Kitchen knives loom over ripening tomatoes

Knives loom over our ripening tomatoes.
Knives loom over our ripening tomatoes. | Canon 5D Mk. II and 24-70mm f/2.8 L lens @ 27mm | Exposed 1/60 sec. @ f/5.6, ISO 100 | Key: Canon 580EX II Speedlite in 16×16″ Softbox on camera right. Fill: Canon 550EX Speedlite in Lumiquest Softbox III on camera left. Triggered wirelessly using ST-E2 transmitter ratio 2:1 key to fill.

Things have been fairly quiet on the blog while I make some final arrangements to be truly “in business” as a photographer in the state of North Carolina.  I am contemplating a very large order of roll paper in anticipation of opening up my HP Z3200 to making prints for fellow photographers.  Hopefully, that will include some of my dear readers here!

However, most of my new work of late has been around the house, especially Elizabeth’s garden which is now producing lots of tomatoes.  This afternoon I made a photo of our harvested tomatoes that are ripening on the kitchen counter…or atop the microwave, to be more accurate.  In years past, other creatures have gotten to Elizabeth’s tomatoes before she had a chance to pick them, so this season she’s trying to pick them when they’ve begun to ripen, and allowing them to finish the process indoors.  So far, so good!

Excerpt from our new blog: No work, no kneading, what’s not to like?

My third attempt at "No Knead Bread" yielded this beautiful, rustic boule.
My third attempt at “No Knead Bread” yielded this beautiful, rustic boule. | Canon 5D Mk. II and 100mm f/2.8 Macro lens | Exposed 1/100 sec. @ f/2.8, ISO 100 | 580EX II and 550EX Speedlites triggered with Canon ST-E2 Transmitter.

Our New Blog

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.

The wet, sticky dough after its first rise (overnight).
The wet, sticky dough after its first rise (overnight). | Canon 5D Mk. II and 100mm f/2.8 Macro lens | Exposed 1/200 sec. @ f/11, ISO 100 | Canon 550EX Speedite triggered with 580EX II Speedlite on “Master.”

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!

No Knead Bread in a cast iron Dutch oven
No Knead Bread in a cast iron Dutch oven. | Canon 5D Mk. II and Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 ZE Planar T* lens | Exposed 1/40 sec. @ f/2, ISO 1600.

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.

Post continues at With One Cat in the Yard!

Another “lunar surface” detail

Bottom crust of "No Knead Bread"
Bottom crust of “No Knead Bread” | Canon 5D Mk. II and 100mm f/2.8 Macro lens | Exposed 1/160 sec. @ f/8, ISO 250 | Canon 550EX and Canon 580EX II flashes triggered via Canon ST-E2

Last week I hinted that I was beginning to explore baking my own bread.  For the past couple of days I’ve been working with “No Knead Bread,” which became popular in 2006 with Mark Bittman’s article about baker Jim Lahey’s process that involves quickly mixing a rough dough and then letting it rise for at least 12 hours.  I hope to perfect it soon, and with it, introduce everyone to a project we’ve been working on here in Durham for a few weeks now.  More to come!

Craters on the surface


Craters on the surface
Craters on the surface: light wheat bread recipe from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice featured on Smitten Kitchen | Canon 7D and 100mm f/2.8 Macro lens | Exposed 1/60 sec. @ f/8, ISO 200 | 580 EX II Speedlite fired in the DIY Beauty Dish on camera left.

Over the past month Elizabeth and I have been working on a new project I’ll be unveiling soon.  Part of it is a new-found interest of mine: baking bread.  I’ve never considered myself a good candidate for the Atkins diet because I simply cannot get enough bread in my life.  Elizabeth has a bread machine that she purchased from a second hand store, and while neither one of us particularly likes the loaves it makes, I’ve found that it’s a fantastic dough-making machine–plus it takes care of the first rise.  Pictured here is the top crust of a very basic, but very functional sandwich bread: Light Wheat Bread from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice and featured on the Smitten Kitchen.

My photo on NPR

My photograph on NPR
An image I made for VOX Magazine in 2009 now accompanies Jennifer Ludden's article at NPR about the fall and rise of the divorce rate that has echoed the economy.

With a little help from my friends

Yesterday I got one of my favorite kinds of phone calls–the kind that I don’t get often enough–in regards to licensing one of my stock photographs for a National Public Radio story about the divorce rate in the United States and how it has mirrored the fall and rise of the domestic economy.  I was more than a little curious how they found that photograph.  As I suspected, it turned out that a good friend of mine from graduate school at the Missouri School of Journalism, Mito Habe-Evans–see some of her creative multimedia pieces for NPR–pointed them in my direction!

Beauty Dish is Coming…

Beauty Dish
Home Depot Beauty Dish

Two coats of paint, a couple weeks of curing, some mishaps in assembly, and a third coat of paint to fix aforementioned mishaps later, and the beauty dish is ready for testing.  Stay tuned…

Catface | Canon 7D and 50mm f/1.4 lens | Exposed 1/250 sec. @ f/2.8, ISO 100 | 550EX strobe fired with built-in wireless flash control

The Home Depot Beauty Dish – Part One

Building blocks
Building blocks: a paint can lid, a "terra cotta" planter, a shoe-mount speedring, and satin-finish black and white spray paint

Inspired by a post at Strobist about David Tejada’s Home Depot faux terra-cotta (plastic) planter-turned-beauty-dish for shoe-mount flash, I set out to create one of my own.  Unfortunately, the “plans” Tejada followed won’t really work for me: the gutter downspout connector he used really only fits the head of a very small flash (the Nikon SB-800 was a remarkably compact flash) but my Canon 550EX units are far larger.  After doing some research on “the Internets,” I found a beautifully made dish that employed a mixing bowl and a pizza pan: Todd Owyoung’s “Chinatown Special.” Remarkably, there’s a restaurant supply company near my house, but I am without a Dremel tool, so I was faced with a choice: increase the cost of the project by getting a Dremel, or adapting Owyoung’s idea to the plastic Home Depot planter.  I’ve chosen the latter.

So what about the reflector in the middle?  Tejada, along with many people online, went with a CD case with a blind-spot mirror for a car epoxied in the center, but I thought the Chinatown Special’s use of a pizza pan was much more true to the design of actual beauty dish light modifiers.  Unfortunately, an eight-inch pizza pan would occupy far too much space within the planter, so I went hunting for something a little smaller–something between five and six inches.  Ultimately, I found a metal disc that would fill the same proportion of the Home Depot planter that the pizza pan filled the center of the mixing bowl: the lid from a paint can.

Finally, I had to decide how to mount the flash to the dish, and once again I borrowed from Todd Owyoung’s design and have found screws that serve as attachment points for a shoe-mount strobe softbox speedring: specifically, from this kit at Cowboy Studio.

Beauty dish
Beauty dish prior to painting

Now, the exciting thing about all of this?  The dish is currently drying/curing, all of the holes have been drilled, the window for the flash has been cut (there was some minor cracking in the bottom of the planter…oops!) but I don’t yet know what quality of light I’m going to get from this, or how evenly the paint can lid will bounce the light around the dish.  So whether it turns out beautifully (pun intended) or is tragically revealed to be an example for others not to follow, you’ll find out here soon!

Chocolate Coated Potato Chips with a side of Strobist

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.

Canon 5D II and 70-200mm f/4 L IS lens @100mm with 25mm extension tube; exposed 1/160 sec. @ f/11, ISO 200.
Canon 5D II and 70-200mm f/4 L IS lens @100mm with 25mm extension tube; exposed 1/160 sec. @ f/11, ISO 200.

Lighting Glass

Patron Tequila - Bright Field Lighting - "Plan B"
Patron Tequila – Bright Field Lighting – “Plan B”

Last weekend I went into the studio with a bottle of Patrón tequila and one clear idea of how to light it, only to scrap it and move on to plan b.  But then I decided that plan c–one that I had not even considered–was really going to be the best route.

My idea was to have the lime resting against the bottle on a sheet of glass with a dark background.  On another day, with different materials (like a giant sheet of black, glossy acrylic), it could be a piece of cake.  Instead, I ran into problems from the start: the dark cloth I had taped to the softbox kept falling off (Light, Science and Magic suggest making the dark background the size of the frame, and then butting that right up against the light source).

I threw out that idea and switched to bright field illumination (giving the glass black lines for definition).  It’s easier, but it doesn’t have the same oomph as something lit via dark field patterns.  I could have quit with this image, because it’s passable, but it’s also incredibly dull.  I don’t think even Crate and Barrel would want to use an image like this one in their catalogs.

My bank of ideas was dry, but a good friend of mine, Mito Habe-Evans, suggested making a “beach” for the tequila and lime out of some sand made for models and dioramas that was in the studio.  Combined with some blue gel, the result was actually pretty good. More after the jump…
Continue reading “Lighting Glass”

Studio Lighting: Portrait of Jarrad Henderson

This past weekend I photographed Jarrad Henderson, a fellow photojournalism masters student at MU. It was a class assignment to make a portrait first with a single strobe, and then with multiple lights. That’s where the fun really began. The only problem is that I have two images that I like, so it’s hard to choose!
Ultimately, I believe this first image is the more successful of the two:

Studio portrait of Jarrad Henderson
Canon 5D Mark II and 24-70mm f/2.8L Lens @ 70mm. Exposed 1/125 sec. @ f/16, ISO 100

More after the jump.
Continue reading “Studio Lighting: Portrait of Jarrad Henderson”