Blue Eggs Yellow Tomatoes – A Beautiful Life

June 1, 2008 in cookbook, Local Food, photography, review

blue eggs yellow tomatoes cookbook

Blue Eggs and Yellow Tomatoes: Recipes from a Modern Kitchen Garden

Eating homegrown food is not only good for you and your bank account but it can be fantastically tasty and quite photogenic.

I recently received a review copy of “Blue Eggs and Yellow Tomatoes: Recipes from a Modern Kitchen Garden” by Jeanne Kelley (published in April 2008 by Running Press Books). Kelley has decades of experience writing for Bon Appetit, Cooking Light magazine and many of her recipes have been published in LA Times Magazine, Natural Health, Islands and Spa Magazines.

Her professional life and her home life come together in Blue Eggs Yellow Tomatoes as she writes about how she raises some of her own food (chickens, vegetables) at her suburban home in Los Angeles and shares recipes that yield simply delicious concoctions that should satisfy anyone, whether you are growing your own food or if you go to the farmer’s market.

The book includes a charming mixture of fantastic food photography and the author’s own photographic glimpses into her family and backyard. She is not a professional photographer but her images are candid and enjoyable.

egg still life

(Copyright 2007 Nika Boyce Studios All Rights Reserved)

She covers various topics not necessarily found in your average cookbook, from how to garden in your own backyard to growing chickens to how to compost.

Nascent gardeners are given plenty of reasons to start growing their own food – 150 delightful recipes that span the range from salads to desserts in 10 chapters.

  • Appetizers and Small Plates
  • Soups
  • Salads
  • Sandwiches and Tartines
  • Pizza and Pasta
  • Fish and Poultry
  • Meats
  • Vegetables and Sides
  • Desserts and Sweets
  • Breakfast and Brunch

I found her salads chapter to be particularly enticing. They are quite beautiful and diverse, many interesting ingredient ideas. My attraction to the salads is also fed by a hankering for the veggies that have not even sprouted in my garden.

I really enjoyed the craftsmanship of this book. It is a large book (3.8 pounds) with bright white pages mixed in with country-home pages featuring a sunny palette of colors. As I mentioned before, the food photography is quite enticing.

egg - soft lighting

(Copyright 2007 Nika Boyce Studios All Rights Reserved)

Other attractions include a guide on pantry stocking and equipment choices, a kitchen garden primer, a section on how to use a recipe, and a guide for chicken keeping.

I am obviously biased positively toward anyone making an effort to grow their own food (veggie and animal). We have our organic garden, a flock of layer chickens, and a growing herd of dairy goats.

I would recommend this lovely cookbook to anyone who loves food and who is interested in pouring love and nurturing into their cooking.

Red bowl, egg, still life

(Copyright 2007 Nika Boyce Studios All Rights Reserved)

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Food Photo 101: Lou Manna’s Food Photography Workshop

February 26, 2008 in Food Photo 101, photography

Copyright 2008 Lou Manna All Rights Reserved

Copyright Lou Manna All Rights Reserved

If you want to take your photography to the next level where you are using more than ambient light, where you are using strobes, then professional food photographer Lou Manna can be your gentle guide.

As I mentioned previously, you can register for this course through Workshops@Adorama. The next class, Digital Food Photography: Creating Delectable Images, is on March 2, 2008 – a Sunday, 10am to 5 pm. It is held at his studio at 126 Fifth Avenue in the Flatiron District, one block from Adorama.

Lou is simply fantastic. He is not rote in his approach, rather, he makes you feel like he really cares if you get what he is teaching you. The moment you walk in the door you immediately feel welcomed. He has teamed up with another food photographer who is also a chef, Dennis, who cooks lunch and the food for the shots later in the day.

Manna Class: Another food photog cooking for us

When I walked in the door, I was shaking and strung out because I had the most horrific drive into NYC.

Lucky to be alive

I had the misfortune to take a NY State garden parkway that was icy and wholly untreated. My car did donuts, floating in circles, rammed backwards up against a stone wall and came to rest facing traffic in the left lane (no breakdown lane on the left, just me and on coming traffic and an icy frictionless road). Two other vans swerved to miss me and flew into the guard rail, totaling them both. No one was hurt and my car started up so I was able to get out of the left lane and keep the pile up from continuing.

Lucky to be alive

Even though it had some $2,100 worth of damage, I was able to limp further on into NYC for the class and then get home.

Lucky to be alive

Anyways, I was hell bent on going to that class and was determined to enjoy it because I had been dreaming about it for years.

I thought I had come a long way but there were attendees who came from Chicago and even Istanbul, Turkey specifically for this class. Talk about commitment to learning food photography!

The first thing we did was pop our CD roms with our sample photos into one of the seemingly endless number of computers in Lou’s loft. In fact, we were surrounded by this fantastic mixture of technology, photographic studio equipment, food styling supplies, and century old NYC loft architecture. It was a bit dizzying!

Manna Class: environment

It was great to see what other people were doing, such a great breadth of experience. We then took a break to grab some of the delicious lunch that Dennis had made for us (and which made the loft smell amazing all day).

We then got to see some of Lou’s huge body of work that spans all of the sorts of food photography that you can imagine. He does the most luminous, cheerful, bright, vibrant work. Toward the end of this we began to talk about the mechanics of how various images were shot. This was the segway to the next activity, setting up the lighting and related studio stuff to take great food photography!

We started with some of the hardest subjects you could shoot, wine and beverage bottles.

Manna Class: setting up

The image above shows some wine bottles that he was shooting. When working with liquid filled glass, you have to work really hard to make sure that the reflections and internal refractions and shapes all turn out pleasing in your photo. He would put up mirrors, meter light, put up dark forms, vellums, adjust lights, all the while taking test shots which we would see on a tethered giant HD flat screen TV.

Manna Class: test shot

The set up for any one shot can grow into an amazing array of all sorts of light modifiers. Its sort of neat to watch it grow and change to meet the needs of the subject.

Manna Class: setting up

Here you can see how complex it can get.

Manna Class: setting up

Manna Class: setting up

Manna Class: setting up

Lou does some amazing shots for Partida Tequila. Below you see a diagram he shared with us mapping out how he shot some of those tequila bottles.

Copyright 2008 Lou Manna All Rights Reserved

Copyright Lou Manna All Rights Reserved

After the bottles, we moved on to food shots.

Manna Class: Manna shooting

I have to say that I loved the entire day and I learned many things, one of which is that I need to get a light meter to cure some of my strobe issues.

When it came time for us to do some food shots, I did a tiny bit of styling and then shot a bit but my hands were still shaking from the accident (adrenalin can really kill your dexterity) so it was sort of hard, much harder than I usually find when at home.

Manna Class: Test shot

I would recommend this class wholeheartedly.

If you are not interested in the use of strobe, some of this may not be for you. If you want to master food photography and bring consistency to your work, the hallmark of professional photography, then use this workshop to enter the path to harnessing those pesky photons!

Food Photo 101-4: Curt’s Results

December 6, 2007 in Food Photo 101, photography

(The following is Curt’s results for Lesson 4. You can also see this post at his blog, Bucky’s Barbecue and Bread Blog. I just wanted to point that I too went to Architecture School (Tulane) and feel that training was helpful in some ways. Mostly what I got tho was how to stand up to weekly brutal juries where your stuff gets torn to pieces. Ok, we dont need to go there.)

Lesson 4 starts pushing us down the path of thinking about the subject of our photos instead of how we’ve set up our things around the subject. Previous lessons were about settings on the camera and lighting, but this time I had to actually think about what was in front of the camera.

Nika had us thinking about energy spirals. Here’s my first one, in light of the holiday coming up…

DSCF5061.JPG

I call this one my “Spiral o’ Bumbles”. Ok, maybe not a lot of energy, but it is the holiday season, and I’m willing to bet that anyone reading these posts will be subjected to at least one Rudolph related shot per week for the next couple of weeks, and no “Bah! Humbugs!” from the blogosphere!

Ok, back the lesson…

I have something of a confession to make; the reason I think I’m drawn to learn how to take better photos is that I have something of a background in fine arts and visual presentation. I started out in life thinking I was going to be an architect, and I went to Carnegie-Mellon University to study architecture. I also worked several years as a landscape designer, where visual presentation meant a lot in getting clients to visualize designs. So I have some history in thinking about this kind of stuff, though it’s been a LONG time!

What does this have to do with the lesson this week? Not much, but it kind of sets a level of my own expectations. And I think I’m realizing that, for the past couple of years, I haven’t always thought of what was in the photo so much as what the food was, if that makes sense. If I made ribs, I took a photo of ribs. Sure, I tried to make it look decent usually, but I somehow forgot all that stuff I had once done in art classes and for project presentations. Nika’s lessons are helping me remember some of that, so I am expecting my photos to start improving.

I wanted some food shots for this week, but due to things going on around the house, I don’t have much here, so I picked on a banana that was on the counter staring at me. Natural light wasn’t great, as we’d had our first real snow of the season and the sky was pretty grey. I remembered lesson 1, though, and upped the exposure so more light would come into the camera. White balance was set at ‘Shady’ and aperture was set at f/2.8.

DSCF5058.JPG

My handy utility knife made quick work of the banana. I don’t know if this is a great shot, but it’s one of the first shots in a while I’ve taken that isn’t just a close up of the food. Here’s what I thought the spiral was in the shot:

b4.jpg

I used Nika’s arrow (thanks, Nika!) to mark what I thought the Spiral Of Energy (SOE) might be. I’d be happy to hear from anyone that disagrees.

I didn’t particularly like this shot, soI kept going. I found in this next shot one of the things I hate about my camera… The viewfinder doesn’t show me nearly enough of the shot, so I ended up getting a corner of white board in the shot, but I still liked it for the purpose of this exercise.

DSCF5055.JPG

This is the same banana and the same configuration, but a different angle and closer shot. The lighting is a bit better, too, I think, but I haven’t decided if the light coming in behind from the window is distracting or interesting. I’m going with distracting for this shot; I should have covered the window with a screen of some sort. I do think the shot is more interesting due to the angle partly, giving the shot a bit of perspective with the knife coming out to the left corner, and the closeness of the shot allowed the knife to blur a bit toward the front of the shot, too. I also like the reflection off the knife. The white board helped soften the shadows a bit, but I think the shadow under the banana helps the shot. In effect, even though the banana is cut through, the shadow gives is a look of continuity.

Another thing I like about this shot is that there are three slices of the banana. Groupings work better and are usually more pleasing to the eye in odd numbers, especially in informal compositions. Even numbers feel off a bit, though even numbers work well in a formal setting because we expect that balance in that setting. I also like that the peel kind of disrupts the other stuff without clashing; in fact, the curve of the peel kind of starts off the SOE.

Things that don’t work in this shot are the white board, of course, the reflection behind the banana on the table, and the chair behind the table. Better depth of field use would have negated the chair, but not the reflection.

Here’s the SOE for this shot, in my opinion:

b3.jpg

I decided to look through some of my old photos to see if I could pick out any SOE that I might have used, too. One shot I actually thought did a decide job was some scotch I photographed at something like 5:00 AM one day.

Lagavulin 8

And here’s the SOE, as I see it:

scotch2.jpg

I think that, in this shot, the vertical labels on both the bottle and box helped set up a flow, ending in the glass of scotch in the front. The lighting wasn’t all that great in this shot as I should have softened by turning off the overhead incandescent light, moving the other light to the left and bouncing that light off of something on the right. I do, however, like the shadows on the cloth napkins.

Conclusion

This is, to me, getting to the crux of a lot of shots I’ve seen and taken myself. Lighting can be worked on in Photoshop. White Balance is pretty easy to change in PS, too, and you can even fake some depth of field in post processing. What you can’t fake, though, is what’s in the photo. You can crop out stuff here and there, or mask it off, but the photo subject is what it is, and the only way to change it is to take another shot. This is where I know I need to work more.

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Food Photo 101-4: Composition 1.0

December 4, 2007 in Food Photo 101, Food Porn, photography

(A PDF version of this lesson is available)

As we have been talking about technical and practical details in the first three lessons, I thought I would take us in an artistic direction with this week’s lesson on Composition.

What is Composition?

This is a fantastically huge topic that can not really be discussed in one post (however long). It is about nothing less than everything that fits inside your frame and all that is implied outside of the frame.

The human sensibility for composition springs from various physiological modes of experiencing our world which have evolved across the eons. For example, we perceive edge very strongly and we subconsciously infer a continuation of that edge outside of our viewable world. This would have conferred the ability to infer that a lion sat behind a bush from the small outlined silhouette of an ear at sunset. Those of us with that talent survived to have babies that did the same. Repeat this for just about everything about who we are (except for relatively modern activities like web surfing or making creme brulee or encapsulated mango juice egg yolks).

As a consequence, a lot of how we consume and react to in a photo or other composition is deeply rooted in our subconscious and can be hard to articulate or to even grasp.

I think this is why many of us have a hard time understanding and manipulating composition. This is also why it will take a bit of practice at developing an aware or open eye to the world around us and the compositions others have made to begin to direct our own intentional compositions.

This might take some work on your part but if you are interested in studio and food photography this is a must.

Talking and writing about composition is OK but DOING good composition requires DOING. It is like zen; reading a 1000 learned books on zen gets you exactly nowhere while sitting and doing nothing gets you, well, nowhere, but in a zen way.

Right, so that might not make sense to you if you are not on the zen path but my point is that one can go much further by learning a few bullet points or First Principles of Composition and then DOING art that shows your hands and eyes how to do it instead of your thinking brain.

Composition Mechanics

When you get a chance, please take the time to read the wikipedia entry on Composition, it will be helpful as a starting place.

You will learn that there is a toolbox of elements that you can manipulate to form your photograph (or painting, etc).

  • Line – the visual path that enables the eye to move within the piece
  • Shape – areas defined by edges within the piece, whether geometric or organic
  • Value – the lightness and darkness throughout the piece, characterized by tint, tone, and shade
  • Texture – surface qualities which translate into tactile illusions
  • Color – hues with their various values and intensities
  • Direction – visual routes which take vertical, horizontal or diagonal paths
  • Size – the relative dimensions and proportions of images or shapes to one another
  • Perspective – expression of depth: foreground, middle ground, background
  • Source

The Energy Spiral

Today I am going to talk about just ONE concept that will guide you well in food photography – the energy spiral. I will hit on more composition concepts in other posts.

Things to keep in mind:

  • Our eyes like to read left to right
  • Your photo has energy and direction
  • Our eyes will follow the flow of energy and line in a photo
  • Encourage that flow to move from left to right
  • Encourage that flow to move in a spiral to your compositional focal point

Below you see an image of a stack of toasted cornmeal mush with molasses being poured over it. If you do not know what cornmeal mush is, I blogged about this before in “Sweet Summer Solstice: Dribbling Night onto the Sun“. I used really cold molasses so that the dripping would go slowly, allowing me to catch some interesting details.

I have used a red arrow-circle in the image below to suggest the spiral of energy.

There are a variety of strong-line factors (blue and white cloth pointing to horizon, the edges of the stacked bowls, the horizontal edges of the cornmeal mush, the vertical drips of the molasses). There are several focal points: the dribble pattern in the butter on the top of the stack, the mid-air drip on the middle right, and the specular white highlights on the upper left part of the stack on the molasses.

The spiral energy is started by the observer with the bias to start in the left part of the field and then the energy flows from that bias across to the right by the drip and the dribble pattern, down to the mid-air drip, sweeping down across the stack bowls and then back up to review the interesting dribble.

Finally, the apparent effect of gravity seems to be important in food photography. Because of this, try not to tilt your food image too much.

Excessive tilt, like you see in ever more popular and quite mundane Wedding Photography, doesn’t make for an appealing Food Photography experience – nausea from seasickness induced by a plate or table tilted too much either way is a food turn off. If I see a tilted plate I get this mild panic that it looks like the food is going to slide off (which distracts from the image). Same thing with images of beverages that are tilted a bit much.

Take home message

Open your eyes to the composition in all the art and photography around you and you will be rewarded with more striking photos.

Your Tasks

  • Notice the energy in well made photos and seek to emulate it. Start with the energy spiral we have discussed today!
  • To do this, take some time to cruise the portfolios of working food photographers. I have put a list of just a few at the bottom of this lesson.
  • Really dive into the photos and look for spirals. Notice how it makes you feel.
  • Now, using what you have learned with light and setting, compose a simple food related scene. It could even just be silverware and plates and linens.
  • Create a spiral, shoot the spiral. You may have to move things, you may have to shoot from a variety of different angles!
  • Post your photos to the Food Photo 101 Flickr Group.
  • Blog about it and drop me a comment here about where to find your blog post.

Small list of interesting food photographers:

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