Monday, January 30, 2012

Maybe I'll Come Home in Spring

Dear all. I'm afraid I've suffered another relapse of my December illness, and will need to recede from the blogging world at least until mid March. This, unfortunately means that BWW will be on hiatus until the spring equinox. It pains me to disappoint you, but I've not slept at all last night, and expect what is at issue will take many weeks for me to recover from.

You've all been wonderful, and I will miss you terribly, but I have to take care of myself right now. I am terminating my Facebook and Twitter accounts, but I can always reup in the future, so there is always hope. What else do we have but hope?

I will continue to administer MLLA from afar with guest hosts, so there will be no interruption with the event. I want you to continue to enjoy yourselves in my absence.

The only place I will be present is on Flickr. Without my camera, I will completely come undone.

I'll be seeing you.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Black and White Wednesday - A Culinary Gallery - Week #27

Finally. Many apologies for the late publishing of BWW #27. I'd been having problems with Blogger for weeks already, but this post, with all the photos which it obvious must have, really crossed swords with me. Every. Single. Piece. of. Data. had to be done through HTML. Thank you for your extreme patience and your lovely contributions.

And another gentle reminder that if you want your photos of comparable size to others presented here, I will appreciate, please, attached files approximately 700 wide X 500 high; or 500 wide by 700 high; or 600 square. And please, please, please send me the URL link to your photo post rather than your blog's home page. Sometimes I cannot find the photo post and spin my wheels at least fifteen minutes looking for it. Big Thanks. For further details please see the updated event announcement or write me - I'll make the time to explain it to you. After twenty-seven weeks, you must know how committed I am to this event.

Please note for next week, February 1, that I have an appointment that will have me out for the bulk of afternoon into early evening, so please expect a very late posting.

Now, please excuse me while I go lie down. I feel like I've been visited by vampires. : )



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Hedone1
Lunch: Brussels Sprouts with White Mushrooms and Puy Lentils by Hedone (A non-blogging participant)

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Hedone2
Brussels Sprouts by Hedone (A non-blogging participant)

How to Shoot Tabletop Photography without Shooting Yourself in the Head - Tips for the Greenest Beginners


A photographer went to a socialite party in New York. As he entered the front door, the host said 'I love your pictures - they're wonderful; you must have a fantastic camera.' He said nothing until dinner was finished, then: 'That was a wonderful dinner; you must have a terrific stove.' - Sam Haskins (South African photographer, 1926 - 2009.)

You've heard it all before: it's not the camera; it's the photographer. You don't need the most high-end equipment to shoot something that pleases you or your readers, but you do have to know *some* basic operating skills, and the little tricks and tips that can make your life easier on your path to higher quality images – if indeed you want to go there. It only matters if it matters to you.

I have been asked many times how others can improve their photos without having to lose their minds with too much technical advice too soon. As a self-taught photographer, who is just starting to earn something of a living selling images (including to National Geographic), I can offer hard-won instructions, guidance, and encouragement which will further you along a little faster towards your goals. My methods are not written in stone; some are unorthodox; and others take delight in flouting the rules. There will undoubtedly be some that will not work for you. I also expect I will be challenged by other photogs, who can be a very rancorous, uppity group of know-it-alls. But all I share here is on the chance that you will come away with something you can use. I hope you do.
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* Less is More. As you learn composition, start with 1, 3, or 5 subjects. Do not clutter. Odd numbers are more pleasing to the eye. Place your focal point off center. The primitive tribal eye likes and needs the safety and security of symmetry in animal features and cars (it's the survival mechanism kicking in) but enjoys asymmetry otherwise. Consider the shape of negative space, which is everywhere that is blank in the composition surrounding the subjects.

* Keep props simple, the fewer the better. You don't have to trot out every utensil, napkin, glassware, vase, etc., in one composition with the food dish/es. If you really think you must, do so, then walk away for a few minutes – walk away for an hour – a day or two is even better.* When you come back, remove at least 2, if not more props. What can you do without? Rearrange what you have left; rearrange it again. Then rearrange it yet again. Do you like your original composition best? Then go back to it. Think of your composition like a woman getting dressed for a drop-dead gorgeous gala. She is wearing earrings, a necklace, a bracelet, a brooch, and a ring. She should now take off at least 2 pieces of jewelry, lest no one can see her face, which should be the focal point of her look. The eye cannot focus on all of it at once and does not know where to look. Complicated compositions can be beautiful, but build towards them after you have mastered simplicity. (*If you are going to leave your food too long before deciding, it is critical to set up the shot with all elements except the food. A bowl of nuts doesn't matter, but you can't leave a plate of eggs lying around for more than 30 minutes - and even that is pushing it.)

*Use small plates, bowls, utensils. Large pieces throw off scale and diminish the food. Forget dinner plates.

* Wear white, gray, or black when you shoot. You don't want to have to edit out a reflection of your pink sweater on fork tines. It's very time-consuming and meticulous work. Significant color around your composition (like vividly painted walls or draperies) can derange your white balance, too.

* To assist with color, invest in an inexpensive color selector wheel, available at art or craft stores. Or you could find one online and print it for reference. It very easily targets which colors work with which, if you don't feel like feeling your way through intuitively like I usually do.

* Edit your photos in complete darkness, as if you were processing film in a dark room. At the very least, do not let any light shine directly on your monitor. You want to view your work with the utmost accuracy without distractions.

* Although I am sure you have all been drilled in the use of natural light over flash by many food bloggers before me, sometimes even natural light, such as direct sunlight, will produce harsh shadows and blown highlights, which will be difficult to bring details back to. Just moving your shooting table farther from the window can help or wait for the sun to shift. You can also string up a sheer true-white (not yellow-white nor blue-white) cheap curtain to soften the light that falls on your tabletop. Not sure about your whites? Go to a paint store and select any number of chips. Compare them against each other under a neutral light monitor (most home-improvement stores have these). Sometimes you can't tell just how yellow or blue white is until you fan out the chips and look at one against the next. This is also how gemologists grade diamond colors – against each other on a pure white background.

* Overcast or cloudy days may seem dreary and gloomy, but treasure them. The light is naturally diffused, and you will have to fuss far less or dispense entirely with those sheer curtains I just referenced. My favorite light is a solid white sky bounced with the light of snow on ground and buildings. Hardly gloomy.

* Food-safe earthenware, crockery, and ceramics make wonderful props. Many, like terracotta, have no reflective qualities. Love them for that. Absorption of light is just as fantastic as blowing light back in your face.

* Old wooden cutting boards are wonderful backgrounds, full of character. Is yours a mess? Then go stain it. Mores the better if you rub some color into it; don't be confined to browns. A turquoise or Burgundy or mustard can be a wonderful complement to your comp.

* For a very deep black background, use a large square of black velvet fabric. It absorbs light better. If you see dust or less-than-black areas, use your processing software to heal or clone it out. Sometimes you can't tell if your tones are dark enough. Get up and look at your image from the top of the monitor. You will see the spots that you missed.

* If your food is very busy, like a colorful salad, keep your dishes and/or napkins/other props more subdued. They do not have to be pure white, but no crazy-busy patterns.

* If your food is austere, consider plates that have bas or high-relief design for some texture. It can be monochromatic or a contrasting color. (I have to tell you, Wiki is not my first choice for imparting knowledge, yet they hardly gets basics wrong like what color the sky is and why.)

* If you want someone to critique your work, choose that person very carefully. Don't let a decline from Foodgawker or Tastespotting ruin your day. Select someone whose work you admire, whose character and personality you trust, and who can make the time to assess your work in a respectful and truly helpful way. Know, too, that even those who critique well, diplomatically and honorably, have their own subdued levels of subjectivity. If you ask a vegan to critique a crown roast of lamb, no matter how technically sublime your image, you may not get the feedback you desire. Don't hold it against him/her.

* If you've never touched a camera in your life, invest in an inexpensive Point and Shoot first. Learn what you can from how it operates, however automatically it may be programmed. Give it at least 6 months. If you still like to shoot, then invest in an entry level Digital Single Reflex Camera body with a separate 50mm all-purpose lens. A 50 with an aperture of 1.8 is a very good deal. Or you can just enjoy the Point and Shoot without having to go to the next level. I must emphasize that you do not have to go to the next level.

* Consider used equipment from reputable dealers. There is a huge market in trade-ins & refurbished gear. Many serious photographers trade-in for the cash to upgrade their kits.

* Consider renting equipment before you commit to buying it.

* It's OK to shoot fully automatic with a more sophisticated camera. You can learn from its settings, then switch to manual mode using those same settings to replicate what the camera's done. From there you will be experimenting on your own at your comfort level, using automatic on rare occasions. This is how I taught myself. I used the camera as my teacher, then I was off on my own.

* Photoshop Elements* is a good trimmed-down version of the very expensive and complex professional Photoshop. It even has a feature where you can use some RAW controls on JPEGs.

* Lightroom* has some very efficient editing tools, but know that it is primarily a database for organizing your photos in a very meticulous way. You will still need Photoshop* or Photoshop Elements* to select parts of your image to refine.

* There are several free or lower-cost editing tools available like GIMP.

* You do not have to shoot RAW (the equivalent of a digital negative) unless you truly need absolute control over every granular detail in your photos. RAW files take up enormous storage space and require greater time to edit. If you believe you are on a professional track, RAW will ultimately be your goal, but do take your time learning the ropes in JPEG first.

* Buy books on photography. They are available at all price ranges, some covering general techniques; others, discuss specialties. Keep a book at your bedside. Read one paragraph, concept, or chart before lights out. It is a good way to learn without pressure. You would be surprised how your dreams will imprint what you read before retiring.

Does any of this help? I'll take questions in my comments and write more posts in future to help you. I am unburdened by competition. Competition brings out the best work in artists, which is something we should all consider striving for. Don't lower yourself by smiting others whose talents you might envy. Work harder on your own skills and let them shine alone in their own light. I am convinced that everyone who has even one talented bone in his/her body can go the distance if he/she is willing to do the work.

(I'll be back later on with BWW. I've had such problems getting both these posts up. The coding is all screwed up. I have to correct some very messy bulleting in this one, as well as reload all the BWW photos again. Will get up as soon as possible. This is my life's mission. See you soon!)

*Any mention of brand names is purely by my own experience and not to be interpreted as brand marketing. I have no professional nor personal connection with Abobe. I must make this very clear.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Breaking Bread in the New Year

Artisan Bread

On January 24, I am absurdly late in the tradition of the long look back at 2011 while gliding forward on a magic carpet ride into a future of resolutions and hopes. My life in 2011 can be charted on the sensitive stylus of a zig-zagging seismograph. In the spring, I was lying on my belly, on damp and cold ground, entranced by a wiry thatch of Siberian squill, of a blue so rarely found in nature that it taunted me with the idea that it was fake. It wasn't.

True Blue - Siberian Squill

By the winter, I was on my belly again, sick with fever so galloping that it came in on those four white horses, taunting me, too, that it was fake. It wasn't. Either. For twenty-three straight hours, I could not sleep, I could not eat, I could not complete sentences. Yet I was lucid enough as I levitated. I met Roethke's ghost. He wrapped me close in the swaddling cloth of his wisdom, that dark time of his, of all of us.

There was a photograph that helped me through, too. I thought of Frodo going West for good with the Elves because he was so, so weary from his tribulations and journey. I wanted to round that bend in the water and never return; I wanted to heal, no matter how long it took. Yet I did return. When the sweats, and the shivering, and the shakes were chased away, and my mind fused back into my skull, I knew I could not/would not go back to life as usual.

So I am slowing things down to retool my online life to ensure that I don't fall off the map again. If anything, I will be better connected to you by being better connected to myself. I cannot foretell the future, even with a crystal ball, but I do know that you need to look in before you can look out.

Crystal Ball

I'll be back early tomorrow before the start of BWW with some quick tips to help make your camera see the light better, too.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Black and White Wednesday - A Culinary Gallery - Week #26

Welcome to Week #26 of Black and White Wednesday. I hope you enjoy viewing your culinary comrades' stylish photos as much as I enjoy pulling together your talented contributions every week. I don't know about you, but weeks have never blurred by so quickly since I launched this get-together exactly six months ago. Where did the time go? Why, with clicking, of course.

Do let me know if any corrections/omissions need to be addressed. Thanks always for joining in. I will be making the rounds on each of your blogs on Saturday. Tomorrow is a special day, my mom's birthday. I'm preparing lunch and baking a gloriously elegant, yet simple, French cake of ancient origins which has deeply personal nostalgic significance for both of us. With any luck, the cake will be a hit. With further luck, I will keep everyone busy with lunch while I steal the gâteau away for a quick few dozen frames. Bon Appétit, everyone! See you next week!


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Brioche Mold