How I Shot: Chez Sun

It's not every day one gets invited to the one and only Chez Sun, quite possibly the most elegant cafe in Darlinghurst, but if you do you make it count. Thankfully for me, I had been to Chez Sun on a previous visit, so I already had a fair idea in my head of how this shoot was going to happen. Today's goal: quality lifestyle frames!

 
  Canon 24-105mm, F.4, 1/125, ISO 100.

Canon 24-105mm, F.4, 1/125, ISO 100.

The balcony at Chez Sun is an open area, well-lit with beautiful natural lighting, the space filled with well-co-ordinated furniture, has lots of real (and artificial) averry which gives the area the magical, secret garden feel, tucked away and hidden from the city. It this is aspect that gives Chez Sun its charm; one does not have to travel far to have a mini-getaway brunch, and I wanted to encapsulate this feeling in my pictures.

 
  Canon 24-105mm, F.4, 1/125, ISO 100.

Canon 24-105mm, F.4, 1/125, ISO 100.

Firstly, how good is it to have a quiet cafe to shoot?! I find that a roomy, quiet space provides the perfect condition to take photos freely. Even for an experienced photographer it can be intimidating to have eyes on you while you're working, and being able to move around furniture to suit the scene is less intrusive when there's less people to be considerate of.

I felt glad that I had been here before, because I found my way around finding props so easily, such as the plants and birdcages that frame Amber and George, and I kept all the greenery in frame to make it look like a forest opening. I co-ordinated the dishes on the table (tallest dishes at the back) and I got George to the hold the Tea in his hand to draw the eye to the center of the picture.

Notice I have left very little empty space in the frame - this keeps the picture well-balanced so that the viewer's eye glides freely across the picture with little interference. It is by no means a perfect photo, but in my opinion it is fairly close, for a good photo should be easy to look at, and the intended subjects should stand out clear as day.

 
 Canon 24-105mm, F.4, 1/125, ISO 100.

Canon 24-105mm, F.4, 1/125, ISO 100.

I asked Amber to replicate the previous photo similarly with the same camera settings.

I am happy with this photo except I do not like the placement of the Tea, it is too far to the left. However, I chose to keep this photo purely for how George and I interacted; reaching for his hat emphasises the roundness of our physical surroundings, it is sort of a frame within a frame.

Lifestyle frames achieved!

Now we move onto the food...

 Canon 24-105mm, F.6.5, 1/125, ISO 250.

Canon 24-105mm, F.6.5, 1/125, ISO 250.

Photographing this bowl of pasta would have been easier from bird's eye, however, by closing the aperture to 6.5 I was able to capture the detail of the bowties at a 30-degree angle. The bokeh (background blur) of the fairy lights did resonate was compromised, but the sacrifice was worth it to see every beautiful element of the dish.

 
 Canon 24-105mm, F.7.1, 1/125, ISO 400.

Canon 24-105mm, F.7.1, 1/125, ISO 400.

Capturing tall dishes at an angle can be as difficult as flat dishes, especially when dealing with elements at varying distances. This Scotch Egg dish above has flat eggs, crusty shells, softly clumped pork, round tomatoes, and long avocado slices. The question to ask is: What am I focusing on?

To me, the Scotch Eggs and Pulled Pork are the heroes of this dish, but I wanted to bring the other elements in focus too, so I narrowed the aperture to 7.1 so I could grab every feature. Once again this sacrifices the bokeh quality at the back, but I really enjoy being able to relish in multiple elements on this dish.

 
 Canon 24-105mm, F.6.5, 1/125, ISO 250.

Canon 24-105mm, F.6.5, 1/125, ISO 250.

I had a hard time with this dish, but I know this is not just my own doing; some dishes are not meant to be photographed. It comes down to plating of the elements, the colours of the food and/or plate, or the shape of the bowl, and the overabundance of red foods on this plate made it harder for my camera to focus properly. 

 
 Canon 24-105mm, F.4, 1/200, ISO 400.

Canon 24-105mm, F.4, 1/200, ISO 400.

Some people find flatlays daunting, but I find them fun because they are challenging. A table spread never looks the same from above, and "problems with perspective" is usually what ends up driving me crazy with frustration, but getting a flatlay right can be extremely rewarding.

When I start to set up a flatlay, I think about the hero dish - is it the prettiest, biggest, or something that stands out? Because we had so few dishes, I decided to make all three the heroes.

Tall objects distort with height, so I try to keep them away from the center so they don't "topple over" other things. The tea and red plants (bottom right), lantern (top right), birdcage and pepper shaker (top left) and shell bowls (top center) are placed at the edge to frame and compliment the picture.

Smaller objects like sugar bowls, salt ramekins, and other knick knacks make great space fillers and add complimentary shapes to the table. Fairy lights (on the birdcage) creates the feeling of whimsey, romance, and light-hearted fun.

Last but not least, it's always a good idea to have life and action in a food spread. Hands and cutlery-in-frame show community and action. I've placed the hands just enough in frame that you can see them, but not so inwards that they cover the food.

Pet peeve: Nothing is worse than hands covering food in a flatlay.

Note: If doing a flatlay without a tripod, consider using a fast shutter speed like 1/200. If you have unsteady hands, shoulders and back like me, you're going to find this trick quite handy.

 
 Canon 24-105mm, F.11, 1/80, ISO 400.

Canon 24-105mm, F.11, 1/80, ISO 400.

I love the composition and the framing, but I wish I had not made the aperture so narrow - the image is so flat that the tea and the green plants almost blend together, and there is no bokeh coming from the fairy lights.

However I think with a little bit of editing and photoshop even this could turn out to be a half-decent picture.


What I learnt from my shoot at Chez Sun, conclusion:

1. A quiet cafe breeds more creative freedom, resulting is more and/or better pictures;
2. It helped to know the area from a visit beforehand so it was easier to assemble my frame faster;
3. More props allow for more creative and themed pictures;
4. When shooting at an angle tall objects at the back, short objects at the front;
5. Narrowing an aperture captures detail, at the sacrifice of artsy bokeh, but it is important to find a good balance; and
6. Flatlays with less dishes can still look busy, with correct composition and enough props to fill space.

Have you been to Chez Sun before? What did you find was the most challenging aspect of your shoot? What did you find were easy about it? Drop me a comment in the box below, I'd love to know your thoughts.
 

 Canon 24-105mm, F.4, 1/125, ISO 100.

Canon 24-105mm, F.4, 1/125, ISO 100.

Til next time, keep eating keep snapping!