Saturday, January 5, 2013

Let your imagination go ...

... before you do start photographing food. Maybe the best best advice I could give when it comes to photographing food. Food photos are more than to display the food as acurate as you can. A good food photo will stimulate the imagination of the viewer. The viewer should almost taste the food, should be caught by the atmosphere, get a certain feeling which is more then than just looking food. The idea behind a food photo is important, because without it, it will be just another photo.

Over the time I have photographed the same subject or food several times. Beside the fact that my photography has changed over time and hopefully my scills have improved somewhat, it is also a journy through different ideas behind the photographs. In a series of four photos with clementines, tangerines, mandarines or what you like to call them, I will take you with me on a food photo trip from 2007 to 2012.

Clementines (3/3)
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2007

In this first photo from 2007 I have tried to create a very sunny impression, because the fruit comes from sunny countries. I have used a very strong backlight from upper right in a close setting with just one mandarine in focus against a white background. To avoid too many highly overexposed parts in the photo, there is one mandarine in front covering a good part of the right side. And there is another one in left behind the fruit in focus. Because it is out of focus it let stand out the fruit more. Bounces from front left help to give enough fill light to avoid to harsh shadows in front of the fruit.

Tangerines (3/3)
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2009

The 2nd one is from 2009 and it is more working through colors. Certain color combinations create / stand for an impression. The color triangle of the 2nd order colors orange, green and purple is a very strong color combination, which stands for a very active and lively feeling. The colors jump directly into your eyes without being as strong as the even more active color triangle of 1st order colors (yellow, blue, red). I have not over pronounced the contrast here. In retroperspective the composition could have been more dynamic. The two triangle built by the the three fruit on left (1) and the three single leaves in front and back (2) emphasizing the main diagonal line from upper left to lower right, but the angle is too high for a more dynamic mpression here. If I would redo this one I would go for a more dynamic setting with stronger contrasts and a more unusual angle.

© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2010

In 2010 I have used a natural setting by displaying the mandarines in a wooden boxon a wooden background. And all fruit in the box with still fresh leaves should get you the idea of freshness and fruit from an organic production. Displaying food in a "from top" angle are great for graphical settings. Here the madarines are ordered in straight lines, but the leaves create a layer of disorder above them making it more interesting to look at. To add some dynamic I have used a tilt-shift lens here. With a t/s lens you can manipulate the focal plain. The focal plain here is not horizontal oriented as you would have it with a normal' lens, it is oriented from lower left to upper right. Such non-regular focal plains can be catchy and when you take a look at food photographs you will find that is used more and more.

Mandarine Still Life
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2012

In the latest photo from 2012 I have used the style of a more classical still life setting to confront the freshness of the fruit with a darker setting reminding more of a painting than of a food photo. The setting is focussing on the textures of the fruit peel and the shape of the leaves. In this final setting the leaves seem to be even more important than the fruit. This is empasized by repetion of the leaf pattern in the background. The light from lower left is kept structural to highlight just one spot on the peel and bring out the lines of the leaves. I have kept the strong shadows on the right side.

When you go through this series again you will find that the photos are very different in the impression you get. And sure you will one more that the other three depending on what you like to see or what you expect from a mandarine (fruit) photo. Therefore it is important to let your own imagination go first before you photograph food. What is the impression / idea you want to create and how you can achive it.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Spiced Cocoa-Coffee Cookies

Spiced Cocoa-Coffee Cookies
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2012

Spiced Cocoa-Coffee Cookies

Instant Coffee powder (enough to make 1 cup)
80 mL milk
250 g chocolate (containing 70% cocoa)
350 g all-purpose flour
350 g brown sugar
60 g Dutch Cocoa powder
1 Tsp gingerbread spice mix*
2 Tsp baking powder
1/4 Tsp salt
120 g softened butter

2 eggs (size: L, 63 to 75 g)

Very fine sugar
Powdered sugar

* On gingerbread spice mix: in Germany you will find it in most supermarkets around christmas.  It contains cinnamon, star anise, fennel seed, cloves, cardamom, coriander, nutmeg, and dried orange peel. You can try to create your own mixture.

Dissolve the instant coffee powder in luke warm mil and set aside. Melt the chocolate very carefully using a waterbath and set aside to cool down again. Sieve flour and dutch cocoa powder into a large bowl and mix with the other dry ingredients. Add the very soft butter and mix. Then add the eggs one by one and mix. At last add the milk mixture and mix until dough is formed.

Preheat oven to 200°C. Line out a baking tray with baking paper.

Take walnut sized pieces from the dough and form into balls. Roll these balls frist in very fine sugar and then in powdered sugar. Then place on baking tray. Bake cookies for about 8 minutes until cracks appear on upper side. Let cool cookies on a cooling rack. Then dust again with powdered sugar. Store in a dry and cool place.

 Spiced Cocoa-Coffee Cookies

© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2012

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The negative space in food photography

The 'negative space' in art is the room around the subject, which is sometimes called 'positive space' then. The room around the subject in food photography is often filled by props and side elements. And the props and side elements can become subjects on their own supporting the main subject - the food. In general one would not call this negative space, because it is filled with 'side' subjects, although it is possible that this background and side elements work as negative space in some way. More obvious is the negative space, when it seems to be 'empty' too.

The best known negative space in food photography is when you photograph food against a sheer white background, like it is done in the following image:

© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2011

This kind of negative space is suited for many publications, because one can isolate the food easily from the background and can use the food in many different ways without being determined by a maybe distracting background. You will find such photos in many stock photo collections.

The negative space, especially when it takes more room in the composition as the food does, can be used to emphasize on contrasts, structures, textures or to bring the attention to certain characteristics of the food.

Vineyard Peaches
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2011

In the above photo I have used a light blue color in the negative space which makes a 1st order color triangle with the red and yellow of the peaches. It is not a true color triangle, because the colors are 'broken', but the blue negative space brings the attention more to colors. Together with a soft backlight you get the impression of smoothness and silkyness of the fruit. And the colors still remain a fresh impression.

Water Melon (2/2)
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2011

Another example with a negative space and color contrast. In this image some melon seeds were placed beside the water melon. With such a empty space every little element gets more attention like here the seeds. This effect is based on a 'room contrast' (small-to-big-contrast). And although the seeds just take a very small portion of the image, their meaning is enmphasized by the negative space. When there would be more side elements here the meaning of the seeds would be reduced.

Red Apple
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2011

In the above photo with the red apple the negative space is used to emphasize on the structures on the apple surface. See how the more or less strucure-less background brings your attention to the different structures of the apples. And to use a dark background helps here to make the apple the 'brightest' spot in the photo, which makes it easier to highlight even little color differences and textures.

© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2011

In this monochromatic photo of an avocado the background introduces a different structure. One can use the structure contrast to hightlight the structure of the subject (avocado) more. To pronounce this more I have used a structural light from left which creates more shadows so that the texture of the avocado is seen better.

The cake (1/2) The cake (2/2)
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2011

There are transistions from an 'empty' negative space to a more filled negative space as you see it in the above two photos. To maintain the feeling of an empty space the coffee pot and cup in the back were kept out of focus. With a defined focal plain on the food and a more shallow depth of field one can separate the subject (food, here cake) from the rest of the photo and so one create a kind of negative space too.

One can find many different ways to use the negative space in food photography. And here are some more examples from the Food Photography Club (a discussion group on Flickr). Please click on the link to see the photo:

Untitled (by seven spoons • tara)
- a very reduce composition with a graphical setting. Beside the great use of the graphical patterns (circle of the food against squares of the background) a color contrast of broken red, green and blue is used.
Blackcurrants (by zapxpxau) - the basket is used to frame here the blackcurrants with in the frame. The grass is giving the impression of fresh picked fruit.
Apple core (by sunshinemomsblog) - also an example of color contrast using first order colors of red, blue and yellow. The negative space is also giving the impression of the apple core left behind, because the negative space is an empty space too.
Couscous agli Agrumi - Citrus Couscous (by Alessandro Guerani) - a very strong color contrast. The yellow and purple are strong colors in contrast to the green. The large area (negative spave) the green is taking here brings the green into a good balance to the two stronger colors yellow and purple.
Cheese souffle (by Souvlaki For The Soul) - great use of bruigthness contrast. The souffle is the brigthest spot in tis composoition whereas the rest of the photo is based on darker notes and is also out of focus. It creates a very rustic atmosphere.
distinctive characters (by Melina Hammer) - a monochromatic setting with a plain two colored background. This setting is focussing strongly on the wonderful structures and textures of the mushroom.
enjoy 0019-153.jpg (by skrockodile ( - this caviar shot is almost a black & white image. Only the script is remaining of a color image. Here we have a two-fold negative space. The caviar in the box is working as negative space for the caviar on the spoon. And the white background is a negative space for the bow. This minimalistic setting is emphasizing the exclusiveness of the caviar.
Chocolate brownies w dulce de leche (by DarioMilano Food Styling & Photography) - a monochromatic setting which creates a lot of tension by placing the food far off center. The lines of the brownies are counter acted by the wooden lines. And the the dark shadows are separatring the food from the background.

If you browse through the above mentioned flickr group 'Food Photography Club' you will find many more examples on the use of negative space in food photography.

If you like this post, you make alos like to read:
High and Low Key Food Photography
How close to the food should one get in food photos
The breakfast shot
Post Processing in my Food Photography

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Simple Hazelnut Christmas Cookies

Hazelnut Cookies for Christmas
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2010

These christmas cookies are easy to make and fast too. In Germany they are called Haselnussmakronen. The cookies are crunchy after baking and have some cracks on the outside and some bigger holes inside. The icing with chocolate is optional. You will find many variation sof this type of christmas cookies in Germany.

(numbers of cookies is depending on size)

2 eggs (medium size, in Germany: size M)
250 g powder sugar
250 g Hazelnuts (grounded finely)
grated peel of 0.5 lemons

chocolate for icing

Preheat oven to 180°C. Line baking tray with baking paper.

Mix the eggs with powder sugar until very foamy. It is important that the sugar is completely dissolved. It can take about 10 minutes. As longer as you mix as better the cookies will get. Fold in the grounded hazelnuts and lemon peel. Using a pipe bag pipe little cookies on the baking paper. Bake the cookies for 12 to 15 munzes. The cookies will slightly brown and will get cracks on the outside. Let cool on the baking tray for some minutes before you transfer them to the cooling rack.

If you like you can dip the cooled cookies into icing chocolate.

On the photo
I was using a color setting with browns (wood, cookies, backdrop) and sprinkle in some more christmassy green and red. Because you can not tell from the cookies I have added some hazelnuts as reference. I use natural light coming from upper right from a window. A bounce from lower left for fill lights and to reduced shadows. I have tried it with more shadows, but then the chocolate icing gets too dark for my idea.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Almond Cookies Matches

Almond Cookies Matches
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2010

It's November and it is getting closer and closer to christmas. And christmas is cookies time. And fun. Here is a very easy recipe based on an almond piped cookies. By using a different piping nozzle you can turn them into cookies matches by glacing the tip of the cookies with red color icing or into burnt matches by using chocolate.

Almond Cookies Matches
(depending on size)

70g almonds (grounded)
100g powder sugar
1 egg yolk
2 tablespoons milk
2 tablespoons Amaretto
60g softened butter
160g all-purpose flour
0.5 teaspoon baking powder

Red Icing:
100g powder sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
a few drops red food coloring

Toast the grounded almonds in a pan until golden. remove immediately from heat and let cool on a plate. Mix sugar, egg yolk, milk and amaretto until the sugar is dissolved . Add butter and mix until well blended. Add almonds and mix. Mix flour and baking powder, then add it to the butter mixture. Mix until blended. Don't overmix.

Fill dough into a piping bag (round piping nozle with a diameter of 8-10 mm). Pipe cookies onto a baking paper with a lenght of 8 to 10 cm. Place the cookies on baking paper in the fridge for 1 hour. Meanwhile pre-heat oven to 210°c. Take cookies out of fridge and bake for about 10 minutes. Take out of the oven and let cool completely.

For the icing mix the ingredients. The mixture should not be running. Dip the tips of the cookies into icing and place them on a rack. If you like melt some chocolate on low heat. Dip tip of cookies into chocolate for burnt tip of the matches.

Decorating: Make a small box which looks like a match box. Put some cookies into the box.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Coconut Rice (Thengai Sadam)

Coconut Rice (Thengai Sadam)
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2010

I found the original recipe for coconut rice in cookbook for vegetarian cuisine from South India and adapted it slightly to my needs and preparation. I love nutty flavors in this recipe by the sauted coconut, the roasted sesame seeds and the cashew nuts.

Coconut Rices
(should serve 4e)

1 cup long-grained rice (I used Basmati Rice)
1 tablespoon oil (in the original recipe ghee is used)
0.5 fresh coconut
1 green chili (or more, if you like it hot)
0.5 teaspoons salt

1 tablespoon oil
1 teaspoon brown mustard seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon black gram dal
1 teaspoon Bengal gram dal
1 red chili (halved, seeds removed)
0.5 teaspoons Asafoetida
8-10 curry leaves

2 table spoons oil (in the original recipe ghee is used)
4 Tablespoons cashew nuts
Sugar to taste (optional)
2 Tablespoons white sesame seeds

Prepare the coconut. Then grate the coconut flesh. I like bigger pieces. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a pan and add the grated coconut. Sauté on medium high heat until the coconut is golden brown. Take from heat and take coconut out. Let dry on some paper towels. Set aside.

Dry roast the white sesame seeds until they are sligthly brown. Immediately take out of the pan and set aside.

Heat two tablespoons oil over medium high heat and add the halved cashew nuts. Sauté the nuts until golden. At last add some sugar to taste to caramelize the nuts. This will give them a delicat sweet touch: I like them this way, but you can omit this step. Remove from heat and let them dry on paper towels. Set aside.

Cook rice according to package directions with 0.5 teaspoon salt. When rice is done add finely diced or chopped green chillies and the sautéed coconut. Set aside.

When the rice is done make the tempering. Heat two teaspoons oil on high heat. Add first mustard seeds. Let cook for about 30 seconds. Then add cumin seeds, black gram dal, Bengal gram dal and the halved chili. At last add the Asafoetida and curry leaves. The tempering is done when the mustard seeds start to pop. Then add the mixture to the rice and mix. Garnish with the cashew nuts and roasted sesame seeds. Enjoy.

On the photo
I stayed here in a monochromatic color setting with brown the dominant color, except for some green. I used a wider depth of field here to get a more busier appearance of the scene. I wanted an impression of a table with plenty other dishes, although I show only one part of it. Therefore I cropped it harder, so that it looks like on a serving tray with the garnishes on the side. The coconut in the food is/was hard to highlight, but the coconut in the back does it. The whole coconut also adds a nice strcutural contrast to the brown basket and the brown backdrop. To highlight the rice more I laced it in a white bowl that acts as a framing and seprates it from the rest. The three other white circles (little bowls and coconut) are not overlapping to have them as own structural elements. The lighting was easy. Ligth from a window from upper right. On left back and back I used black flags to get a darker background. On the very fron I used a bounce from top to get some fill light in front of the bowl.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Moonblush Tomatoes

Moonblush Tomatoes
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2010

I found the recipe for moonblush tomatoes on Sylvie's Blog 'A Pot of Tea and a Biscuit'. I was hooked by this easy recipe and by adding the flavors of olive oil and thyme. The first time I have made it as described by Sylvie. The 2nd time I couldn't resist and did it my way and it did work too (at least for me).

Oven-Dried Tomatoes
(Moonblush Tomatoes lazy man's style)

Preheat ovent o 220°C. Take as much cherry or/and date tomatoes as you like and half them. Put them cut side up into an oven proofed dish. Brush them with olive oil, sprinkle them with a bit of salt, then with sugar to your taste. Rip off the little leaves from thyme sprigs and sprinkle them over the tomatoes to. Put tomatoes into the oven and keep temperature for 5 minutes at 220°C. Then reduce heat to 70°C and let the tomatoes in the oven as long as they are as dry as you want them.

This is a recipe with no amounts and times given. I do amounts and timing here as I like it in that moment.

About the Photo
A very easy setting using a high angle. The color setting is based on primary colors of red, blue and a bit of green. Again I'm using a warm (red food) vs. cold (blue background) color contrast. The blue is not just the cooler color here. It also stands for freshness and sea (referring to a mediterranean setting). The red tomatoes in a soft backlight are of a warm red. For the styling I added the fork with a single selected toamto on it. The fork acts here like a kind of framing to get the attention to that tomato. I used this styling idea here to the attention of the viewer focussed more. Otherwise an anchor point would be missing here for me. The addition of the thyme sprigs and the olive oil bottle are just to make reference to the recipe.