Apr 29, 2011

Fabulous Photos by the Non-Professional

Taking Photos When You’re Not a Professional Photographer 
by Cindie Flannigan
Let me say this right up front: I am not photographer. Here at Food Fanatics, we are not photographers, but we all take photographs everyday. We carry cameras around with us everywhere we go. From really nice digital SLR cameras to the cameras on our phones, we are never without some way to take a picture.

I’ve also picked up a bit about photography from working with some of the best photographers in the business and are going to share some of that knowledge with you. When your photo needs are small, like posting to your website or Facebook, you’ll get along just fine with a nice camera phone or small digital camera.

Cameras: Let’s start off with smallest of the small: the cameras that come on our cell phones. The iPhone 4 has a fantastic camera. The newer Blackberries have great cameras, too. Denise used her Blackberry Bold all across Thailand and took fantastic photos. We have Tiffany take photos of our food with her iPhone 4. I have an iPhone 3 and the camera sucks but I am going to have a 4 before the month is out.

A pocket-size digital camera is the next step up.  Food shots are mostly close-ups and mostly low-light. There are a couple of new cameras out with bigger sensors for shooting in low light: the Canon PowerShot S95 ($370), the Samsung’s TL500 (also $370), and our favorite, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5 ($400). Denise’s husband Kenny took this camera on their vacation and took the most amazing photos ever. He also took his iPad and used Google’s free Picasa app to edit, retouch and organize his photos.

A digital SLR is the nearly professional way to go but I don’t know enough about them to give advice. What I do know is that Canons are what most people seem to have, and close-up and macro lenses are what those people are always talking about.

Tripods: A stable table-top tripod is sufficient for most casual foodie shutterbugs. Some brands sell a swivel head separately, which is something you’ll need if you want to tilt your camera sideways. You can spend $10-$200 for a tripod so make sure it’s stable, can support the weight of your camera, and is easy to manipulate.

Shutter release cable: As far as I know there isn’t a shutter release cable for a camera phone, but there are for most digital cameras. What this nifty cable does is connects to your camera and, when you press a button on the cable, it activates the camera’s shutter, taking a picture. This way, you can take a photo without actually touching your camera, allowing for clear shots without any camera shake, especially in low light situations.

Reflectors: If you are like most of us who just want a nice photo of the dinner you just made, then you’re probably taking pictures with one or two light sources. Source one would be a nearby window and source 2 the overhead light. That’s why one side of your picture is bright bright bright and the other is in the dark. Using a white piece of rigid cardboard, foam core or Styrofoam about the size of a standard piece of paper, hold it so that it reflects the light from the strongest source onto the dark part of your subject. This is easy to do if you are using a shutter release cable.

Once you get your photos shot, keeping them all organized is the next big job. Google’s Picasa is easy to use, has online tutorials, and, best of all, is free.

Here's an illustrative photo to explain the use of reflectors by someone who has nothing in the way of professional equipment:

1. This shows the main reflector, an old whiteboard on a patio chair, which I'm using because I'm shooting in the shade and need some pretty light coming in. Technically speaking, this is a reflector, but it’s also acting as a strong light source.

2. The secondary reflector (a white plastic trashcan) is used to bounce some of the light from the first reflector back onto the item being photographed (a variety of earrings), softening the shadows.

3. My camera is an older Canon Powershot G5.

4. The camera is on a tripod that I’ve tilted with a piece of styrofoam since it doesn't swivel enough for overhead shooting.

5. My surface is a lovely, well-ironed linen tea towel that Denise brought me back from the Paris Hotel in Las Vegas (this is why we hold onto everything…we end up using it eventually).

6. The most important part of this set up is Peanut, who you can see resting in the patch of sun behind the patio chair. As you can see, she is art directing.

This is my set for photographing my jewelry that I sell on Etsy. I've got a 2-hour window when the light is good before I have to move to some other spot.

Professional photographers will most likely snort their coffee out their collective noses when they see this but my gum-and-duct-tape setup does improve the lighting and, in so doing, improves the final photo.

You can also place your subject in front of a window that has no direct sunlight shining through it. Have a piece of white cardboard, Styrofoam or foam core to reflect light back onto the dark side of the photograph or to add reflections on the surface.

Below is the final photo taken with my Canon. Beneath that photo is the same setup taken with my iPhone.

Digital Camera Photo

iPhone 3GS Photo
I hope these tips will help you to take nicer-looking photos. Denise and I teach our food styling workshop students how to make their food look gorgeous but, without good lighting, even the prettiest food can look bad. When students stay to work with us on a food photo shoot their own photos improve immensely.

Denise and I, along with Dianne Jacob (Will Write for Food) and Martha Hopkins (Intercourses: an Aphrodisiac Cookbook) will be holding a mini cookbook symposium at Surfas in Culver City,
June 25 and 26: Creating and Selling Your Dream Cookbook.

Check out our website at www.foodstylingworkshop.com to sign up or for more information.

All of our books are available on Amazon.com:
The Food Stylist’s Handbook
Do It For Less! Parties
Do It For Less! Weddings
How to Start a Home-Based Catering Business
How to Start a Home-Based Personal Chef Business
The Entertaining Encyclopedia
Perfect Table Settings

Apr 26, 2011

Shrimp Ceviche & Champagne Limoncello Aperitifs

We are feeling Summery.  These warm, breezy days and long, lazy sunsets are just begging for fresh seafood and tangy cocktails.  After making our shrimp ceviche and champagne limoncello aperitifs, take off your shoes, slip on your favorite sundress and put your toes in the grass while you enjoy some al fresco deliciousness.
Matt Armendariz Photographer
Tropical Shrimp Ceviche

Servings: 12
Prep time: 20 minutes
Setting time: 10 hours or more

1 cup fresh lime juice
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup fresh grapefruit juice
2 1/2 pounds medium-to-large (16-20 size) raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/3 cup red onion, minced
2 medium mangos, diced
1/2 pineapple, peeled, cored and diced
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped plus 12 small sprigs for garnish
3 limes, cut into wedges for garnish

Combine lime, lemon and grapefruit juices. Place shrimp in resealable bags (only fill bags half full, and double the bags for security). Divide citrus juice among the shrimp.
Seal bags, squeezing out excess air, and refrigerate for at least 12 hours or up to 24 hours.

Add salt, onions, mango, pineapple, and chopped cilantro to shrimp and toss to coat. Spoon into small glasses and garnish with a sprig of cilantro and a wedge of lime. Serve with crostini or skinny breadsticks.


•    Place servings in small glasses and nestle the glasses in crushed ice to keep it cold.
•    Buy good quality frozen, EZ-Peel or peeled and deveined raw shrimp.
•    U15 size shrimp are a good size for this recipe. “16-20 size” indicates that there are 16-20 shrimp     to the pound. Can you use smaller shrimp? Yes, of course you can. Just buy the same total weight.
•    Fresh citrus juice makes all the difference in the taste of this recipe. It’ll take some time to squeeze the juice but you can do that a few days ahead of time.
•    Buy mango already sliced in the produce section of your grocery store. Frozen will work in a pinch.

Heather Winters Photographer
Champagne Limoncello Aperitifs

Makes 12 servings

3/4 cup Limoncello, chilled
2 bottles champagne, chilled
Lemon zest ice cubes (optional, recipe below)

Pour 1 tablespoon Limoncello into each aperitif glass. Add a 2 or 3 ice cubes.
Fill glasses with champagne.

Lemon Zest Ice Cubes

 Makes 12 servings

4 cups distilled water
2 lemons

Fill 2 ice cube trays (smaller ice cubes will look better) with distilled water (distilled water makes clear ice cubes). Using the small holes of a standard grater, grate the yellow skin from the lemons. Sprinkle a little lemon zest into ice cube trays and freeze.

Apr 21, 2011

Creative Cake Tiers Make A Pineapple Anniversary Cake Special

Mama Mandy's parents came to town to visit their grandson, Ian, last week.  Their 37th wedding anniversary was on April 13 and Mandy wanted to recreate their wedding cake for the occasion (ambitious).  She also has a new baby and not a lot of time/motivation/energy.  Then, lightening struck.  She thought of her oven safe Pyrex bowls of various sizes and it occurred to her that they would make perfect cake tiers!

Ta da!

Mandy used the Basic Yellow Butter Cake recipe from Do It For Less! Weddings, substituting 1/2 of the butter and the milk with a 20 ounce can of crushed pineapple with the juice, since her parents enjoyed pineapple cake at their wedding.  She used Trader Joe's boxed white frosting (gasp, we know, but it actually tastes amazing) and topped the frosted cakes with 1 1/2 cups of sweetened coconut that she toasted in a 300 degree oven for 12 minutes.

The result?  Completely, shockingly moist and delicious.  All gone.  We guess necessity is the mother of invention, especially for this mother.

Don't have a cake plate? Use the bottom of an over-sized plate.

Sure does look homemade. The taste more than made up for that.

Basic Yellow Butter Cake (with substitutions)

4 oz unsalted butter, softened
1 3/4 cups superfine sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
4 large eggs
2 3/4 cups cake flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp salt
20 oz can crushed pineapple with juice

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Generously grease the bottoms and sides of cake pans.  Cut circles of parchment paper to fit into the bottom of each cake pan and grease the surface of the parchment paper once it's in place.  Add a small amount of flour to the pans and shake to coat the bottoms and side, then tap out the excess flour.

Using an electric mixer with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about five minutes.  Beat in the vanilla extract.  Add the eggs one at a time, beating well between each addition.

In another bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt.  With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture into the batter, one cup at a time, then add the pineapple.  Mix until well incorporated.

Pour the batter into cake pans (or Pyrex dishes).  Bake 30-40 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean (outside of cake gets golden brown).

Remove the cakes from oven and allow to cool for 30-45 minutes before running a knife around the edge and removing from dishes onto a wire rack.  Cool completely before frosting (Mandy wrapped her cooled cakes in Saran Wrap and refrigerated overnight before frosting).

Recipe courtesy of Do It For Less! Weddings, Sellers Publishing

Ian reading with his grandpa.

Apr 8, 2011

Back to Beautiful Rancho La Puerta. Won't You Join Us?

Denise and Cindie are returning once again to Rancho La Puerta to rest, relax, and teach cooking classes (in that order) at the end of April.  We think you should indulge yourself and join us.  It's good for you!

Click here to register

Here is a preview of our menu:

Tuesday, two Hands-On Cooking Classes, 11am to 2:30pm (lunch included), and 4pm to 7:30pm (dinner included). Same menu for both classes. Taught by visiting teachers Chefs Denise Vivaldo and Cindie Flannigan.

Creamy Baby Carrot Soup
Tatsoi Pizza with Leeks, Fennel and Goat Cheese
Arugula and Strawberry Salad with Sweet Vinaigrette
Seared Halibut with Spicy Mango Chutney
Broccoli with Caramelized Onions and Garlic Flowers
Avocado, Coconut and Lime Sorbet

Thursday, one Hands-On Cooking Class, 4pm to 7:30pm (dinner included). Taught by visiting teachers Chefs Denise Vivaldo and Cindie Flannigan.

Minted Curry Chickpea Patties
Bay Shrimp Crostini
Asparagus and Watercress Salad with Shrimp
Pasta Fungi with Golden Beets
Roasted Cauliflower with Pistachios and Golden Raisins
Peach Crêpes with Blackberry Cabernet Sauces
Bonus Recipe: Lavender Lemon Verbena Whole Wheat Shortbread

Apr 5, 2011

Will The Real Food Stylist Please Stand Up?

Photo Courtesy of Chef Louise Mellor

I've never told her this, but I think of Denise like the "Godfather" of Food Styling. She is the head of family, at the top of her game. She is a walking instruction manual, an authority on the subject, and like the Mafia - you don't want to mess with her, she means business. 

Click here to read Louise's experience at our
Master Food Styling Class I