Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Food Photography: A Miseducation

Caramel on Brookside

Last Friday my former boyfriend and I were invited to test a new bakery and dessert bar in Center 1 on Brookside.

Caramel on Brookside

My former boyfriend is my husband now, by the way. I mean, he was my boyfriend at one point in time. Actually, a very, very miniscule point in time. Then, suddenly, I found myself married to the guy.

Don't worry your little heads about that, my darlings. It's another story for another day.

Back to business.

Caramel on Brookside

As I was saying, my husband and I were invited to try a swanky new Brookside eatery last weekend.

Caramel on Brookside

The restaurant is Caramel, a bakery and dessert bar that stands as an outgrowth of Kupcakz, the gourmet cupcake bakery at 71st and Mingo.

Cupcakes from Kupcakz, 71st and Memorial

It's okay. You can drool. You should be free to express yourself in all things.

If you haven't heard me wax poetic about all that is Kupcakz, then you're probably new here at TDT. If you have heard me, I'm sorry. I'll try to keep it down next time.

The pastry chef at Kupcakz and at the new Caramel are one in the same: Doreen Durano. See, Doreen has cooked and baked in all sorts of exciting places, including Las Vegas and her alma mater, California Culinary Academy in San Francisco. Did you know she is the proud mother of two tween girls? It's true. She sells light-as-air, beautifully decorated cupcakes inspired by and named after them, in fact.

So, needless to say, I was excited when I heard about Doreen's new venture on Brookside. I was so excited, in fact, that I begged her to invite me to her preview dinner last Friday night. Thankfully, she humored me.

I was all ready to go - stretchy pants on, cinnamon pills packed to help my system with the abnormal amount of sweets I was sure I'd ingest, and a pillow in the car for the nap I bet I'd need on the way home. I was locked and loaded, baby.

The one thing I forgot, of course, was to charge the battery in my camera.

My poor, unfortunate camera (a Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H3, by the way - I get asked a lot, actually). It's been through so much since we bought it two and a half years ago. I've put this thing through absolute hell, from covering it with animal cracker crumbs from the bottom of the diaper bag to dropping it on the floor to covering it in bacon grease while trying to photograph myself cooking supper. No matter what, though, this little camera has been willing to rise to the occasion. It's like a Timex, if you know what I mean.

That I'd forgotten to charge it before a dinner I'd been waiting all week to photograph was no surprise to my husband, nor to me, really. I tried to make the best of the situation.

But, as Yoda would say, "Do or not do. There is no try."

Caramel on Brookside

Yoda was right, y'all.

Caramel on Brookside

Now, I'm no photographer. I use a point-and-shoot camera, and the level of my skills and experience ranks me well into the amateur category. But, I look at a lot of food photos and I feel like I have a general sense of what makes a good composition and what does not. I think. Maybe.

To me, the basic rules of food photography are:

1. Don't use a flash. Really, this is because I have no idea how to use one properly, not because I actually have anything against flash photography.
2. Use tons of natural light. Shooting by an open door or window works well.
3. Fill the frame with the subject - that is, unless you're trying to create some type of effect using tons of negative space. Which I think is kinda gimmicky and contrived, but to each their own, because what the heck do I know.
4. Shoot a dynamic photo. In other words, don't shoot the most beautiful muffin you've ever seen head-on. Find a way to move the observer's eye from one part of the photo to another. Perspective and focus and subtle angles are fun to play with. The goal is to make people who don't care about muffins to, at least in the space of a moment or two, really care about muffins.
5. Don't style the interest away. What's a crumb here or there? I think food photos that look natural, like something that'd show up on the table at my house, hold my eye for longer than photos Gourmet or Bon Appetit would slap on one of their covers.
6. More of interest than any other aspect of food photos, to me at least, is texture. This isn't a rule, per se, but rather something I try to keep in mind any time a camera, a plate of food and I show up in the same place at the same time.

Caramel on Brookside

I have a hard time following my own rules a lot of the time - especially when my camera's battery light is flashing, gasping for life, begging me to come closer to hear its dying words. I screw up the focus, I jostle expert plating, I point and shoot without considering the consequences.

Caramel on Brookside

I hope everyone can get a sense for how beautiful the food was at this first-ever dinner at Caramel, despite the many issues with my photography skills. What's more, the food tasted great, too. Guess what else - even the service was good.

Normally, things get a little crazy at these preview dinners. Orders get confused, waitstaff might as well be graphing the next Family Circus cartoon with all of their beelines and zig-zagging and the food, generally, leaves much to be desired. These evenings are, after all, test runs. They're meant to establish a baseline, a place to begin improvement.

If what we experienced last Friday night was a true preview of what's to come then, wow, Caramel is going to take Brookside by storm. Even with all of the coming and going happening on The Strip right now, it'll be tough for local foodies not to take serious notice of this place.

Caramel on Brookside

Good luck to all at Caramel. I promise to bring a fully functioning camera the next time I visit. Which will probably very, very soon, since you opened for your first official day of business today.

P.S. - Hey, Doreen? Your ham, brie, poached pear and spicy mustard sandwich on brioche, which you served last Friday with a side of sweet potato and bacon gratin, is pretty good - pretty good as in, I bought all the stuff to make it at home over the weekend because I knew you wouldn't be open until today. I couldn't do it, Doreen. I need help. I need your guidance. I need that sandwich. Also, I'll need to pick up an order of dark chocolate mousse in one of your chocolate cups, which I will share with no one, ever. Ever, ever.


Read more about the local food scene on the Food Page of Tulsa Business Journal and at Tulsa Food Blog.

Bottom two Kupcakz photos from Kupcakz on Flickr.

Caramel Bakery & Dessert Bar on Urbanspoon


Yogi♪♪♪ said...

Funny post.
I've tried plenty of times but it is hard to photograph food at a restaurant. The light is generally low and like you say a flash is no good, its hard to focus, on and on. You almost always do a great job however.

Neel | Learn Food Photography said...

Shoot a Dynamic photograph is such an important aspect and little used trick that I wish I can share with everyone whatever little I know about it. Very well written basic tips.

Anonymous said...

This is my first time to read your blog but I have to tell you that your obsession with Kupcakz makes me want to keep reading. I live near Kupcakz and I stalked it for about 6 months while they were in construction. Every time I was in the area I drove by just to make sure I hadnt missed the grand opening. And then when it finally I did open I made a bit of a fool out of myself letting them know how excited I was. The chef was very gracious though and the cupcakes were worth the wait!! I try to go as much as possible :-)

Tasha said...

Yogi, you're not kidding about the light situation at most restaurants. While I appreciate the low, warm light on the ambience side, it makes things tough for someone with a point-and-shoot camera.

Anonymous, what's your favorite Kupcakz cupcake? I always ask people that. Mine's the chocolate with the ganache. Mmm...

Something I should have included in this post is how lately I've realized how much I enjoy food photos that also depict the people at the table, at the party, the picnic, or wherever it is the food is being served. Gourmet serves up gorgeous shots of people and their food every month. I think leaving the human aspect out of food photography misses the point a lot of times. At the very least, it's a lot of fun to play with.

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