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April 7th, 2011

spring cleaning

Well, I saved all of these zinnia seeds from my garden last fall, and I meant to make little seed envelopes and include them in my holiday cards. Then I never finished writing my holiday cards. The airtight jars of seeds have been sitting in dark closets and in our basement, and now it is seed-starting time. The following pictures won’t help you at the moment, but they will show all of my friends and family just how much thought I put into the holiday gift they have not yet received.

zinnia

1. I picked my favorite zinnias, and kept an eye on them, and let the flowers dry on the stems.

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2. Then I harvested the dead head.

Harvest

3. You can save the seeds or the whole head.

SaveSeedorHead

4. Label with the plant name and color (and though I didn’t show it here, also add the year).label

5. Seal in an airtight container, store in a dark cool place, and promptly forget them until it’s time to start your garden again.

airtight

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(Or  in my case, forget about them until your friend Nicole sends you a very nice package from New Orleans and you want to make a thank-you note to send her, and you remember the zinnia seeds.)

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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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