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Monday, January 23, 2012

Creamy Cauliflower Soup (Photo Challenge)

To be honest, I don't really put a lot of time into styling the photos I shoot for this site. I usually think a little about it while I am baking, or cooking and start gathering my props and placing them by the window. I usually think more about color and the mood I am going for. Then I'll gather up a couple of tea towels and whatever else is handy. I'm sure David would tell you I take an elaborate amount of time, but really the whole process including taking the photos is about 20 minutes. Yes, 20 minutes is a long time when you are waiting to eat the food. This is why I rarely post dinner type foods. Still, I certainly don't plan everything out weeks in advance like I did for this post.
One day I was going through a stack of old magazine, trying to decide which to keep and it grabbed me how beautiful the Donna Hay covers were. It would be awesome to do a photo challenge with the covers of Donna Hay magazines. I thought about starting my own group, but the more I thought about it I knew I just didn't have the time to host one. There is nothing worse than a flaky host when you are participating in an online blog challenge. So, I pretty much let the idea rest. Then, somehow I stumble across the site Jungle Frog Cooking at the beginning of this month and it turns out Simone has been hosting Donna Hay Photography Challenges for the last five months. Maybe I didn't have the time to host one, but I could certainly find the time to participate. So, that is how we ended up here. Let me say that I am using this as a way to better my food photography and get a feel for a different way of looking at things. I know there is a lot of question about copying others work. So, for each of these challenges I want to fully credit the original photographer and stylist whenever possible. The below left photo was the original that I was trying to re-create. The original  was taken by Ben Dearnly and styled by Justin Poole.  The photo appeared in Donna Hay Magazine Issue #51 along with the recipe for Creamy Cauliflower Soup. 
One of the things I first noticed in this photo was the reflection on the left side of the bowl along with the sharp shadow on the left of the photo. I knew I would have to grab some of the first morning light if I was going to get this photo the way I wanted it. That isn't hard in Fairbanks this time of year since the sun doesn't rise until 9:00 in the morning. I actually found myself coffee in hand with my props all styled and ready to go, just waiting for the sun to come up. The first thing I realize when I set my scene was that my piece of plywood was not going to be long enough to get the right angle on the shot. I purchase a 2x2 piece and painted it a color called wrought iron. I was very please with the color. I also thought I had done a pretty good job with the paint markings until I realized I was going to have to move the whole thing down in order to accomodate the angle. Still, I didn't quite capture it. In the end, that was where I struggled the most. It is hard to get everything at the right angle and in the exact placement. If I was not trying to replicate another photo, it wouldn't have mattered. If it was my own photo, I certainly wouldn't have wound that ribbon around that spoon three times trying to get it to look right. The photo above right was the very first photo I shot that morning and I feel it was the best of the group. I think it most captured the feel of the original, even if the placement was a little off. I think the focus is more on the spoon than the soup. This soup feels a little flat compared to later photos when I added a little texture by dragging a paper towel across the top. I liked that I was able to capture all the elements in this photo, including the paint splatters.
The photo at the bottom of this page was my favorite of all the ones I took. I love the reflection of the sunrise on the bowl, you can also see the tops of the spruce trees across our driveway. I also like that the soup has a little more texture on the top, although I am not crazy about the fact that it looks a bit messy along the edge. I didn't particularly care for the way the fabric was draped in this photo. If I had it to do over again, I would have the ribbon part of the spoon less in focus. I probably could have done a better job if I had a DSLR. In the end I was pretty happy with my final product using a point and shoot camera. I think the photo at the bottom has more of a Fairbanks feel and a little more personality. Yet, the first one really is a better fit to the original.

A few behind the scenes pointers:
  • I put a false bottom in my bowl by placing a yogurt lid that fit snugly about half way up. This stopped my cauliflower croutons from sinking.
  • I looked for the most beat up piece of plywood I could find for added texture. 
  • The white piece of fabric is actually quilting interfacing, not parchment paper as it appears. It holds its shape a lot better and is more flexible.
  • I added a thin layer of translucent black paint on the left side of the board to enhance the shadow effect.
I really enjoyed challenging myself in this way. Feel free to leave any questions in the comments section if you would like to know more.  If you are interested in finding out more about this challenge or seeing how others did, you can find the post over at Jungle Frog Cooking Creamy cauliflower soup – DHSPC #5.  You can find the recipe for the soup there as well. It is really tasty. I'm actually eating it for lunch right now while I finish up this post.
I'm already looking forward to seeing what next months challenge will be. Thanks Simone for hosting this great challenge.


  1. While you are right that the first one is a better match, I love your interpretation in the 2nd one - esp. the reflection of the sunrise on the bowl - gorgeous!

  2. Great job Nicole! I can't believe you even painted a board for it, brava!

    My only "critique" is that the angle of the camera in your photo seem to be a little higher than the original photo.

    Every thing else look great and I love the sun reflection in the second photo.

  3. So glad you joined in the challenge and great post too with the explanation of your thought process. I always find that these exercises help a great deal in my understanding of light and styling. I think you did a great job but I like your last photo more too..;) thanks so much for joining!!

  4. I know how difficult it is to get photographs to look just the way you want with a P&S, so I must say you've done a really great job here. I do like the first photograph the best. Like the way you got the light there.

  5. What a fun challenge. You did a fantastic job! Lighting is so key and I find it the most challenging when photographing with my little point and shoot camera.


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