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March 31st, 2011

juiced

Have you ever had a sip of kale? Nikki and I turned the test kitchen at the photo studio into a juice laboratory.

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For our experiment, we juiced grapes, carrots, clementine oranges, apples, lemons, limes, cucumbers, kale, and mint. Nikki had the idea of making all the juices separately, and then mixing our own concoctions.

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Some things I learned:
1. Juice is better fresh. It didn’t keep well when we tried to save the leftovers (though I may try this again in ice-cube trays for smoothies).
2. Cucumbers made a lot of juice, but the mixes tasted better when cucumber juice was used sparingly.
3. Berries are better in smoothies; they don’t give you a lot of juice.
4. Mixing green and orange juices together may not make a pretty color, but the taste can be really good.
5. You can’t even taste the kale when you mix it with apple or carrot.
6. Nothing goes to waste—we gave the kitchen scraps from the juicer to Troy for his chickens.

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This could be a new way to consume my leftovers—I may not have time to eat a carrot, a bunch of kale, and a few apples before my next CSA pick up, but I could drink them on my way to the office. Troy came up with an apple, carrot, ginger, and parsley juice. It was delicious! Nikki’s favorite juice is cantaloupe, apple, mint, and potato. I kept making things with cucumber and melon, but I definitely need to spend more time experimenting. Or at least keep better notes. I got a bit juice-slappy, and kept stirring everything together with no regard to measurements. I may have succeeded in making the ugliest looking juice on Earth. (Or maybe Staci really had a meeting to get back to, and that’s why she couldn’t try the juice.) What are your favorite juice recipes?

I can’t wait to get some cold crops from the Rodale Institute’s April plant sale. I think it’s time for a kale smoothie.

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March 24th, 2011

Better blog photos from your point-and-shoot

Katie Walker (our editorial assistant and The Green Earth Girl blogger) asked me to help her take better photos for her blog. My first impulse was to have her come to one of the food shoots, to see behind the scenes. (We will do that in future blog entries, I promise. But the reality is this: Most of you bloggers won’t have professional photographers, art directors, assistants, and prop and food stylists  in your kitchens.)

Katie brought a sandwich from the Rodale cafeteria and her point-and-shoot camera to the studio. I had her set things up for her photo the way she would at home. Then we worked together to get better photos from her camera. Here are some things you can do right now, with your point-and-shoot camera, to get better photos for your blogs.

1. Keep your props simple.
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This shot is an exaggeration—Katie loves this plate, and I love this glass. Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in the cool dishes and glassware, but remember what my photo professor always asked, “What are you taking the photo of?”

2. Watch your backgrounds.
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Take a look in the background of your photo. Are there distracting people walking by? Can you see electrical cords, appliances that have nothing to do with the photo? Clear away the clutter; it helps emphasize what you want the focus of the picture to be. Less really is more.

3. Take your object out of  harsh shadows.
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Yes, high contrast can create a mood, but you don’t want your sandwich to look like it’s being served in prison. Look for even lighting in your kitchen. In the future, we’ll do a post about color balance and reflectors. For now, just drag your food away from the dungeon.

4: Keep your subject out of harsh sunlight.
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Watch out for bright sun. Even with the miracle of Photoshop or other photo-editing software, it’s tough to add information to a blown-out photo. It’s so much simpler to move your subject out of the sun and make the image nicer in your camera. Those blasted highlights also wash the color out of your photos.

5. Look at things from all sides.
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Move around, zoom in, stand back, get up tall, get low. Katie asked me if there were any recommended angles for food photos. I think the key is to mix it up—if you move the camera around, you can sometimes eliminate distracting backgrounds. If you shoot overhead, you can get a nice graphic shot. If you have multiple photos in a blog entry, sometimes taking it from different angles makes a more interesting pace.

In the end, I showed Katie how I would shoot the same sandwich with a digital SLR. loDSLR_6801
In my shot, I used the rule of thirds in my composition. I also changed the camera angle to eliminate the background completely. You don’t have to have a fancy camera to do either of those things. You improve your photos by keeping it simple, watching your backgrounds and lighting and mixing up your angles. You’ll know your photo is effective when people stop by your office to talk about art and keep getting distracted by wanting to eat the sandwich on your screen.

Katie blogged about our day here.

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March 18th, 2011

March 18: Sunny and 70˚

Another day, another quick walk outside. Spring is about to explode.

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March 17th, 2011

Bloom Quest: Crocus and Snowdrop edition

Today was the first meeting-free day of the week, and my friend Michelle and I got outside for a few minutes to check in on spring. I know they’ve been out for a couple of weeks now, but this is the first time I’ve seen snowdrops and crocuses in person. We stretched right out on the Rodale walking trail to take these photos.

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We saw this lone purple crocus taking in the sun. The sunlight was gorgeous, but the shadows were quite harsh. I forgot my diffusion screens today, but Michelle used her hooded sweatshirt to create shade.

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This last shot is a TTV image. You create the image by taking a photo with one camera through the viewfinder of another camera. TTV is a  fun way to reuse old waist-level viewfinder cameras. I found my Kodak Duaflex and a Starflex at thrift stores, and made a shooting tube to block light leaks. (You can find templates online.) Your images will be backwards, but you can flip them in a program like Photoshop and crop them to a square size. Over the years, my favorite TTV photos have been of retro architecture, but the weather was nice and the flowers were willing, and it was fun to play outdoors.

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March 10th, 2011

Morris Arboretum part 3, the Fernery

It’s springtime in the Fernery at the Morris Arboretum. I ducked into the Fernery to escape the bright sunlight before I finished my witch hazel tour.

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Normally, I’d take the greenhouse/indoor photos first, but I was really there for the witch hazel. It’s hard to go from cold and dry to humid and warm, and I needed to walk around for awhile to let my camera acclimate. After a mix of impatience (remember I had two sweaters and my wool coat with me) and inspiration, I started to take foggy photos while my camera body warmed up.

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Lots of people came in and out while I was taking my photos. It’s too bad they passed by so quickly; they completely missed out on all the new growth. Diane and Cheryl were working in the greenhouse, and they showed me all kinds of hidden worlds. Then I went off and wandered on my own. When I stood up from taking this shot, I heard one of them say, “You’re smiling! I love when people make their own discoveries in here!”

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This rabbit’s foot fern is one of my favorites. It looks like something out of Pan’s Labyrinth, or The Muppet Show. I was waiting for some part of the plant to open its eyes, sigh, and lumber away from my incessant picture taking. I was also wishing I was about a foot taller so I could get closer to the plant. This one is growing over the top of a little passageway that houses a Buddha statue and many plants.

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Warm air, gliding koi, Buddha, what’s not to love about this Fernery? I think I’m lucky there were no benches, or I would’ve been tempted to take a long winter’s nap.

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The bear paw fern

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Normally I don’t care for direct sun and harsh shadow in a photo, but I really loved the dark black shadows with the fresh green leaves. And who can resist the beauty of backlighting? There are a lot of red ferns making an appearance. I learned that like the tree outside my office window, all the red parts of these ferns are new growth. Everything is uncurling and unfolding and waking up. I guess I went to the arboretum so I could start to wake up, too.05ferns

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