignment, it doesn’t get much better than the one featured this month, Raw Ingredients! A small, family-owned business, looking for clean, bright, stock-like photos of just about anything! Lots of ingredients are used in Oil of Joy Apothecary’s myriad of products. Just pick an ingredient, and run with it! It was so much fun to see where my little marathon led me . . .

I walked into the store with the intention of buying only cinnamon, cloves, and ginger. In one sense, they are indeed “raw ingredients”. But they just didn’t feel very “raw” to me. So I walked through the fresh produce section to just see what kind of things might pop out to me as a potential backup. That’s when I saw the limes and lemons. I checked on Sarah’s website, and sure enough, there were some products that had lime or lemon as an ingredient. So I went ahead and picked some up. I could use them for more than just a photo shoot anyway.

Well, when I got home, the light was streaming nicely through the backyard on the lawn. And oh! What a beautiful day it was. Perfect for an outdoor shoot! But spices, against a neon, green background? Lemons seem to be a better fit. I could see the juxtaposed colors already!

“Let’s just do the fresh fruit first real quick.”

211012_James Staddon_1691 Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 50 mm, 1-25 sec at f - 3.2, ISO 100

I was having a grand time! Though, I'm pretty sure I can't do anything “real quick.” By the time I had a setup I liked, the beautiful light was gone!

At that point, I could have switched back to Plan A. But everything was set up, so I just finished shooting what I had out and put it on my calendar to continue on at a later time.

211012_James Staddon_1728 Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 50 mm, 1-30 sec at f - 2.0, ISO 100

Though my outdoor photos didn’t have the bright, glowing look like I was initially hoping for, I still absolutely love the color combinations. That iridescent green, vibrant orange, and fantastic aquamarine! I’m so glad God made colorful things. Smile But I knew I didn’t have enough photos for this assignment. I had a lot of shooting still to do!

So, soon after, I got the camera out again. And I had the same choice to make again. Do I shoot the cinnamon, cloves, and ginger, or do I do I finish photographing the citrus “real quick” (I had only cut into one of the lemons)?

Fresh things go bad. Spices last forever. “Let’s finish up the lemons and limes.” I had already started, so why not finish them up before diving into the real stuff.

It was cold outside, so I threw together a makeshift “studio” on a small table in the office. I pulled out the cutting board again and flipped it over. It was perfectly white on the under side. I put the camera (with a 50mm prime lens) on a tripod and pointed it straight down. Then, I pulled out two lights and set them up as close to the table as possible, placing pieces of white cardboard opposite the direction of the light sources to act as reflectors.

Referencing a bunch of stock photos for inspiration, I started with some simple ideas first.

211019_James Staddon_2012 Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 50 mm, 0.3 sec at f - 8.0, ISO 50

Simple, yeah. But, too simple.

211019_James Staddon_2013 Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 50 mm, 0.3 sec at f - 8.0, ISO 50

Much better. Lots of white space. A pleasing simplicity. Applying the rule of odds.

211019_James Staddon_2019 Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 50 mm, 1-4 sec at f - 8.0, ISO 50

Must've had “rule of odds” floating around in my head.

211019_James Staddon_2025 Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 50 mm, 1-4 sec at f - 8.0, ISO 50

Just playing around.

211019_James Staddon_2034 Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 50 mm, 0.4 sec at f - 8.0, ISO 50

I thought this would be so cool, diagonal lines alternating limes and lemons. But I never really thought about how the inside of limes and lemons are basically the same color! From a flat-lay perspective, you can’t hardly see the colorful skin of the fruit at all.

211019_James Staddon_2046 Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 50 mm, 0.4 sec at f - 8.0, ISO 50

This was better. It took a bit of Photoshop to fill in some white areas along the edges (since I didn’t have all the limes in the world) and I did add a green tinge to the whole thing, but the majority of this photo is naturally arranged.

Of course, I couldn’t walk away without getting a classic detailed shot of one single slice of lime!

After basic editing in LR, I brought this photo into Photoshop so I could cut it out, make the background pure white, and make the lime look a little more green.

And why not make a lime clock while I was at it. Smile

211019_James Staddon_ , , ,_

I never did get around to “the cinnamon, cloves, and ginger.” How does one burn up 2 solid hours playing with limes and lemons?!

The other raw ingredients will just have to wait for another assignment. 🙂

Going Deeper

For this assignment, a solid white background works. But when Sarah asks for “bright” photos, I would say it’s not necessarily “white” that she’s looking for.

“Light” makes photos feel bright. I could go back outside earlier on a sunny day and take the same photos with more apparent light on the subject and/or background and the photos would certainly look more bright.

But vibrant “color” can also make a photo feel bright. So, using a simple process in Photoshop, I took some time to turn some white backgrounds into colorful backgrounds.

Isn’t it amazing, even adding a dark-colored background can make a photo feel brighter? Something can't look bright without at least a little bit of darkness.

The process of replacing backgrounds is fairly straightforward using Lightroom and Photoshop:

  1. Photograph a subject on a perfectly white background (use neutral-colored light)
  2. Edit the photo in Lightroom (focusing on making the subject look perfect)
  3. In Lightroom, click to edit in Photoshop (Ctrl+E, “Render Using Lightroom”)
  4. Use Photoshop's selection tools to select all the white space (including areas in shadow). For these photos I primarily used the Magic Wand tool, Tolerance set to 30, and used Shift+click to add all areas to the selection.
  5. After everything is selected, click “Select and Mask…” and use the following settings to soften the edges a bit:
    • Radius: 5px
    • Smart Radius: unchecked
    • Smooth: 23
    • Feather: 0px
    • Contrast: 0%
    • Shift Edge: 0%
  6. After hitting OK (and with the white background still selected), create a Solid Color layer in the Layers Panel and choose whatever color you like!
  7. Set the new color layer’s Blend Mode to Multiply (this is the secret!)
  8. If you want to add some texture to the color, double click on the color layer to open Layer Style and choose a Pattern under Pattern Overlay. (You might have to play with Opacity and Blend Mode to get the texture to look un-Photoshopped.)
  9. Save (Ctrl+S)
  10. Close (Ctrl+W)

Go back to Lightroom. Your edited photo should show up there, ready to be exported for whatever its final destination happens to be! The assignment . . . hint, hint. 🙂 

Now It’s Your Turn!

You’ve watched me shoot the assignment, you've been inspired, and you even know, step-by-step, how to swap out white backgrounds with a colorful background if you want to go that deep! Now it’s your turn to shoot Raw Ingredients.

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  1. Christian H.

    Thanks so much for the detailed directions for replacing backgrounds! This could come in handy for other projects too. And I love your “lime clock!” 🙂 Soooo many ideas for simple pieces of fruit!!

  2. James Staddon

    Yes! Having a solid background to start with really helps.


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