Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Five Food Photography Lessons I Learned/Sunny Hello Dolly Bars

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

http://www.farmfreshfeasts.com/2013/05/five-food-photography-lessons-i.html
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.

http://www.farmfreshfeasts.com/2013/05/five-food-photography-lessons-i.html
dishes don't have to be white for food photos

Lesson 1:  People learn better when they are motivated and the timing is right.

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.
http://www.farmfreshfeasts.com/2013/05/five-food-photography-lessons-i.html
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.

http://www.farmfreshfeasts.com/2013/05/five-food-photography-lessons-i.html
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.
http://www.farmfreshfeasts.com/2013/05/five-food-photography-lessons-i.html
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.

http://www.farmfreshfeasts.com/2013/05/five-food-photography-lessons-i.html
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.

http://www.farmfreshfeasts.com/2013/05/five-food-photography-lessons-i.html
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).

40 comments:

  1. Thank you for participating in the challenge Kirsten. It's encouraging to hear that you enjoyed and learned a lot during these 30 days.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Neel,
      I'm so grateful for the opportunity, and looking forward to sending in photos for critique in the coming months.

      Thanks!

      Delete
  2. These are great tips for photography. I've been working on mine a lot, too. It is definitely easier this time of year with longer daylight!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Amy,
      It's now on the brain. I'm always thinking about new ways to use my CSA farm share produce, and now I'm also thinking about food photography props. Yesterday at my neighbor's garage sale I found a single cocktail glass (maybe martini? I dunno my mixed drinks). My neighbor felt bad that the other one had broken and she couldn't sell me a pair, but I pictured it filled with a veggie dip and surrounded by dippers, and . . . well, she got 50 cents and I got a prop.

      Thanks!

      Delete
  3. What a great idea! Improving my photography is something that's on my to-do list... you've inspired me! And I love "seven layer cookie bars," except that I've never seen sunflower seeds in them. (My mom always uses butterscotch chips for that layer.)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Beth,
      Butterscotch chips sound great to me. I could eat them right now! I like sweet and salty combos, so the sunflower seeds give me that, plus crunch.
      I'm glad to inspire--really, going to Neel's site (linked above) and listening to the interviews with food photographers (usually while I'm in the kitchen cooking) has been so inspiring.

      Thanks!

      Delete
  4. These are great tips, Kirsten - thanks for sharing! I still feel like a newbie to the blogging world, and seeing the beautiful photos on other blogs (including this one!)really inspires me to up my game. I love the idea of using the photo to tell a story - awesome!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Melissa,
      You're very welcome. I do feel a bit presumptuous sharing tips, when I am still on my journey to improve my photographs, but I really enjoyed the 30 day challenge and wanted to get that word out.

      Thanks!

      Delete
  5. Awesome tips Kirsten!!! I am also learning food photography,but the more I learn, the more confused I get. I am also so tired by the time I take the photos, that I forget to "style" them in some way. I am going to try and slow down and think about the food, I love that. Thank you :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Lisa,
      I know what you mean about getting tired by the time I'm ready for photos! After this 30 day challenge, I am now thinking about how I want to style the photo (and what story I want to tell) as I am gathering my ingredients, chopping, stirring, cooking/baking.
      So that by the time I'm ready to take the photos, I've got plenty of ideas.

      Thanks for stopping by!

      Delete
  6. Great tips, Kirsten! Gorgeous pics in the post! The tip about making the pics about the food is perfect! It is so true. Thanks for sharing your insights from your 30-day challenge to help us all learn!

    I am working on improving my photos too. My husband used to take all of my blog pics, but now I take at least half of them. And I like to think mine are starting to look as good as his!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sarah,
      You are lucky to have a non-George Costanza for a husband! (This is actually tongue-in-cheek, because anyone who knows my spouse knows he is no George Costanza. Except in the food blog/food photography area.)
      Thanks!

      Delete
  7. Those first two shots are g-o-r-g-e-o-u-s! Good for you, tackling something outside your comfort zone, so proud of you here! Keep it up!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Alanna,
      And thank you, for sharing the link to Neel's challenge with me in the first place!

      Delete
  8. Sounds like you learned a lot! I think your tips are great! :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Karly,
      I learned enough to know there's a lot that I don't know, if that makes any sense. I'm very glad to have started this journey to improve my photos, and happy to have wonderful inspiration from blogs like yours.
      Thanks!

      Delete
  9. Great wrap-up post. It's been great learning along with you in the 30 day challenge. I like your behind the scene photos; it helps us all learn.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Cheryl,
      I appreciate the kind words!
      I think I get as much, or even more, from seeing a behind-the-scenes photo that I do from the finished product. I just saw someone using hardware store giant clips (I don't know the real name, like heavy duty clothespins) to hold up the foam board. I've got some of those in my tool box. Now I won't have to balance the board between Olive oil bottles!
      Thanks!

      Delete
  10. These are all great tips! I am trying how to learn to take better pictures for my blog!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Jeni,
      I'm glad to pass on what I learned from Neel's challenge--it's really helping me learn to improve my photos.
      Thanks!

      Delete
  11. Hey Kirsten. Really nice to read about your 30 days. It has been great learning along with you

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Carla,
      It's been great learning along with you, too. I thought we created a supportive little group on the LFP community.
      Thanks!

      Delete
  12. The photos look fabulous Kirsten and I'll have to check out that 30 day challenge myself.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Carrie,
      Thank you so much! I get so much out of each visit to your blog I'm delighted to provide even a taste back to you.

      Delete
  13. What a beautiful post. glad to be part of LFP hosted by Neel, great learning experience. Hope to keep in touch

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Simi,
      I'm glad you liked it. It was a wonderful experience and I'm glad we got to be a part of it.
      Thanks!

      Delete
  14. So I'm glad you participated in this particular challenge and then blogged about it because you taught me a thing or two along the way. It was great following this journey on your FB page and seeing the subtle nuances in each picture. Learning by osmosis or really Facebook. Who'd a thunk it?
    I love the picture you took with your phone and the one with the bagel and the eggs. The clarity is remarkable. Great job and thanks!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Meghan,
      I am a visual learner, so I'm glad my sharing on FB helped you as well as me.
      I think the bagel--and an outdoor photobombed on--are my favorites of the month.
      Thanks!

      Delete
  15. Food photography is always an art in improvement and for me the two things I have learned have been: natural light + focus. Right now I'm on a Instragram filters kick but I'm thinking of going back to my trusty camera. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Maria,
      I am so hesitant about things I perceive as time sucks (hello, FB? Pinterest?) that I often don't start for fear that I will spend all my time with my new hobby. Instagram is like that for me now (though I did get on FB after my son was old enough to join).

      Thanks for stopping by!

      Delete
  16. I love these Hello Dolly Bars, and of course all the lessons about photography. I need to come came and re read this post. Thanks for sharing on Foodie Friends Friday.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Marlene,
      These bars sure are rich and tasty--for dessert, afternoon tea, or breakfast. Um, don't let my kids read that last one!

      Thanks for hosting!

      Delete
  17. Great post! Thank you for sharing with the Clever Chicks Blog Hop this week!

    Cheers,
    Kathy Shea Mormino
    The Chicken Chick
    http://www.The-Chicken-Chick.com

    ReplyDelete
  18. That 30 day challenge sounds like a good thing.. I will have to come back and reread again. Those bars look amazing. Thanks for sharing on Foodie Friends Friday.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Marlys,
      It was a great challenge--because each day was just a little assignment, not some huge undertaking. Looking back over the month I am amazed at how much I improved--with the same little black point and shoot camera.

      Thanks for hosting!

      Delete
  19. Awesome post! Thank you so much for sharing all of your amazing knowledge :)

    And most importantly....thanks for linking up!

    ReplyDelete
  20. Yo sista!

    I totally agree with all your lessons. The big one for me has been lesson 4, though. Good, natural light. I often make leftovers so I can take pictures the next day. It's taken a bit of experimenting but I have managed to figure out the best time for the best light in my place. AND I have lunch ready right after! Score!

    Just an FYI m'dear - this post will be featured on the monthly Wednesday Fresh Foods Link Up Round Up! If you have a chance, feel free to stop by and check out the other featurettes :) Hope to see you again soon with more seasonal & real food posts! xo, kristy

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Kristy,
      Thanks for the feature!
      Now that I've turned my kitchen into a cave for the summer (it faces East, and the single pane windows that make it so cold in the winter also make it hot in the summer, so I use heat blocking covers) I'm having to find new locations to photograph.
      I appreciate it!

      Delete