My 10 favourite food posts of 2014 : what I learned + where I got my props

I know some people think top 10 lists are stupid, but to be honest, I don't give a shit.

You see, I did a 2013 top 10 list last January 1st, and not only did I get a lot of positive feedback, it also gave me a chance to sit down, carefully review my year and actually see how much I've grown as a photographer. For this year's top 10 I've chosen (out of the 77 that went up in 2014) posts that I worked on for personal growth, my love of learning and pure straight up fun. I'm also including reflections on what I learned from each project and where I sourced my props. I loooooove scouting for props and am often asked where I get my stuff. Where applicable, I've included lens choice, ISO, shutter speed and f-stop. I have not included any photos I've shot for clients

So here, listed in order, are my top 10 favourite food posts of 2014.

1. David Lebovitz's Black Olive Tapenade - May 13, 2014 - I had a Vimeo account for THREE YEARS before I made this video. I've always known, that, at some point, I wanted to dabble in the world of motion, and receiving a copy of David Lebovitz's gorgeous book 'My Paris Kitchen' seemed a great place to start. I chose a recipe that wasn't too complicated, found the video function on my 5D Mark II and within 3 hours, shot and edited my first food film. I photograph food with prime lenses - 100mm 2.8L Macro, 85mm 1.2L and 50mm 1.4 (all Canon) - and the video was a mix of those three. Basically, what I did, was set up each shot on my tripod as if it were a still, pressed 'record' and then added motion with my hands to the still shot. Everything was filmed using indirect north-facing afternoon window light. I brought all of the video files into iMovie for 'editing' (I use that term loosely because all I really did was clip the length of the files and line them up in sequence to match the music). There are definitely things I would do differently, but I think it was a decent attempt for my first try. Plus, I got a shout out on David's Facebook page which was super cool.

props - weathered wood table top : boards found in neighbour's garbage pile - multi-coloured wooden cutting board : Ashwurks Kitchen accessories (available at the Halifax Seaport Farmer's Market) - Porsche chef's knife : Lee Valley - mini food processor : KitchenAid - vintage spoon : Sunday flea market at the Forum - small galvanized bucket : Canadian Tire - burlap twine (aka jute twine) : Home Depot - checked tea towel : Winners - striped turquoise bowl : Salvation Army Thrift Store

2. Nanny Neil's Apple Pan Dowdy - October 3, 2014 - This post was a challenge for me on a number of levels. Since the summer, I've been working on telling more of a visual story with my photographs and, instead of posting one single image for a blog post, I've been stepping back and photographing my vignettes from a variety of angles with a variety of lenses. For some posts, this has been a conundrum because I end up having almost too many pictures. Nanny Neil's Apple Pan Dowdy post was one of the longest I've ever worked on - it took me two days to shoot. One day spent in the Annapolis Valley driving the back roads, pulling over to photograph apples in season and a second day, set-up in my living room making the recipe. If you read the post, you'll see why it was challenging - I was writing about grief and my grandmothers, plus shooting with a strobe (studio flash) trying to make it look good, and trying to add depth and layers to the shots with props - all to tell a story. Creating a post like this is exhausting - emotionally and physically - but at the same time, worth every second. I received a TON of feedback - mostly from people who were carrying similar grief/weight and/or had been affected in some way with Alzheimers/dementia in their family. The entire post was shot with a mix of my three prime lenses - 100mm 2.8L Macro, 85mm 1.2L and 50mm 1.4.

props - green and cream distressed table $28, red and white tea towels $5 for two, cream tins with green lids $15 for four : The Vintage Crow, Peggy's Cove Road - old  green chair $10 : Onslow Historic Lumber, Truro - white oval enamel casserole dish : Value Village - eyelet fabric, lacy doily, wooden cutting board, small Renoir print of girl with cat : Salvation Army Thrift Store - black and white photos and photo books : my dad - vintage utensils : a birthday gift from my friend Peter - pottery bowl : Hungry Bowls NSCAD fundraiser - wooden folk art cat : Sean's mum

3. A visit to Dempsey Corner Orchard + a recipe for Peach Bourbon Bread Pudding - September 5, 2014 - This was my second collaboration with The Food Girl In Town. We drove to the Annapolis Valley on a beautiful late August morning to pick peaches, which I had no idea even grew in Nova Scotia. At this point in the year, I already knew that I loved collaborating with other people but I was still figuring out how I wanted to assemble my emerging visual narratives. I absolutely love the shots I got this day, but you can see in my post that I'm still playing with layouts. I think this post was a great example, for me, of going overboard with layouts and adding text on pics. I'm a big fan of the old adage 'less is more' and I also think that most of the time, text on photos is unnecessary - let the picture tell the story. But hey! Having fun and playing around is one of the biggest perks of what I do. Shot with a mix of my three prime lenses - 100mm 2.8L Macro, 85mm 1.2L and 50mm 1.4.

props - round wicker charger with green wire trim : Winners - vintage metal pie tin : Value Village - green weathered boards : Kijiji - copper bowl $5 : Sunday flea market at The Forum - wooden cutting board, knife, coffee carafe, painting with gold frame, brown wicker basket, potholder : Salvation Army Thrift Store

4. Squash, Chorizo and Blue Cheese Strata - December 2, 2014 - I didn't even know what a Strata was (it's basically a savoury bread pudding), but what I did know, was that I reeeeeally wanted to collaborate with my pal Kathy Jollimore from eatHalifax! One of my biggest discoveries in 2014, is how much I LOVE collaborating. From two posts with The Food Girl In Town, to working with  Benjamin Bridge, to this beautiful Squash and Chorizo Strata post with Kathy, I was able to capture some really lovely moments that would never have happened if I was alone. Shot with a mix of my three prime lenses - 100mm 2.8L Macro, 85mm 1.2L and 50mm 1.4 - I'd also been playing with a more faded film-style look at this point. I learned photography using film - real film - 35mm colour film, slide film, black and white film - before I switched over to digital in 2007. I miss the vibe and range of true film, and so, I started playing around with my tone curve in Lightroom to try and bring in a bit of a film feel. This time next year, I could be into something completely different, but for now, I'm loving it.

props - everything belongs by Kathy

5. Prosciutto, Asparagus and Fontina Quiche with Oven-Roasted Honeyed Tomatoes featuring The Food Girl In Town - July 15, 2014 - I made five short food films over the course of the summer, and three of them are featured in my top 10. This one, in which I filmed Gabby (aka The Food Girl In Town) making a Prosciutto Asparagus Quiche with Oven-Roasted Honeyed Tomatoes, is probably my favourite. Shot with a mix my three prime lenses - 100mm 2.8L Macro, 85mm 1.2L and 50mm 1.4 - it took about six hours for us to film. You can see, when the video opens, that the space we're in (my kitchen), is a a bit dark. As the afternoon goes on, the light becomes brighter as the sun starts to wrap around the back of my house.

The background is an embroidered tablecloth that I pinned up with thumbtacks to the doorway into the living room and I love how, with the back door open on camera right, the tablecloth blows in the summer breeze. We had SO MUCH FUN shooting this one and it makes me incredibly happy to watch it and think to myself - 'We made this'.

For video, I import all of my clips into iMovie, turn off the volume for each clip, import a chosen (purchased) piece of music and then start lining up and cutting clips to match the beat of the music.  Prosciutto quiche took the longest to make and edit out of all of the videos I made in 2014 and it's the one I'm most proud of.

Here's a shot of me filming Gabby.

The look of happiness on my face says it all. 

Pure and simple joy.

pic courtesy of The Food Girl In Town 

pic courtesy of The Food Girl In Town 

props - green weathered table $28 : The Vintage Crow, Peggy's Cove Road - cheese grater : Value Village - tart tin : Wal Mart - striped wooden cutting board : Sean's before we met - white + blue dishes : Gabby's - solid blue dish : Winners - white eyelet runner : Salvation Army Thrift Store - vintage cutlery : Sunday flea market at The Forum - blue and white 'napkins' : squares of fabric torn from a larger piece I bought at Fabricville - burlap twine : Home Depot - greenish glass drinking glasses : P'lovers - round wicker charger with green wire trim : Winners

6. Raspberry Thyme Scones - August 17, 2014 - I discovered Gina Weathersby in June. Gina's a mega-talented natural light photographer based in Cincinnati, Ohio. When I saw that she was hosting a three week online food photography workshop in early August via The Bloom Forum, I signed up immediately. The thing that really struck me about Gina's work was the way she would arrange a series of photographs, all with a common theme, and present them as one larger narrative. I wanted to learn how to do that. My process had always been to set up a vignette and shoot it with one lens, from one angle, leaving me with one beauty shot to post. Gina taught me how to step back, organize my ideas and photograph my vignettes with a new perspective. That's why, in the first SEVEN of my top 10 entries, I can't tell you exactly what lens I used, and what settings I used, for each shot - I used every lens I own for multiple shots. Taking Gina's course allowed me to have almost TOO MANY pictures for each post - a problem I had never faced before and was so happy about!

I started visualizing shots, and gathering props, about a week before, but I kept having to wait to shoot because it was raining almost every day. One afternoon I said 'Frig it!' and I set everything up in our yard with a light rain sprinkling down. Afterwards, I went inside the house and uploaded everything to my computer. I was over the moon ecstatic with the variety and volume of work I had. I truly believe that Gina's course helped me get to the next level.

Gina also encouraged course participants to play with photo layouts to increase visual impact. Raspberry Thyme Scones was my final assignment in Gina's course and the only regret I have about the entire post is that I didn't leave a little white separation between the shots in my diptychs (side by side vertical shots).

props - vintage card table $20 : Kijiji - wooden chair : our kitchen - green serving tray with pink flowers $8 : The Vintage Crow, Peggy's Cove Road - hat : Value Village - green thermos $18 : one of a number of antique shops along the old St. Margaret's Bay road between Tantallon and Lunenburg - pink cup and saucer : my best friend Angela's great grandmother - pink and white plate, mini pink spoon : Value Village - 'Light In August' by William Faulkner (one of my favourite authors) : The Trident Café - vintage looking cheesecloth : I took new white cheesecloth and dyed it in Red Rose tea - cream napkin with eyelet trim : Pier 1 Imports

7. Wild Strawberry Honey Pop - June 27, 2014 - One day early in June, I was puttering outside and noticed hundreds of tiny red berries, on teeny crawling red vines, growing close to the ground around our house. Turns out in 2014 we had a bumper crop of wild strawberries and, after three years of living here, this was the first time I'd noticed them.

I had been wanting to experiment with brewer's yeast to naturally carbonate homemade pop (read 'soda' for anyone in the U.S.) and so I thought, 'Why not pick a bunch of wild strawberries, combine them with Nova Scotia honey, yeast and water and make them into soda?'. Setting up my tripod outside, as well as indoors, I framed shots, hit record and starred in this film, along with Maverick, my 14 year old orange and white cat. There's a shot where Maverick just happens to cross the frame, diagonally, through the strawberries - I didn't plan for him to do that and it couldn't have worked out more perfectly. I left the audio on in that clip so you can hear his little body rustling through the plants, over the gravel. The strawberry honey pop itself was ok - I poured it right away for the shot in the video - but you definitely have to let the yeast sit and work it's bubbly magic before drinking :)

props - bowl : Christmas present from years agos - cast iron avocado green pot : my mum bought at a garage sale for me about 10 years ago - wooden spoon, red and white striped tea towel, glass bottle with latch, wooden cutting board : Winners - tumblers, red and white table cloth : Salvation Army Thrift Shop 

8. Black Plums from Pete's - September 18, 2014 - This shot is special to me because it's the first time I mixed strobe with ambient light and truly felt like I was catching on to how this whole studio lighting thing worked. I shot the plums in straight up natural light, and then again in natural light mixed with flash and I couldn't get over the extra 'punch' the strobes added. Below are both the natural light + flash and the natural light versions. The differences are subtle, but in a side by side the first shot with the flash added has way more 'pop'. I also love the look of an 8x10 inch crop - I find it automatically gives a shot a more editorial, magazine look. I crop many of my shots to this dimension.

Adding flash to my existing window light added more drama and richness to the colour of the plums and the peach tea towel. It also added more contrast to my shadows (see the shadow the tea towel is casting onto the handwritten paper in the first shot - the shadows are diffused, almost absent, in the second natural light version). I lit the plums with the strobes and then used my natural window light as a 'fill' light. The strobe and the window are both coming from the same direction - about 10:00, behind the plums, camera left. The only thing that changed between these two shots is a) the strobe being turned on or off and b) shutter speed to compensate. Lightroom edits are identical.

Flash + natural light - Canon 100mm 2.8L - ISO 100 - 1/40th sec - f2.8

Flash + natural light - Canon 100mm 2.8L - ISO 100 - 1/40th sec - f2.8

Natural light only - Canon 100mm 2.8L - ISO 100 - 1/8th sec - f2.8

Natural light only - Canon 100mm 2.8L - ISO 100 - 1/8th sec - f2.8

props - tea towel, tapestry fabric : Salvation Army Thrift Store - handwritten recipe : Sean's grandmother

9. Cook Republic's Burnt Butter Caramel Slices - April 21, 2014 - Ok, so, I'll be honest, I really like both #9 and #10 as photographs, but mostly why I'm including them is - they're f*@king delicious.  

I went through a phase this year where I was shooting everything at f2.2 - I don't know why but there's just something about f2.2. When you get your subject in razor sharp focus and everything else just drops out into a creamy blur - I love it. I was also playing with layering props because I was finding a lot of my shots starting to look a bit dull. Something I had noticed in a lot of the food photos I admire is the amount of layering - textures, fabrics, patterns, colours - so for this shot, I tried to add a bit more of that than I normally would. 

Goddam these were good. I suggest you head over to Cook Republic's original post for the recipe. Your friends will think you're the best thing EVER (as if they don't already - pshaw!).

props - weathered wood table top : neighbour's garbage pile - wooden crate in background : bought from a farmer who thought I was nuts and laughed behind my back after he took my money - burlap : Home Depot - striped tea towel : Winners - red and white fabric scrap : from an old discarded book of fabric samples - pie lifter : Value Village

10. 6-Minute Microwave Lemon Curd - January 25, 2014 - I LOVE LEMON. I also love the convenience of a microwave. There I said it. I make polenta and brown butter in the microwave and one day, as I was making lemon curd, following all the steps, stirring constantly on the stove I thought, 'Why can't I just chuck all this stuff in a  bowl and cook it in the microwave?'. Hey guess what!!! I COULD. It's so easy, fast and soooooo delicious. I often refer to the colour wheel to add contrast to a photo and the exact opposite of bright lemony yellow is deep royal blue. One of my favourite flavour and colour combos combined in one picture.

props - blue and white napkin, jar : Value Village - polka dot spoon $12 : Twig

And there you have it. My top 10, all bundled up into one neat and tidy little top 10 package. I hope you enjoyed my reflections and musings and hey! if you have any questions about anything - photography, styling, props, lighting, or anything else, let me know and I'll do my best to send you a (hopefully) great and (hopefully) accurate answer.

My number one piece of advice to anyone that wants to learn food photography is this - JUST SHOOT. Shoot with your phone, your point and shoot, your DSLR - WHATEVER. I learned photography on a $12 purple plastic film camera from WalMart and I took it EVERYWHERE with me. Practice the basics of lighting and composition before you start spending hundreds of dollars on gear. Expensive gear can't help you SEE the photo.

Well, that's what worked for me anyway :)

Happy New Year! xo.