BitterSweet

Sweet Musings with a Bitterly Sharp Wit


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Silent Saturday: Dining with the Ravens

Dining with the Ravens
at The Stanford Inn
Coast Hwy. & Comptche Ukiah Rd.
Mendocino, CA 95460

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Bowl-ed and Beautiful

A hoarder by trade but a minimalist at heart, bridging the gap between these disparate impulses can be a herculean task. Dishware stacks up in towering piles on every shelf of my small living space, populating the cabinets and drawers, overflowing into the outdoor shed, and still it’s a strain to find homes for every odd garnish. A riotous collection of colors and shapes, few pieces match a full set, but each one can command equal attention in the right scene. Such is the struggle of the average food photographer, forever adding to the archive of possible plating options. Particularly unusual or unique finds hold particular allure, but truth be told, it’s inevitably the simplest options that get the most play.

Everything looks good on white, setting off any food in sharp contrast like a bright spotlight, allowing the recipe itself to shine. Clean lines draw the eye smoothly around the composition overall, comfortably guiding a visual path back to the “hero” of the moment. Bowls like these are invaluable because no matter the theme or concept for any given assignment, these supporting actors always play a crucial role, without breaking a sweat.

Quality whites are essential even if you aren’t building a feast fit to photograph. The gentle plunging rims of these cereal bowls are an ideal example of form meeting function. When Sweese approached me with the opportunity to share this set, I couldn’t believe my (and hopefully your) luck. I’ve found myself using them for daily meals as well as more fanciful composed photo shoots. Win your very own set of four 28-ounce porcelain bowls by leaving me a comment about what you would serve in them first! Log your submission by following this link to the official contest page and find more ways to enter while you’re there. You have until July 25th to throw your hat into the ring; don’t miss this chance to make a bowl-ed statement!

Winning may not help control the overzealous prop shopper, but at least your place settings can look perfectly orderly and uncluttered.


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Background Information

Every single photo, be it simple or complex, novice or professional, must always start with two essential components: A subject and a background. Whether we’re talking about people, products, or skyscrapers, it’s the same story. Mercifully, greater control is bestowed upon the photographer lucky enough to work with food, effortlessly modifying textures, colors, and patterns to best highlight the dish du jour. Inevitably cast as the backup singer by definition, photographic backgrounds never get the praise they deserve for setting the scene. Few single components can lay claim to the same power when it comes to affecting the whole composition of a piece in one fell swoop. Such responsibility naturally comes with serious drawbacks, especially when you find your microscopic apartment studio bursting at the seams with huge wooden boards and slabs of worn ceramic tiles. Lest every image start looking the same, it becomes imperative to start diversifying your options, and fast.

Uber Gray Grunge From Ink and Elm Backdrops

For a number of years, I found moderate success using lengths of contact paper as one approach to expand my collection of backgrounds, but this approach has distinct limitations. Rarely do the most useful patterns come in a matte finish, leading to distracting reflections or harsh shiny spots under the glare of strobe lights, especially if there should ever be the smallest wrinkle in the roll.

It was a serendipitous moment of aimless online shopping when I stumbled across Ink and Elm Backdrops. Though clearly developed with the portrait photographer in mind, I immediately saw potential for my inanimate focal points, too. Made of high-quality vinyl, the big question would be how that texture would translate under the close scrutiny of a macro lens. Don’t expect deep wood grain or genuine stone surfaces, but happily, not a single image came out screaming “ARTIFICIAL PRINT BACK HERE! THIS IS ALL A FARCE!” Good news too, since I hate it when my props yell at me.

Heirloom Planks From Ink and Elm Backdrops

Best of all for food photography, these surfaces are highly washable. Go ahead, lay your greasiest potato chips right on top, splash around with cookies dunked in milk; nothing seems to shake these sturdy foundations.

Flexible sizing is another big benefit that traditional alternatives can’t boast. Small squares are available for your basic shoot, but if you want to create a whole Thanksgiving spread on a rustic oak table spanning a couple of feet in both directions, they’ve got you covered, too. Plus, each sheet easily rolls up for compact storage when it’s all said and done.

There is one very serious pitfall to ordering through Ink and Elm, however. Their expansive catalog is so extensive, it’s almost impossible to pick out just one or two patterns!