While soaking some lettuce harvested from our garden (it makes the dirt come off more easily when rinsing), Elizabeth called me into the kitchen because an Assassin Bug had evaded her inadvertent attempt to drown it, and was perching on a leaf of lettuce. It may not be a very good attempt at macro photography with insects–see my dad’s Web site for an idea of what good macro photography can look like–but it was entertaining while it lasted.
Ultimately, we set our friend free on the back porch so it could continue on its quest to rid our garden of more pernicious six-legged creatures.
Over the past couple of months, Elizabeth and I have been working on a project together: a combined cooking, gardening, and home improvement blog that we’ve named With One Cat in the Yard. Today I posted about making Jim Lahey’s No-Knead Bread (aka No-Work Bread), which was popularized in a Mark Bittman column in The New York Times in 2006, and I thought I would cross-post it formy readers here. Our new project is certainly not a photography blog–I’ve included the technical details for the photos in this post, but you won’t find them at With One Cat in the Yard–but I hope everyone will take a look. More to come!
Flour, salt, yeast, water, and time perseverance
I’m in my third week of attempting to make good bread. I’ve always enjoyed crusty bread, but I’ve never found the price of five dollars for a boule to be particularly attractive, so I rarely buy it.
Elizabeth suggested trying a recipe that inspired many food bloggers a few years ago: Jim Lahey’s “No Knead Bread” featured in Mark Bittman’s column in The New York Times. The recipe became so popular that publishers perceived a demand for a book, so Lahey wrote My Bread: The Revolutionary No-Work, No-Knead Method to further explain his method and offer variations. Both Lahey and Bittman emphasize that the process is so simple that a child could make it happen, although I don’t think my mom ever would have trusted me to drop dough into a 450° F stock pot and put it back inside an oven. Sometimes I wonder why anyone would trust me to do that now.
My first effort was not completely successful, nor was my second, but the third was just right. I was skeptical that I could make a loaf of bread worthy of an artisan bakery, but lo and behold, it’s not only possible, but has quickly become one of my new favorite breads. Not only does it look amazing and have a satisfying, crackling crust, it’s also pretty tasty. Now, it’s not the best, most flavorful bread ever, but it does have a faint sourdough flavor of which I am quite fond (on account of the lengthy fermentation period) and it’s fantastic for dipping in soup, olive oil, or as sandwich bread.
The basic recipe is stunningly simple: three cups of bread flour, one and a half cuts of water, one and a quarter teaspoon of salt, and a quarter teaspoon of yeast are briskly mixed together in a bowl and then left alone overnight: at least 12 hours, but extra time does seem to yield better results. While the original recipe calls for 1 and 5/8 cups of water, the video on the Web site and also the recipes I found on several other blogs all called for one and a half cups, and indeed that seemed to work well. After the lengthy first rise, the dough is rolled into a ball, allowed to rise again, and then baked in a pot inside of a conventional oven at 450° F. This creates a “fake oven,” as Lahey refers to it in the aforementioned video, meaning that it simulates the steam-injected ovens found in professional bakeries. The moisture of the dough is trapped within the pot and circulates throughout, ensuring a crisp crust.
Note:the recipes I follow are at the end of the post!
For my first few loaves I used Elizabeth’s hard-anodized, eight-quart stock pot. The current thinking is that anywhere from three to five quarts is just about “right” for No Knead Bread. (The original recipe called for a six to eight quart pot.) Combined with our concern that such high temperatures for an hour and fifteen minutes might deteriorate the non-stick coating, I purchased a Lodge five-quart cast iron Dutch oven on Amazon.
However, the sticking point to this bread–literally–is not the equipment needed, but the second rise of the dough. After a few attempts, I believe I’ve found an effective alternative to the original recipe. I offer you my experiences with this bread so that you can learn from my mistakes and quickly get to the point: great bread at a great price with relatively little effort.
I really haven’t photographed food before–not in any serious fashion–so when I found myself confronted with a silver platter of chocolate-covered potato chips yesterday at the Candy Factory in Columbia, Mo., I was thrown for a loop.
There was no chance I would use existing light: it was a mix of daylight and tungsten, and exposing for the chips coated in which chocolate would have meant underexposing the others significantly. So I set up two lights bouncing into umbrellas at either end of the silver tray. It took me a while for all that I learned about photographing metal–and look how little of it wound up in the final frame!–and its family of angles to come back to me (about 50 chimped frames) but once the reflections were under control, it just became a matter of the ratio between the key and the fill lights.
Ultimately, the SB-80-DX, on camera left, was fired at a third stop under 1/2 power, and the 550EX on camera right was fired at 1/16 power. Could I have balanced those a bit? Probably. The shadows cast by the milk chocolate potato chips bother me a bit. I’ll file that in the “next time” category.
I have finally had a chance to go over all of my images from the Tour de Missouri, as well as my other shoots from the week, and found three images that I thought were particularly interesting but were unpublished–they did not find their way into the Columbia Missourian, or my Blog, for that matter–until now!
I saw this composition with the imperfect reflections of office buildings and the Old Court House as I was walking to the downtown Hilton to pick up my press credentials for the first stage of the Tour of Missouri. This is cropped fairly heavily, so I do wish that I had switched lenses to the 70-200mm f/4 I L IS, but I was in a rush to get to the race before it started without me!
One of the photographic conditions that I never had too great an appreciation for before I switched to digital capture in 2003 is the classic, cloudy day. Overcast skies can yield striking images because the light is delightfully even, not “flat” as too many casually dismiss it. Working to minimize shadows by photographing on sun angle (with the sun 180 degrees from your lens) or on a cloudy day does not mean that you’ll be working without shadows. However, it certainly lets you study the shadowed areas much more closely, and the gradation between dark and light tones becomes far greater.
It’s the reason people love the “Shadow/Highlight” tool in Photoshop, or the “Fill Light” slider in Camera RAW / Lightroom: we like shadow detail. So, consider how much more shadow detail you get on an overcast day, and reconsider any bias against the giant diffusers in the sky known as clouds.
In this case, along the shoreline of the Great Salt Lake in Saltair, Utah, I was actually photographing on a brilliantly sunny day, and the light was about as harsh as can be. I achieved the soft light by using my body as a gobo, and I photographed in my own shadow. It’s a useful technique that I had forgotten about until I saw Artie Morris using it in the Galapagos to photograph a Lava Lizard.
I’ve been battling a cold ever since grad school got out for summer–a great way to celebrate the end of the year, but at least it didn’t strike during the week before when projects were due!–but yesterday, for the first time since getting home, I felt like making some images. The bird activity at home has been really great, although I picked a slow day to photograph (less likely to disturb the migrating species, though!). The suet feeder has been getting a lot of activity from our resident, nesting pair of Red-bellied Woodpeckers and our Downy Woodpecker, but it was really the nuthatch that let me get a good look at him.
Three flash units were set up on stands, combined with the late-afternoon sun, made for a four-light setup, albeit back-lit. I was trying to get some rim-lighting, and between the sun and another strobe back and to the right, I figured I would get quite a bit. I certainly got some, but not quite what I wanted. My key light was backed up quite a bit, and I had a fill on the left, which is casting the nuthatch’s shadow that you can see on the suet feeder.
For a group project for Advanced Techniques, Vivian Esparza, Charles Ludeke, Lesley Freeman, and I met up at the Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial along the MKT Trail in Columbia, Mo. to make a long time exposure with added light–also called “painting with light” for its surreal effect.
Charles friend, Michelle, agreed to be a model for us on the bridge. After thinking on it for a bit, we decided that we should include a male figure in the photo, and Charles volunteered that he had a yellow tux (rental) in his car from a social gathering a on Friday night.
The background trees were lit with a Nikon SB-900 gelled green. I fired it off at 1/4 power for the nearer trees, and worked my way up to 1:1 for the background trees (knowing that they would be far too dark otherwise). Vivian did a great job of painting the bridge blue (an SB-900 with a blue gel), and Lesley walked along the bridge once with a flashlight aimed downward (on the ground, along the railing). Lesley then used a different flashlight, gelled red, to paint the post and upper railing of the bridge.
Finally, Charles and Michelle would pose on the bridge, and I used my Canon 550EX with the Panera straw-grid, dialed at 1/2 power, to “freeze” our ghosts in the frame.
All told, the exposure came to 5.7 minutes @ f/8, ISO 200 using a Canon 5D Mark II and 70-200mm f/4 IS lens @ 81mm…and a couple hours of experimentation. It was a great collaboration….and I think we might go back in a week to do something a little bit different ( but not in time for class).
Everyone in Advanced Techniques was asked to create a photojournalistic image using second curtain (or “rear curtain”) snyc with their strobes. I actually haven’t used the technique much in the past, largely because it’s inordinately difficult to do so with the Canon flash system. Comparatively, the Nikon system of switching the flash mode from “normal,” skipping over “red eye reduction,” and landing on “rear” is all that has to be done. It’s stupid simple. More stupid for Canon…..c’est la vie. (But cameras that start with the letter “N” do seem to have strange white balance………)
For the simple reason that second curtain sync is easy to achieve with Nikon, I borrowed a D700 and an SB-900 from the photo department. I only took out the 24-70mm, knowing that 90% of what I had planned could be done with that one lens. First, I went to the Hulett House mixed martial-arts gym, the subject of a longer-term group project, to practice with the technique. I set up one light on a stand, gelled CTO, and bounced if off of the ceiling.
After only a few frames, I captured this image, which is one of my favorites from the evening:
Just an outtake from a class experiment with light painting at Rock Bridge State Park in Columbia, Mo. This was likely the most successful image of the evening. There’s also an assignment to pursue this line of work in smaller groups, so look for something different in the coming days.