Sunday, February 28, 2010

Potato Bread Spread

Potato Bread Spread
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2010

The Original title of this recipe is "Waldviertler Erdäpfelkas". Waldviertel is a region in northwestern of Austria. Poatatoes are often called Erdäpfel (apples grown in soil) in Austria. Kas is a shorting for Käse (cheese), but it doesn't mean that there is cheese in it, but the consistency is like that of cheese or reminds one of cheese. I found this recipe in a book for bread spreads. This one is rustic and easy to make. You can easily make it in advance.

Waldviertler Erdäpfelkas (potato bread spread)
(no idea how many this will serve)

200g potatoes (flour type)
1 egg (hardboiled)
50g butter (softened)
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 onion
2 anchovy filets
1-2 pickled gherkins
1 teaspoon paprika powder
1/2 teaspoon caraway (grounded)
1-3 tablespoons yogurt
salt to taste
dark rye bread (or any other kind of rustic bread)

Peel potatoes and cook until soft. Let cool. Then mash the potatoes. Divide hardboiled egg into egg white and yolk.

Chop anchovy filets, onion, gherkins and egg white. If you like you can leave some bigger pieces. If you want a smooth spread chop to small pieces.

Mix softend butter, mustard, hardboiled egg yolk, grounded caraway and paprika powder until smooth. Add the mashed potatoes and mix until well blended. If the mixture is not smooth enough for you, add yogurt until desired consistency.

Then add the ochopped anchovy filets, onion, gherkin and egg white. Mix carefully but do not mash. Add salt to taste.

Serve this spread with your favorite bread. Sprinkle chopped chives over the spread.

About the photo
The idea was quite easy. Because it is a very simple and rustic bread spread I used a rustic and easy looking seeting, which could represent the idea of a quick and easy snack. I used the top down angle with the food not taking much area. So there was more room for the rustic setting. I kept the background mainly in grey tones with the wooden board as main element. I have several of these wooden boards. I buy cheap ones and paint them the colors I like or find appropriate. The main compositional element are lines. There are thre from lower left to upper right (1st by the little board with the bread on it, 2nd made by glass and little plate, 3rd towel). These thre lines are counterparted by the line of the knife. The wooden board is bringing in the vertical line which is also used by the spread (on bread and on plate). The brown plate is taking the lead here, the eye seem to rest on it longer. This was intentionally done, because it gives some tension to the food on the bread. I tried to give the spread on the plate more attention, because one could see the texture of the spread here better than on the bread.
Lighting was easy. Natural hard light from a window on left. A fill light from lower side and another fill light from rigth side to brighten the shadows.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

How close to the food should one get in food photos

Christmas Bakery Fun Project (7/7) - the final shot
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2010

... a personal view on close up shots in Food Photography.

The question is how close should I get in my shooting to the food and not how close can I get in food photography. A close up in food photography is not a question of the technical limitations but a question of composition and content. Sometimes it seems that photographers like to get as close as possible (technically) to the food and not even thinking about a wider setting (what is the best way to make the food look appealing).

Maybe I should explain first what I mean with close up. For me a close up is a setting where only small part of the whole food/dish is shown OR where the food take most of the area in the photo, so that there is almost no background or empty space to be seen. An extreme close up would be a macro, where only details of the food are shown.

A look into food magazines
I read (monthly) food magazines for quite some time. And most of the photos presenting the food are not close ups. Most shots are done with a wider setting, presenting not only the food, but also plates, tableware, proppings and other stuff. And in my opinion there is a reason for it: the background is important for the mood of a photo. A table setting can be stylish, casual, formal, rustic, sunny or related to other impressions. And often it is that feeling the setting is creating which makes us want to make the recipe or what is more important (for them) to buy the magazine.
Close ups are used when the food is very stylish or the styling is important, but in many of these closer settings you still have "space" around the food/dish. Close ups are also used for ingredients, when they are presented alone (often against a sheer white background).

What is the difference between close up and wide setting?
No, I don't mean the distance to the food. What I mean is the difference in the compositional idea. With getting closer to the food you do two things: (1) you reduce background information, so that the space around the food is getting smaller and (2) you concentrate more and more on the food and its details.

(1)The space around the food, the background or whatevery you would like to call it has an important role in food photography. It is making the environment with all the different aspects of tableware, proppings, background and backdrop styling, or colors used. In a wide setting the food is the major element in the composition BUT not the only one. And with the other elements you can create atmosphere and mood which is influencing our perception of the food.

© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2010

In this photo for "English Breakfast Muffins" two elements explain what the food on its own couldn't do. The newspaper stands for breakfast, because it is that time of day, when many of us read the news. And the tableware withits ornaments are standing for typical (or what we think is typical) English tableware. The orange marmelade does the rest. In a close up on the muffins you would have had a hard time to transport this message. As closer you get as more you loose this compositional idea.

(2) As closer you get as more and more you are relying on the food's own fascination. And every little detail of the food is getting more and more important. When in a wider setting a "spot" on the food can easily be overseen, it will jump into your eye when you get close. And as closer you will get as more the shown detail has to speak for the whole food/dish and has to represent it in an appealing way. In one word, it has to be PERFECT.

Perfection is what makes a close up really difficult. You have to capture that one thing that makes your food look beautiful, the thing that makes other say wow. In a wide setting every element is "small" and so the small spot might not even get noticed, but in a close up every element is "big" and so the small spot will turn into a big one, a distracting one.

Christmas Bakery Fun Project (7/7) - the final shot
The photo at the beginning of this post is a good example. I think it is a good close up, not perfect maybe, but in my opinion I came as close as possible to what I have in mind. There is no obvious distracting spot to be seen and this single cookie is a good "summary" for the whole food. The sauce on top has a nice texture and the white chocolate makes a nice curl. There are no distracting crumbs on the cut through. But what is most important: although this photo is old (it was taken in 2006) I still like it. Yes, that's a main point: I still like it.

Anchovy and Caper Vinaigrette
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2010

It is completely different for this close up. This is one of my close up shots which is NOT good. But a good example to explain why. It was made for an "Anchovy and Caper Vinaigrette" that's why there are some lettuce leaves. The lower left corner with the leaf is too dark, it would have neede an additional fill light. And in this close up you don't get what the food is all about. The surface of the vinaigrtee is nit very attractive in this close up and the bits of anchovy and caper are hard to recognize. With that angle the color of the vinaigrette is not well defined. OK, one could say a vinaigrette is hard to photograph. But I would say, if you can't do it right, why do it at all. Think of a different way to do it. When I would do it now, I would go most likely with a wider setting to include what this vinaigrette is for. Salad stands for freshnes, for a light dish (I would try to include that). This vinaigrette seems typical for mediterranean food. I would try to include that. It would be a different approach: this close up tries to focus on the food/recipe no matter what. Now I would try a different approach: do not focus completely on the food but try to transport the idea of a mediterranean salad with a wonderful vinaigrette on a sunny day. I'm not sure how wide in my setting I would get here, but the next example could present a first idea for this one too:

Leek in vinaigrette
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2010

This setting is much wider as the one before, but this could also stand for the vinaigrette.

A suggestion
I know close ups are fascinating, especially when they are professional. But they have to be well done to reach the viewer. A small mistake can turn into a big one and the food sin't appealing any more. Before you get closer and closer to the food think about, if that is the way to show the food from its best side.

Two examples from my older shots (both were taken in 2006).

Close up
Rhubarb Pudding
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2010

Although this is close to the food (the spoon with the pudding on it), the leveled angle gave me the chance to include the dish in the background which let it appear not as close as it was. According to my own explanation above, this one wouldn't be a close up. But from the perspective here it seems very close (and technically it was very close, because it was very close to the minimal distannce of the lens used here). I still like this one for its color and the texture of the pudding on the spoon: it has a nice texture, smooth but not runny. This photo is an example for what I said above: perfection. The spoon was the first element I brought in, mounted and fixed in this position. Then I did the lighting so that the reflections on the spoon were just right for me. I placed the glass with the pudding in the back so that it is behind the handle of the spoon. After all these arrangements were done I dripped on the pudding very carefully, so that it looked "nice" in my opinion. I did this not once, I did it several times. As soon as the pudding was on I did an exposure series.

Wide setting
Fruit Soup (1/3)
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2010

A close up of the fruit soup couldn't shown the all the different fruit which are in the soup. The wide setting was perfect to disply them on the side of the soup and it gave me the chance to play around with the different elements in this composition.

The next two examples are using the same object (brussel sprouts) and again one close up setting and one wide setting.

Close up
Brussel Sprouts
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2010

This close up is working on two details which are not only representing the food, but also make this recipe for me. (1) The popping green color of the brussel sprouts which stand for freshness and the crispyness of the sprouts. The shimmer on them let appear them juicy. (2) The crispy browned onions rings. The taste of the brussel sprouts is so enhanced by browned onion rings. In a wider setting I couldn't have focus more on these two details. I would have lost the onions rings, because they would appear too small.

Wide setting
Hot brussel sprouts curry with Azuki Beans
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2010

I choose a wide setting here. Getting closer here would have mean that I would focus more on details, but there are no details which are important to get the "idea" of this recipe. I include it in this post after the comment made by Wizzy about propping in wide setting. A wide setting doesn't need automatically more proppings. Beside the bowl the food is presented in, there is just a spoon and a place mat. The grey backdrop is a paper board. Such proppings like spoon, napkins, place mats, glasses, bowls are at hand. Even if you don't have many different ones, you can combine them in different ways.

If you like this post, you might also like:

Monday, February 22, 2010

High and Low Key Food Photography

Food Photography is about creating a certain "mood". A food photo, which doesn't create a mood for the viewer will not be effective as a photo with immediate responses like happiness, a cozy feeling, a friendly impression, a stylish look or any other response.

High and low key approaches could create suchfeelings, moods and impression by using this idea which is often used in fashion photography or b/w photography. A high key photo could be described in using bright colors, a soft lighting and reduced contrasts. A low key photo can be described by using dark colors, a harder lighting and stronger contrasts. I low key you often find large areas which appear almost black.

High Key
With the bright colors, the soft lighting and the reduced contrasts you can create a friendly mood. Impressions like sunny, soft, friendly, cozy, smiling, bright, airy, light come to mind.

© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2010

In this one I have used a very simple composition: apples in a bowl against (cropped on right side) and a light green background. The light is coming from left through a window and was smoothed by a sheer curtain. So, I could get a soft light without to harsh highlights. When you take a look at the highlights on the apples they are bright but the borders of the highlights are soft. To get the image brighter I have overexposed the image. I tried different setings of getting the image as bright as possible without creating blow outs in the highlights. Although blow outs are used in high key shots, I think that in food photography one should use blow outs carefully. Here I wanted definition in the highlights too.
The colors have almost the same brightness and saturation so that the contrast are reduced. I was using the color triangle of a broken red, blue and green. This can create a happy impression and is not as active and dominant as the primary triangle of red, blue and yellow.
I cropped the bowl on right side. One could say I cropped the shadow side of the bowl and so I cropped out some of the contrasts which would have occured in the shaded area. For the apple on left side I used a fill light from upper right to reduce the shadows on the right side of this apple.
To make a softer appearance I used a more shallow Depth of Field.

Why I used a high key setting here? The color of the apples (variety 'Fuji') are of a lovely bright red to pink with some yellow notes. They are not overly sweet and have a 'light' taste with fresh fruit notes. So color and taste were the reason to go with a very bright setting, which creates a sunny, light and friendly feeling.

Low Key
With the dark(er) colors, a hard lighting and the higher contrasts you can create a more subdued mood. In stills you can even create the mood of old paintings. Impressions like evening, rustic, subdued, homey, earthern, heavy come to mind.

Red Apple
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2010

As soon as I saw this apple (variety 'Red Delicious') I knew that I would use a low key approach here. The texture and coloring of the apple is very picturesque and reminded me a bit of apples you can see in still life paintings. The surface of the apple is very unique, indvidual. So I just wanted some light on the apple to highlight this structure but want to leave the empty space more or less in darkness. Because a plain black or dark background would give an artificial look, I used a dark wooden board for some structures. And the wooden backdrop is emphasizing the rustic character in this photo.
In contrast to the high key photo above I used flags to exclude light and to direct it. The light is coming from upper left side from a window. I didn't smooth it here. You can see that the hightlights are strong and have much sharper borders than in the high key photo. A black board (flag) was placed on the right side of the apple so that no light could be reflected to the right side of the apple. I wanted tto keep it in the darkness. There is also a flag on upper side of the photo to keep the back more in the dark. To direct light and to create a smaller, more visible, beam of light I use two flags on left side (black boards) to narrow down the light as much as needed. A bounce from upper front is giving a soft fill light on the apple to highlight a bit the structures of the apple surface.

High & Low Key
In the two examples above the food gave me the idea to use a high key or low key approach. But you can use the same food to create completely different food photos.

Rose Tea (1/2)
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2010

Rose Tea (2/2)
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2010

In these two photos for rose tea (dried rose buds)I created a complete different mood in the high key shot (3) and the low key shot (4). Although you can compare the settings, which are very similar, the mood and impression of both is very different.

I like both photos for different reasons. The high key one for its very airy feeling and the brightness, which is creating a very clean impression. The low key one is highlighting the wonderful color of the rose buds. Against the dark background the color is standing out well. To break the plain black of the background I have placed a cup in the back. This is adding orientation and dimensionality. Without the cup in the back it would have been to artificial. I could have placed some buds on right side of the plate for that reason too but I wanted to keep the photo as simple as possible. In the high key shot (3) I have some rose buds on right side of plate to structure the white a bit more. Otherwise I would just have an area of color against a white background.

High and Low Key Photos are maybe more "extreme" concerning lighting and contrasts, but they give you the chance to play around with mood in your food photos. And they give you the chance to train yourself in lighting and how to use light. In photography it is very important to know the basics of lighting and to train your skills.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Pickled Eggs

Pickled Eggs
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2010

Pickled eggs (in German: Soleier) is not only a good usage of hardboiled eggs but more little salty treats.The recipe is very easy and you can adjust it to your own ideas. Take the recipe as a kind of blue print for your own pickled eggs. The salty eggs go well together with a sweet and spicy chutney.

Pickled Eggs
(ingredients given for 1 litre)

40g salt
4 bay leaves
1 tablespoon black pepper corns
1 tablespoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon juniper berries
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
6 cloves

You have to adjust ingredients and hardboiled eggs to your own needs. The amount of salt water depends on the size of your preserving jar.

The number of hardboiled eggs depends on the size of your preserving jar. Boil the eggs for 10 minutes. Let cool down and crack the shell (but do not remove the shells). This will give the salt water the chance to penetrate the eggs much better.

Prepare your preserving jar(s). Clean them and fill them with hot water. Remove water. Carefully put the hardboiled eggs into the preserving jar(s). Add the spices and the herbs.

Bring water with the salt to a boil so that the salt disolves completly. Add as much of the hot salt water to the eggs in the jar. The eggs should be covered completely with the salt water. Close the preserving jar. Let stand for 24 hours before you serve them. You can store the pickled eggs for a few day in the salt water.

Serve them with your favorite chutney, sauce or dip. You could also try tabasco sauce or just mustard.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Curd Doughnuts with Cranberries

Curd Doughnuts
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2010

During the time of Carnival you will find all different kinds of doughnuts in Germany. Big ones, small ones, filed ones and with all different flavors. These one here are different in their own way: there is curd in the dough. Curd (German: Quark) is very special. It adds such a nice fresh note, something between jogurt and a cream cheese. Cranberries in the dough are not typical for German but they go so well together with the flavor of the curd.

Carnival season in Germany starts on 11th of November at exactly 11.11am each year (called the 5th season) and ends with Ash Wednesday (Aschermittwoch). The high season for Carnival in Germany starts thursday before ash wednesday called Alt-Weiber-Donnerstag (Old Hag's day). On sunday the street carnival has in many cities of the rhine region a first highlight with parades in the quarters of the cities. In Cologne and Bonn they are called Veedelszoch and it is must to participate in the parade of your own quarter. On carnival monday there are the big parades in the cities. Famous is the carnival monday parade in Cologne, which is one of the biggest ones in Germany.
I have to apologize: I live in Bonn (near Cologne), so my opinion might be influenced in some way.
You can find some more information on Cologne Carnival on Wikipedia. Or you might like to visit the information presented by the City of Cologne.

Curd Doughnuts with Cranberries
250g Curd
3 eggs (medium size)
60g sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla sugar
1 dash salt
50ml sunflower oil
2 tablespoons raspberry fruit brandy
250g all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
40g dried cranberries (chopped)

150g sugar mixed with
1-2 teaspoons cinnamon powder
in a bowl for dusting the fried doughnuts

oil for deep frying

Mix eggs, sugar, vanilla sugar and salt until creamy. Add the curd and mix until blended. Add sunflower oil and mix until blended. Add fruit brandy and mix until blended.

Mix flour, baking powder and chopped cranberries. Add to the egg mixture and mix just until blended. Do not overmix.

Heat oil for deep frying in a suited pot. Carefully put walnut sized pieces of dough into the oil and fry them for 2-4 minutes from each side or until slightly golden. The doughnuts will double in size during frying.

Take the doughnuts out with a slotted spoon and dry on kitchen paper. While still warm roll the doughnuts in the sugar cinnamon mixture.

They are best when they are still warm. Serve them the same day.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Post Processing in my Food Photography

I'm frequently asked, if I do post process my digital photos. Of cause I do! It is part of the whole photography process. For me "post processing" is the part which is comparable to "film development & print" in analog photography. Post processing is the fine tuning in digital food photography and for me integral part of it.

In the following I will give a brief overview about the post processing steps in my photography.

White Balance / Color Balance
Although I check the white balance frequently throughout a shooting using a grey card and manual white balance of my camera, there are cases where a little correction is needed or where I would like to emphasize a certain color mood.
I check every of my photos for white balance, even if the white balance doesn't need to be adjusted. It has become a routine operation for me in post processing. And with that routine I have trained over time my eye for slight variations in color mood, color hues and white balance.
To do this properly a color calibrated monitor is essential. A detailed thread on this topic can be found in the Food Photography Club of Flickr (Tips, Tricks & Opinions: Monitor Calibration).
A good white balance is always based on a proper setting of the white balance of your camera. When you have a digital SLR use the manual setting(s) and follow the manual. For manual white balance you will need a grey card (or when you don't have one a white sheet of paper instead) as reference for the manual white balance setting. If you don't have a digital SLR or your camera is just offering some pre-settings, use the one which comes closest to a neutal white. If you can't decide which setting works best on the little LCD screen of your camera, try different pre-settings. So you have different choices for the post processing later. For post processing it is very helpful to have something "white" in the photo as reference for your white balance adjustments. I often have used a very small piece of white paper and placed it somewhere in the photo where I could easily clone it out later after I have adjusted the white balance.
If you are interested in some more information, I suggest the following links:

A properly focussed photo is the basis of a good photo. With "sharpening" or "re-sharpening" I do not mean to sharpen an otherwise blurry photo and to repair it in some way. I would suggest to do it the hard way: DELETE every blurry photo. The worst thing that could happen to me is to rouine a good composition by wrong focussing and to get a blurry photo.

With a perfect focussed photo you can go into the further steps of post processing which are doing more or less the same as you know them from analog photography when you develop your films or doing prints in the darkroom. I don't want to get in the more technical details here, but in film photography the chemical processes involved enhance the sharpness of photos. A phenomenon which is often described as "unsharp maskening" and makes use of differences in toning of neighbour areas of your negative or during print development. Software products like photoshop are offering a digital tool to mimic this effect called unsharp maskening. It can be found in the filter section under the different sharpening tools.
For food photography I like the tool "highpass filter" often more, because it seems to enhance the overall contrasts and dimensionality of the photo. Especially for photos, where you need just a slight sharpening this works great. You will find it in the filter section under other filters.
In photos where I have large colored areas which should not be sharpened and other areas with fine structures which should be sharpened I also use the unsharp maskening method in the luminance channel of the photo. For this you have to switch from RGB-mode to the LAB-mode first. Then select the LAB-brigthness from channel section of your photo. After doing this you use a slight soft-focus of a- and b-channels (Gauss effect). With that you get good defintion in the fine structures without sharpening the colored areas too much.
For my post processing I often use the high pass filter with a pixel radius less than 5. The luminance method is more complex and you need some more fine tuning here. I often start with a setting for the unsharp maskening of the luminance of pixel radius of 1.0, a strength of 200% and a threshold of 2. For the soft-focus effect according to Gauss I start with 0.5 pixel radius for a- and b-channel.

Although I have used the expression sharpening in this section, one has the say, that it is not a sharpening (in the wordest true sense) but a method to enhance the contrast in your photo so that they appear "sharper". What I have said so far is based on my experiences for digital uses. For hard print you could use the same tools, but the tools are used differently.

Is there a case, where sharpening of a photo is a must? Yes. Any time you reduce image size in pixels or reduce data to make image smaller in storage size, you should re-resharpen your photos to maintain their status in sharpness. All my photos of medium size I posted here or on flickr are re-sharpened after size reduction.

Sometimes, when I have overseen a mark, fleck or stain, I try to clone it out. I have to admit, that I do this only for very small areas, where it can easily be done. The reason: I'm too lazy to spend too much time for this kind of post processing. And you can do it much easier, when you plan your shooting and do the arrangements very carefully. But accidents can happen and when it can easily be done, I do it.

Sometimes I play around with contrasts, gamma values or color saturations. But I have to say, that I don't use them frequently. Or when I use them I use them very carefully. Changes to the original levels seldom exceed 5%. And when I used them in post processing a variation in contrast, gamma values or saturation was part of the whole process. Example: When I would like to have enhanced contrast but can not get the effect by lighting, exposure and aperture I take into account if I could get that effect by post processing.

Gereneral discussions on post processing
Here are two links to threads on post processing you might be interested in to read: