Tortilla Soup – New camera settings.

I made this tortilla soup back in October when Carla wasn’t feeling well; I caught another cold last week and thought that chicken soup would be good for me as well. You can catch the recipe and discussion of the process by looking at that posting.

Meanwhile, I’ve been trying to improve my photography skills and have had a lot of problems trying to get good pictures of the food in the kitchen. I’ve had to increase my shutter speed to get enough light or increase the f-stop (is increase right, the aperture is bigger though the number is smaller) which then leads to a small fraction of the picture being in focus. I like background blur but at least the main part of the picture should be in focus.

I thought I’d try increasing my ISO setting in order to get faster shutter speed and a smaller aperture (again smaller aperture but bigger number). Using auto ISO usually limits the top setting to 125, I wanted to try 800 (but actually picked 1600).

What I’m going to do here is post pictures from the two sets for comparison.


January 19, 2014 – 1/125 ; f5.6 ; ISO 1600
October 2013 – 1/30 ; f/3.5 ; ISO 125
October 2013 – 1/40 ; f/3.5 ; ISO 125

Simmering broth

January 2014 – 1/60 ; f3.5 ; ISO 1600
October 2013 – 1/30 ; f/3.5 ; ISO 400

Making the base

January 2014 –  1/160 ; f/5.6 ; ISO 1600
October 2013 – 1/30 ; f/3.5 ; ISO 125
January 2014 – 1/160 ; f5.6 ; ISO 1600
October 2013 – 1/30 ; f/3.5 ; ISO 500

Shredded chicken

October 2013 – 1/40 ; f/3.5 ; ISO 125
January 2014 – 1/100 ; f/4.0 ; ISO 1600


January 2014 – 1/100; f/4.0 ; ISO 1600

Dinner is served

January 2014 – 1/100 l f/4.0 ; ISO 1600
(Terrible reflection of the overhead light here)
October 2013 – 1/30 ; f/3.5 ; ISO 125

I found that working with the ISO 1600 files didn’t leave much room for adjustments without increasing the graininess of the photos. Looking back the October pictures don’t look to bad; it turns out that all the October pictures except the tomato base in the Dutch oven were taken with the flash on while none of the January 2014 pictures had flash. The Sony DSC-RX100 I use allows me to bounce the flash at a high angle. Maybe that’s a key for my food pictures.

At any rate I think I’ll try a few sessions with a less radical ISO of 400 or 800.

This does get to be frustrating for me. I got so frustrated by my crummy pictures on our train trip to Chicago that I stopped taking pictures for a few months. It took a while to get back to a good frame of mind. I follow Matt Kloskowski’s Lightroom Killer Tips blog and have really enjoyed this month’s series where he is doing all his adjustments in LightRoom; no Photoshop or OnOne products. I read the postings, get excited then think “I want to try that”. My trouble is I’m still so green that I have a hard time executing my vision.

I need to spend time learning how the tools work; and really, even how photography works. I remind myself that this is a long process; I’m not in a race and I don’t have to make my living at it. I just need to enjoy it.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the differences in the pictures. Let me hear from you.

5 thoughts on “Tortilla Soup – New camera settings.

  1. Well as you state,”its a long process”. I've been shooting for 50 years and feel like a rookie half the time. I find indoor shooting my most challenging. Color temp or white balance is tricky.I am old school and prefer to get it right in the camera and not rely much if any on the fixing in the software. Thats the difference between a photographer vs an illustrator as told to me a few years back by a college professor while in the Steens Mt. I'm sending you a bit lengthy e-mail with my 2 cents about your shots… BUT KEEP SHOOTING and make sure your off automatic and play with a lot of settings. Keep a journal as well.

  2. It’s difficult (for me as an inexperienced photographer) to tell all of the differences, especially since the subject changes some between the two experiments. For instance, my favorite picture of the post is the last one, but I think that it is mostly the composition that I like a lot. The food in focus in the foreground with the rest of the settings in the background just seems inviting somehow.

    Comparing the two initial shots of the ingredients, I prefer the January one, but I think again that it’s the composition. Specifically, having the large white swath of the cutting board seems less visually interesting somehow.

    The pair of pictures that are the most similar, which I’d think would provide a controlled comparison are the “simmering broth” ones and I have a really difficult time saying which I prefer. The January one seems to have a little more detail, for instance there’s some texture on the backs of the onions which is lost with the October settings.

    Relatedly, one of my favorite food blogs is (the late) Vegan Yum Yum and besides making excellent vegan food, the chef Lauren Ulm is also in my opinion one of the best photographers of her creations. Sometimes I think that half of why I want to make one of her recipes over others is her presentation. She has one post where she talks in depth about some of her challenges and tips for photographing food, which I thought you might enjoy:

    Keep it up. As you illuded to, it takes practice!

  3. Thanks for the feedback! It's nice to hear about the composition; I got so focused on the lighting issue I forgot to look at the pictures :). I appreciate the feedback.

  4. Thanks Herb! It's good to know such an accomplished photographer as you also finds indoor shooting to be challenging; it gives me hope. I definitely have it off “Auto”.

    I like the idea of the journal; I suppose that's what this is. One thing I like about LightRoom (and I suppose most of the photo software out there is the meta data. Going back over the October pictures I discovered that all but on had the flash on. So, for me this lesson is twofold: back off the ISO and don't be afraid to use the flash inside.

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