Food Photography tips from the Judges of DMBLGIT ( Does My Blog look Good in This)

I am very often left speechless by the beauty of pictures taken by so many talented and inspirational bloggers out there. Hosting the prestigious food photography event DMBLGIT (Does My Blog Look Good In This) I thought would be a good way to have some of their talent rub off on me :) One can hope right? 

I am so grateful to have some of those bloggers who inspire me the most with their gorgeous pictures as much as their awesome collection of recipes, and wonderful warm personalities, agree to be the judges as I host this month. I also requested them to share their insights into what makes a picture look good enough to eat and here it is, in their own words! 

Zoe Francois is an extraordinary pastry chef and cookbook author of  the revolutionary Bread in 5 series which helped thousands ( including me) around the world to get over our intimidation of yeast and bake bread at home, with about 5 mins of active effort! Her new cook book Artisan Pizza and Flatbread in Five Minutes a Day is very eagerly expected soon and is already available for pre-order.
 She blogs at Zoe Bakes and also writes for  Cooking Channel’s blog, where she creates unique recipes and photographs them for their readers.

Zoe's Photo Courtesy Susan Powers 

Here are Zoe's favourite food photography tips:
"One of the keys to great photography is lighting. I shoot all of my photos in natural light. This means I bring all of my food to a bank of windows in my kitchen, to be sure there is sufficient light to shoot.

I almost always take my pictures with the light source (the sunshine) behind the food I am working with, because it creates more interesting shadows and contrast. This, however, requires that I use "fill cards" to bounce light back onto the food, if the shadows are too strong.I just use white foam core board, nothing fancy.

I usually move my camera around the table until I have found the lighting I like best. This will change as the sun moves. If the sun is particularly strong and shining directly on my food, I hang sheer curtains over the windows to diffuse the light. If it is too contrasty, the food will be very difficult to shoot."

She also shares some wonderful resources to read on food photography:

Shaheen Peerbhai is the smiling face and super talented young woman behind The Purple Foodie, which is one of India's most popular food blogs  and has been featured constantly in the media as well. She recently returned from a food and wine training program for selected food writers organised by the European Union and the Italian Government as part of the European Art of Taste (EAT) Program
Shaheen chooses to describe herself as "just another girl madly in love with exploring food. :)"
She has used a point and shoot Canon A570IS Powershot in the past and currently uses a Canon Rebel T1i / 500D

Here are her top tips:
"The most important thing for me is a good source of natural light. I shoot by my window when the sun isn't harsh either in the morning or late afternoon.

I'm from the camp that believes that props tend to steal the focus from the food. I like those type of photos, but I find myself wanting to buy the props instead of wanting to eat the food. That said, I'm a sucker for two things: fabrics and plates. My house is now filled with an assorted range of single plates.

I love my 50 mm/f1.8 lens. It makes food look so good. It makes everything look so good! Of late, I'm enjoying playing with some macro filters I'm not big on editing photos - just minor colour correction in MS Photo Editor. 

I absolutely adore these two sites lately: Minimalista and What Katie Ate "

Ria Mathew really doesn't need an introduction here! She is a certified cake decorator, freelance food writer, stylist and a photographer who blogs at Ria's collection, a definitely awesome collection of gorgeous recipes, each one a winner! She is also of course my gracious co-host for The Kerala Kitchen our monthly cooking event to share and preserve the cuisine of Kerala, and a good friend and a blogger I really admire, and also a previous DMBLGIT winner.
She had these wonderful tips to share about how she takes such beautiful pictures both with her point and shoot and more recently with her Canon Rebel T2i :

"Natural lighting is the best. I've never had luck with a light box hence I don't use artificial lighting.

So basically you will need good natural light & a bouncer (white board) and you are all set to go. If you have a tripod, use it as it will give you images which are much more sharper than a hand held camera.

 Favourite props:  I'm a person who uses whatever is lying around me at that time.No matter how much I plan, I've always noticed, it never works the way I wanted. So I just go with the flow.

I just look around my favourite food blogs for inspiration and stay away from photography dedicated websites. I feel they give out a lot information, which is really good but it just passes above my head.

Many of us feel that we need an expensive camera to get a good photograph, which is so untrue. Equipment does play a vital role but most importantly it's the person behind it. It's how creatively you bring your food in front of the camera and how well you control the light that decides the fate of the photograph in most cases. If you are good with editing softwares, you can even do magic with a dull photograph. 

When I started my blog, all I took were the close up shots of the food I made. But gradually I realised it's one of the terrible ways to go about things. Don't go too close to the food, instead move back, straighten up, feel relaxed and then take the picture.Give some space between you and the food. Walk around the table, click pictures, compare and see which ones are better etc. If you do this (which is what I do) eventually you will find an angle, a place where you think you can shoot the best pictures. 

If you have some favourite food photography sites, observe the way they take pictures and try to understand what makes their pictures special.Try to incorporate that  and see if it works for you. Eventually you will develop your own style of photographing food."

Dario Milano of Food Pixels is a former Chef and a professional Food photographer and stylist based in Sydney. He offers food photography tips and even critiques photos submitted by readers of his awesome photography blog  

Here is what he had to say:

What is your most favourite thing to shoot?
I like shooting any food ( and drinks ) and I enjoy the challenge to capture different foods with different lighting, lenses and angles; some ingredients are highly reflective, others have a more interesting texture; some are really colourful others have a more intriguing shape - the possibilities are almost endless when shooting food.

What camera would you recommend to a new and aspiring food photographer?
Any basic DSLR would be a good starting point; no need to spend too much for 2-3 thousand extra megapixels ( at least at this stage ). Just get a solid camera and learn how to use it in Manual (M) mode.

What is your favourite piece of camera equipment/ photography aid?
Without talking of the camera itself or the lenses, I'd say probably my favourite piece of equipment are my 6 Pocket Wizards : 6 wireless radio transreceivers ( transmitters / receivers ) that allow me to fire my flash units and trigger the shutter of my camera remotely.

What are your top tips for shooting food?
Find good natural light in your home/ studio
Learn how to use a flash off camera
Pay attention to props 
Don't overdo the food and in general keep things looking as natural as possible
Invest in a good, sturdy tripod
Read my blog  ( eh, eh ) 

Helene Dujardin has graciously agreed to pick the host's award of the picture that received high scores from the other judges but was not amongst the winning list. 
She is a former pastry chef, incredible food photographer and stylist who has shot for magazines and cook books and 
Helene's breath taking blog My Tartlette helped me (and many others I'm sure) achieve macaron success and her stunning pictures are always an inspiration. 

Tips from her would cover an entire book (or several bookshelves), so isn't it great that she has just come out with one? In just a few days since it's release it is already on the digital photography bestseller list! Go grab your copy, if you haven't already!

Plate to Pixel: Digital Food Photography & Styling
Book Description:

Food photography is on the rise, with the millions of food enthusiasts who document their meal as well food bloggers around the world interested in improving their photography and food styling, and this book should serve as your first course in food photography. You’ll get a taste of the visual know-how that is required to translate the perceptions of taste, aroma, and appeal into a stunning, lavish finished photograph.
• Learn how to work with your camera modes and settings
• Discover how to use natural light to capture stunning images
• Learn how to compose the most appetizing photo
• See how food stylists exercise unique techniques to make the food look attractive in the finished product
• Develop an after-capture workflow process to improve your food photos

Check out this awesome video of Helene as she talks about her book.

These people I have admired from afar for their awesome work, also amazed me by their warmth and friendliness. I am so glad that they agreed to share their tips and precious time in the midst of so much amazing stuff they are into. I am so glad to have them to judge amongst 43 gorgeous entries, each one a stunner- a tough job indeed! 

The winners will be announced shortly. Meanwhile here is a slideshow of all the entries that were received this month. Feel free to visit the gallery, drool a little  if you must :) and do leave comments on the ones you liked, I'm sure the photographers would love to hear from you.

DB:Maple mousse in an edible container-Swan Cream Puff

When I was a kid, I was enthralled by an animated version of the ballet Swan Lake. The story of a princess turned into a swan by day as a result of a curse, who regains her human form only at night, was as haunting as the music.
My first ever Daring Bakers challenge- the Joconde that I over baked so it cracked and leaked was definitely the ugly duckling. This time the challenge was to create an edible container for some wonderful Maple mousse, and I decided that it had to be a swan!

A cream puff swan to be more exact, filled with dreamy maple mousse and topped with whipped maple cream!I loved the sensation of the cold creamy mousse oozing out of the warm crisp shell when you bit into it! 
I also made two variations -Bailey's Maple mousse and also some swans or (rather swan parts) were filled with Cardamom Maple mousse ( because I cannot resist adding cardamom into everything!)

Both the mousse and the cream puffs were really easy to make and I'm so happy that something so simple could look and taste so great, and make me look like some sort of pastry genius! I think I might have gone a little overboard though when I decided to have my puff swan swim in a lake of Maple Syrup with bacon crumbles on the side! 

Easter Menu

In between house hunting and packing, I am so glad that we are invited yet again by Baby T's awesome mom for an Easter get-together, to share laughs and conversation and some awesome food that she whips up despite being a busy working mom. I hope to take something along- a curry and a dessert, and perhaps some appetizers but am thankful that I don't have an entire meal to cook up, and a house to spiffy up, this time.
However, I got to thinking about what I would make if I had to plan a whole day's Easter menu from my previous blog posts, and here it is!I have tried to keep it as close as I could to what we would be eating if I was home in Kerala for Easter. As you can tell, I get very homesick around Easter and Christmas, with my family and T's family too being so far away! But if they all came over, to spend Easter here, this is what I would love to cook! 

Idiappam/ Noolappam/String hoppers or Bread with 
Chicken Stew in Coconut milk  or "Ishtoo" or 
Cooked bananas- Caramelized Bananas Roasted bananas/ Pazam Chuttu or Bananas boiled in sugar syrup- pazham Puzangitu with Puttu or 
Wholewheat Dosas- Savory Pancakes with potato masala

Swapna's Tasty Tuna Cutlets

Lunch/ dinner
Pork Vindaloo
Easy and quick Pressure cooker Chicken Curry in Coconut Milk
with Steamed rice, Appams or Malabar Parathas or 
Mom's Chicken Biryani   or 
Easy Baked Chicken with baked potatoes and steamed beans and garlic bread 

Tea/ Snacks
Coconut kissed Banana Bread (Vegan, Dairy-free and egg-less, quick and one bowl too!) 
Wholewheat eggless Nankhatais
Cardamom Vanilla Buttermilk Pound cake
With filter coffee or masala chai!

3 layered mango or orange pudding  or
Perfect Party cake with lemon curd filling and lemony whipped cream frosting

Wish you all a Happy Easter and a wonderful week end!Would love to know what you'll are cooking up this week end for some inspiration :) Do  leave a comment! 

Dorie's Perfect Party cake- Lemonized for a bright sunny Thank you!

The trees in my grandmother's little village in Kerala must be bursting with golden mangoes and purple mangosteen, with me too far away to gorge myself sick on them :( Here in California though, I see sunny lemons and oranges everywhere, and its almost like everyone has a lemon or orange tree in their back yard, except me. So of course I am compensating by buying loads of them every time I go grocery shopping leading me to squeeze lemons over super easy baked chicken and potatoes, lentils, or bake with them. I'm hoping all these citrusy desserts I've been having is boosting my stock of Vitamin C and not just going straight to my hips.

A few days ago I had posted some creamy, mouth puckeringly tangy lemon curd. Some of it went into this lemony cake which then went into my tummy, but it was meant for all the wonderful Kerala Kitchen members who contributed 54 brilliant entries to our roundup for last month! I wish I could send you all a slice, but hope you'll get to enjoy it atleast virtually for now :)
The cake is an extra lemonized version of  Dorie Greenspan's Perfect Party cake which I have been longing to make ever since I saw it on the Daring Baker's challenge archives. The original cake is filled with raspberry preserve and has a buttercream frosting and is covered in a cloud of sweetened shredded coconut, but I decided to instead use lemon curd as a filling, as well as to flavour the easy-peasy lemon squeeze-y whipped cream frosting. The cake can be made ahead and frozen for upto 2 months. Infact if you are cutting it into layers it is easier to do so once the cake is frozen. Lemon curd can also be frozen for upto 2 months, and then thawed overnight in the fridge before using it the next day. So why not make one well in advance and freeze it, so you are ready for a party anytime!

Dorie herself describes the cake as "..a just-right cake for any celebration.The cake is snow white, with an elegant tight crumb and an easygoing nature: it always bakes up perfectly; it is delicate on the tongue but sturdy in the kitchen" 
Perfect for any party, you can make the frosting and filling of your choice or even have it plain as a wonderful light tea cake. What better cake to celebrate 54 delicious entries to our Kerala Kitchen last month!

This goes to: Ria of Ria's collection my partner in crime and host of this month's Kerala Kitchen, as well as the wonderful members who took part this month:
Cool Lassie of Pan Gravy Kadai CurrySarah  of Spoonful of delightAnita of SliceofmylyfeDivya Kudua of EasycookingPriya Sreeram of Eq-myblogSadhana of  SensibleVeg,Sneha of Inspirational Art Of Cooking,Zareena of My Experiments with foodNashi of Plateful Najila of Foodie Corner Anzz of AnzzcafeVidhya of Vidhya's good eats Maria of Maria's Menu , Sonali of Only fish recipesUsha of My Spicy KitchenShabs of Shab's cuisineBharathy of Spicy ChillyNags of Edible GardenPriya of Priya's Easy N Tasty Recipes, Swapna of Swapna's CuisineHome of cupcakes from mypotpourriofrecipes and Karishma of Cook with Kary as well as all our other wonderful members who could not take part last month, but I hope will join us this month. 

Dairy Free Fruit & Nut Bars- Quick and Easy one bowl recipe that's Healthy and Yummy too!

We're nuts for these healthy and delicious Fruit and Nut bars. They contain only 1/4 cup of flour just enough to keep the dried fruits and nuts together and just 1/4 cup or less of sugar so they are tasty without being too sweet, and are like quite like granola bars. The nuts make them crunchy and the dried fruits are both sweet and tart. It would be interesting to make these with rum soaked fruits during Christmas time, instead of the fruit cake which I'm not such a fan of. These though, you must try, even if you are not a fruitcake lover, but love dried fruits and nuts as I do. They leave you feeling pretty full too. Perfect as an after-school snack or breakfast-on-the-go.It would be interesting to try a spicy and salty version of this too, which I might just do soon, but first a version with some chocolate chips!

Important Note: The taste of this really depends on the quality of the fruits and nuts you use. Nuts go rancid very easily and so don't use nuts that taste stale.For longer life, I store nuts in the freezer. If your dried fruits have become hard and dry, you can rejuvenate them, by soaking them in a little warm water- hey add some brandy or rum instead if you like! And they will become juicy and plump again. Drain and pat them dry with a towel and then proceed with the recipe.

Last week, I participated in a Bakesale for Japan and these Fruit and Nut cookies were one of  the goodies I had taken, along with World Peace chocolate chunk cookiesVegan Banana Bread made with coconut oil and these buttery Nutella stuffed cookies I was thrilled to see all my goodies disappear!

Lemon curd and some citrus love!

Citrus. Citrus. Citrus. My current favourite word, and one of my all time favourite flavors. Mouth puckeringly tangy, fresh lemons, oranges, sweet limes! Whenever I have a chocolate overdose, I find relief by indulging in some serious citrusyness. hence, you'll find many citrus based recipes here. 

I think some tangyness is in order in the middle of my sweetness overdose! Yes it has been all sweets all this week over here, with my sweet celebration mini event. Joining me in tempting you today is:
Vidhya of Vidhya's good eats with some gorgeous Red velvet bites topped with coconut, inspired by Lamingtons and Renita of On My Platter with a delicious Meringue Coffee Cake filled with Nutella- my other addiction! You can get even by tempting us back with your sweet dish posts from this week by leaving the link in my comments. 

Announcing food photography event DMBLGIT (Does My Blog Look Good In This?) April 2011 edition

Update: Winners have been announced here

I am so thrilled to be hosting one of my most favourite events this month! I've had such a hard time keeping my excitement levels under control!

"Does My Blog Look Good in This?" popularly known as DMBLGIT is a food photography contest or rather THE food photography contest, which was started in 2005 by Andrew of SpittoonExtra. It's best described as a monthly food and drink photography event open to all bloggers who have posted a food photograph on their blogs during the previous month. At least 6 awards are given each month based on scoring of photographs in the 3 categories of edibility, aesthetics, and originality by 5 judges. 

This month I have the honor of having a group of really AWESOME people who have graciously agreed to  judge the event: Zoe Francois of Zoe Bakes and cook book author of the Bread in 5 series, food bloggers and friends Ria Mathew of Ria's Collection and Shaheen Peerbhai of The Purple Foodie, and food photographer Dario Milano of Food Pixels. Helene Dujardin of My Tartlette, who is also launching a much awaited book on food photography and styling Plate to Pixel will choose her favourite picture, from those that didn't make it to the winning list, but received high scores from the other judges. 

Do check out last month's breathtaking winning entries and gallery of all the spectacular entries over at the awesomely talented and sweet Xiaolu's site  6Bittersweets for some inspiration. Let me warn you though, you may experience awe, food cravings and a strong desire to bite your computer screen! 
General DMBLGIT Rules:
  • Only one food/drink photograph may be entered per person.
  • The photograph must have been taken by you.
  • The photograph must have been posted on your blog between March 1st through March 31st, 2011.
  • The deadline to submit your entry is April 20, 2011 at midnight, whenever that is in your part of the world.
The Panel of judges will choose 6 winners based on the following criteria:
Aesthetics: composition, food styling, lighting, focus, etc.
Edibility: does the photo make us want to take a big bite out of our computer monitor while drooling on our keyboard?
Originality: a photo that makes you stop, look twice, and think “Wow! I never thought of photographing it like that before.”

Three overall winners will be selected plus one in each of the 3 categories. Apart from this one photo that  stands out, but wasn’t chosen as a winner will also be picked usually by the host, but thankfully the lovely Helene who is a much more qualified person for that job, will be doing it this month! My post announcing the winners for this month will be published by May 1, 2011 
How to Enter DMBLGIT:
Send an e-mail with "DMBLGIT Entry" as the subject line to me at magpiemails [at] gmail [dot] com. In your email, please include:
  • An attachment of a single qualifying food or drink photo you'd like to enter. It should be without text and no more than 500 pixels in width.
  • Your name
  • Your blog URL
  • The title of the image/what it is
  • The URL of the post containing the photograph
  • The camera and lens you used
  • Please also mention if you are a professional photographer or an amateur
Photographs will be loaded into this gallery in Picasa as I receive them. If you don't get an acknowledgment from me within 72 hours of sending your entry, please leave a message in the comments section of this post. By submitting a photo, entrants agree to their photo being redisplayed and altered in size on the host’s page and on the SpittoonExtra DMBLGIT page.
If you have any questions about this month's event, please feel free to email me. Anyone with interest in hosting a future edition of DMBLGIT should email Andrew with "DMBLGIT Host" as the subject. 

I can't wait to see each and every one of your beautiful entries! 

Update: Winners have been announced here

Cardamom Dulce De Leche in 15 minutes ( Microwave version)

I'm sorry to be doing this to you. Yes I know it is pure torture. First I say I am going to foist sweets on you this entire week as part of my week long sweet celebration mini-event, then I do this! I know you do not need the thousand calories and more ( I don't even want to know) that are contained in a can of condensed milk. No, caramelizing condensed milk  does in no way mitigate that, though it does make it even more delicious-(and hence maybe worth it?). And no, there is no way to prevent you from adding said calories to your hips in one sitting if you are a greedy girl or boy and finish the entire can without sharing. See I shared. I'm nice like that.

Some one else who is nice? Sarah of Spoonful of delight. She's joining me in my sweet celebration today as well with some awesome caramel candy apples! thanks Sarah! You can join in the fun too. Just leave a link to a sweet dish you posted this week and I'll include it in my sweet post tomorrow :)

Nutella stuffed butter cookies and Nutella swirl cookies, to celebrate a sweet victory!

Nutella can make me weak in the knees. Mostly I end up eating huge gobs of it straight from the jar ( Sssh! don't tell!) but then sometimes I save it ( well some of it atleast) to bake stuff with, like these oh-my-goodness-so-awesome Nutella Brownies  or these buttery crunchy Nutella swirl cookies as well as cookies stuffed with gooey Nutella. These golden brown swirly beauties are my second entry to my week long sweet celebration, Yes, I will be posting one sweet dish everyday of the week till Saturday! Joining me today is
Sarah of Spoonful of Delight with Marble Cupcakes and Sneha of Inspirational art of cooking with chocolate muffins! if you want to join in the sweetness, just leave a comment with a sweet dish you posted this week and I'll include it in my post the next day :)Would be nice if you could add a link back to this mini-event in your post too.

I was thrilled to bits that these chocolate chunk cookies a.k.a World Peace cookies and Nutella swirl cookies were sold out almost as soon as they were placed on the table at the bake sale for Japan  this Saturday- in about 10 mins flat!

Spicy Rice Crispies, what we munched on during the match!

I am not a sports fan. I am a food fan! If I ever go to a baseball match here, I am sure I will be more interested in the stadium hot dogs than the match. The last time the husband tried to get me interested in American football, I was looking at game menus and baked some super quick and easy beer bread for us to have instead- don't blame me for that though- that game is so crazy! There are waaaaayyy too many rules and too much violence for me!  

However, some times, you cannot help getting caught up in the excitement around you. And being so very far away from home, I never expected that I would get caught up in the cricket craziness here in the US!
But the excitement of my FB friends and that of the sports obsessed husband was infectious.