Picture This

Change comes slowly, incrementally building while no one’s looking, until suddenly the vast difference can no longer be ignored. That fact had never been more clear while going over the raw manuscript of Vegan Desserts, and giving the photos their final assessment. Though all of the recipes already had photos taken about a year ago, some of them showed their age, and in the most unflattering way. Blurry focus, poor lighting, bizarre styling decisions plagued almost all; it was hard to believe that these images might have made it to print previously. Pictures speak louder than words, however, so I’ll let you see for yourself…

No decisions were easy here, and the originals weren’t bad enough for me to delete altogether, but it’s a curious thing to see the contrast between two (or three) photos of the same thing, taken with a good bit of time between them.  (The following photos are arranged with the first attempt(s) on the left, the final, printed photos on the right.)

This one was a particularly tough photo to ultimately reject, because the cute-factor is a whole new category not even touched in most food photos. Perhaps for a reason, though. Isis was so excited about her treat, she wouldn’t stay still, and thus is one blur of a puppy on film. Yes, my dad had to assist on this shot, both in holding the biscuit, and holding Isis back so that she didn’t wolf down the biscuit before I could snap a shot! Also note that the original version of the Canine Cookies were carob-coated, but that ended up smearing on the rug beautifully, so I switched to chips mixed in.

The Grasshopper Cake was really something else; a slightly intimidating multi-layer cake that could feed an army for a month. Or at least it felt that way, when I found myself redoing the photo not once, but twice to make three separate attempts altogether. Beginning life as a 4-layer, square cake, it became clear after that first failed shot that it was simply too much cake for any sensible person to bake up at once. Then, somehow, it turned neon-green on film, and looked downright radioactive. The final photo that went to print still could use some work in the lighting department, but at least the frosting doesn’t look like I mixed in day-glow wall paint as an ingredient.

My blood oranges may not have been such a luscious shade of crimson red the second time around, but the effect of seeing them arranged on the whole Blood Orange Upside-Down Cake was worth the effort of a full redo. Simply from an instructional view, it made more sense to show how the orange slices were laid out on the cake, to make it easier to replicate for the casual recipe reader. Plus, any excuse to break out the antique milk glass cake stand is one I want to use!

And the humiliating examples could go on, but I’ll leave the rest to your imagination. Have you ever taken a glance back at old photos and wondering what you were thinking? How this could have ever been acceptable? Give it a try, take a stroll down a photographic memory lane; It’s more entertaining than you may think!

32 thoughts on “Picture This

  1. I just noticed Vegan Desserts and My Sweet Vegan are now in Kindle form! Just bought them both! :-) I love the photo of Isis!

  2. Hi there. Received your recent cookbook for my bday yesterday and I went to make the macaroons and there seems to be a misprint. Is it 2/3 cup of pb? Or tofu? Apologies for incl this as a comment but struggling to find contact info :(
    Thanks! (love the book!!!!)

  3. Certainly I can see the improvement in your photos; however, I have to tell you that the ones on the left are still very good. I understand that you want your pictures to be the absolute best they can be though.

    I’m highly critical of my photos. Some of them really, really suck. Some are okay. Some I actually kind of like. I just keep pluggin’ away, trying my best to learn how to take photos in artificial light. It’s quite challenging.

    I sure do love all the shade trees we have because it makes sitting on our balcony so enjoyable; however, we get hardly any natural light coming through our windows and sliding glass doors. I’d love to take pictures using diffused natural light, but I can’t so I make the best of it.

    Anyway…your grasshopper pie looks fabulous! I like how you decorated it in the third attempt the best.

    With the doggie treats, the way you shaped them in the 2nd attempt looks much better.

    And with the blood orange cake…yep…makes sense to show the whole cake and how it should look with the orange slices arranged.

    I have the hardest time with styling. I don’t feel like I have any style! And trying to shoot within the confines of the studio box is hard. Don’t get me wrong…it’s wonderful, but sometimes it would be so nice to be able to shoot a table setting to get some more depth.

    Anyway, your pictures are awesome! You should be proud! :)

    1. Thank you so much! It’s all a matter of learning through experience, and using what you have. I hear you on the shadowy, tree-filled yard… It’s the main reason why we can’t grow much in the garden, too. I’m still not crazy about artificial lights, but used with finesse, they absolutely can work. Have you tried using mirrors to bounce natural light back into the darkest shadows? It improves my photos so drastically; Always, the first two things I do when setting up a shot is I lay out the background, and break out the mirrors.

      And seriously, if you want to feel better about your photos, take a peek at my archives 3 or 4 years back… I’m too mortified to go back there anymore. Honestly, in the beginning, you’d think that I lived in a yellow world based on that horrible, omnipresent tint!

  4. I struggle with making the decision to re-do a recipe in order to get a better photo. It’s an option I don’t often take because I would rather spend my time with loved ones. However, food photography isn’t my career, so I’m definitely not judging you for doing so! I think I should be a little more like you and re-do some photos.
    Please don’t go to my site and look at my photos lately, they’re awful haha!

  5. love your posts and recipes!. i am just starting off or rather just about trying to figure out some decent photography.. it is quite frustrating right now.. i bet it things will align in time.. :)
    your pictures are beautiful! i do like to see more pictures on food books and nice and enticing pictures, not necessarily all composed and almost unnatural food. but definitely some mouth watering shots!

  6. Your photos are always gorgeous, Hannah, but I know what it’s like to be your own critic. I tend to re-shoot many of my blog photos, and even looking back on many of them now, I still know they could use work. But, I find photography is a never-ending lesson in lighting and staging… that’s what makes it so fun!

  7. You hit the nail right on the head regarding the “cute factor” of the first photo. That was hard to beat. :)
    I hate looking at the first photos I took and posted on my blog. I’m so far off from your quality but way back when, it was just down right embarrassing.

  8. I cringe at some of the pictures I took last month! At least that means I’m improving I suppose! I love learning and get a lot of inspiration from other blogs including yours they’re always beautiful. I am finally upgrading to a “proper” SLR camera next week, excited! I will still use my trusty point & shoot for my location shots though (as in when I am walking the dog!)

  9. Looking back at older photos on my blog makes me wonder why I wasn’t too embarrassed to post them at the time. I love the before and afters you shared. I like following your thinking about what made the cut for the book and why you went back to recreate a scene to help capture the essence of a dish.

    I still have so much to learn.


  10. Even your “humiliating” photos are phenomenal!
    I still have so much to learn in the art of photographing food…..but first, I need a better camera *sigh*

    What camera do you use?

  11. This is a really interesting post! Like others said, your first shots are really still very good and I actually find it fun to see what didn’t make the cut – for whatever reasons.

  12. It’s fascinating to see the shifts, Hannah, and yet at the same time the photos that you call “humiliating” are of a calibre I’d be grateful to create! I’m really struggling with photography, and wish I had an ounce of your skills :)

  13. Your description of change is spot-on. It happens so slowly at first that it’s only apparent to the one making the changes.

    Love this post, Hannah. It’s so real. I know so many food bloggers who don’t like to show their older pictures. And lol, I completely know what you mean when you ask if we’ve ever looked at old photos and wondered what we were thinking…that’s the story of my life! ;)

  14. I love it when you do photography posts! You are the one who inspired me to pick up photography in the first place!

    I certainly look back on old photos, which I thought were great at the time, and go: “Flash? That composition? What was I thinking?!”. I know I’m improving constantly, but it really showed in the three times I went to a certain vegan bakery– the first time I used flash for everything and thought they were great (this was a few months after getting my DSLR camera) the second time they were much better, as I knew more about lighting and composition, and the third time they only got better!

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