My Top 10 Favourite Food Posts of 2013 + some food photography and food styling tips

***For my 2014 Top 10 food photography list please click here. ***

I do a lot of professional photography and food styling for clients, both editorial and commercial, but mostly what you see here on kellyneil.com are dishes that I've come up with on my own, or recipes written by others that I've been inspired to make, in my own kitchen, photographed in my small home studio.

As a self-taught photographer that stumbled into the world of food styling purely by chance, I use my blog as a way to practice new techniques that I've read about or have seen first hand by working with amazing photographers like James Ingram. For me, every single blog post isn't really about the dish or recipe (although I do love to cook and bake) - instead, each blog post is a lesson in propping, food styling, lighting, photography and writing.

I've gone through all 71 blog posts I uploaded this year and picked my personal top 10. Beginning with my most favourite, I'll also tell you why I've chosen each post, what they mean to me, and what I learned both from a photographer's and a food sylist's standpoint. 

Below each shot I've included which lens I used (all Canon), as well as the ISO, shutter speed and aperture.

#1 - Negroni Poached Pears - December

It may seem kind of strange that I've chosen my most recent blog post as my favourite of the year. Lately I'm obsessed with Baroque painting - masterpieces by Caravaggio, Rembrandt, Rubens, de La Tour. The lighting in these works is so incredible that, as I wait for my very first studio lighting kit to arrive from Atlantic Photo Supply, I attempted to capture a similar mood using natural light. I feel that Negroni Poached Pears is the closest I've come to capturing a lighting style I've fallen in love with. I found the pieces of wood at the end of a neighbour's driveway on garbage day.

Negroni Poached Pear WEB.jpg

85mm 1.2L - ISO 100 - 1/8 sec - f 3.2

#2 - The Best Carrot Cake Ever - December

It may come as a shock to you, as it is to me, that this post is my #2 pick. You see, I photographed this cake totally on the fly, handheld, in dim, late afternoon, winter light, at an embarrasingly high ISO, however, I love the simplicity of the cake, the bottle brush trees on top and the jadeite cake stand I ordered from Minted.com. Plus, it truly was the best carrot cake I've ever had.

the best carrot cake ever WEB.jpg

50mm 1.4 - ISO 1000 - 1/100 sec - f 2.2

#3 - Tiramisu - July

Tiramisu was the first 'for-fun' project I worked on with James Ingram and Luke Hudgins of JIVE Photographic. It was also my first foray into the world of motion. Those two things combined make it my #3 choice for 2013.

Tiramisu from James Ingram on Vimeo.

#4 - David Liebovitz's Chocolate Idiot Cake - November

The thing about winter light in Nova Scotia is that there just isn't enough of it. I have two good-sized windows in my home studio, however, after 10am, all I get is shady indirect light. When you're cooking/baking food, setting up the props and then the camera for a shot, chances are good you won't start shooting until long after 10am, and in the winter, the indirect light never seems bright enough.

I made David Leibovitz's Chocolate Idiot Cake then waited to photograph it early the next morning, around 8am. Direct sunlight was streaming in through the window at camera left and for the first time, I used my Westcott 50" diffuser. I taped it across the window with duct tape (duct tape is an essential tool to me for both photography and food styling - you never know when it will come in handy) and I love the warmth the diffused sunlight adds to the rich colour of the chocolate.

A valuable food styling lesson I learned here was do not handle food from where the camera is going to be looking (ie - my thumbprint is visible on the cake straight on in the shot). As a food stylist and food photographer there are so many details that you must pay attention to. Missing one or two can cost you jobs and your reputation.

The cake is resting on a tarnished silver platter that I bought at Value Village - I just turned the platter upside down to elevate the cake. This cake was awesome by the way. I highly recommend making it.

idiot cake WEB.jpg

100mm 2.8L Macro - ISO 100 - 1/6 sec - f 8.0

#5 - Strawberry Vanilla Curd and The Summer Everything Changed - June

This post was actually less about the photography and more about the writing for me. It's the first time I decided to write about a deeply personal topic - the end of my parent's marriage. I sat in front of my computer, crying pretty much the whole time I typed, and I have to say, I felt damn good afterwards. I sent the finished post to my parents before I published and asked their permission to bare all on the internet. They both said yes and I'm glad that they did because for the first time, I received a ton of emails from readers saying that not only did they relate to my story, but that reading it had evoked intense emotion for them as well. I felt a true rush from writing. 

For the backdrop, I went to Home Depot and bought a thin piece of plywood for about $12 and then quickly and randomly painted long brush strokes of red craft paint all over it.

satrwberry curd and the summer everything changed.jpg

100mm 2.8L Macro - ISO 100 - 1/20 sec - f 3.5

#6 - Martha Stewart's CAKES : Happy Birthday To Me - September

I had just received this beautiful cake stand in the mail from Minted.com and knew I had to use it in a shot STAT. At the same time, Martha's new book CAKES was delivered to my house for review from Random House AND it was my birthday. Clearly this blog post was meant to be. Let me just say that the frosting, although delicious, was an absolute bitch to work with. As you can see, it did not want to spread smoothly and it was so thick there was no way I could pipe it.

I don't usually shoot handheld - 99% of the time I shoot tethered to my laptop - but every once in a while, I crave the fluidity of being able to move around easily without stumbling over the legs of my tripod. I love the grey backdrop - it's just an old weathered piece of plywood that one of my neighbour's had out on garbage day. Sometimes I wonder what people think when they see a six foot tall blonde woman get out of her car, sometimes in the pouring rain, to take garbage from their pile and stick it in the back of her car. Ha! Some of the things I've found are totally worth it - cool small tables, awesome pieces of barn board and plywood like the one in the picture. If you're looking for photo backdrops, I definitely recommend taking a drive around your neighbourhood on trash day.

maple cake-3 WEB.jpg

100mm 2.8L Macro - ISO 800 - 1/125 sec - f 2.8

#7 - Traditional Cornish Pasties (or as close as you can get in Nova Scotia) - March

This post is special to me because my friend Kris, a long time friend of almost 20 years, and I had lost touch over the last few. We kept messaging each other saying 'We really should hang out soon'. Finally we made a date, and stuck to it. And not just any date. Kris and I planned an afternoon of making traditional Cornish-style pasties at his house. You see Kris is originally from Cornwall, Egland so who better to have a pasty-making date with? I shot everything handheld with my 50mm 1.4 lens. The dough is taken from the winning recipe at The World Pasty Championships and hot damn it was good.

Pasties-4.jpg

50mm 1.4 - ISO 800 - 1/200 sec - f 1.8

#8 - Chorizo and Bacon-stuffed Pork Belly - August

This baby nabbed me second place in the Halifax Food BloggersSausage Fest Recipe Competition sponsored by Local Connections Halifax. Beyond delicious, I also love the cool blue of the set against the warm orange rind of the pork belly and the pink sausage stuffing. I kept the styling really simple with a barn board backdrop and the meat on a simple yet pretty platter - I wanted the pork belly to be the star. I tethered my laptop, focusing on the inside of the roast, where the sausage is spilling out, and set the self-timer so I could jump in with a meat fork and a knife.

chorizo and bacon stuffed pork belly WEB.jpg

100mm 2.8L Macro - ISO 400 - 1/10 sec - f 8.0

#9 - Rhubarb Curd Pudding Cups - May

I was on a streak of curd-making for a while - lemon, lime, Clementine, rhubarb and then strawberry. I thought 'Why the heck can't any fruit be turned into curd?' - turns out that many can. The pudding cups were tasty but I love this shot for another reason. I'm constantly reading about other food photographers and food stylists, absorbing any tips they offer. When I read somewhere that La Tartine Gourmande photographs food mostly with her 24-70mm 2.8L lens I decided to give it a try. At the time I was shooting primarily with my 100mm 2.8L Macro and my 50mm 1.4 - I had yet to discover the joy of shooting food with my beloved 85mm 1.2L. I've always thought of my 24-70mm 2.8L as a workhorse lens - perfect for weddings and events but never food. Although I pretty much only use prime lenses for food photography, I also love to try new things. And that's why I like this post - everything was new to me. I made up the recipe for the curd - new. I tried shooting at a different angle than I usually do - new. I shot with a lens I never use for food photography - new.

I found the old spoons at a flea market (6 spoons for $1) and the wood in someone's garbage on Chebucto Road (again in the pouring rain). 

rhubarb curd pudding cups.jpg

24-70mm 2.8L (at 70mm) - ISO 400 - 1/15 sec - f 5.6

#10 - Butter Chicken Skillet Meatloaf - February

I don't love this shot. I find it easy to get caught up using too many props and that's how I feel about this photo. Too much stuff. I forget sometimes that less really is more. What I do love about this shot is that my original recipe for 'Butter Chicken Skillet Meatloaf' was chosen out of 65 entries from across Canada as the overall winner in the 'Food Bloggers of Canada - Summer Fresh' recipe contest

Butter Chicken Meatloaf WEB.jpg

85mm 1.2L - ISO 400 - 1/15 sec - f 5.6

Happy New Year!