As personal chefs one way to market your business is by showing off your food in mouthwatering photography. But all too many of us wind up with blurry and poorly lit shots of dishes that in real life were spectacular. One of our APPCA members, Chef Carol Borchardt of A Thought for Food, took this challenge to heart and learned everything she could about quality food photography. If you check out her website you’ll see she’s become quite the expert. We asked her to share her insights with you and she generously wrote a guest post with seven tips for better food photography.

Seven Tips to Better Food Photography
by Carol Borchardt

1. Study Good Food Photos
First familiarize yourself with what really beautiful food photography is. Websites such as FoodGawker.com and Tastespotting.com feature some of the best food blog photography on the web. Any food blog that has earned a “Saveur Sites We Love” badge will have exceptional photography (Saveur.com/siteswelove).  Some of the most renowned food photographers have a portfolio of their work on their websites:

·      Matt Armendariz

·      Penny De Los Santos

·      Aran Goyoago

·      Lara Ferroni

·      Beatrice Peltrie

·      Helene Dujardin

·      Teri Campbell

·      Katie Quinn Davies

·      Sara Remington

When you come across a photo that really appeals to you, study it and determine what it is about that photo that moves you. When you can determine what a good food photo is, you can begin to move your photography in that direction.

2. Understand Camera Fundamentals

 ·      White Balance: It’s called white balance because whites should be white and it can affect the entire color balance of your photo, which in turn greatly affects its visual appeal. White balance settings include Daylight, Shade, Cloudy and fortunately, Auto, which is where I keep mine set. 

·      Exposure: Three camera settings determine the proper exposure:  Aperture (size of lens opening), shutter speed and ISO (a measure of sensitivity to light).  For highest quality, shoot with the lowest ISO possible.

·      Depth of Field: The portion of the image that is in focus and a purely stylistic and artistic decision. This depends on the aperture and can only be achieved with a dSLR/SLR camera.

·      Camera Modes: The easiest mode to begin shooting food is “Aperture Priority (A or Av on the dial).” The camera will control the shutter speed based on the aperture you choose.

·      If all you have is a smartphone camera, helpful apps to make the most of it are:  CameraPlus, VSCO Cam, PicTapGo and Tadaa. If you’re still using a flip phone, you may want consider upgrading.

3. Understand Lighting

The right lighting can take an ordinary photograph and make it extraordinary.  Making food look good in artificial lighting is tricky and requires additional equipment and skill. Fortunately, the best lighting for photographing food is natural light and it’s free!

Know where your light is coming from. Side lighting or back lighting is best.  Think of your plate of food as a clock. If the light is coming from 9:00 or 3:00, you are working with side lighting. Back lighting will be coming from 12:00.  Front lighting (6:00) would mean the light source is in back of the photographer, which means the photographer would be blocking much of the light.

Two major lighting rules apply:

·      Turn off the flash if you don’t have the proper artificial lighting. The flash causes glare and it gives food an unnatural look.

·      Never mix artificial and natural lighting; it throws off the color balance.

4. Establish a Photography Work Area

Study and locate the best source of natural light in your home.  Preferably, you want a north or south-    facing  window.  The set-up does not have to be permanent.  Once you’ve established an area in which to work, start gathering basic tools, supplies and props.

 Studio

   ·     Backgrounds: Fashion something, such as a piece of plywood or MDF,  that you can set up to block out what doesn’t belong in your photo such as your sofa. Paint one side white and the other a dark color such as black, brown or green. White lends softness while a darker background is dramatic.

·      Surfaces: Gather fabric remnants for soft surfaces (and backgrounds).  Repurpose old and distressed wood from pallets or fencing, use old cutting boards and metals with a weathered patina such as a well-loved cookie sheet.

·      Gather unique textiles, plates, old silverware, old serving pieces, platters, etc.  Use simple round matte (no gloss) plates and bowls. Avoid patterned plates; white is always a good choice. Square or rectangular plates are very difficult to make look good in a square frame.

5. Pay Close Attention to Cooking and Plating

·      A mouthwatering photo starts with quality ingredients.

·      Read the recipe and visualize the dish. Evaluate whether it will make an interesting subject to photograph. Any brown food is going to be difficult.

·      Make sure prep is meticulous and keep the finished product in mind throughout the entire cooking process.

·      Be realistic with serving sizes. Some food bloggers love to load up plates and bowls. That’s fine for a food blog; however, our clients are looking to us to help them eat better.

·      Go for height. Try to “lift” your food off the plate. Stack brownies and cookies, place proteins on top of the starch or the vegetable. Don’t spread food around the plate; it looks flat and boring.

Salmon & Lentils

·      Garnish, garnish, garnish! Use whole herb springs instead of chopped and sprinkled; it’s a cleaner look that makes a bolder statement. However, the herb sprig should not dominate the photo.

·      Use food as props if the food was used in the dish: A bowl of avocados, cloves of garlic still in the skins sprinkled around, herb sprigs half chopped, etc.

Veg Filo Tart

6. Understand Composition

Think of composition as a group of ingredients required to cook up a good photograph:

·      Orientation  (Vertical or horizontal)

·      Balance (the visual harmony in the photograph).

·      Rule of Thirds is a good rule of thumb. Think of your photograph divided into a “Tic Tac Toe” grid (nine even sections). One of the points (off center where those lines intersect) is generally where you want to place your subject.

ruleofthirds

Chicken Chorizo Red Beans and Rice

·      Create “movement” with triangles. A great food photo keeps your eye moving around the photo in a triangle shape. The triangle can be the plate of food and two props or leaves of basil in a pasta dish.

·      Create “movement” with objects. Show something else going on besides the food just sitting there. Get a helper to hold a spoon of gooey macaroni and cheese being lifted out of the pan, the spatula still frosting the cake, etc.

·      Say it with color. Opposites on a color wheel always work together and a monochromatic look can be very dramatic.  Watch out for colors that clash.  If you wouldn’t wear the combination, don’t have it in your food photo.

·      Avoid “tight” or extreme close-up shots. Zooming in too tight can leave food unidentifiable. Your clients want to see your food as they would see it sitting down to the table, not how it would look two inches from their face.

·      Not every part of the photograph needs to be filled with props. Negative space or space that is left empty can make a very powerful statement.

7. Find a Good Editing Program to:

·      Correct exposure and brightness

·      Lighten shadows

·      Adjust highlights, contrast, color saturation and balance

·      Crop and straighten

·      Sharpen

·      Retouch

There are many free programs, such as Google’s Picasa, GIMP, Paint.NET, and iPhoto on Macs. Your camera probably came with software to do this.

Are you challenging to buy gifts for? If you’re a personal chef, probably not. There’s always one more great kitchen tool or gadget you’ve got to have to make your life easier—or at least more fun.

We asked personal chefs to identify some of their favorite kitchen toys, oops, equipment that they can’t live without and thought you’d enjoy as well. Some may not exactly fit into a stocking, but they’re all pretty reasonably priced so you can give them out to colleagues and friends—or hint around to those who love you that you’d like them. They can all be found easily on websites like Amazon.com, Williams Sonoma, Sur la Table, and The Chefs’ Warehouse, but also check out interesting sites like this one that caught our attention—thegourmetgadget.com. And be sure to support your local housewares businesses. We love Great News! in San Diego.

So, with the help of some of your friends, here’s our stocking stuffer list:

Oxo Good Grips tools got a lot of love. Leslie Siegel Guria of Fresh From Your Kitchen in Illinois says that she put their can opener on her gift list. “I made the mistake of buying a fancier one and I’m NOT HAPPY! I also can’t live without my Oxo peeler.”

stocking stuffers3

Johanna Sawallisch Dadsyah and I both agree that an immersion blender is a “can’t live without” kitchen tool. “It would make blended soup so easy!,” she says. I agree. No more pouring hot soup into a blender and risking spills and/or explosions. Some people prefer the cordless version—and they are handy—but you risk running out of juice in the middle of pureeing. Corded immersion blenders also seem to have a bit more power.

Chef Steve Loeschner of Chef Steve Personal Chef Service in New Hampshire has a long list of can’t live without tools, including the immersion blender, but also a digital scale, digital thermometer, cooling fans, and an eight-inch chef knife. But what does he want to find in his Christmas stocking? Mario Batali crocs. “I love the color!,” he says. In fact, once he heard that Batali orderd 200 pairs of the orange plastic shoes because he’d heard they were being discontinued, Chef Steve ordered a pair, too. “Sorry, Santa, couldn’t take the chance!”

Stocking Stuffers2

Carol Borchardt of A Thought for Food in Tennessee touts Universal Knife Blocks. “My mother-in-law got us one of these last year for Christmas. They’re a bit large to put in a stocking, but I’ve been recommending them to every foodie I know. It took up less space than our big, chunky wooden knife block AND you can put whatever knife or kitchen shear you darn please into it. There are thousands of plastic ‘filaments’ or some such things that you can stick your knives into that won’t dull them.”

April Lee of Tastefully Yours in Maryland offered enough suggestions to fully outfit a kitchen. She, too, is a fan of the knife blocks—preferring the Kapoosh ones, which she says are bigger—but also included one of her favorite utensils, the Pampered Chef’s Mix ‘N Chop. “There’s nothing out there that chops and browns ground meats, fresh sausage, etc. so easily and into even small pieces. It’s a must have at home and in your PC kit.”

stocking stuffers1

Lee also loves the Joseph Joseph large colander scoop, saying she, “uses this baby for everything and it’s safe to 450 degrees Fahrenheit, so it’s great for frying, too.”  The Hamilton Beach 1.7 liter programmable electric kettle is another favorite of hers because tea drinkers can choose the temperature they want and it keeps it at that temperature for an hour. Coffee lovers will enjoy another item on her list, the Aerobie AeroPress Coffee Maker. “I love this! It makes the best coffee, quick, simple, easy to clean. I gave away my French press after getting this!” And, you’ve got to have the Thermopen instant thermometer. “It’s pricey, but worth every penny,” she says. We agree!

Have we missed something fabulous? Please leave a comment and let us know. Next week we’re going to showcase inspirational cookbooks that you can gift others. Please check our Private Discussion Forum – General for Caron’s request for suggestions and tell us what has moved you and why so you can appear here.

Not an APPCA member? Now’s the perfect time to join! Go to personalchef.com to learn about all the benefits that come with membership.

Holidays—and Thanksgiving in particular—are supposed to be joyous occasions filled with family and friends. But clearly households across the U.S. have yet to figure out how to do it without having nervous breakdowns. Witness the scads of articles that appear this time of year with advice on how to cope. The title of this piece in Serious Eats sums it up: The Food Lab’s Complete Guide to a Stress-Free Thanksgiving, 2013.

Funny, nowhere in the piece does it mention, “hire a personal chef.” And yet our clients are clamoring for help from us.

Now some of us have the ability to take time off. Chef Sarah Robinson of Forever Feasting in Concord, New Hampshire tells us, “I don’t work close to holidays. One of the reasons I love this job is making my own schedule and being able to make my family a priority. The work will be there when I’m well rested.”

Chef Carol Borchardt's Cornish Game Hen with Clementine Glaze

Chef Carol Borchardt’s Cornish Game Hen with Clementine Glaze

Carol Borchardt of A Thought for Food in Memphis also feels no compunction about turning down work to be with family, referring clients to other personal chefs who are okay with working on that day.

But it doesn’t mean she doesn’t help—she just does it ahead of time. And, interestingly, she says that most of her client requests around the holiday are for things other than the traditional Thanksgiving meal. “They’re brunch items to have while their guests are in town and appetizers. A few request side dishes but because I’m doing them ahead they have to be freezer friendly.”

Every personal chef business is unique, and each of us has to determine whether or not to offer holiday service, but before you turn down requests, here are some options for how to help clients and still enjoy a holiday of your own:

  • Offer a complete holiday meal featuring a glazed stuffed turkey or goose, side dishes, and dessert—delivered to the client’s home along with specific instructions for the morning of the holiday for roasting, warming, and serving. Of course, if you want to take on more work, you can offer to prep and serve the meal.
  • Offer your client support and assistance with meal planning, shopping, and prepping, or prepare side dishes in advance, like Carol does, that can be defrosted, heated, and served on the day of the holiday.
  • Create a limited menu of desserts and appetizers ahead of time that you can present to clients. This should offer choices that allow you some control and them some variety.

For many years I would write a letter to all of my clients, thanking them for allowing me to serve them during the past year and offering them a list of items they may choose to order in advance to enhance their holiday` entertaining experience.  Orders were to be placed by November 15th for delivery on November 22nd.

The selections ranged from selected appetizers, entrees, side dishes and desserts that were prepared in a licensed commercial kitchen and delivered to the client’s home in advance of the holiday to be warmed and served at the client’s convenience so the client could entertain drop in guests or invite friends and family over for a celebration.

Chef Suzy Brown's roasted Thanksgiving goose

Chef Suzy Brown’s roasted Thanksgiving goose

Ten flavors of cookie dough were also offered in 24-ounce rolled logs for both Thanksgiving and Christmas which could be sliced and baked by the client for that holiday cookie aroma throughout the house or delivered baked off and plated.

Service is the backbone of the personal chef industry and those of us who operate individual personal chef businesses are committed to accommodating our clients. The trick is becoming adept at doing so while maintaining a strong commitment spending time with our own families on important holidays.

And, in that spirit, I wish all of you a very happy Thanksgiving!

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