Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery! My photo versus a college assignment to emulate it!

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery!
And I was very flattered recently when a twitter contact, Neil Llewellyn (@DesignPhotoPrnt), studying at Bridgend College in South Wales, used one of my shots as the basis for study, by copying it as part of an assignment. I think it is a really interesting way to learn, by trying to understand what another photographer was aiming for by doing this – like all those art students in art galleries copying the old masters! As I said I’m flattered!
As Neil has done this seriously, I am going to give it some serious criticism – so I hope he won’t be offended when all is not considered good.
One thing that was definitely to my advantage when I took this shot, was that it was for a client. The shot had a specific job to do, and fulfilling a brief is a great way of clarifiying what you want to show.
It was part of a series for Tenpin Bowling who are trying to give the restaurants at their bowling alleys a higher profile, and they are showcasing the improved quality and variety of food on offer. Things are served very simply so the shot had to be all about the food!
I had to shoot this at one of their venues, I didn’t have the luxury of the wonderful light in my own studio, and the dark red colour of the room I was working in made using flash impossible as it would have bounced around picking up the colour and dirtying my image. I resorted instead to opening the shutters over a fairly small window and using my large, curved reflectors, building a sort of little room for myself where the light was neutral and soft.
The shot was all about the cake and so the focus and positioning was governed by that. I used a 105mm lens to make sure the cake didn’t look small next to the coffee mug, set the aperture to f3 to give me a nice short depth of field, and make sure the viewer’s eye is drawn to my designated hero of the shot – the front face of the cake.
I then processed the image in Adobe Lightroom 3.0 to make sure the darks were really dark and warmed up the slightly chilly daylight by increasing the yellow very slightly.
When copying the image Neil has mad a pretty good stab at making it look similar, but I’m not sure he has had the confidence to really make it into a special shot in its own right. To my eye it is too sharp – I feel he may have been slightly seduced by that very nice shadow on the top of the coffee, and maybe he is thinking that to make a shot of coffee AND cake is more useful? He pointed out that the crumbs are too far away from the cake, but I would also suggest that the cake looks so perfect you cant quite work out where the crumbs have come from – scenarios should always be believable – and I think the crumbs in my shot are too regular too! Neil’s shot looks a little stiff – I wonder if it wouldn’t be improved by breaking the cake open – the outside is not particularly pretty and I’m sure the texture inside would be more inviting. Coffee and tea can be tricky to photograph – especially when there is milk it – it looks sort of flat and dead and plastic. Tea can be rescued by not adding too much milk, and by blowing a couple of bubbles into the surface with a drinking straw. Coffee always looks better when it is real coffee ( I suspect this may be instant??) as black real coffee produces wonderful little bubbles when freshly made and poured, and hot milk poured into real coffee also has a nice texture that really shows in a photograph. I had a sort of cappuccino for my shot which actually benefitted from the short depth of field as it wasn’t perfect!
I think Neil could have made more of this shot as it stands by improving the white balance, and bumping up the contrast a little. If he has Lightroom, using the clarity brush over the texture of the cake would give it more depth and increase the yum factor!
Good luck with the course Neil!

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