10 Tips on Food Photography for Cookbook Authors

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If a cookbook author or food blogger wants to try and photograph their own dishes, I’d definitely encourage them to do so. Click on the link to see examples of my published work and read the 10 tips below to improve your own food photography.

Enlightened Cook Food Photos

Here are 10 tips I can offer to other cookbook authors and budding food photographers:

1. Rarely shoot directly overhead. It’s usually a dull angle and almost never works when plates are round, because photographs are rectangular or square.

2. Don’t use a flash camera. Use natural light and a few bounce cards if you need them. Flash produces a very flat shot and glaring highlights. If you absolutely have no other option, back way up creating distance from the subject and zoom the lens in. Then the light won’t be so hot. (This is much more flattering for people, too.)

3. Never, ever use a light box. This light is too even and looks fake. If you do use one, your food will not look real. It will look more like a Hallmark card circa 1970′s.

4. The other trick to making sure your images don’t look like Hallmark cards is to have some of image in sharp focus and allow that focus to soften toward the background. Photos where the entire image is in focus don’t look natural because if the dish were actually in front of your reader, their eye would not see it that way.

5. Make sure you look at everything in the frame and take all extraneous things from the background out, unless you specifically want them there.

6. Shoot so that your photographs have a very large file size that will equal at least 300dpi so that when it goes to print, the images will remain clear. There’s nothing more disappointing than a great photo that doesn’t have enough resolution to be printed.

7. If you don’t absolutely love the photograph of a particular dish, omit it. If there are poor photographs it very quickly lessons the perceived professionalism of the whole book.

8. Don’t ever grab photos off the web to use on your own material. You must have copyright for all images. If a publisher finds out one of your images isn’t being used legally, I can promise you they won’t work with you again. Their liability risk for being sued is too high and too costly.

9.Be sure to choose props that are unique to each shot. It’s important to have other things in the frame, not just your food. It should look like we just arrived a talented host’s home where everything was beautifully laid out. I shop thrift shops constantly for tablecloths, napkins, utensils, dish and bakeware. Make sure everything you use is laundered, polished and immaculately clean.

10. After a few attempts, if your work isn’t top shelf, find another photographer and negotiate a rate you can handle. I work with cookbook writers and food writers to quickly get food images on a budget. I’d be happy to find out what food images you need and work with you at a reasonable cost. My food photos are on 10 food blogs and in my book, The Enlightened Cook: Protein Entrees.

Summer Travel and Healthy Portable Foods

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Christina and her family, who I’ve met through Start.ac, are embarking on a low budget, two month road trip called Blank Canvas Tour. She asked me to suggest some good options to eat on a budget. Finding healthy food on the road is a real challenge, but with a little prep and some guidelines, you can zoom past all those unhealthy, high-calorie, processed food burger ‘n fries fast food joints. So take heed, my friends and remember, it’s bikini season!

Hi Christina,
Right off I would say easy on the sandwiches, because white flour is almost like eating white sugar. It’s high glycemic index causes spikes in blood sugar and that could mean cranky passengers. I know you read labels, but remember, even bread labeled “whole wheat” or “rye” has primarily white flour. It’s lack of fiber and the immobility of driving long distances in a vehicle would slow elimination. That’s a nice was of saying people are apt to get constipated.

Instead I would advise a big bag of crudité. Stop at any market and stock up on unwaxed cucumbers, radishes, red bell peppers, celery, carrots, cherry tomatoes. You can put them in a big bag and pass them around. 

Fruits are great for travel, too. Their naturally occurring packaging makes them easy to handle. Fruits provide hydration because they are water dense. They seem like a treat because they are sweet, yet they are full of fiber, vitamins and nutrients. 

Most supermarket fruit is extremely under ripe, so think several days ahead. Whatever you leave in a brown paper bag in the car will naturally ripen. Putting a few apples in the bag is a great idea, because they expel a gas that helps other fruits and veggies ripen. Apples are also appetite suppressants, especially good when you have a long trip and don’t want to to stop a lot for meals or you feel you are ingesting more calories than you can burn on days when you need to mostly be in the car.
You wil save lots of money if you pack a cutting board and one big sharp knife to do the cutting up yourself. Pre-cut over-packaged fruits and veggies are tremendously more expensive. A jar of peanut butter from one of those machines that freshly grinds the peanuts is a good companion to the fruit, because it adds flavor and protein.Try not to eat regular processed peanut butter. Often a tremendous amount of sugar is added, plus hydrogenated fat, because manufacturers don’t want the peanut oil to separate. Get the natural one from the machine where you can and stir it when you need to. It’s good to get the kids accustomed to things that aren’t loaded with sugar. 

Additionally, I like raw nuts and sunflower and pumpkin seeds for travel. They pack a lot of energy. If nuts are “roasted”, there is a lot of bad, added fat and the naturally occurring fat changes in structure to be very unhealthy. Salted is ok because its plain table salt, not a sodium chemical compound, but do be sure the nuts and seeds are raw. 

Google ahead and find out where on your path the local farmer’s markets meet. Most urban areas have a market set up nearly every day. Its a good place to meet locals and shop for vine or tree ripened fruit that is organic and local. If you also bring a cooler, you can spring for a bag of ice a day (99cents) and keep the ripe stuff fresh, and things like milk and cheese fresh, too. 

You might also find some tuna with flip top lids to eat right out of the can. Every thrift store has old silverware. I recommend getting a cheap set for each passenger, that will be used again and again. If you spring once for Voss water, which is available in glass bottles that fit nicely in car cup holders, you can refill that same bottle again and again over the whole trip, which will be quite a savings. I’ve recently taken to putting a sprig of mint, basil or thyme in my water bottle. Just that little bit of flavor has me hydrating more. Maybe a lemon or a few cherries would do on the road.  Then you won’t be temped to drink sodas along the way and overall, the glass is a much better option than plastic. It doesn’t matter how hot it gets, you won’t be infusing petroleum into the water you drink. Particularly soft plastic bottles in summer are not recommended in hot cars. Just be sure to wash out the bottle every few days with soap water and fill it up for free everyplace you can.
Lastly, bring a big blanket and opt for setting out your own spread in a local park for a picnic. After long hours on the road, its good to get some fresh air and stretch out, instead of sitting in a restaurant.
I hope all of that helps you keep slim, perky and in a good emotional state. Happy travels!
If you want to donate to Christina and her family’s trip, please go to the Start.ac crowd funding site. The Enlightened Cook will have a project there very soon, too!

Bodacious Albacore Bisque

Dairy-Free, Entertaining, Good Info, Learn to Cook!, Recipes, Superfoods, Technique, Wheat-Free No Comments »

Look out people!  This soup is Bodacious!! By that I mean not for the faint of heart. Hardy, yummy, meal-in-a-bowl soup. I made a huge stockpot full last week and have been rationing it out to friends and neighbors all week. It’s also a great recipe to make hours in advance of entertaining and then just letting guests ladle out a bowl for themselves at their leisure.

My goal was to make a thick seafood soup without roux, the classic french soup thickener that’s in pretty much every chowder you’ve ever had. Roux starts with butter and white flour and I thought, eh– why go there? Other than texture, what’s the advantage? There’s no real nutrition with processed, bleached wheat flour,  and butter–well, it’s not on the top of my list as a superfood either. As a tantric yogini, I want more energy, more life force from everything I ingest and roux just didn’t make the cut!

So after literally a few years of contemplation and the great inspiration of my pal, Joel, who went fishing way south in in the deep seas west of Mexico, I bring you Albacore Bisque. One secret to this recipe is the absolutely fabulous 2  1/2 lb. of line-caught albacore from Joel. The other secrets are more subtle, as follows…

To achieve the smooth cream-like soup without using dairy either, I implemented a bit of knowledge I learned from web-cohort, Heather Van Vorous site, HelpforIBS.com. The site makes clear the distinction between two kinds of fiber: soluble and insoluble. The latter is all the fibrous ruffuge one thinks of as high fiber, as in kale, celery and most vegetables that still require a lot of chomping even after cooking to break down the stringiness. The former is what we love about vegetables that turn to silky mush when cooked, such as yams, potatoes, turnips, carrots, etc. (By the way, if you have irritable bowel syndrome, you want lots of soluble (mush) fiber and insoluble fiber only when it’s been well softened by cooking. This management of fiber appeases the overly-active peristalsis that’s symptomatic of IBS patients.)

So what other smooth, silky things could I add? I added  a full cup of one of my fav superfoods kudzu root powder and 20 oz. of tofu. Those along my top notch, soluble fiber vegies (white potatoes, a few carrots, a parsnip and a turnip and a huge celery root)  lots of slow cooking and pureeing, and finally the most amazing bisque.

If tuna isn’t at a good price, I recommend trying mahi mahi, swordfish, cod, tilapia, sole, or thresher shark. Enjoy all those omega fish oils, and as always, live long and prosper, my dear cooks!

Creamy Albacore Bisque

(wheat and dairy-free!)

2 1/2 lb albacore tuna

2 T coconut oil

2 medium onions

5 medium thin-skinned potatoes

1 turnip

1 celery root

1 parsnip

2” inches fresh ginger root

1 quarts vegetable stock

2 quarts fish stock

1 cup water

1 cup powdered kudzu root

20 oz tofu

3 T sea salt

1 t finely ground black pepper

1 t ground cardamom

1 T dry mustard

2 cups sliced celery

1 cup chopped carrot

Peel and chop 2 onions and sauté them in the bottom of a large stockpot on medium high with 2 T coconut oil and 1 t salt until golden brown. Add the stock, the whole potatoes, turnip, celery root and parsnip. Coarse chop the ginger and add to the pot, bringing it to a boil for 25 minutes.

Turn off the heat and use tongs to remove all the whole vegetables to bowl and  rub them with a clean dishcloth to quickly peel them when they are cool enough to touch. Break them up a bit and return them to the pot. Puree the soup that has now cooled a bit with an immersable hand blender or in batches in a regular blender.

Measure 1 cup of kudzu powder into a measuring cup and fill with one cup of water. Mix thoroughly and add to the soup with the tofu, remainder of the sea salt, finely ground black pepper, dry mustard and ground cardamom. Remove the seeds and membranes from the red bell peppers, slice and add to the soup to cook for an additional 25 minutes. Puree the soup again to incorporate the peppers.

Slice 4-5 celery stalks and leaves to equal 2 cups of ¼” celery slices. Chop 2 carrots into ½” pieces.  Add to the smooth and thickened soup to gently cook for 20 minutes.

Tear the albacore tuna into 1” pieces, anticipating that they will naturally break up in the soup. Continuing to simmer the bisque, add the tuna at least 10 minutes before serving.

September Cooking Classes

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September cooking classes forming.  Email me at inquiries@askyogimarlon.com for the latest info. Of course, the meals we’ll prepare will be healthy and delicious!

Marlon teaching on-camera

Marlon teaching on-camera