For quite awhile I have been contemplating setting up a Q & A page on this blog presented by various experts in the field. I believe it is a valuable service to you, the reader.
I am delighted to present to you our first expert in food photography, Katherine Martinelli. If you’re involved in any kind of food writing, the photography is an essential element, one that a lot of us struggle with. Katherine has agreed to teach us some of the important aspects of food photography.
Katherine is an internationally published food and travel writer and photographer who contributes regularly to publications on three continents. She started off as an amateur food writer and food photographer with inexhaustible supply of energy and a radiant and joyful enthusiasm and eventually developed into an accomplished artist. You can review her portfolio at: http://www.katherinemartinelli.com/category/portfolio.
Submit any questions you have to Katherine at:email@example.com
I trust you’ll find this new column useful, and will visit us often. Please feel free to ask us about any topic and/or subject matter you are seeking to learn more about. We promise to provide you a well-researched report via qualified experts.
No. 1. Guest Post
By Katherine Martinelli, a Food and Travel Writer and Photographers.
When Georgette of Chocolate and Figs invited me to do a guest post on the importance of good food photography on food blogs, I wasn’t just honored, I was blown away! I’ve been an admirer of Chocolate and Figs for some time now and can’t get enough of Georgette’s wonderful photography and recipes.
I don’t have to tell you how important good food photography is these days on food blogs. We eat first with our eyes, and it’s much harder to get excited about a recipe if an unappetizing photo accompanies it. I know many bloggers complain that they don’t have the time or resources to accomplish beautiful food photographs, but I’m here to tell you that you can. Take a look at my porfolio
Over the summer I took a food photography class at the International Center of Photography in New York. One of the most valuable lessons that I have learned is how much you can do with minimal equipment. Yes, professional food photographers have expensive cameras, a selection of lenses, tons of lighting, and food and prop stylists at their fingertips. And it’s really easy to get caught up in wanting the most and the best. But the truth is you don’t need all of that! Here are a few basic tips that I hope will help anyone, from novice to pro.
Tip 1. Know Your Camera – This may seem obvious, but it’s maybe the most import tip I can give you (aside from lots of practice). Whether you have a point and shoot or a deluxe digital SLR, chances are you aren’t aware of all the capabilities of your camera. I found the manual that came with my camera (a Nikon D3000) to be useless. I recommend buying a book on your camera – you’d be surprised how many models have one. I have the Nikon D3000 Digital Field Guide, butDavid Busch’s guides and the “For Dummies” series are also excellent. Read it and see what your camera can really do.
Tip 2. Use a Tripod – If you don’t currently use a tripod when photographing food you will immediately notice sharper photos once you start. Yes, they can be annoying to set up and it may seem like there is enough light to shoot handheld, but it’s worth the extra three seconds it takes to pull out the tripod. And they don’t need to be a big investment. There are plenty out there for under $20, like this one.
Tip 3. Lighting – Everyone will tell you that daylight is preferable. If you are lucky enough to shoot during the day in a place with plenty of windows, you’re in luck. Don’t shoot directly in the sunlight as that will wash out the photos. Instead, manipulate the natural light with a few simple items like a white card to bounce light and a black card (plain black cardboard propped up works) to help block light (for example to help you get rid of pesky reflections).
But not everyone has great light in their house. Furthermore, as food bloggers many of us are shooting our dinner when it’s already dark out. Some folks create their own white boxes out of cardboard and a desk light, which can work wonders. I invested in a small tabletop light called a Lowell Ego Light that runs about $100. It can sit right on the table or attach to one of those cheapo tripods. It supplies a nice soft, daylight-like light and makes it possible to take great food shots any time of day. We used this when I worked at a professional food magazine.
Tip 4. The place of the lighting source. I guess you did not think about the importance of placing your light source strategically. Light is the one that will enhance the texture and shape of the food you are photographing. Will it be your window or a special lamp the source of your lighting, it makes a huge difference where is it coming from. I realize that you cannot move your window, but you can place your settings advantageously. Best photographs are achieved with lights that are coming from three directions: From the right, from the left and behind the item you are photographing. In other words, light at 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock controls the light and the back light “scrapes” the surface of the food for enhanced texture and shape. Another important point: do not place the light too high from the food.
As you can see I use most of the place I was given here to discuss lighting, because light is everything in food or any other photography. I recommend that if you plan purchase only one book about photography, purchase the one that 80% of it is about lighting.
Tip 5. Food Styling and Props – This is probably where I get caught up most of the time. I was trained to just take photos of the food without a lot of stuff in the background, but I’ve found that a little bit of something else often makes for a more interesting shot. At the same time, you don’t want an explosion of props. Keep it simple. While stylists have tons of cool props on hand the food blogger really just needs a few that you can mix and match, and they are probably things you already have: a dish towel or two, a few different plates and bowls, kitchen utensils, a placemat. Other household items like candles and glasses can make their way in, but my favorite is to use herbs, or fruits or vegetables that are in the dish itself. White is always a safe choice for your serving dish. Play around with a few different set-ups. I’m not going to get deep into aperture, but if you want those items in the back to be a little fuzzy for a nice depth of field then use a lower f-stop.
Tip 6. Post-Production – This refers to the editing process. Most photos, even from professionals, require a bit of touching up and you don’t need to take a class in Photoshop to do the same. I use a free program called PhotoScape that, while not on the professional level of Photoshop is a) free and b) suits my needs. There are plenty of other great tools out there. Some of them have an auto-fix option, which can be a good start. Play around with the different options like white balance, contrast, and color temperature and see what results you get.
Tip 7. Practice and Observe – Honestly more than anything else – more than fancy equipment and quirky props – nothing beats practicing and observing. Sure it’s stressful to take photos while you’re trying to get dinner on the table. So try setting aside some time when you can just focus on the photography. It doesn’t have to be a finished dish; try photographing a bowl of fruit, a flower, anything. Play with the set-up, props, composition, light, and settings on your camera. The more you practice the better you will get, and the faster too so that even dinner shots will be great. Also start noticing food photography elsewhere in blogs and magazines – what do you like and not like? What works well? What styles do you notice? Try to think about this and incorporate it into your own photography. (For a list of some inspiring professional food photographers and some other tips check out my post here.)
I hope this brief overview has helped! What’s the most valuable photography lesson you’ve learned? Let us know in the comments section!
A few days back I was shopping at the supermarket and stopped to pick up some flours, sugar, baking powder and some other basic ingredients to get ready for our highest baking season.
As I was selecting my items, there was a couple not far from me looking at the cake flour box, then looking on the all-purpose flour bags, then picking up the various flours from the lower shelve trying to read the labels and talking among themselves. Suddenly the husband seeing that I am just picking up all kind of flours and putting them in my cart, got the courage, and approached me with the following questions:
I see you are buying all kind of flours, I guess you must understand in them? Could you help us to select the right flour? Like what is the difference between this cake flour and the all-purpose flour? Or what is the difference, if any, among these all-purpose flour?
Of course I was delighted to give them a brief education about flours, including explanation about what is protein and how come flour has protein, when they thought it is only found in meat.
And you guessed it. This event gave me the idea to write this post because I suspect they are not the only ones that will appreciate clarifications about all the flours they see on the shelves in the supermarket and how to buy the right flour for their need.
Perhaps, I should tart with a little refresher about wheat
I. Wheat Berry
Wheat berry is made up of bran, germ, and endosperm:
Bran is the hard outer shell that covers the wheat berry. Bran is an excellent source of fiber, and it also has most of the minerals. Because bran has sharp edges, which interfere with the development of gluten, it is removed during milling, but often it is added back in at the end of the process.
Germ is the part of the grain that would become the plant. Wheat germ is very high in protein and B vitamins. It is removed in the milling process because its high fat content causes the flour to become rancid more quickly.
Note: Wheat germ should always be stored in the refrigerator.
Endosperm is the food that the seed would consume on its way to becoming a plant. The flour that we use for baking, unless it is whole wheat, has had the germ and the bran removed. The remaining endosperm is composed mostly of starch and protein.
I. Types of Flours
There are three basic types of flour produced from wheat:
White Flour: Most of the bran and germ are removed from the wheat kernels, along with fat and minerals (75% extraction rate). It is produced by using an automated roller mill that removes the wheat’s outer skin leaving only the inner white endosperm.
Brown Flour: Only some of the bran and germ are removed from wheat kernels (85% extraction rate.) It is also produced by the automated roller mill, but some of the bran and wheat germ back is placed back to the flour in the end of the process.
Whole wheat (also called whole meal or whole grain): As its name states, the whole of the grain is used (100% extraction rate.) This flour has all the nutrients found in wheat kernel and the result is a dense, hearty baked good. If 100% whole wheat bread tastes a bit “too healthy” for you, try a ratio of half whole wheat, half bread flour. It has fewer calories and carbohydrates than white flour; it has five times the fiber, twice the calcium, and 25 percent more protein than white flour.
Other types of non-wheat flours
Cornmeal (maize flour): depending on how finely it is milled, cornmeal can be used for making bread (corn bread) or dishes such as Italian polenta or Mexican tortillas.
Chestnut flour: It has an unpleasant greyish color but its taste is a surprisingly interesting sweet and nutty combination. It is gluten-free. I am not that much familiar with the flour, but I use the puree when I can find top quality. My mother used to make crepes with chestnut flour.
Buckwheat flour: It is a nutty, gluten-free, greyish-colored spotted with black bits flour, that makes an excellent wheat substitute for those with gluten allergies. It’s often mixed with other flours because it has a bitter taste.
Rice flour: It is a gluten-free flour, made from milled or brown rice; used a lot in South East Asian cuisine.
Wild rice – Wild Rice is not really rice; it is a seed from an Aquatic grass. It is very dark brown to black. Wild Rice can be milled into tan-colored flour. It can be added to pancakes, muffins, scones and cookies. It is also used to thicken casseroles, sauces, gravies and stews. Best results are achieved when mixed with other flours.
Quinoa Flour – It is made from the ground up seeds of the quinoa plant. It is grain and gluten-free. It has a very strong nutty flavor, but depending on your preference, you can use it in cookies, cakes, breads and pastas.
Teff Flour – has an attractive nutrition profile; it is high in fiber and iron and providing protein and calcium. It is like millet and quinoa in cooking, but the seed is much smaller, and cooks faster thus using less fuel.
Sorghum Flour – Grain sorghum is the third most important cereal crop grown in the United States and the fifth most important cereal crop grown in the world. Some sorghum varieties are rich in antioxidants and all sorghum varieties are gluten-free, which makes it an attractive alternative for wheat allergy sufferers (People with celiac disease). It is used in unleavened bread, cookies, cakes, and couscous and malted beverages.
Gluten-free flours – do not rise during baking, it is mixed with other types of flour to make bread. Today celiac disease is diagnosed more easily; therefore there are many all-purpose gluten-free flour products on the market that contain a variety of ingredients. Some of the ingredients that are mixed in these products include tapioca or white bean flour.
Self-Raising Flour – Blended from a choice of wheat and raising agents. The wheat is milled to a fine particle size resulting in an excellent white color. It is the most ideal flour for sponge cakes and scones.
Wheat Flour, Raising Agents, (Sodium Bicarbonate, E500, Calcium Phosphate, E341(i))
Nutrition information per 100g
Energy 339kcal 1435kJ
of which Sugars 1.4g
of which saturated fat 0.5g
The principal reason to buy organic flour is to support our organic farmers. A close second reason is to protect our environment. Until recently, genetically modified organisms (GMO) were not part of our food supply; however, today, 30% of our cropland is planted in GMOs. Thankfully, GMO wheat has not entered the food supply.
Organic Light Brown Self-Raising flour
This flour retains the flavor of whole wheat and as easy to use as white flour. Ideal for scones, sponge and fruitcake and steamed puddings.
Nutrition information per 100g
Energy 329kcal 1396kJ
of which Sugars 2.0g
of which saturates 0.5g
Organic Brown Self Raising flour
A rather special organic flour retaining the flavor of whole meal and as easy to use as white flour. Ideal for scones, sponges, fruit cakes and steamed puddings
Nutrition information per 100g
Energy 329kcal 1396kJ
of which Sugars 2.0g
of which saturates 0.5g
III. Which Type of Flour is the Best for Specific Baked Goods
The main difference among flour types is in the gluten content, which varies depending on whether the flour is made from hard wheat or soft wheat. To achieve the best baking results, use the type of flour a recipe specifically calls for.
To decide which type is best for the kind of baking you do, it helps to understand that flour is made up of carbohydrates (or starch), proteins, and in the case of whole-wheat, a bit of fat. Of these three nutrients, protein matters most to the baker. The proteins in wheat are called gluten-forming proteins, and the quantity and quality of these proteins determines how flour will perform in your baking.
In general, you may find that cakes made with all-purpose flour are a bit tougher and less delicate than those made with a softer pastry or cake flour. Likewise, breads made with all-purpose flour may be a bit softer and flatter than those made with bread flour.
If a recipe calls for a certain type of flour and all you have is all-purpose, some manufacturers recommend using 1 tablespoon more per cup when making breads and 1 tablespoon less per cup for cookies and biscuits. This will increase or decrease the total amount of protein going into the batter or dough.
- 1. All-purpose flour, as its names states, designed to be use for multiple purposes, including baking cookies, quick breads, biscuits, and cakes. You can even use it in bread baking, if you understand that the bread made with all-purpose flour will be less structured, softer bodied and a bit of flat. It is actually a mixture of high-gluten hard wheat and low-gluten soft wheat. All-purpose flour can be purchased bleached or unbleached; can be used interchangeably.
- 2. Pastry flour’s gluten content is about 8 to 10 percent. (Slightly higher than cake flour). This slightly higher protein content aids the elasticity needed to hold together the buttery layers in flaky dough such as croissants, puff pastry, and piecrusts. Pastry flour should be very white and free of any bran particles to ensure a good pastry product.
- 3. Cake flour has the lowest concentration of protein (6 to 8 percent) and it is undergoing a special bleaching process that increases the flour’s ability to hold water and sugar. This means that when you’re making baked goods with a high ratio of sugar to flour, you should not substitute pastry flour for cake flour, because the bleached cake flour will be better able to hold its rise and will be less liable to collapse. Cake flour is also sweeter, have greater volume and a longer shelf life. Note: Always sift cake flour before use.
- 4. Self-rising flour is relatively soft all-purpose flour to which baking powder and salt have been added. Manufacturers suggest using it where the cake needs to rise as in biscuits, quick breads, and cookies and drop the baking powder and salt called for in the recipe. Some manufacturers even recommend the use of this flour in yeast bread recipes in place of all-purpose flour by omitting salt, and in quick bread recipes by omitting salt and baking powder.
- I do not use this flour at all. Do you find it difficult to add salt or baking powder to the flour on your own?
- But if you like this type of flour, or you are concerned that you may forget to add the baking powder to the flour you are using, then self-raising flour make sense. It can be white, brown or whole-meal flour. Obviously it is used for baking, scones, muffins, crumpets, cakes, puddings, pastry and some biscuit and bread recipes.
- 5. Potato Flour – Used mainly to thicken sauce and soup
- 6. Corn Flour – use this to thicken sauce and soup. Some use this as a batter for frying too; or as I said earlier for corn bread.
IV. Criteria for Judging Quality
Good quality flour is fine, soft and smooth.
A very simple way to determine color differences in different batches of flour is to look at the color of different types of flour under a sheet of glass. This can be done with more than one flour at a time. This method not only facilitates a comparison of the whiteness of different flours but also allows for an inspection for impurities. The flour should have a perfectly regular consistency and not contain any specks. This does not pertain to mixed grain or to other than white flours.
B. Texture and Feel
The texture and size of the grains play an important role in kneading and in determining the speed at which the dough rises. In general, bread flour is slightly coarse and falls apart when pressed into a lump. Pastry flour is smooth and fine and can be squeezed into a lump. Cake flour is smooth and fine, can be squeezed into a lump, and stays in a lump more solidly when pressed.
Use wheat flour in bread baking, because this flour is high in protein (gluten), which is the substance that gives bread its fine texture and supports the ingredients during the rising process. When you’re making baked goods with a high ratio of sugar to flour, the flour will be better able to hold its rise and will be less liable to collapse.
V. Storing Flours
Flour must be kept covered in a cool and dry place. This prevents the flour from absorbing moisture and odors or from attracting insects and rodents. Millers recommend that flours be stored for no more than 6 months. The main change that occurs is the oxidation of oils when flour is exposed to air. The result of this is rancid ad off-flavors flour. During hot weather, the four should be stored in the refrigerator.
Freezing flour for 48 hours before it is stored will kill any insect eggs that the flour may already contain. It is better not to mix new flour with old if you are not using the flour regularly. Also, if you place a bay leaf in the flour canister it will protect it against insect infections. Bay leaves are natural insect repellents.
Do not store flour near onions or other foods with strong odors.
If freezer space is available, flour can be repackaged in airtight, moisture-proof containers, labeled and placed in the freezer at 0 degrees F. If flour is stored like this, it will keep well for several years.
Keep whole-wheat flour in the refrigerator year around. Natural oils cause this flour to turn rancid quickly at room temperature.
Please send me any questions you may have about flours that we did not cover here. Also, you can send any questions or requests for reviewing and/or evaluating items you may be interested to have more information about.
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Please send me requests for review. For instance you may want to learn more about the various nuts we use in baking, or if you used yeast from various resources and found that all of them delivered different results and you would like to know the reasons and so on…