Category Archives: Food Photography

Photo Friday: Lego Cookies for an Architect

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Recently, one of my good friends passed all of his tests to become a Registered Architect. His wife threw a big bash to celebrate and I agreed to do a few cookies for the guests. The invitations used the quote, “From Legos to Lincoln Logs to real bricks and mortar, Andy has always wanted to be an architect.”  It seemed like the perfect theme for cookies. Each of the guests at the party got a lego cookie to take home to symbolize being a building block on his journey to being an architect.  And, as a special surprise, I did a few extra cookies that displayed some of the experiences that have been a big influence on his career.

I was happy with the cookies overall. Sadly, it was a humid week around here, and I had some trouble with splotchy icing and craters in the lego cookies. AGH! Fortunately, the party guests didn’t seem to notice and the cookies were a big hit!

Congrats, Andy!

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Adventures in Photography…

A few weeks ago, Kamran of The Sophisticated Gourmet
mentioned (via Twitter) that he would like to see a comparison of the same photos taken by a digital SLR and a point and shoot camera. I thought it was a fascinating idea, so I filed it away, making a note that I wanted to give it a try.

Disclaimer – Please Read…

Before I get into the details of my photography adventure, let me remind everyone that I am in no way a professional photographer, nor do I play one on TV. If you’re looking for a post about how to take the perfect photograph, I’m afraid you’ll have to look elsewhere.  My intention with this post is not really to give photography advice.  Instead, I am simply giving you a behind-the-scenes glance at some of the techniques I have used for my photos.  To do that, I will compare photos taken by both my digital SLR and point and shoot cameras.

Please note that I am not adding this disclaimer because I want to avoid harsh criticism.  Quite the opposite, actually – I am welcoming it! Please feel free to comment and let me know what you think I’m doing wrong. That’s how I learn…  I credit most of my photography success to this point to my many (many) rejections from FoodGawker and TasteSpotting!

The Cameras…

Now that we’re all on the same page, let me introduce you to my two cameras…

DSLR – Canon EOS 50D (15.1 megapixel) with a Sigma 50mm F2.8 EX DG macro lens

Point and Shoot – Sony Cybershot (7.2 megapixel)

Join me for some milk and cookies…

My first set of photos features the Nutty Nutella Oatmeal Chip Cookies that I made earlier in the week.  I wasn’t thrilled with my original pictures of the cookies, so I decided to take some more. For these pictures, I started with a large cardboard box and a piece of dark blue fabric.  The fabric was draped over the box to create a backdrop for the photos.  I was shooting in the afternoon in my sunroom with the white blinds closed to avoid too much glare/direct light (although you can see that I still did get some glare on the glass).  The cookie was sitting on a wine glass/tumbler filled with milk.  I prefer my cookies and milk in fancy glassware, thank you very much!

I struggled to get the exact same photo with the two cameras because the aspect ratio on the photos is different between the two cameras. I did my best to crop the photos to try to get similar pictures.  The pictures on the left-hand side have no post-procesing (except cropping and adding text) and the pictures on the right were processed using Photoshop CS4.  My Photoshop abilities are basically limited to adjusting tone, brightness/contrast, levels, and hue/saturation.  I am working on learning more, but that takes time and practice.

Personally, I like the DSLR pictures more than the point and shoot pictures.  I had some difficulty getting the exposure/colors to come out the way I wanted using my point and shoot.  I am not necessarily blaming the camera since I was not real familiar with how to change all of the settings. I attempted using the soft snap setting on the point and shoot, which is the closest approximation I could find for the Aperture Value (f/2.8) setting that I used on the DSLR.  Even though I reduced the exposure value on the point and shoot, the milk was over-exposed in each picture (you’re looking at the best one I could find).  I could not find another way to adjust the aperture value on the point and shoot to achieve the nice blurred background, so you can see the fabric.

Alright…  How am I doing so far?

Inspiration from my CSA…

After struggling with the exposure on the point and shoot camera when attempting to photograph the glass of milk, I decided to try another subject.  I had just picked up our CSA share for the week, so I decided to photograph a few ears of corn.  I used my blue fabric backdrop again, with the same lighting as the milk and cookies shot.

The photos above were taken using the DSLR.  I did some very minimal processing and cropping in Photoshop.  This time, I used the automatic setting on the camera with no flash.  Even though I wasn’t specifically setting the aperture value, the background still appeared more softened on the pictures than it did with the point and shoot pictures.

Compared to my milk and cookie pictures, I was much happier with the pictures of the corn from the point and shoot camera. I continued to use the soft snap setting on the camera with no flash.  I still had to reduce the exposure to keep the corn kernels from being over exposed, but I felt that my efforts were successful this time around.  I did try various other settings on the camera in an attempt to get the corn kernels to be in focus and the edges of the picture and background to soften and blur a bit, but I didn’t really have much luck.  If anyone knows how to do that with the Cybershot, I’d be curious to know how you do it!

Playing with Manual Focus…

While I struggled a bit with the exposure and settings, I think the most frustrating part of shooting with the point and shoot camera was that I lost the ability to focus my camera manually.  While I don’t do it all of the time, the ability to turn off the auto-focus on my lens is an option that I like to have.  I find it especially helpful when I am photographing something with various depths and I want to focus on one of the inner levels of the picture (focusing on soup in a bowl, for example).  I also find that the auto-focus often focuses on the center of the picture, and there are times when I want to focus to be elsewhere in the picture (typically somewhere in the bottom third of the photo).

To demonstrate, I decided to take a few more pictures of the corn, focusing on various areas of the corn cob.  While they aren’t fantastic pictures, I think they demonstrate my point…

As you can probably tell, I am a big fan of having one part of the photo in clear focus with other areas of the photo softened/blurred a bit. I know that there are ways to achieve the same effect in Photoshop and other photo processing software, but I typically prefer to do as little post-processing as possible.  I’m much more comfortable with the camera than I am with Photoshop!

Final Thoughts…

As you may have guessed, given the choice between my two cameras, I almost always choose the DSLR.  I still appreciate having the point and shoot for situations where I don’t want to carry the DSLR and just want to be able to snap some quick pictures here and there.  When I am photographing food, though, it’s the DSLR all the way.  I am pretty sure, though, that my love of my DSLR is partially due to the fact that it makes me look good with minimal effort.  It is easy to adjust the settings as I work, and I like having the ability to manually focus my pictures.

So, do I think that it is impossible to take good pictures with a point and shoot camera?  Absolutely not.  I think my difficulties with mine are more a result of the fact that I don’t know how to use all of the settings on the camera (and the fact that I don’t like having to click through all of the menus).  I’m sure many of you could have picked up my camera and gotten much better pictures than I did.

Feedback…

Now that I have shared my photography adventures with you, I’d love to hear what you think!  What did I do right (if anything), and more importantly, what did I do wrong?  What are your go-to settings when you are taking photographs?  Do you have any favorite props or lighting techniques?

Quest for the Perfect Dunk…

If you are looking for basketball pointers, you will have to look elsewhere…  I’m afraid you are reading the wrong blog!  My quest for the perfect dunk involves milk and cookies (well, blondies).

In my post yesterday, I touched briefly on my respect for professional photographers, food photographers in particular.  I have always enjoyed photography.  I come by it honestly…  My dad has always had a strong interest in photography, and it has rubbed off on me. When I took a photography class in high school, he let me use his SLR (no, not D-SLR, we used film back in those days) and helped me ace the course. At the time I was considering a major in English or Journalism.  If you know me at all, you know that I wound up with a double major in Math and Computer Science (hold the nerd/geek jokes, please).  The funny thing is, while I work in IT, my current job primarily involves writing. That has nothing to do with photography, though.

The point is, as I started my food blog in January, I had no idea how much I would rediscover my interest in photography.  The more I write and shoot food photos, the more I love it.  Many mornings I can be found in our sunroom, with the new white parchment-like blinds pulled (diffused light… it works), conducting a “photo shoot” before I start working for the day.  While I do think that my photos have greatly improved from when I started in January, I still have a lot to learn.  I am always impressed when I look at the photos that other bloggers and food photographers take.  There’s some seriously amazing stuff out there!

I would love to learn more about photography, and I would like to look into taking some classes (after all, I need to learn what all of the settings on my D-SLR do). In the meantime, I just go with trial and error, trying to learn from my mistakes along the way.  My AM photo shoot for my Peanut Butter Blondies recipe was a perfect example of the trial and error approach. I started out alone, trying to get a dunk picture using a tripod and the auto-timer on my camera.  It didn’t go so well, but I rewarded my efforts with cookies and milk for breakfast. I waited until lunchtime, and then I recruited my hubby to be the dunker so that I could focus on the picture taking.

At first, I instructed him to simply hold the cookie and dunk it in the milk. I used the continuous shooting setting on my camera to take multiple pictures of each dunk.  The dunking method, however, wasn’t producing the splash that I wanted.

After my disappointment with the lack of splash while dunking the cookie, it occurred to me that dropping the cookie into the glass might produce slightly better results.  So, I instructed my husband to simply drop the cookie into the glass. He gave me an unsure look, and I’m pretty sure he was thinking, “Are you out of your mind, wife?”  After all, I am a clean freak and would normally frown upon such antics.  After I reassured him that it would be OK, “all for the sake of the perfect dunk photo,” we gave it a try.  The results were better, but still not quite what I was going for. So, we decided to attempt the cookie drop one last time, from a slightly higher altitude…

The higher starting point of the cookie allowed it to pick up more speed on the way down, providing more momentum, and therefore displacing much more milk from the glass (simple physics…  I said I was a math major, right?).  In simpler terms… the perfect dunk (or, drop)! It was so much fun, I didn’t even mind cleaning up all of the milk on the table (and the wall, and the chairs, and the floor).