Tips

Photo Fridays: How I Set Up, Style, and Shoot

by Shawnda on June 29, 2012

in Photography & Props,Tips

Homemade Sriracha

I’m going to walk you through how I setup, style, and take a standard shot, start-to-finish. What you’ll see below is an accurate representation of how I shoot a recipe photo – especially the missing prop – with maybe 5-7 minutes extra to account for the extra stop-and-start points. Oh – the recipe for the subject, a homemade sriracha, will be posted next week.

But you probably want to move along and find out why I did what I did. And why I didn’t do what I didn’t… so let’s get started!

9:31am I push the coffee table over to the window and grab the following items from our-coat-closet-turned-my-prop-closet:

  • 2 boards – One will be the tabletop for my shot, the other simply a surface that I can prop up against a box and clamp on a poster board background. These tabletop/boards are super easy and affordable to make, you can find instructions here.
  • Black poster board
  • 2 clamps – Purchased at your friendly neighborhood home improvement store for ~$3 each
  • Reflector – Read more about using the “bounce and fill” technique here.

Homemade Sriracha

I already have a picture in my head of what I want the shot to look like. Now it’s time to get that image out of my head.

I also already know the color palette of the food that I’m working with and I use that to decide which color linens (if using) and tabletop to use. Because the sriracha is such a beautiful red-orange, I wanted to shoot “dark” so that the richness of the vibrant color really came through. I also went neutral/white – basic – on the rest of the objects in the image so as not to distract from the hot sauce.

9:43am I’ve just wasted 10 minutes searching for a beat-up, little shallow tin dish that belonged to my great-grandmother. Can’t find it anywhere. But I’ve gathered everything else I want for the shot from the prop closet and kitchen:

  • Homemade sriracha in a reclaimed Central Market jelly jar
  • A few “consolation prize” white dishes to replace the missing tin dish (at this point, I haven’t decided which to use)
  • Tea spoon
  • Neutral linen found in the remnant bin at the fabric store
  • Coarse twine
  • Scissors
  • Tepin chiles from the plant in our backyard (because I used them in the hot sauce)

Homemade Sriracha

Originally, I was going to cut a small square of fabric to use as a “coaster” for the jar. After I got started, I changed my mind and put the fabric away.

9:51am I’ve now washed my hands 4, maybe 5 times. You can ask my 2-year-old – these chiles are NOTHING to play around with. I’ve cut chiles, composed the shot about halfway or so, and then stop to take a top-down picture to check exposure and to look at the shot on my camera.

Homemade Sriracha

Thanks to some of the fabulous instruction I’ve gotten from some of the greatest food photographers anywhere, this is also where I stop to ask myself:

  • Am I heading in the right direction to get that super fab “this should really be in a magazine” (ha!) image that I had in my head?
  • Does the shot and styling make sense? Am I showing you homemade chicken noodle soup that I’ve poured into a carafe that I usually use for margaritas? Or am I presenting it to you in a way that you would actually recognize and serve the soup yourself. Or did I actually just put a knife and fork next to that stack of chocolate chip cookies.
  • Is my eye drawn to the food or is it distracted by all 15 of my props?

Then I move on to the finer details. I do spot a few things in the photo above that I don’t like: the spoon placement is awkward and the leaves of the pepper between the jar and round dish are facing the wrong direction and not catching any light.

9:53am Composition is mostly done, problems spotted 2 minutes ago are now fixed… but the spoon is still a problem and I find the twine shooting out of the top of the screen a little odd.

Homemade Sriracha

9:54am But first, I walk to the kitchen and take another pullback shot.

Homemade Sriracha

9:55am I like the exposure, the tweaks to the composition, but that spoon is still bugging the crap out of me…

Homemade Sriracha

9:56am AND THIS IS WHY. Scale. My tea spoon is far too big for the jar and the shot. By shooting overhead, it wasn’t so clear that I have as much spoon sticking out of the top of the jar as I do jar. (Sidebar: don’t be afraid to cut those pretty little paper straws down a couple inches so you don’t have 5 inches of straw sticking out of a tiny glass of milk.)

Homemade Sriracha

9:57am I run over to my little utensil box to grab a new spoon. And just like that, I’m a happy blogger. I take the final shot and the picture is in the books.

Homemade Sriracha

9:58am I reach into my camera bag for my USB cable and I find an open tube of blue Toy Story toothpaste in its place. Typical.

10:12am I am my worst critic. I’m staring at the photos in Lightroom, seeing a couple of teeny tiny things that I wished I had noticed before. But because I made the rookie mistake of cleaning up already and the details really are minor, I click my “The Usual” preset and export the photos. For more information on how I edit, check this out.

The stats:

  • 26 minutes – That’s a little elevated, due to the extra stopping and trying to figure out what I needed to shoot after I got started. I’d say that I usually spend 15-20 minutes photographing each recipe post.
  • 21 photos – That’s nearly double what I’d take for a standard recipe post, my goal is no more than 12. I’ve wasted far more time than I like to think about in the early days of this blog… taking 40 shots of a recipe, only to waste even more time sorting through the nearly-identical pictures.
  • 1 recovered USB cable – found it in my daughter’s toy box.
  • 1 missing prop – still haven’t found it, but it’s definitely not where it belongs nor is it in my daughter’s toy box.

You can check out my Photography page for a collection of tips, tutorials, and FAQs to get a little more information about the photography that you see on this site.

So for those of you that has asked to see my setup and want more information on how I style a shot… did that kinda sorta help at least make things a little clearer? Even just a little?

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How to Wash and Store Fresh Strawberries

A few weeks ago, we headed down to a local farm, Froberg’s, to pick strawberries for the second year in a row. It’s a great opportunity to let the little one run around, pick strawberries, and pull out the camera.

We’re also big fans of the Jalapeno & Cheese Venison Sausage [swoon] from their smokehouse and strawberry fried pies… but this is about strawberries.

Beautiful strawberries.

How to Wash and Store Fresh Strawberries

There are perks to dealing with 857% humidity in August, one of those being the ability to pick a couple of pounds of fresh strawberries in late February/early March.

Unless you’re a hoarder, and then you picked 14 lbs of fresh strawberries in late February.

I am a hoarder.

How to Wash and Store Fresh Strawberries

2 baking sheets and large bowl full of strawberries. And we didn’t have to toss a single berry before it was baked with or eaten. This is how:

Wash your haul
I was always told never to rinse strawberries – just brush them with a damp paper towel – because they absorb too much water and it ruins the fruit and potentially the resulting dish. But you should really wash your strawberries, you just don’t want to soak them. I fill the buckets holding the strawberries with cold water, twist the bucket by the handle to gently swish the berries around, and use my hand to lightly press down/agitate the top floaters to loosen the dirt and grime. Carefully turn the berries out into a strainer and then rinse them off with cold water.

How to Wash and Store Fresh Strawberries

Dry your haul
Gently turn the berries out of the strainer onto a towel-lined countertop and pat them dry with a paper towel. You want them pretty much totally dry, wet/damp berries will go downhill really quickly.

How to Wash and Store Fresh Strawberries

Sort and store your haul
The best part of picking strawberries is that only berries that are red from end-to-end make it into the bucket, not a hard, under-ripe berry in sight! The downside is that all of those ripe, super-ripe, and almost over-ripe berries have to be managed in a way so you eliminate and minimize loss. Berries get sorted based on 3 categories before being stored in the fridge:
– Bruised or super-crazy-overripe berries go into a “must eat tomorrow” bowl. They were perfect when we picked them, but they ended up at the bottom of a 5 lb bucket of strawberries so they’re the first berries to go. They can go down as muffins or scones… or just get eaten straight from the bowl. Just as long as they’re used first!
– Picture-perfect berries go onto a paper towel-lined baking sheet (or 2) in a single layer. These will last several days, up to a week+ in the fridge (we polished off the last berries on day 11). I use a double-decker strawberry storage system: Fill the first baking sheet full of berries, move the berries around to accommodate a baking rack with legs/feet, and then set the second baking sheet on top of the rack. And it only takes up 1 shelf in the fridge!
– Berries that are scarred with a mark the size of a toddler bite-radius get tossed in the trash. If you have a berry-crazed toddler, you might find that 3 or 4 of these guys sneak into your buckets, too :)

How to Wash and Store Fresh Strawberries

Cook. Eat. Sort. Repeat.
When your “must eat tomorrow” bowl is empty, refill it with any berries that were formerly picture-perfect but now need to turn into cake. Or ice cream. Repeat until your 14 lbs of strawberries are gone and you’re left wondering if your husband will have you committed if you mentioned going to pick strawberries again.

What did we do with 14 lbs of strawberries:
– Strawberry Wine (woohoo!)
Strawberry Muffins
Strawberry Scones
– Roasted Strawberry Goat Cheese Ice Cream
– Roasted Strawberry Crostini with Basil and Goat Cheese
– Goat Cheese & Strawberry Panini with Arugula and Balsamic
– Macerated to top pound cake
– Sliced to top a spinach salad
– Eaten straight from the bowl for breakfast and lunch. And dinner. And dessert. And then dessert again.

I’m not sure if you can tell, but I sort of like the strawberry-goat cheese combo. We’ll be sharing some of the recipes over the next couple of weeks so stay tuned!

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Shortbread Snowflake Cookies Decorated with Royal Icing

Danmy selected this week’s Project Pastry Queen challenge: Pretty in Pink Shortbread Cookies. At the Rather Sweet Bakery in Fredericksburg, the cut-out cookies are sold in the shape of a pig and glazed with a pink icing in memory of the baker’s pet pig.

Aside from the occasional nervous twitch and flashbacks to a work top covered with 1000+ icing-less maple leaf cookies (I swear I couldn’t open my hand for a week after that order) and washing decorating bags and piping tips in the large stainless sink at my parents’ bakery, I actually did have a ton of fun with this week’s challenge. Who doesn’t love decorating snowflake sugar cookies when it’s 75 degrees and humid as heck in November :)

The recipe yields a good, solid sugar-shortbread cookie – a deliciously buttery hybrid between a soft sugar cookie and a sandy shortbread cookie. Most definitely one of the top “not from our bakery” recipes that I’ve tried. A couple of changes:
– I made half the recipe and added 1/2 tsp almond extract and a pinch of salt to the recipe.
– I also rolled the cookies a bit thicker than the suggested 1/4 inch and still got 18 large snowflake cookies. The recipe instructs against rolling the dough scraps out more than twice because it creates a “tough cookie.” I rolled the scraps 5 or 6 times and the cookies from the last batch were just as buttery and tender as the first batch.
– I decorated the cookies with royal icing instead of the recommended powdered sugar glaze. And I decorated them with the “I still don’t know if I’m supposed to eat them or not” dragees.

And I learned a new trick to get out of washing decorating bags! Nearly all of my bags are reusable (read: have to be washed) since I inherited them from the bakery. The “plastic wrap trick” worked fabulously - the inside of the bag was completely clean. All I did was pull out the plastic wrap and wash the tip and coupler.

I’m totally ready to go Christmas shopping now :) And ready to tackle my parents’ recipe (12 lbs of flour, anyone?) for a more manageable at-home version to compare them to these cookies. Check out the other Project Pastry Queen members’ take on the cookies and Danmy will have the full recipe on her site.

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