First question: Who takes the photos on your blog? Answer: I do! Next question: Wow, where did you learn how to take food photos? Answer: Oh I read some blogs and books and then lots AND lots of practice. Often followed by: Where do you get all your cool plates and things i.e. props? Answer: Op shops, recycling centers, second-hand markets, the odd antique piece that catches my eye, and other items I have collected during my travels over the years. For example the big beautiful wooden bowls in this post are from a very memorable trip to Bali.
Food photography is one of those things that the more you learn the better you become, but the more you do it the more you realise you have to learn. When I first started Homegrown Kitchen 18 months ago I was using a point and shot [small handheld] digital camera and very quickly realised this wasn’t going to cut the mustard. If I really wanted to take photos like the ones I have seen on my favourite food blogs and magazines I had to step it up a level. After several shutter clicks of an entry-level digital SLR I was hooked, the control and photo quality way surpassed my little p&s.
For something a little different this week I thought it would be fun to take you behind the scenes of the creative process for a recipe. If you have ever emailed me with a recipe request you will know it can take me some time to get to posting the recipe here. Not because I am lazy – far from it! – because generally I plan my blog recipes at least a month in advance. Although some are very spur of the moment and absolutely have be shared right away. Last weeks kick-ass throat syrup and my accidental grilled nectarine caramel sauce are cases in point.
So when the actual time comes to photograph a recipe I have often thought about it here and there over a matter of weeks. What ingredients I need to get from the market. Is there a prop I haven’t got that would really add to the shot. The lighting, do I need good strong light or will a more moody light suffice. Then on the day the real creativity begins. I stand in front of my prop collection – pictured above – gathering this and that as the scene starts to take shape in my head. Sometimes it is simple with a handful of props, other times it’s more complex when there is a story to be told. I also love getting some movement into the shot and often use a tripod and timer to achieve this. I love the ‘there is person in here’ feel this gives a food photo.
I then start arranging the props, camera angle and camera settings, to ‘set-up’ my shot before I bring the food into play. This way I am not trying to change things around last minute, the less poking and prodding of the food the better. Next comes the food keeping things as natural and real as possible. There are no gels or sprays added here, as we always eat the food after – waste not want not. I occasionally use a brush of oil or spritz of water but that is where I draw the line. Once the food is ready I play around with the lighting, using a reflector to bounce light and get rid of shadows and / or a diffuser to ‘soften’ light. Other than a tripod these items are my essential pieces of photography equipment and they don’t cost the earth. The reflector is simply the back of a for sale sign, and the diffuser cost about $25 and makes a huge difference on a sunny day to reduce shadows.
With all this planning and fore-thought I aim to get my shot within 1/2 dozen shutter clicks. One of my loathes is sifting through hundreds of images for post production on the computer. This is where a tripod is essential to reduce blur and keep your position while faffing around with the food / props / lighting. In every blog post, article and book I have read about food photography the tripod is simply an extension of the camera. Although of-course it is not always necessary.
If you are interested in learning more about food photography and styling I can highly recommend Helene Dujardin’s book Plate to Pixel. This book gave me a solid base to build from with a good understanding of camera settings and styling. I am also a photography magazine geek and can often be found browsing them at the library while the children play – they share some very helpful tips. I hope you find this interesting and it gives you a little insight into what is involved to get ‘the shot’. You can read about the camera and photography equipment I use HERE.
I make this meal most weeks. It is one of my, ah oh I haven't made plans for dinner and its 5pm meals! Although there is quite a few ingredients involved the actual preparation time is relatively quick. This is a great family-style meal as it's all about the condiments. The young ones love the chopped nuts and us big people love the coriander, chilli and dressing. It's a win win meal.
250g packet rice noodles
2 Tbsp soy sauce or tamari
1 Tbsp fish sauce or extra soy sauce
Juice of half a lime or lemon
1/2 tsp palm sugar or brown sugar (optional)
2 Tbsp oil - I used cold-pressed Macadamia oil
4 free-range eggs, beaten lightly
200g frozen prawns or shrimps, thawed in a bowl of cold water
1 carrot, peeled and thinly sliced
1 cup frozen homegrown green beans
lime or lemon wedges
chopped roasted peanuts or cashews
chopped fresh coriander
chopped red chilli and jalapeno
soy sauce or tamari
- Cook the noodles according to the packet instructions and drain. Tip into a large bowl.
- Combine the soy sauce/ tamari, fish sauce, lime juice, sugar and 1 Tbsp of the oil in a jug.
- Heat the remaining oil in a large wok or frying-pan over a moderate heat. When hot, pour in the egg and use a wooden spoon to move the egg around the base of the wok to scramble. Tip the cooked egg into a bowl and return the wok to the heat. Add the prawns and vegetables stir-frying for about 5-6 minutes until the shrimps are coloured and vegetables just tender.
- Add to the noodles and pour over the dressing. Toss gently to combine. Serve immediately with little bowls of the condiments to add at the table is desired.
Variation: For a vegetarian option, replace the prawns with 200g of tofu cut into thin strips.
P.S. I will be launching my NZ Cooking Workshops Tour next week with bookings for Wellington available. Find more details HERE and make sure you join my *Events* mailing list HERE to be the first to hear about upcoming events.