Thursday, September 3, 2015

Recipe Redux: Evolution of an Amateur Food Photographer

Normally, the space where these words occupy in the body of my posts has a picture of the dish I have chosen to publish. Obviously, that format will not be followed today but I have a good reason.

I have several dishes to present.

Today, I will be discussing food photography; more specifically, my food photography. It's no secret that I've always felt deficient in this area when I compare myself to my peers. It's not all bad, however my favorite pictures I shot happened, for the most part, by dumb luck.

It's subjective, but I believe the best picture on my website is the one taken of the Watermelon Gazpacho Shooters for Chef Fabio Viviani but this picture was taken by a professional photographer:

In fact, my favorite picture I took for the website up until now was inspired by the picture above. My Strawberries with Red Wine Reduction and Whipped Cream dessert was taken at Lake Elizabeth in Fremont, California:

Another favorite of mine is the Pesto Glazed Chicken with Herbed Spaghetti dish but I had help. I was just replicating Chef Curtis Stone's presentation:

A third picture that has been popular among my readers is the Chicken with Mushroom Demi-Glace that was published almost two years ago. If I remember correctly, I didn't execute the sauce properly so it wasn't one of my better tasting dishes which is ironic since the picture was one of my best:

There have been other dishes where I have been satisfied with the plate presentation, but not the quality of the picture. They include:

Chocolate Espresso Gelato

Thick Pork Chops with Spiced Apples and Raisins

Summer Panzanella

Pan Seared Scallops with Lemon-Basil Beurre Blanc, Pancetta, Apple and Fennel

Olive Oil Cake with Strawberry-Red Moscato Sorbet and Moscato Zabaglione

Coffee and Molasses Brined Pork Chop with Roasted Corn Salsa and Watercress Salad

Pan-Seared Duck Breast with Red Wine Reduction and Roasted Winter Vegetables

In most of these pictures above, the main issues I continually had were with lighting and background. The gelato pic and even the pesto glazed chicken was taken at my kitchen table. The chicken with demi-glace, pork chops with apples, panzanella and scallops were taken on an end table in the family room where I put the plate on placemats. I used this area because it was closest to the best light source I had at the time which was a table lamp. The base is partially visible in the chicken with demi-glace. Taking advantage of the natural light available to me, I started shooting outside for a couple of months last year using a card table which is where the picture of the olive oil cake was taken, however at the time I didn't understand how to diffuse light and this picture in particular is overexposed. In fact, the zabaglione is barely visible. The pork chops with corn salsa and the duck breast dishes were taken at my current residence but in two different places: the pork was taken on my kitchen counter and the duck was taken on a wooden TV dinner table.

Last month, I took a leap forward when I purchased a mobile photo studio. I have published a couple of dishes that were shot using it but I wanted to know what some previously published food might have looked like with the tools available to me today so I went back and reshot some dishes:

Coq an Vin.

February 2012

August 2015

Red Wine Braised Short Ribs:

March 2013

August 2015

Unfortunately, the sauce started to separate a little in the updated picture.

Ravioli di Ricotta con Burro Bruno e Salvia :

December 2013

August 2015

I added a little spinach to the ricotta filling in the updated dish.

I published two versions of Steak au Poivre. The first post was published in January 2014:

I updated the dish a couple of months later in April 2014:

Updated picture as of August 2015:

and finally, Broccoli with Beef:

April 2015

August 2015

In this case, I specifically chose a dish that was originally published earlier this year because I wanted to contrast a recent dish. It's easier to notice differences between pictures taken years apart but will the differences be more subtle with versions taken only months apart? In the earlier version, I plated an individual portion in a bowl with a serving of white rice. In the updated picture, I presented the dish family style similar to a fine Chinese restaurant.

Final Thoughts

I must note here that the updated steak au poivre picture has become my new favorite. It concerned me at first because the white plate against a white background created a lot of negative space but I was told by a few trusted advisors that it makes the food on the plate pop. I have since used it as the wallpaper of the lock screen on my phone.

I hope to continue to improve my presentation in the future.


  1. I have a lot of thoughts so hopefully I'll present them here in an organized manner! First of all, I love your blog because you cook things that most amateur chefs, me included, believe are difficult and unattainable at home. You break it down, you challenge yourself, and you present it in a way that makes me think, "wow, maybe I can make that!" It always looks delicious, I'm sure it TASTES delicious and you are incredibly honest - you always tell us when something didn't work out, how you could improve, etc. Your photos don't look like everyone else's and that's a good thing. I'm sure you can tell by looking at 100 other blogs that everyone's photos are starting to look the exact same - very professional, slick and glossy, and it's not necessarily a good thing. You are definitely improving with your photography skills and I applaud you for telling us about your struggle and constantly challenging yourself to do better. All of your updated dishes and photos look awesome!

  2. It took me years to finally figure out how to take decent photos---but there are still days when I get my dish made too late in the day or the lighting won't cooperate. It is a huge challenge to photograph food. You're definitely on your way---your new photos look terrific!


Feedback is always welcomed. If you're going to be critical, be constructive. In other words, be nice.