Monday, June 11, 2007

Eye Exam Time: Is the Better Choice One, or Two?

Right now, I am suffering from a form of food blogger's writer's block, or the "inability to generate new posts." It is not that I don't have the ideas for new posts, I am just to lazy and busy to think of something meaningful. I do have the raw materials though. I have photos: vivid close-ups of syrup-drenched hotcakes, glistening and grill-marked beef steaks, and golden glazed donut rings. . . It is just I am at a loss for words in terms of describing them in an interesting or provocative way. I just have unformed ideas, languishing about in my head and drifting about lifelessly.

I attribute my current "mashed potato brain syndrome" to the fact that I am just a tad burnt out from the events of this month and the last. The beau and I have been three "significant" birthday celebrations, two weddings, and one family reunion the last three weekends. And yes, work has been a little hectic lately.

So instead of an enjoyable-to-read, substantive post, is it okay if I open this time up to a question and answer session? What do you think about using flash versus using no flash? I am trying to get a feel for whether I should make the investment into a better camera that can take crisper, non-flash pictures.

Is the food less attractive with a glaring flash bulb, or is it accentuated with the "soft" light from flash?

Here are some flash and non-flash photos of wedding food from a wedding the beau and I attended in South San Francisco. What do you think?

At the wedding, we started with a salad of mixed greens, walnuts, radicchio, orange segments, goat cheese, and a vinaigrette made with balsamic vinegar. The salad plate was decorated with thin slices of apple, which arranged symmetrically like fan blades. The salad itself was contained in mandoline-shaved sheets of cucumber.

Do you like the picture of the greens better with flash, or no flash?

For our wedding appetizer, we feasted on an intricately-layered, exploding, filo dough flower, that was stuffed with a cornucopia of vegetables, including bell pepper slivers, julienned carrots, and sliced mushrooms. The crispy package sat atop a luscious pool of a mushroom-based cream sauce.

Which do you prefer? Flash or no flash?

For the main entree, the beau and I both had grilled filet mignon, sprinkled with coarsely chopped herbs. The filet came with cupcake-sized serving of cheesy potatoes au gratin, shrimp sauteed in a parsley and cream sauce, and steamed zucchini squash and golden wax beans.

Do these pictures change your mind in terms of liking food pictures with flash or no flash?

Finally, in addition to the wedding cake, the bride and groom also offered a palate cleansing sorbet, made of cloyingly sweet raspberries.

Thank you for taking the time to offer your input. And thanks for putting up with my drivel while I gradually get my act back together. I will be back soon, I promise!


  1. I'm not sure I have an opinion - I just go by what I like - but in your post, the second photo of the salad is clearer. Same goes for the second and third photos of the filo pastry. as for the other two, the first ones look better.

  2. No, actually, in the third dish, I like the second photo, though it's softer. The strawberry, the first one's good. The colour's vibrant

  3. i like them with the flash, then you can see the colors even if some of the whites are too bright, i vote flash :)

  4. Lol, thanks for reminding me that I have to schedule an eye exam! I'm personally a fan of the flash since you can make out all the details, but it's harsher than the no flash pictures. I haven't been to a wedding lately that doesn't have at least 10 courses and has steamed rock cod,lobster, and crab!

  5. I'm really interested in what your readers have to say about this, too! Looking at your photos here, I might be tempted to go with flash, but before reading the post and seeing the photos, I was prepared to say not-flash. Maybe it depends on the lighting? Haha, I'm not so sure now, probably because I know little to nothing about photography.

  6. I would say no flash. I have never used flash in my photos. To me flash is flat, it misses the third dimension.
    In the salad photo, if both the pictures were framed exactly same, the first photo would have included more of the table setting. I am all for that. Few props and table setting in the background add an interesting element to the photo. But in yr second salad photo, the flash is limited. So i don't get to see all those details.
    But in low-light area, it is very difficult to take a good picture w/o flash unless you have a tripod (which is not easy to carry around). You will have to properly control the brightness too, otherwise as Aria says, the whites are too bright.
    I would say use flash 10% of the times. There are some photos which come well with flash though!

  7. I think the flash is giving you the clearer shots but, as I seem to always be struggling with, it all depends on the actual light around you as to whether the flash works well or not.
    Camera geekitude aside, all the food looked great! And I can sympathise with bloggers mashed potato brain - I've got a bit of that myself.

  8. everyone always says no flash when it comes to photographing food. but i find myself in dark restaurants all the time and the only way the photo will come out is with flash. sometimes it looks appetizing, other times it doesn't. so i think it all just depends on the lighting and what you're photographing. sometimes flash looks good, sometimes it doesn't!

  9. My opinion, which is very uneducated about food photography, I preferred the 2nd photos.
    But I wouldn't want you to miss any good food because the restaurant was too dark. I vote for the liberal party! Have both!
    I wouldn't mind another trip back to the Tartine bakery. It sounded like there were other goodies to explore there...just in case you need some ideas! I am still thinking about the Éclair you had there.

  10. i like no flash for the first 2 pictures, both flash & no flash for the steak, and flash for the sorbet.

  11. From an avid fan and food-lover... definitely NO flash, which strips all warmth and "sexiness" away from foods and mounted plates, IMO. You can always "brighten" images in photoshop, but photos taken with a flash will be much harder to color-correct - as Suganya said, flashes flatten everything and give the food a cold "plastic" quality... not sensual and warm.
    Anywhoo! What do I know, LOL!
    PS: I hope you don't mind that I linked your blog to mine, I find it so lovely to read! Keep up the good work! :-)

  12. Hi there, came from tastespotting and decided to drop by. I love SFO and visit regularly (living in Malaysia) and miss my sis and SFO when I'm not there! I personally like food pictures without flash. I blog about food too but from Malaysia. But hardly cook...:o)

  13. I'm a no-pro to comment on flash vs no-flash. But I've never succeeded in nice pictures when I use flash. :(

    So I either take my pictures (food ones) in the day time or not at all.

    I've already suffering from mashed-potatoes brain syndrome. Hardly got any inspiration to write nowadays, so I'm posting less too :(

  14. ok my take.
    i like the first photos eccept for the ice cream where i vote for the second. imo the softer look makes food more appetizing and eliminates irrelevant details. come on! do i really need to know how many seeds a zuchinni sliver has?
    however as someone already mentioned it depends on your light source.

    neki desu

  15. Hey PE, I like the second photos more often than not. So are those no flash? I typically go with no flash because I think you get more dimensions and it looks more natural. But I understand how sometimes you need flash because the lighting is just so bad. I generally don't use flash and all the photos on my blog are with natural light. When I do restaurant reviews, I go with no flash because I don't want to draw attention to myself. But sometimes the restaurants have such low lighting that the photos aren't the greatest. The only time I think I used flash at a restaurant is when I was traveling in Vietnam and I didn't care because I was a tourist already. Do you use flash at restaurants?

  16. I was wondering about what that top pcture was, actually. I'm not too much for huge quantities of vegetables, although all of that certainly does beat the meal I had at my college reunion.

  17. I must ask, where was this wedding? The food looks beautiful! And a very dear friend of mine is planning for her wedding....

  18. Flash without a doubt; makes your photos (and food) come alive. But, being a shy person myself, I would use no flash myself, like Chef Ben. As for the food itself, the main course look amazing. The "stick a bunch of stuff in filo" course? Nah. Salad looked interesting, but may have been trying way too hard to be innovative. I do realize how hard it is to mass produce a large event and meet everyone's standards. So much is mandated to be done ahead of time.

  19. I'd say no flash in general. Most of your pictures look better without. On the other hand, there are times when flash is necessary. If the light is a bit too dim and manual mode doesn't quite capture what you're aiming for, flash will help. Sometimes a bit of distance + zoom will help in avoiding that extra glare. Anyway, hope this helps!

  20. I agree with those who choose no flash - the flash flattens the picture and makes it look more "tv" and less "film". Plus, it's probably less obtrusive to those around you. Also, I think it conveys the setting better - bright or dim restaurant, day or night, etc.

    No flash is best for me! Great site, btw.

  21. same same. i was away for a week holidaying. After coming back, loaded with lots and lots of photos, I did not even upload the pictures off the camera.

    it was only after 4 days that I did it. I used to do it immediately after reaching home.

    I usually don't use flash for food photography, i think they look more natural. but sometimes when it's too dark, the pictures don't come out well... oh well... let it be... :-)

  22. In general, I prefer the flash photos. Might have to do with my less than perfect eyesight.

    Don't you woryy though, I have already made plans for an eye exam.

    Enid from Belize City

  23. Before looking at the pics I would have said no flash. But after looking at the photos, the ones with flash came out much clearer. I like the salad and steak w/ flash photos much more than the no flash ones.

  24. Thanks for taking the time to share all of input everyone! I'm glad to hear the mixed answers--I guess using flash ultimately depends on the lighting and the atmosphere. I too am surprised by all the people who selected flash, because flash is often regarded as a big no-no in the food blogging world.

    And Technodoll, thank you! I am so grateful for your input and for your link!

    Chef Ben, I am one of those people who are guilty of using flash in restaurants. Yes, I have no shame!

    Anonymous, it was a Hotel Sofitel in Redwood City near Oracle!

    And thank you for your encouraging words about the lag-time in a food blogger's life Freya & Paul, Tigerfish, and Kerpok Man. It goes in stages I think, sometimes we blog with a lot of steam, and sometimes we just wanna rest. :)

  25. I've always preferred non-flash. But I don't normally shoot in low-light conditions. The quality of my food shots is totally dependant on the lighting and my camera. I use a Canon Rebel XT, which is a large digital camera that allows me to take awesome photos.

    If you are thinking about upgrading to another point-and-shoot, then I would say not to bother, as the quality of your food shots would't improve much.

    But if you're thinking about upgrading to a DSLR like mine, then I will tell you that your photos can look just as good Rasa Malaysia's. Its an expensive leap though!

  26. Given a choice, I personally like the natural light pix better, but you can't always control the lighting situation eh? I vote both too! There's nothing worse than yellowish, dim pictures that are out of focus... I've had to leave out pictures of many memorable meals because I felt that using the flash was inappropriate or obtrusive and tried to get by with the ambient light.

    Anyways, the food looks good to me either way...


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