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Better pictures of your bread – part 2

May 10, 2020 | bread

This is part two of a set of three posts.

The hobby side of my bread baking takes me often to the Facebook Group called Sourdough Nation which is run by the lovely people at Hobbs House Bakery.

On that forum during Coronavirus Lockdown I found myself offering to do a Facebook Live (which was my first – eeek!) and then blogging some of the information from that session onto here.

Humble apologies to those that tuned in live on Facebook for part two and found it disjointed (to say the least). A massive migraine and the switch from wifi to 4G as I stepped outside the house was all a bit much and my brain fried a little so I didn’t get over some of what I intended to.  Combine that with my iPhone 6s battery finally giving up the ghost this week so I was forced to work with my old iPhone 4s and… well it wasn’t my best presentation!

Here (hopefully) is a better explanation of what I was trying to do!

Sourdough bread, nine ways. Here’s one I prepared earlier…

In a former life I had to do lots of presentations and even wrote training material and I was a project manager so it’s not a huge surprise that I wanted to plan my session. And that’s exactly what I did. I went to Lidl and, as I did my weekly shop, I purchased a small loaf of sourdough from them. I then went around the house, finding locations and taking photos with my iPhone, thinking about allI could tell those watching. On the left here are the photos that I took when I was just plodding slowly. On the right the equivalents taken on the Facebook Live session (and those that attended know that the two shot in the garden didn’t happen on the initial “live” but I did something else instead. I’ve included them here for completeness as there are points I wanted to discuss. I shall include the real “live” session images too as they have points worth noting.

Last week we looked at how the light changes as you move around the subject. We also looked at how to use the camera on your phone more easily.

The point of this week was to take that initial knowledge and move around the home to find “new” and “interesting” places to take photos of your bread: rather than just bunging it on the work surface with switches and distractions, or on the hob.

In other words this session was all about finding locations in your house to make new images.

Notice I said “make” rather than “take”. It’s a subtle distinction which some photographers like to have. One of my heros, Ansel Adams, used to say that a photo is made rather than taken. Given that we are in control of everything in our bread photos it seems appropriate to point it out.

Here we go then. Nine different images of bread in thirty minutes or less. Sourdough bread, nine ways.

None of the images has had any post-production editing. They’re straight off the iPhone 4s.

And here’s the loaves… I did plan a proper sourdough loaf for this. It turns out our oven is running a “bit hot” because the pizza stone was at 320C when I bunged the loaf into the oven set at 250C. Our oven needs a check, clearly. The result was that the loaf burst dramatically and wasn’t much use. If you’re about to demostrate lovely bread as a bunch of photos then you want lovely bread don’t you. It was therefore a bit of a rush at 10am when I needed to make a loaf in time for a 1pm session. Go out and buy another Lidl? Or bake? Hardly an “essential” journey so yeasted bread rather than sourdough was going to have to be the answer. The second loaf didn’t get as long to bake as it should have had. It was still rather hot when I started the session as it hadn’t been out of the oven even 15 minutes.

The first loaf looks good from one angle at least. Hmmm.

The best laid plans of mice and men…

Nine shots – one by one… and two more for fun.

My starting point for the photos was that if I’m in my kitchen there must be something better than a shot on the hob, or the work-surface with switches around it.

The obvious answer was to see that lovely light on the cill of the window. I already had herbs and tomatoes on there so they said “food” to me. Then it was a simple case of trying to keep the verticals vertical and make the exposure on the loaf even.

In my test shot I didn’t like how one tomato popped up so I wanted to move them to the side for the “live” shot. Actually the second loaf is a bit big for this spot and it’s one reason I don’t often use it in my Instagram images.

The fact that the seeded loaf is a bit big compared to the Lidl loaf is significant – and it’s a theme that will repeat when I show you other images: not every space works with every loaf. Why would it? They are different loaves. Don’t expect that a setting you use for one loaf will be right for another.

The next pair of images also shows that the light changing can make or break an image. In both cases I used a reflector from the right of the camera to push light from the window in to the loaf. The first shot though the light was much better. If I’d simply gone to take the image that I made on the live session on my own… I wouldn’t have chosen that location at all because the light wasn’t there.

Almost as an opposite of the first image, with kitchen/food in it I wanted to head next for something very plain indeed. The shot of the Lidl loaf was done in the morning. The seeded loaf was done in the afternoon a day later. The light has changed, but the whole is a very simple image.

The “prop” (literally) of a candle is just one that lives on that set of drawers. There was no complex thought of what the prop might be. I like that candle. I like that space. It was a clean image.

I’m not sure what the dark spot is in the back of the seeded image. Clearly the light is darker. Not ideal for the second image. I suspect it is an issue with the sensor on the iPhone 4s working in darker light.

Back upstairs to the lounge and another location. We have a coffee table that we love in our lounge. It often appears as a background in my images because the grain of the wood is great. The colour tones work well with baked goods.

This image is also to repeat the last comment about pushing the light where you want it. Last week I used a bit of plywood that I get loaves in/out of the oven with and covered it in tin-foil (you might have a bit of cardboard or a baking sheet and cover it with tin foil – crunch it up and un-scrunch it again for best effect). I’m now using a professional light reflector as it’s slightly lighter and easier to move and does a better job of pushing light around.

The first image of the Lidl loaf had dark shadows to the left. The window is off to the right. To balance that out I put my reflector to the left to push some light back into the shadows.

The second image of the Lidl loaf is with the reflector in use. Notice the difference.

The final image of the seeded loaf was the “live” equivalent. In this one I’d decided that the dark bit of wood was a distraction (it’s a fish – the table is fish in a river done in wood). I composed the image to avoid that one fish.

Image four. I have a fun bowl on the dining table. The Lidl loaf fitted well into it. I could get an image using the bowl as a background.

But when you bake your own loaf and it is bigger – back to that theme that not all locations work for all subjects.

Again this is using the window light and my reflector from camera left. I’ve simply plonked the bowl on the window-sill to get the best light on the subject.

When I lost connection on the Facebook Live and it fell apart a few times (complete with the bit you saw of Sheila coaching me on my delivery!) I had to think quickly with migraine growing.

Why this location?

Simple – I saw a texture on the table. That drew me to it. Indeed it is what I was about to do outside (as you’ll see in a second).

Is it the best location for the bread? Probably not. A smaller loaf might have worked better in this location. But I still like the light on it.

My next “substitute image” – one that one viewer, a friend, Ross, said he liked best, was again a question of being drawn to a location simply because of light and texture.

I had one of those disasters that bakers have occasionally – flour mites.

So with a failed loaf first thing in the morning and needing to bake a new one, I found I had to wash out all of my bannetons and my cupboard, and bleach the lot, to get rid of the beasties. (Thankfully my flour is all in sealed tubs so it was safe! And we all know how hard flour is to come by during Coronavirus Lockdown!!!!!!)

Although I was drawn to this location by the texture I still had to work carefuly to try to exclude the window in the background, the other items on the draining board (rolling pin and ruler that didn’t fit in to the “baskets” theme) and of course the tap. That’s why this isn’t showing the full loaf but crops in. Had I been shooting this slowly I would have put some greaseproof paper in the window (or just used another one of my professional pop-up things to do the job) and cut some of the light down so that the baskets were not over-exposed.

Coming back to the images I had planned to take outside.

On our patio is a lovely big table. I often sit and have my breakfast at it in the summer and I love how the light plays on the “basket weave” top.

That was the reason that I chose it for this image. You’ll see the light is very different between 10am and 1pm for the two loaves. For the Lidl loaf I really needed the reflector to push some light into the shadows and show detail in the front of the loaf.

The following day the light was much hazier with high cloud softening everything. That gave less contrast and punch to the loaf image.

I shot it tight in to avoid the hole for the umbrella in the middle of the table. It still works. It still gives me an interesting texture in the background but I prefer the original shot to the “live” shot.

This was another “rustic” looking location that I had in plan for the “live” session but didn’t need in the end. A convinient tree-stump. I didn’t use it in the end because we didn’t get outside properly. I do find the fence a little distracting but essentially this was a case of, “there’s a nice rustic looking spot – that’ll do,” when I was thinking things out.

Heading back inside and finding a bookshelf.

What’s this shot all about?

In our lounge we have two bookshelves. Let’s deal with this one first.

There’s an empty shelf that just has a ginger jar on it.  I like the vertial lines. I like the soft light it often gets. I wanted to do something with that.

There are three images here. I’ll explain them one by one.

Image one has an almost black background. The sun was streaming through the window and so the contrast between the front and back was huge. It made for an interesting image, but not the one I was heading for. I wanted to show the vertical lines of the shelves. Simple graphical shapes against the loaf.

For the second image then I simply moved the loaf further down the shelf away from the window where the light was softer. I liked the shape of the ginger jar and it made a convenient prop without me thinking too hard.

 

For the third image, done on the “live” I had a much bigger loaf – but it was a little low in rise (ok, it was a flat loaf!) and so I couldn’t plonk it on the shelf in the same way. I had to prop it up. In propping it up I didn’t get the same soft light. Add to that a hastening migraine and … well I can blame whatever… I failed to remember the ginger jar and failed to get the lines vertical. The second image is really what I was aiming for. C’est la vie.

 

We’re into the home straight now, folks, two more sets of imags to go.

Note the difference in the blue here. Same camera. Same location. Different day. Different time. The light has changed on the wall location and it affects the whole shot.

Those watching live will know that for the seeded loaf I moved the bananas and Sheila prompted that there were labels on the bananas too. That was a good spot.

Essentially this was another case of looking for a clear, clean, background and good light. I liked the contrast of wood and fruit so I moved objects that were in the way out and put the bread and fruit where I wanted it. The first shot has no reflector used. The second I’ve used a reflector. You can see the difference. Sadly the size of the second loaf meant that I didn’t get the wood in as  I did the first time. Rushing these things doesn’t always end so well.

The last of the set of shots shows a bit of “idea development” . In my head I saw my other book-shelf with a load of bread books and thought, “that’s a lovely spot to try”. The light levels were not as good so I knew the shot would be pushing the camera’s capabilities on the iPhone 4s.

The first shot then was the Lidl loaf balanced on the books. It made for a tricky shot because the loaf was side on and I was having to avoid the shelf above. Immediately I figured that I needed more space for the loaf and to make the “bread books” as a prop more obvious.

I cleared some books off the shelf and turned the books sideways. That made for a better image (for me – you may prefer the first one!).

When I came to do it “live” the seeded loaf was big and thin and to give it half a chance I had to prop it up. I didn’t spot that one book was sideways too. I failed to articulate the development of the shot on the “live”. Oh well. Soz…

Once more it was chosen as there was enough nice light. There was a neutral background (the wood) and an idea for a prop (the books).

One last idea that didn’t make the cut on the day. If you’re struggling with something – sometimes looking closer can be worth a try. The crust on this loaf was shot on the window-sill (spot the tomato in the background as a clue).

It may be a supermarket loaf but that’s a decent crust worthy of closer attention.

Nine ways – done!

There you go, then. A variety of different “stages” used for bread shots all found around one house.

Because I do wedding photos and “preps” shots in real houses I know that your house will be very different than ours. If I were to take photos in your home I would still find spots – the same spots I use to take photos of flowers, jewellery, perfume and so on on the big day. I don’t plonk them all on top of a cooker with power switches and so on in the background.

Look for that lovely light we talked about last week, look for lovely clean backgrounds, and a bit of interest, you’re more than half way there then.

Next time…

For the final session I want to try to pull it together. One location. Decent light. And the challenge is to accessorise a bread shot to make it Instagram-worthy.