Archive for the ‘food’ Category

Format and Magnification

Sunday, February 27th, 2011

_Cross-posted from Tumblr_.

I’m gearing up to work on a large format project that will require some close-up work. I’ve been out of practice for a while on the Shen Hao, and I’ve never used it all that intensively for close work, so I did a quick test run in the kitchen with a couple sheets of Fuji instant film.

Here’s the scene at normal magnification:


Here’s the scene at 1:1 magnification:


Here’s the same 1:1 photo next to the subject (yay instant):

Onions and Onions

For those who are used to working with 35mm cameras or crop sensor digital bodies, these results will not _feel_ like 1:1 photographs. They would be looking for something more like this 1:1 photograph of tea leaves made on 35mm film:

Upton Ti Quan Yin

In reality, both examples are at 1:1 magnification; the difference is in the format size. The 4×5 positive is the same size as the negative area (of course), but people do not generally view a 35mm or crop sensor 1:1 image at the size of the negative/sensor area, unless they work with contact sheets or slide film.

Doing close-up work on 4×5 is something of a PITA. As you can see, even working at life size, the results don’t “feel” all that close, and to get to life size, you have to have lens extension that is twice the focal length of your lens. My camera is a field camera with 300mm or so of maximum extension, so I can’t achieve 1:1 with my 210mm Schneider, and doing so with my 150mm Nikkor presents problems if I need to apply any movements. My 135mm Nikkor is fine, but I still have to extend the bed almost all the way out, which makes the whole setup less rigid.

Luckily, the project I’m actually gearing up for is unlikely to actually require 1:1 work, or else I’d probably have to start shopping for either extension boards or a new (monorail) camera. : )

Mommy? Where do bagels come from?

Sunday, June 21st, 2009

Okay, let’s a take a break from that street photography kick for a minute, and have a look at these delicious bagels that my sister made from scratch:

Home-Made Bagels

Home-Made Bagels

Home-Made Bagels

Home-Made Bagels

Home-Made Bagels

No earthshattering photographic insights to go along with this — just the insight that these things were tasty as hell.

Also, while I don’t consider these to be unusually exquisite examples of food photography — just snapshots really — I would much rather see images like these than the aggressively styled and lit “food as product” shots that populate the vast majority of cookbooks. Food is made in a kitchen, by human hands. Not in a light tent.

And if you want to see some photographs that are unusually exquisite examples of food photography, go read this book with photographs by this guy.

So, so tired

Monday, April 13th, 2009

Do you hate those non-posts where bloggers blog about why they aren’t blogging? Well, then, turn back now.

I haven’t been blogging, nor have I been keeping up with my daily debriefs, or even uploading very much to flickr. I was just promoted (you can call me Captain Dayjob) at work, which is nice, and my department actually hired a bunch of people (which is also nice), but we’re all very much under the gun as a result.

I am still shooting, although lately it’s been mostly running free expired slide film through my XA. (Note, I’m not going to cross-process it like some lomo douchebag. It was kept refrigerated, and I’ll be getting it developed normally.)

But for now, in lieu of anything substantive, look at this food:

Mushroom Madness


Friday, January 2nd, 2009

I’ve been thinking about tea quite a bit lately. Tea is pretty much a constant in my daily routines — I generally drink multiple pots in a day — but I’ve been thinking about it more since this guy mentioned George Orwell’s rules in “A Nice Cup of Tea”.

Bodum Double-Walled Glass

I’m not sure quite what to say about Orwell’s rules. As with religions such as Christianity, Buddhism, or “Science,” I suppose I would have to say that it is a valid approach, but not necessarily the valid approach.

It definitely got me thinking about how I go about making tea. In many ways, making tea is rather like photography — particularly film photography. Ingredients matter, tools matter, procedures matter, time matters, and, above all, attention matters. Photographers who are new to developing black and white film (such as myself) often wonder what the “right” way to handle development times, agitation, choice of chemicals, etc. Of course there is no “right” way, not because these things don’t matter — they matter tremendously — but because these choices vary with the film, how it was exposed, the conditions under which the photographer is working, and their intentions.

One does not brew green tea the way one brews black tea, and one does not necessarily brew one kind of black tea in the same way as another, etc. Nor is the same result always to be desired in the evening versus the morning, even when brewing the same tea — and details like water source are also significant.

That said, I’m happy to say that I do not keep a careful notebook of tea brewing times and temperatures, the way I do when working with film. I’m not quite that crazy, and in any case it’s not necessary. I know how to get the results that I want, so I only encounter problems when my attention wanders (in which case a prescribed time would be useless anyway), or when advising others on how long to steep tea, when I give the standard answer of frustratingly enigmatic cooks everywhere: “until it’s done.”

That being said, I see no reason not to provide my own pretentious disquisition on how tea ought to be made. As anyone who knows me will tell you, I seldom see any reason to avoid pretentious disquisition on any topic.


Good water is better than crappy water. I have not been known to buy bottled water especially for tea (again, I am happy to say that I am not that crazy), but if your tap water sucks, it’s something to bear in mind when considering why your tea sucks.

Electric kettles are nice, but avoid plastic. A regular kettle on the stove is also nice, provided you don’t drop food in it while cooking and fail to notice. Also, whistling kettles are vastly superior to non-whistling kettles, unless you’re the sort of person who actually does watch kettles.


Obviously leaves are preferable to bagged tea. This was something Orwell did not have to comment on, of course. Sadly, it no longer has to go unspoken. Someone once said to me at a restaurant, regarding a pot of tea I had ordered, “Oh no, they must have torn the tea bag.” Tragic.

Upton Ti Quan Yin

There are exceptions to this rule, however. If someone is making tea for you (at Peet’s, for example) and has no idea what they’re doing, a preset quantity of tea restricts one of the variables, and limits the damage they can do. Scented teas are also good in this regard; bergamot masks all sorts of sins, in the tea itself as well as in preparation. This is why a little yellow Twinings label dangling off the side of a mug can be a downright reassuring sight under some circumstances.

Tea leaves (at right, Ti Quan Yin) are sold in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and conditions, which are accompanied by all sorts of hilarious abbreviations, if you’re into that sort of thing. I’ll refer you to the dictionary provided by Upton, which is my favorite tea source, if you care to peruse them. The differences matter, but there’s no necessary correlation between leaf size and quality. The only reasonable instruction is to experiment.

Teaware and steeping

I have yet to own a tea pot which I was not capable demolishing in short order. Sometimes I am at fault; sometimes the design or manufacture of the dish is to blame; often, all these factors are working in perfect harmony. Bodum glassware, in particular, tends to last just long enough for me to be surprised at how long it has lasted before falling apart in my hand. Literally, in the most recent case — a lovely double-walled glass that somehow contrived to break in two while I was washing it.

Tea Steeping

Generally speaking, plastic or metal are not ideal materials, because they can impart flavor. Nissan thermoses are so useful that their metal nature can be forgiven. Plus, if you store tea in them often enough, they tend to build up a nice (and nearly impossible to remove) coating of tea stain that insulates you from the metal taste.

Ceramic and glass are both good, although unless the glass is in a thermos, glass tends to dissipate hate very quickly. As to glass-lined thermoses, they work great, unless of course you treat them with less than total respect and caution. Then you’re drinking a nice cup of shards…

Orwell is right that tea should be free to circulate. This isn’t always practical, however, and contrary to Orwell, it’s not acceptable to have more than a minimal amount of leaves circulating in the pot, let alone the cup. If you can’t separate the tea from the leaves, then you have no way to stop the steeping process, and thus no control over the strength of the tea. Plus, while swallowing tea leaves probably is not harmful, as Orwell says, it’s hardly desirable. So, if possible, get a tea pot with a mesh insert or what have you that is as large as possible, in order for tea to circulate, but still be fully removable.

Temperature matters. Boiling water for black, not so boiling for green or oolong. Time matters, but to varying degrees and with varying times depending on what the tea is and what you want it to taste like. I like sencha steeped as briefly as thirty seconds, but an assam which will be consumed with milk I will steep the crap out of.


When drinking black tea, it’s preferable to put milk in the cup and then pour tea on top of it. Why? Because Douglas Adams said so, that’s why. If sugar or honey is being added, I will often do that before the tea is poured, also. (This does not necessarily connote wussiness. It depends on what the tea is, how it’s prepared, and how quickly you plan to drink it.)


Beyond that, there’s not much to say. Make sure to be aware when you’re drinking the tea, and actually taste it.

Misc. tips

* Coffee is disgusting. It should be avoided.
* When pulling an all-nighter using tea, make sure to have regular access to a bathroom.
* To semi-decaffeinate tea, steep for a minute, discard the water, and re-steep. Much of the caffeine will have been leached out.
* I simply do not understand the appeal of darjeeling teas. Just don’t get it.


Go-to tea types, for me, include:

* Sencha. Japanese green tea. Extremely “vegetal,” which means it tastes somewhat like spinach. This is a virtue, or not, depending on how much you identify with Popeye. This is my favorite tea for when I’m sick, and one of my favorite morning teas.
* Lapsang souchong. This stuff is actually smoked over a pine fire, which imparts a (surprise) smoky flavor. Great for cooking with, or just drinking, or using to frighten children. Favorite tea of mutant Emma Frost and also, if memory serves, John Bellairs’s Miss Eells. Note that if you like smoky, but not this smoky, some black tea blends include a lapsang souchong component. (Scottish Breakfast, Russian Caravan.)
* Ti Quan Yin: Probably my favorite tea overall — nothing harsh about it, and it’s missing nothing. The Buddhist association implied by its name is fully justified by the meditative experience of drinking it.
* Assam black teas: These are backbone of most of the familiar blended back teas. If you shop from Upton or similar vendors, you can get crazy selective and go into estates and whatnot. It’s been a while since I ordered an estate-specific assam from them which I really loved, and those recommendations wouldn’t necessarily be valid today (since crops vary from year to year). Experiment.

Strobes and Birds

Thursday, December 25th, 2008

The weather in California lately has been uncharacteristically…weathery. We’ve had cold, and rain, and even snow in areas that don’t normally see any, ever.

This makes it the season for two kinds of shooting — (a) birds are often most active and available at the times which are least comfortable be out in, but are worth it anyway,

American Coot (View Large/Original)

Snowy Egret in Flight

and (b) experimenting with lighting still lives. This is something I’m getting better at. I had to break down and buy a second flash (the somewhat too fashionable Strobist special (the SB-24), and while I’m still not particularly fast or deft when working this way, it’s a tolerable way of passing a cold afternoon.

Black and White Veggie Bits

Pillars (View Large)

Failed: hand-eye coordination, awakeness, tea

Friday, December 19th, 2008

Wonder if I'm awake...

If I’m still so tired that I can’t make the change tin when I toss the change from my morning breakfast (read: bag of salt and vinegar chips from the vending machine) at it, then the tea the change lands in by mistake is not doing its job in waking me up.

Nick v. Wireless Flash

Monday, December 1st, 2008

I just got a Cactus V2s wireless flash transmitter and receiver — not exactly top-end technology, and not crazy reliable, but crazy-cheap, and that’s often what matters most.

I tested them out using a Lollyphile Absinthe Lollipop, my Vivitar 285HV, and a couple pieces of paper towel:

There were a couple of failures to trigger (2-3 out of probably twenty or thirty shots), but otherwise, they work just fine…

Here’s one directly backlit:

Lollyphile Absinthe Lollipop (BW)

The same image in color with less cropping:

Lollyphile Absinthe Lollipop

Here’s a front-lit version:

Lollyphile Absinthe Lollipop

The black and white image is by far the best, I think. It’s also the one which I find most heartening in regards to flash photography and me. The reason I find it heartening is this: shooting with strobes is (so far as I can tell) all about controlling the process to control the results. It’s like previsualization in that respect, and that’s a problem for me — why engage in an activity when you know its precise outcome in advance? Where there is nothing unexpected, there is no sense of reality. (Per Simone Weil.)

In this case, the flash is revealing the inner structure of the lollipop in a way that I could never have fully previsualized — the flash can, in this instance, be a tool of discovery, rather than an instrument of control.

Ginger Cardamom Cookies

Wednesday, April 16th, 2008

Ginger Cardamom Cookies w/Long Exposures

I’m still living in denial about the utility of flash. This doesn’t trouble me often, because when I’m out and about, I don’t usually mind shooting at f/1.4 and cranking the ISO if I have to. But some things just don’t look good that way, and food is (usually) one of them.

Ginger Cardamom Cookies w/Long Exposures

I face other barriers when trying to photograph food, one of the most prominent being that, while I can sometimes cook delicious food, I have never been able to cook food that is at all photogenic or even amenable to food styling. This issue is easily circumvented, however, by using someone else’s food, which is what I did here, with these cookies, which were both delicious and attractive.

Unfortunately, the kitchen they were baked in was small and dim. The only light available was what slipped in through the window past a lot of tree branches — and, even less useful, a bare incandescent bulb that I know by experience to be very hard to white balance after the fact, even shooting RAW and with a reference point.

Fortunately, while I still labor under the burden of my anti-Strobe prejudices, I finally got over my anti-Tripod ones, and so I was simply able to kill the incandescent, bust out my Manfrotto 055XPROB with its horizontally postionable center column, and slap my 55mm f/3.5 Micro on there for a few ten-second exposures.

It took me a while to get usable perspectives. In order to get all the cookie I needed without getting a bunch of unpleasant visual clutter, I set up almost directly over the cookies. I had to make sure that neither the camera nor the tripod was between the cookies and the dim window light — the difference between illumination and shadow was insignificant to the eye, but (when I accidentally blocked what light there was) very significant to the sensor after tens seconds. : )