Thursday, June 30, 2011

Lighting Tips for the New Food Photographer

Where do I start?  How do I start?  What equipment do I need?  Nikon or Canon? Pro or POS (point and shoot) camera?  These are a few of the questions that I have been asked along my journey of photographing food through my blog, fan page and personal contacts with friends and acquaintances.  I notice that there are a lot of foodie enthusiast that love to create their recipes but don't have extra time to take a photography class.  The time necessary to maintain your blog and fan page at times feels like a full time job.

I used my window and the early morning light to create a dark back ground with a ray of light coming in from the window to the right.
This was taken in my dining room, I have lots of wood and the light is not reflected, creating shadows.  Again, I have a window to the left that is directing the light onto the chili.

My thought is that I can give a few simple suggestions and ideas once a week to help those that would like to improve their photos.  I will say, that I am a professional and have lots of different pieces of equipment that I use to create my images.

 A little bit about what I use.  I shoot with a Nikon, I use a tripod, I have a gold/white scrim (light disc) and I almost always use natural light.  The only reason I would not use natural light is if a client has me shooting inside, then I use my Lowell Ego lights.   I also have a tool bag full of clamps, white/black fabrics,  diffusers and back up equipment (camera).  I do own  a POS camera that I use for snapping ideas, locations, prop's and quick shots in the kitchen. These camera's each have their own uses, pros and cons when shooting food.

In this day and age, the camera companies have made it affordable for lots of consumers to own and use a Nikon or Canon camera's that allow you to control the light through altering the aperture and shutter speeds, ISO and white balance.  I don't know what each of your are using and this makes it challenging to cover all the tips of simple lighting in one short blog.  I would recommend that if you have a specific question you can leave a comment on the blog or visit my Simply Gourmet Photography fan page.

When we go on shoots with clients, we have a team: stylist, chefs, art directors, company employees, photographers, prop specialist and anyone else who feels the need to be there.  A lot goes into creating a professional looking picture of food.  I don't have that at home.  I am the stylist, chef, photographer, etc...

When I think of food photography several things come to my mind.

1.What is the mood you are trying to create? Romantic, sunny, focused, blurred....
2. How do you manage your time when trying to cook, create and take pictures?
3. Where will the pictures be taken? Kitchen, outside, bay window, dining room table....
4.  Can this be shot the next day when you do have more time?
5.  Are the pictures being used as a tutorial or as a signature dish (posed picture)?

I love shooting on my deck in the late afternoon.  For this shoot I required the assistance of my hubby to hold the reflector, it cast a golden hue over the crab cakes.  The SOOC is below.
SOOC (straight out of the camera)...I used a reflector to bounce some light onto the crab cakes and plate.

You may have many more questions that come to mind, but this is what I think about before I start cooking my food.  I always have my camera in the kitchen along with my tripod and some type of reflector.  I use a large white/gold scrim or a large white piece of poster board.

When shooting food, the light is one way that can make or break a "great" picture.  The good news is you can control that light with a little bit of knowledge.   This can be achieved several ways:

1.  aperture and shutter speeds
2.  ISO (film speed)
3.  bouncing light with reflectors
4.  location
5.  white balance (each camera has different settings to shoot in.  My POS has 21 (portrait, night, sports, etc... and my Nikon has 8. These are fluorescent lighting, sunny, flash, cloudy, shade, A (auto) etc..)   Light has temperatures and these controls tell the camera how to read the light.

I usually know in advance how I want to shoot my plate of food, I usually have to go to that location.  I have three rooms in my house that have awesome light.  They have lot's of windows.  I love my kitchen because the window above my sink gives great directional light.  It almost looks like a beam and shoots on the corner of my counter across the way.  My living room is wonderful  because the windows are on all three sides and my base is white (lots of reflective lighting)  I like this spot because I don't get a lot of shadows, especially on an over cast day.  Another place is my dining room.  This is where I can create a mood that is darker because I have two windows that don't produce a lot of lights, plus my table is dark.  My front porch and my back deck are other favorite places to shoot.

This image is SOOC.  I used my camera to adjust the shutter speed and aperture.  I did have my camera mounted on my tripod.  This helps with shake, depending on how low you have to go with your dials to get the shot.

Find your favorite places to shoot and learn the lighting for that time of day.  I have been known to get up at 6 in the morning just to capture the light in my kitchen window.  If you are serious about taking quality pictures you will have to be flexible with your surroundings.  I think that most people don't understand how much light there is during an overcast day or in a shady area. With the right settings on your camera you can shoot in "imperfect" scenario's.  KNOW YOUR CAMERA.  This is pivotal.  Many people don't read the manual.  I read them and then reread them and highlight.

All of my personal food pictures are shot with natural light.  If I do need a little bit of help, I turn to the lights in my house.  These will be fluorescent or tungsten (light bulbs). One will give your pictures a cool look and the other a warm look.  I have an Ott light that is easy to move around and offers a little bit of light if I need it.  Light travels and you don't need your light source right on top of your picture, you will over expose your food if you do this.  Take a couple of test shots until you find what you are looking for.  Move your feet.  This sounds odd, but it's true.  We get in one spot and forget to move left or right.  Food looks different at different angles.  This rule applies to your natural lighting source too. Sometimes we get so close to the food, that we create a shadow and by moving the food or ourselves we open that light source up.

I used the reflector to bounce some light in the very middle. This is SOOC.

If you are not using any type of enhancing software or actions on your pictures then you will find that their are better times of the day for you to shoot your food.  This all depends on your camera too.  I can shoot in a pitch black room and you would never know it, but again, not everyone has this ability.  I recommend that you invest in a simple software program that can lighten your pictures, if necessary.  Photoshop Elements is an easy and inexpensive program to use.  With this program you can also import actions to use on your photo's.   A free program is GIMP. These actions can sharpen your images, add soft focus (blur) or center light.  Florabella Collection is the company I use and they are awesome (Shana does not know that I am mentioning her in this blog), they are just that excellent.  You can find many free actions too.  Do a search for "free photo actions" and they should have a PSE or PS version to download.

My window is awesome.  Lots of light.  This was shot on an overcast day and so I had very little shadows.

The last thing I would recommend is to practice, practice, practice.  If you are shooting with a digital camera, you have unlimited shots to take and delete.  When I shoot food or a dish, I generally take anywhere from 15-30 pictures of the same food.  I am constantly moving the food around, spinning the dish, moving props behind the plate; shooting every angle and possible shot.  I know that you don't always have time to do this on every dish, but find the time to do it on some.  I don't take as many pictures if I am shooting a tutorial for a blog.  My "teaching" photo's are different than my "featured" items.  I even will use my flash on the camera to take the "teaching" pictures.  (OK, I confess, it happens...LOL)

This is a vast subject with lots of different ways to answer your questions.  Hopefully you were able to find something that you can use to enhance your food photography experience with lighting from your own home.

1. Know your camera.
2. Know the lighting that your house has to offer.
3. Invest in a reflector of some sort, or two.
4. Purchase a simple software program that will sharpen your images.
5. Practice!

Lighting is just one aspect of taking pictures of food.  Next week I will give some simple idea's and instruction on styling your food.  ENJOY

Below you will find the pictures that I will use to help you visually see some of the ideas I mentioned above have been used.  There are quite a few, but after all, we are photographers and pictures are the best way to show you "what I mean".


My Kitchen.  You can see my cutting board that I use a lot by the sink.  And you can see the light that is reflecting in the sink.  This is my "ray" of light.  I used this for the Almond Macaroon above.
Dining room with dark furniture and smaller windows.  By having the two windows , I can close one depending on the "mood" of the picture.
The other side of my kitchen.  That corner of my counter that is highlighted with the "ray"..that is how I captured the crab cakes above.  Love this spot in my kitchen.
This is what I use at home to reflect light. I have a white piece of poster board, a large reflector that is white/gold and white fabric.  I use this to cover up backgrounds too.

My living room with my white bay window.  

Lots of images with SOOC and afters.

SOOC. The image is okay but not perfect for the look I was going for.  I opened it in PS and did the following: sharpened image, added the action of Pearl from Florabella Collections.

I wanted this image to look aged and yet sweet.  I was able to do this with the PS actions.  Some times my time is short and don't have all day to work on the perfect picture.  


I changed the setting on my camera and added reflected light.

This is a common picture to see with flash, regardless of quality of your just happens.  I am not a fan of this look.

This is SOOC...again it's an ok picture, but not what I would like to see. 

 I went into PS and sharpened the image, added a soft light to middle and darkened the edges.  It show cases the plate much better. my kitchen.  You can see the tungsten light at work with the color on the image.

The tungsten light did not bother me, I just wanted the jerky high lighted more , so I used the reflector and directed my light from the window onto the jerky.

SOOC...too dark.

SOOC..better.  I adjusted the camera settings.

SOOC..I held the reflector to add more warmth and light to the sandwich.

SOOC..Sometimes our digital pictures have a dark/cool look to them.

I use PS in this image to once again create the sweet/vintage look that I was going for.

SOOC..too dark.

SOOC...still too dark

Just right.  I did sharpen this image.  Sharpening helps a ton in digital photography.  To learn more about this and why you can find several sites through google that talk about this specifically.

 I used the same plate in two different locations...MOVEMENT, it helps.

In the window sill, too dark and not what I was looking I went to the kitchen.

SOOC..this is what I wanted,  dark in the rear, light on the macaroon.  Perfect!

Well, I hope that this helped.  I enjoyed writing this and look forward to next weeks: styling your food>

Please fell free to share this blog posting with your fans and friends.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

9. GF Flat bread

Yes, that is honey! The bread is wonderful toasted.

What is flat bread?   I don't know, I just can't think of another name for it and I don't want to take Silvana's "slab" bread term.  So, you get my Flat Bread..LOL  I have tried so many types of breads...slabs, focaccia, loaf, etc..and always found myself not completely satisfied.  Mostly because the bread is great when right out of the oven and then a few hours later it shrivels up, becomes gummy and some just don't taste right.

This is an close up picture so that you can see the crust and the airy insides.  I love the rustic way the bread looks.

I have spent the last month adapting a recipe that I found on by Gluten Free Girl.  The texture was good, the crust was awesome but I did not like the taste.  I am not a fan of white rice flour and starches being the only "flours" used.  I want flavor, specks (reminds me of wheat) and so I have reworked it and I find it absolutely amazing.  It has a beautiful crust, soft center (airy and light) and cooks up wonderfully in oblong flat loaves.  It taste like french bread. No "kneed" to worry about getting the loaf pans out, I use a pizza stone.  I have used this bread for sandwiches (I cut them in half), toast (cut them in half), soups (cut into wedges), fondue (just pull it apart) and it has performed wonderfully for each task.

I make the bread and it does not last more than a day in my house.  The kids love it too.  So, I hope you enjoy the recipe, give it a try, share it and try it (even if you are not GF, because it is that good)..ENJOY!

I finally have a bread that holds up for a sandwich, with tons of toppings!  YUM


1 cup of sweet sorghum
1/2 cup of millet
1/2 cup of white rice flour
1 cup of tapioca flour
1 1/2 tsp. salt
3 tsp. xantham gum

2 T. sugar
1 1/2 cups of warm water
2 T. yeast

2 T. extra virgin olive oil
2 whole large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 tsp. vinegar

butter, herbs, seasonings for toppings

Mix the first 6 ingredients together.  I use a whisk to make sure that it is well blended.

In a small bowl mix sugar, water and yeast.  Let sit until yeast is frothy on top.  If after 3-5 minutes your yeast has not done anything, you may need to try again or replace your yeast.

Combine the olive oil, eggs and vinegar in another small bowl.  I do this to make sure that I don't accidentally crack any shells in the flour.

Combine the two liquids into the dry.  You will notice that it takes a few minutes of stirring to become "gooey".  The xantham gum is working but takes a minute.  Using your hand mixer or large mixer, beat for 3 minutes.  The dough does climb.  I use a spatula to help keep it from reaching the top of the beaters.

Start preheating your oven to 400.  Add your pizza stone.  I don't use traditional cookie sheets.  I like the stones because they create a wonderful crust on the bottom.

I get two sheets of parchment paper ready by sprinkling white rice flour first.  The dough will be very, very soft and sticky.  It's okay.  Take a spoon and scoop the dough in two equal amounts on the parchment sheets.  Sprinkle each pile with white rice flour, enough so that you can gently push the dough into rectangles.  I usually try to make my shapes about 8 inches wide and 12 inches long. I try to make it about an inch thick or less. The more you spread our the thinner the bread will be.  This is okay, it's up to how thick you like your bread for sandwiches and toast.

I let the bread rest for 30 minutes.  It will rise, but not double.  If you want to add olive oil, herbs or seasonings, this can be done now.  Just use a small amount of oil and brush gently over the top and sprinkle your toppings to the desired amount.

This is the flat bread right before I put it into the oven.

Remove your pizza stone. I use a magazine to move the dough onto the stone.  I pull the edges of the parchment paper onto the magazine and it moves the dough beautifully onto the stone.  I don't have a big pizza paddle ( I will have to get one),  or put the dough and parchment paper on something before hand that you can slide easily onto the hot stone.

This recipe makes these two loaves of flat bread.

Bake the bread for 15 minutes.  It will rise and get a crust on the bread.  When you remove the bread it will fall and create this lovely loaf.  I have cut the bread right out of the oven and it does not squish down but I would recommend letting it cool for a few minutes before serving.

I store the extra bread in wax paper, wrapped in foil.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

8. Coconut Almond Macaroons

Simply Gourmet Photography by Sherron Watson

I love coconut!  I love it in any form: flake, milk, cream or whole.  I lived in the Philippines as a child and I remember fresh mango's and lots of coconuts.  I have been collecting coconut recipes for a long time. I can't help myself.  I love the coconut flavor in curries, cakes, drinks and cookies.  So it was only a matter of time before I tackled a recipe that included coconut in it.  I am sure this will not be my last one.

When I was diagnosed with Celiac disease I said goodbye to a lot of foods but mostly to cookies, cakes, bread and rolls.  I was never a huge fan of sweet treats but every once in a while it was nice to have something sweet and yummy.  When you have the option to chose, it  sometimes gets taken for granted.  I felt that way for a while until I realized that lots of people learn to cook, adapt and endure through the cravings.  What helped me?  Macaroons.  It was the one thing I could find at the store or in a bakery that was gluten-free.  I was grateful for this one treat and often when I eat them you will hear me "oohing" and "aahing" at the flavor and texture.  Texture is a big deal in my world...LOL

I have read lots of recipes and they pretty much all have the same ingredients.  With this said, there are lots of people to credit for the "macaroon" recipe.  I decided to put a slight spin on mine to make it unique and different from "most".  I hope you enjoy this yummy treat.  It makes a beautiful dessert tray for a party or neighbor gift.  ENJOY


2 cups of coconut.  I buy mine from Whole Foods and it is unsweetened and unsulphered.
1 cup of almonds, finely ground. I use my mini food processor to grind the nuts.
1/2 cup granulated sugar
5 large egg whites (save the yolks for making home made noodles)
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla.  I use bourbon Vanilla from Trader's Joe
1/4 tsp almond extract.  I would not recommend any extract that is not "pure".
6 0z Bittersweet chips. I use the Ghirardelli 60% Bittersweet, so good!
1/2 cup heavy cream

Combine the sugar, coconut, almonds and egg whites in large saucepan.  Stir over medium-low heat until the mixtures is sticky, about 8 minutes.  You will notice that it gets creamy then sticky then dry.  Don't let it get dry.

Remove from heat and spread mixture on cookie sheet lined with parchment and let cool in the fridge, about 30 minutes.  While mixture is cooling, preheat oven to 300 degrees.  I used a cookie scoop to form my macaroons into rounded forms with flat bottoms.  You can use any form or shape that you want.  I like easy and the scoop is easy and they are all uniform in size.

Take cookie sheet from fridge and start making your shapes.  I found that it is better if the scoop is packed tight.  They leave the scoop better and don't fall apart when you lift them to dip them into the chocolate.  My batch, with the scoop, made 30.  I was able to fit them all on one sheet.

Bake the macaroons for 30 minutes. They should look toasted.  If after 30 minutes they are not, then increase your stove to 325 and set the timer for another 15 minutes.  Every stove is different.

Once cooked, they need to cool completely. They should be firm on the outside and soft in the middle.  Make the chocolate dip by warming the cream on the stove top until just steaming, not boiling.  Finely chop the chips and add to cream.  Using a spoon, stir until all chips are melted.

When the macaroons are cool, dip the bottoms into the chocolate and put onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.  I added some chocolate to a baggie, cut a small hole and topped each macaroon with chocolate and a Maraschino Cherry.  Return to the refrigerate and let chocolate become cooled and solid.  You will have to peel the bottoms off of the parchment paper, it's pretty easy to do. ENJOY!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Recipe...Curry Lentil Soup w/ Ham

My family loves soup. I love soup.  So together we eat a lot of soup.  I find it to be a great way of getting lots of veggies into my kiddos, a great way to use up bones and a meal that can be eaten over a few days.  

This soup came about because my kids love ham.  I mean really love it.  That is all they will eat on their sandwiches.  I buy Boar's Head because it's gluten-free and taste fantastic.  It has a tendency to run about $10.00 a pound, some weeks we go through 2 pounds. Do you see where I am going with this post..OUCH to my pocket book.  So, I had an idea or is it an ideal idea ( I love words too and I really wanted to use those two words together) LOL.  

The idea was that I needed to buy a spiral ham.  I figured that I would get more lunch meat out of it, it would taste good and I would have a bone to make a delicious soup with.  We picked a ham that was 10 pounds and we payed $30.00 for it.  

I trimmed the ham of the sliced meat, left a few pieces on the bone for soup and gathered together some chunks for a later meal.  I ended up with 6 zip locks bags for lunch meat, one bone and enough scraps for omelettes.  I was very happy with how my "ideal idea" worked out.

Here is where the recipe comes to fruition.  You know by now that I love to use leftovers and to use what I have on hand.  When the call to create comes you just have to run with it.  I had lentils, an acorn squash and the ham bone.  I made a loaf of fresh bread and we had a fantastic meal.  


1 Ham bone, our ham was 10 pounds
1 cup of ham meat
8-10 cups of water...My bone was big and I needed this much water to cover most of it. 
3 large carrots, diced
3 celery stalks, diced
1/2 large onion, diced
1 Large acorn squash, steamed or cooked until tender
1/2 cup of lentils
garlic, minced
salt to taste
pepper to taste
1-2 tsp of curry.  We like curry and I used 1 T., but I suggest that you start with less and build up to the flavor you are happy with.  Curry does add a bit of warmth to the flavor.

I used a large stock pot and added the ham bone, carrots, onion and celery to the pot with 8-10 cups of water.  I tried to cover the bone as much as I could.  I let this cook for about 20 minutes or until the carrots were al dente.  I added the lentils.  Let cook another 20 minutes or until soft.  

I strained the broth off of the veggies. Pulled the bone out of the veggies.  I put the broth in the fridge for 15 minutes to let the fat rise to the top.  Add the salt, pepper, garlic and curry powder. While the broth was settling I made sure the ham chunks were pulled out of the veggies and that there were not any bones or cartilage in the veggie mix.  I cooked my acorn squash until soft. Take the acorn meat and add it to the veggie mix.  

I don't own a fancy blender, but mine works great to puree some soup.  Grab the broth, remove the fat on the top and add 5-6 cups of broth back to the veggies.  You will have left over broth that can be saved for later, frozen or added to this soup, it just makes it thinner.  In your blender, add the soup and blend until blended to the consistency that you like.  We like to see a few pieces of carrots in ours.

I returned the soup to the pot, diced up the ham bits and let it simmer for an hour.  At this time taste the soup to see if you need to add more salt.  

Serve with buttered bread.  ENJOY!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Recipe and pictures....Kale, Kale dip and Kale Chips

Kale, ready to be washed and baked.
Kale is something that my family and I eat a lot of.  I can't remember how we were introduced to this leafy green, other than to say, that it packs a lot of good things into each bite.  We first used it in our morning smoothies.  We learned that you should not eat spinach too many days in a row, that you need to switch it up.  We tried lettuce...sorry, but YUCK.  We tried mustard greens...UM...HOT HOT HOT.  Our last attempt at the "green smoothie" was Kale.  It worked out great!  We loved the flavor and it actually is not as soft as spinach so we could see teeny, tiny little specks with each slurp of the straw.

I love the edges of these lacy leaves.  This is what you want to see when making your selection.

Once we discovered it, I wanted to see what else we could use it for or with.  I have steamed it like spinach.  It steams up very pretty...very dark.  I also noticed that it is not as apt to over steam as spinach. It still had some substance to fork and chew.  We all liked that.  I will tell you I made the best sauce to go with the Kale.


1 cup of orange juice
1/2 c. yogurt
1/4 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. brown sugar

Boil the orange juice down to 1 T. of syrup.  This takes about 15 minutes and once it starts to boil down it goes fast.  I almost lost the tablespoon by boiling it all away.  Add syrup to the remaining ingredients and serve with steamed kale.

I got distracted...back to the kale chips.  I shop a lot at Whole Foods, because I like the organic fruit and veggie selection and also because they sell a lot of what I use to cook gluten-free.  They have kale chips,  although, I was not willing to spend the money they were asking.  I came home and googled the recipe anf found out how simple and easy it is to make kale chips.  So, no, this is not my recipe...but I do use it a lot.  I don't even know who to give credit to because every place I checked had the same recipe...LOL


1 bunch of Kale, washed and dried
1 T. olive oil
salt to taste

I don't like the "rib" in the kale.   I always cut this out.  You can leave the leaves whole, cut into strips or small pieces.  We like ours big. Wash and pat dry.  Toss olive oil, kale and salt in a bowl.  Preheat oven to 350, lay leaves on a cookie sheet or across a shelf in the oven.  I like to lay them directly on the shelf.

You can see from this image that the oil is not heavy on the leaves.  If this happens they tend to not cook as well.

Kale will turn brown when it is baked.  The more it bakes the crispier it gets and the darker it gets too.  I would recommend cooking for 15 minutes and then testing a piece.  All ovens cook different and the actual time may vary.

I find that some pieces don't get all the way crispy but we still eat them.  My kids love this treat.

Kale Chips are hard to photograph by making them look appetizing...LOL.  Just know they do taste great!

Same picture as above, just got a little bit artsy...after all I am a cook AND a photographer and sometimes they collide.



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