Five Food Photography Lessons I Learned/Sunny Hello Dolly Bars
Subtitle: What I've been doing for the past 30 days
Sub-Subtitle: There is a recipe, too, so if you just want to know how to make these yummy treats scroll down to the end since I'm going to be chatty for a while
|taken on the floor of my mother-in-law's dining room|
If you, like my mom and a few friends, have been reading this blog since I started last fall you may notice something different in today's post--the pictures. (And dessert, that's a rare thing, too). Today the choice of recipe is less about using the abundance from my CSA farm share and more about a journey of self-improvement I started on April Fool's Day.
If you're going to improve something about yourself, why not start on April Fool's?In March, my friend Alanna sent me a link for an upcoming 30 Days to Better Food Photography challenge. Since it started after a visit from my folks' and ended before my spouse's departure, I decided to go for it. And it was free, so I had nothing to lose by signing up.
I should pause here and comment that in our family my spouse is the photographer. When he's away I am capable of recording our family's events, but I don't envision the photographs then take them like he does. See that photo across the banner? His. Where I see a droopy sunflower that needs to be thrown out onto the compost heap, he sees a photo opportunity, grabs the camera, and snaps away.Even though my spouse is the photographer, unless you see me in the photo and/or I mention otherwise, I've taken the photos on this blog. When I asked him once to take photos he got all George Costanza* on me and shouted "worlds collide". Okay then. I would dream up the recipes, make the food, take the photos, and write the post. I'd then hand the camera to my spouse who would get my pictures into the computer via some mysterious magical process that made the photos I'd taken look as good as he could make them. Since he's deploying soon I knew that mysterious process would fall to me, and that brings me to my first lesson learned.
|dishes don't have to be white for food photos|
I started the 30 Day Challenge expecting to hear about what type of DSLR or light box or other large expenditure of money required to take photographs of food. Instead, I was told to look at, and listen to, some great food photographers and record my impressions. At first I didn't think that the highly stylized photos had anything to do with feeding my family from the farm share, but I could see the photographers shared a passion for food. At least no one was telling me to stack my Grapefruit Honey Bran muffins up into a tall tower, grab a honey bear, and pour honey all over them while photographing the result--an image which merely makes me think 1) what a waste of honey and 2) who's going to clean up all that mess?After looking at great food photos, we had to make a short list of foods we could photograph throughout the month. I chose muffins because I make them a lot and because they are eaten at breakfast, after school snack/tea time, or with a soup or stew dinner giving me a wide variety of settings with which to experiment.
|an example of one assignment-try different napkins|
Lesson 2: It's not just of the food, it's about the food. A good food photo tells a story.
Neel's daily assignments were quite small individually--take a photo from different angles, change the background, change the depth of field, add a napkin--but over a few weeks each of the steps became more automatic. I started thinking more what I wanted to say about the food, and not just take a picture to show you what my finished product looked like.
|This was taken with my phone while at work.|
Lesson 3: It's not about the camera.
Our camera is a little black one with a button on top that fits into my pocket, which is useful if I'm carrying a tray of food outside to get better light. Because my spouse-the-photographer-of-the-family chose it, this camera also does a few tricks, which I have started to learn on my own and with help over the past month. But at it's heart, it is a point and shoot camera, and in the 'non-fancy photographer' mode, because I am applying the lessons about angle, background, composition, etc I'm happy to use it and pleased with the photos I can get out of it. I've uploaded a lot of the past month onto my FB page to chronicle my journey.
|the dog and my son photobombed the shot on the left|
Lesson 4: Find a window. Go outside. Take pictures of your leftovers.
I consider myself fortunate to be learning all these lessons while the evenings are getting longer in my neck o' the world. I don't know anything about artificial light set ups or light boxes, but with adequate natural light they are unnecessary for taking a good photo of food. I'll worry more about them in the Fall when my evening light disappears and my family still wants to eat a meal after 2 pm. In the meantime, I'll move my food to the doorway, pull a table up to the window, or take it outside. Be careful of kids and pets photobombing your shot. If it's too dark when we're sitting down to dinner, I'll save some of my leftovers for a daytime photo.
|some of my 'behind the scenes' set ups|
Lesson 5: Take a lot of pictures. It's not like it costs money to have them developed. As much as possible, look at them soon after you take them.
My spouse has boxes of negatives in a closet, that we move from home to home, which illustrate that taking many slightly different images is the way to get one wall-worthy photo. I've taken more than 1300 photos of 38 dishes over the past month, and kept very few of them. The cool thing these days
young whippersnappers, is that you can take 25 shots for the same cost as 2 and you can upload them immediately to see if your image captured what you planned. That instant gratification has helped me this past month because I could go back and re-take a photo if I wasn't happy with the outcome. This lesson doesn't apply at dinnertime, by the way.
I really enjoyed the 30 Days to Better Food Photography challenge, and it was a good investment of my time. I met a lot of generous folks in the LFP community, and I look forward to developing the skills I've learned in the past month. Oh! And I did eventually spend money to improve my food photos--$1.60. I bought a couple of placemats and tea cups at the thrift shop. I feel more confident handling the mysterious magical part of getting the photos from the camera to the blog while my spouse is away. *Worlds collide, indeed.
This is such a simple recipe I cannot believe I'm writing it out. If you'e never had them, it's made of ingredients that live in your pantry/freezer until you need a rich treat--something for the school bake sale or work celebration. Then it comes together quickly and tastes marvelous. They go by other names (Magic Cookie bars, Six Layer bars) but I grew up eating Hello Dolly bars so here ya go. I added a layer of sunflower seeds because I like the salty-sweet crunch.
Sunny Hello Dolly Bars
1 stick butter (4 ounces)
1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1 1/3 cups sweetened flaked coconut
1 cup chopped nuts
1 cup roasted salted sunflower seeds
1 1/2 cups chocolate chips
1 can (14 oz) sweetened condensed milk
Put a stick of butter in a 9x13 inch pan. Stick it in the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. When the butter is melted, take the pan out, grab a fork, and stir in the graham cracker crumbs until thoroughly coated. Use that fork to press the crumbs into a crust. Top evenly with the rest of the ingredients, in order. Bake for 25-30 minutes until lightly browned. Cool in pan before cutting. Travels well.
This post is shared with What's Cookin' Wednesday at Buns In My Oven, Taste and Tell Thursdays, and The Farm Girl Blog Fest, with the Clever Chicks Blog Hop, with the Wednesday Fresh Foods Link Up at Gastronomical Sovereignty, What's In The Box at In Her Chucks, Foodie Friends Friday, Food on Friday (twice).