Food & Light: Photographing Challenging Food & Personal Assignments

I realize many of you are probably sick of the photography banter.  Sorry!  But not that really.

Since that’s what I did this week, and since my blog is not only a recipe source but also a lifestyle blog, and because photography is my passion, I am going to continue on with what I learned.

Feel free to skim, tune out, or just go look up the recipe for Flourless Peanut Butter Cookies and make those instead of reading about photography.

For the rest of you, time to press on with the photography talk.

After our morning lecture session on Day 1 with Diane (see lecture notes & tips from Jen & Matt here and Diane’s amazing notes & tips here  <–I’m so glad many of you told me that her photography tips were helpful.  I personally think they are worth their weight in gold!  And I will be reviewing them over and over for myself)

Watching Diane in action was just profound.

Before even picking up my camera, or looking at the dishes and props, I looked at the food table.

But I had no idea what to select to shoot.

Since I had already shot cupcakes here and here, I decided it was time for some plants.

These radishes had definitely seen their better day but I tried my best to make some tired looking radishes be the prettiest little radishes I’d ever laid my eyes on.

I wanted so badly for this shot to succeed and composition-wise, I think it’s fine.

But the produce looked like it had spent time in the garbage disposal before making it’s way onto my wooden board.  Frustrating!

The images below I believe are better.

I was very attracted to the radishes I selected because they are two of my favorite colors: pink and purple.

Let’s call this Image A

Nature really does have the best color palette. MAC, you got nothin’ on nature.

Do you notice any differences between Images A & B

Look closely in the background.

The below is image is what I am calling Image B

Really, the only noticeable difference between those two images is that Image A has a spoon with peppercorns blurred out and Image B has a knife blurred. <– Those are the kind of tiny subtleties and nuances that can make and break shots.  Start paying attention to every.single.detail.

And re-read Diane’s notes.

I really wanted an overhead-top-down shot but it just highlighted the sorry state of affairs of the radishes.  Darn.

In the end, backlight, a bit blown out, shooting straight on was really the only way to disguise the mangled leaves.

And shooting that way also brought out the best of the pink and purple shades I believe.

Peppercorns worked slightly better than a knife, but a toss-up, really.

The Moral of the Story:

The theme of the shoot we did wasn’t an attempt to make beat up food look better, or at least make it look acceptable.

The theme was not to try to shoot challenging food.

It just sort of turned out that way for me based on the produce I selected.

I could have taken the easy way out, scrapped the radishes, and opted for and photographed a peanut butter and chocolate chip cookie

But I wanted to push myself and stretch myself.

Because let’s face it, when you’re photographing anything from your grilled cheese sandwich at 8pm after work with horrible lighting to your slightly boring iceburg lettuce salad to that mushy-ish peach you’re snacking on, we all know that not every piece of food that passes your lips is camera perfect. 

Sometimes you have sorry looking food and you need to try to make it look better.

The same could be said for photographing people, your cat, your uncooperative nieces and nephews, whatever it is, not everything or everyone wants to cooperate for the camera.

So challenge yourself with these situations; push yourself, stretch, try to grow and improve.

If there is one thing Penny de los Santos hammered home on my Photography Tour of Mexico City, it was to give yourself assignments and then do them.  That’s the only way you’ll grow.

If you want to become a better and faster runner, you put together a training plan with some mileage and speed goals, and then you do it.  If you don’t, you’re not going to improve.

Same with photography.  Or anything.  You have to give yourself assignments, or goals.  And then follow through.  Diane also suggested this on our final day of the workshop too: long term projects and assignments.


1. What is hard for you to photograph?

I have discussed this before.  I have quite the arsenal of not so pretty food pictures.

I think comfort food like hotdishes, casseroles, mac ‘n cheese, even spaghetti can be hard.

Mushy food like mashed potatoes, stuffing, pudding, hot cereals, oatmeal.

Runny food like soups and stews and chili.

Vegetarian proteins such as beans, lentils, baked beans, chickpeas, currries.

Brown and tan-colored food from beans to soups to meats to eggrolls to oatmeal.

All of those foods are hard to photograph effectively.

I must have taken 100+ images of Cheesy Taco Casserole to get a half dozen that were acceptable. 

The lighting was good, the dishes where white

But mushy food, a casserole, melted cheese, rice, tan-ish/yellow-ish, vegetarian, comfort food.

It had all of my challenging elements in one recipe!

What’s hard for you to photograph?
  It can be hard to photograph cats, dogs, and kids, too!

2. What assignments or goals have you given yourself recently?  Not necessarily with photography, but with anything?

I believe that stagnation with anything in life is not really a good thing.  When we stop pushing ourselves and challenging ourselves, seeking out new endeavors, finding new passions, discovering new twists about life or learning more about subjects that we already thought we “knew” all about, is when life becomes less than interesting for me.

That’s when I naturally seem to find myself wanting to travel, learn something new, make something new in the kitchen.

I always need to keep challening myself.  The way that I am wired (and my brain that never seems to shut off <–wish it would) won’t let me just rest on my laurels, so to speak, for very long

Lately my goals and assignments are photography related but sometimes I have other goals and intentions from becoming debt free to getting more sleep.

P.S. The winner of the Healthy Cookie & Brownie Giveaway is:

Heather @ Kiss My Broccoli August 1, 2011 at 5:57 am

When it comes to healthy cookies, I am ALL OVER peanut butter chocolate chip hummus balls! I think I actually prefer them to regular cookies! Haha

Congrats, Heather!

56 comments on “Food & Light: Photographing Challenging Food & Personal Assignments”

  1. I’m traveling and super-busy with class about to start, but I find this kind of post probably more interesting than the standard recipe post. I so totally agree with you about constantly learning new things and staving off stagnation. I found your endeavors with the radishes really interesting, how you managed to keep attention on the beautiful roots and away from the rather tired leaves…

  2. The radishes really do have such a gorgeous glowing color — and you captured it perfectly. I can already picture the bottle of essie nail polish — radish-ing instead of ravishing. hehe.

  3. I love seeing your new photographs!! So petty and fun! (seriously. is there anything more fun to photograph than food? I think not. )

    And I think any kind of soft, mushy, casserole type thing is hard to photograph. What do you put it in? A bowl? A plate? decorate it somehow? It’s just weird.

  4. Cleary I’m not about to ever get sick of your photography banter. In fact, I’m so glad you are sharing all those wonderful tips from the workshop. You rock girl :)

  5. I feel we are so alike in some things.
    The reason I fell out with my flatmate is because she never sets herself ANY goals and stactats, which might work for her, but I am the exact opposite. I am always challenging myself and I love it. Also, I love your blog :)

  6. Awesome pictures, I had run reading about and comparing the radish shots. So true on challenging yourself.

    1. For me it’s lighting, selecting dishes to make the food pop, and arrangement. I need more time to challenge myself in these areas.
    2. Money saving goals, house project goals, photography goals, etc.

  7. your photography looks gorgeous I always struggle with hummus and greens !

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  9. Averie your photography is perfect!! I need to fly out so you can teach me some things ;)

    I notice I have hard with chocolate or anything dark in color. Have a hard time getting contrast and texture.


  10. I am pretty sure that you are amazing. I would never have thought anything bad about those photos of the radish’s, had you not said anything. It also makes me so happy that you are pursuing things that you are so evidently passionate about!

  11. Hi…I got this shocking news today; maybe you would consider letting people know about it? They are accepting donations to help this innocent businessman post bail/pay for legal bills. Lots more info. at the natural news website and is worth a read. Pictures, too.

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  15. My life seems to be full of assignments and goals … I have a bunch at all times. Right now I am working on making sure that my sister’s wedding on Friday is perfect. I also have plans to do some research this week for my thesis.

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  17. Sick of your photography posts? No way! They are my favorite thing about your blog!!!

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