Monday, July 26, 2010

For the Love of Peaches

It's no secret that peaches are one of my favorite fruits. And summer time is peach time. Here in the Sacramento Valley we happen to be blessed with a concentrated area of peach production between Gridley and Yuba City. In fact, the City of Marysville has a peach festival every year (usually on the hottest day of the year, or so it seems). Unfortunately, we missed it this year.

Organic Frost Peaches

However, we were able to get to the Chico farmer's market last Saturday to pick up some beautiful ripe organic frost peaches from Berryluscious Farm in Gridley. Before we sliced them up for a delicious hot-weather dessert (that will be in our next post), I decided to try to get a few nice shots of them in the studio.

So, no recipes this time - just lighting.

Shot 1 - Peaches on Glass

I found an image of peaches reflecting in glass on the Internet and decided that I liked the concept. So I did my own take on it.

Organic Frost Peaches

 Peaches on GlassThere really isn't any plating here, just a piece of glass. The small piece of glass used in this shot is actually from a small end table that I bought when I first started this blog. The idea was that I'd use the glass to place thinly sliced pieces of fruit on and then place a light behind the glass and get some cool backlit shots. Never happened. However, it came in very handy for this shot.

Lighting for PeachesFor the lighting, I placed a 580EX to the right of the peaches, reflected off the wall. I placed a 550EX to left and a bit farther toward the front, and bounced it off the wall as well. Both flashes were fired at equal power. The light appears to be slightly stronger from the right because that light is closer to the peaches.

I like the softness of the light because it accentuates the softness of the fruit. Over all, I think this was very successful.

Shot 2 - Backlit Peaches

Organic Frost Peaches

In portraiture, backlights are often used as 'hair lights' to bring out the texture in a person's hair. And that's how I used backlighting here. Typically in food photography, backlighting is used to bring out specular highlights to show how juicy and moist the food is, but in this case I used it to show the texture of the peach fuzz.

Lighting for PeachesI didn't change the lighting dramatically from the first shot. I did move the left light directly opposite of  the peaches, instead of farther down the wall as in the first shot. I also changed the lighting ratio, making the left light 1.5 stops brighter than the right fill. Other than that, I mostly just changed the angle that I was shooting from. Instead of standing directly in front of the table, I stood at the right corner of the table and shot back toward the bowl of peaches.

Shot 3 - Cut Peaches on a Cutting Board

Organic Frost Peaches

I wanted to get a few shots of cuts peaches, but I had to cut several to get one that didn't have some internal bruising. I placed the pieces on a very small cutting board, but had to put that on a larger cutting board to avoid getting a black background.

Lighting for PeachesFor this shot, I made a few small, but important, changes in the lighting. First, I lowered the right light significantly in order to get a slightly sharper side lit effect. I wanted to bring out the shadows more in this shot, and bringing the lights down to the level of the food does that. Once lowered, the light was bouncing off my printer, so I added a piece of white foam core as a reflector. Also, since I wanted the right light to be the key in this shot, I changed the lighting ratios so that the right light was 1 stop brighter than the left light.

Organic Frost Peaches

Lessons Learned

  • Glass will have dust on it no matter how thoroughly you clean it. 
  • No peach is perfect and you are always going to have to clone out bruises or other imperfections.
  • Place lights at the same height as the food to get more pronounced shadows (and textures). 

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Roasted Pears with Blue Cheese

Today is the one year anniversary of this blog and this is our 365th post.

Well, today is the one year anniversary of this blog, but no where near the 365th post. This is actually only our 71st post, which I apologize for. In trying to hold down four or five jobs between us, including the bad economy, and furloughs, it's been difficult to focus on this blog. 

But over those 71 posts, I have a lot more respect for bloggers who do keep a regular schedule, whether daily, weekly or even monthly. It's quite a commitment. 

Well, onto the food! Today's dish is a wonderful, sweet and savory dessert.

Roasted Pears with Blue Cheese

The Food (Jhan)
I know it's been a while since we posted a new food but life has been very busy for us.

We actually came up with a few other dishes that have remained unpublished since the season has changed and they are just too heavy for summer eating. This salad is a dish that can be eaten summer, winter or fall if you can find good pears. The recipe was inspired by an Ina Garten "Cheese" episode on the Food Network.

This salad is very filling and so delicious. The flavors of the blue cheese, pears, cranberries and nuts blend together perfectly with the port and apple cider. These pears could also be served as a very rich dessert with a nice dessert wine.

This is one of the easiest things you can ever make and they are so elegant and rich.

The basics:
  • 2 pears peeled, halved, cored and tossed in lemon juice. Placed in baking dish.
  • 1/4 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/4 cup walnut halves, toasted and chopped*
  • 1/4 cup apple juice or cider
  • 2 tablespoons port
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
  • 1/4 scant cup olive oil
  • lemon juice
  • mixed greens or mesclun
  • Preheat oven to 375
  1. Mix blue cheese, cranberries and toasted nuts together and spoon equal amounts onto each pear half
  2. Mix port, juice and brown sugar until sugar is dissolved. Gently pour mixture over pears
  3. Roast pears for about 25-30 minutes until pears are cooked through and cranberries are browned. Baste pears often during baking. Out of the oven, set aside dish until pears are just warm
  4. Mix olive oil with about 1/4 cup lemon juice and 1/4 cup of the basting liquid to dress the greens
  5. Serve pears set over dressed greens. Sprinkle with salt and a little fresh ground pepper
* We used fresh local walnuts in this recipe. Our local walnuts are not bitter or dry like some of those you might pick-up in the store; they toast up nicely and have a rich nutty flavor.

Roasted Pears with Blue Cheese

The Plating
Simple, simple, simple is my motto any more. Simple round white plate with an nice off-white table cloth (wrinkled to provide a bit of out of focus texture). That's it. Nothing more needed.

Roasted Pears with Blue Cheese

The Lighting and Photography

Roasted Pears with Blue Cheese Lighting
The lighting for this shot was fairly straightforward. The key light was the 580EX, shot through the large reflector. This gave a nice strong focused light, with good specular highlights on the filling. Not much different that what I've done before, but for some reason this came the closest to that diffuse but directional window light I've been trying so futilely to mimic.

I added a fill behind the key to fill in some of the shadows and another fill at lower power, bounced off the wall opposite the key light to make sure that there are no really deep shadows.

I think that this is one of my most successful lightings. I set it up, shot it as initially set up, and then went and had dessert... it was even still hot!

Roasted Pears with Blue Cheese

Lessons Learned
I think I can finally say that I have basic lighting down. I can set up a shot in minutes and have a pretty good idea before I take the first image of what I'm going to see. I've also learned some of the more obvious pitfalls with shadows, reflections, highlights, etc. I feel comfortable lighting most of what I shoot for this blog.

In that sense, I've come a long long way from my first 70 posts. We need to think about where we want to go in our next 294 posts.

And Jhan and I definitely want to keep this blog going, but time is a huge constraint for us. If you like what you read here, please let us know!