Color Theory and Food Photography

Working with color and composition in food and product photography.

Do you need to photograph some food or products for your marketing purposes? There are some tried and true methods I use to get mouthwatering images easy on the eyes, but I also like to research methods and to keep learning new things, so I stay inspired and varied in my creative output.

One YouTuber who I really like for tips and tricks related to food photography is The Bite Shot. Joanie Simon approaches food photography as an artist and has wonderful ideas that produce great results. I watched her video “Using Color Theory in Food Photography.” In this video, she talks about Josef Albers, of the BAUHAUS movement, and refers so some ideas in his book “The Interaction of Color.”

I had some bags of Big Pete’s Treats Lemon Cookies to photograph with some cut up lemons, so I decided to do some shots using a purple paper to give the image some design elements. It’s a very basic idea that complementary colors are pleasing to the eye, but Albers via Simon helps us to understand why this technique works. When you overlay two colors the color of the ground is subtracted from the color on top, causing the color to move in that direction in the way it looks. If I had used a green paper or orange paper it would have affected the appearance of the yellow. Since there is no purple in yellow, the yellow retains its hue even on top of a colorful ground.

The thing about color is that it is an endless way to experiment with your photography. Being intentional with color helps to understand how it works.

Try to create a photograph with two colors only. How did you balance the colors? What was the mood you were going for? Try different color combinations and see how it changes the way we read color.

Also, check out my latest podcast “Massage the Messenger,” HERE: http://bit.ly/Massage_the_Messenger

Massage the Messenger

podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/dialogic/id1410521236

Without Losers

Competition or Cooperation? In our current cultural climate it can be very challenging to think about cooperation. If we do, it’s often in terms of teams in competition. We believe in team work but only when there is another team to beat. There is very little that we find entertaining that doesn’t involve someone coming out on top. The logic of competition has its dark side, though. If there is any truth to the idea that competition has given us major advances in technology, it has also created some serious problems.

Agree to Grieve: Sunday evening, there was a shooting in Gilroy. A map of where mass shootings have taken place is beginning to look frighteningly crowded. We are so used to them, we don’t even know how to respond. Or we know so well how to respond that we no longer feel the need to do anything. We know that some tremendous and terrifying chasm opens up each time. Evil shows its face and families are forced to grieve prematurely and forever.

Freedom or Control? When something as tragic as the Garlic Festival shooting occurs, you would think that it would create some sort of consensus. At least we can all agree that mass shootings are a terrible problem, right? The problem is: the split that already exists starts arguing two sides. Gun rights versus gun control. Even when something as crystal clear as a public tragedy occurs we can’t avoid bipartisan arguments.

Habitual Fans: I believe that this kind of change is much deeper than debate can touch. We have deeply rooted habits and patterns. Our reverence for competition keeps us from ever really working together. It’s as fundamental as what we pay attention to as an audience.

If Everyone Wins: There isn’t anything inherently wrong with liking a game where there are winners and losers. What’s wild, though, is how much that form of game predominates. It’s difficult to even imagine a game where everyone wins. I’m not talking about slightly altering the rules of one of our games so that there are 12th place trophies. That still keeps the same structure of logic, it just distributes and dilutes the wealth of winning. Imagine, however, if a group of people were given a set of tasks and the more they achieved the more they all would win. Instead of fighting to win and not be on the losing side, what if we worked collectively to win as much as we could together.

Organizinational Habits: This game does exist, but it’s not widely known or celebrated. The Teen Kitchen Project is one such game. The more work happens, the more everyone involved wins. Teens learn about cooking and people who need a hot meal get some delicious and healthful food. Teens get some experience and develop their culinary skills, people who need good food receive it.

Working Together: On Monday, I felt the effects of this version of winning when I went to photograph a visit at the Teen Kitchen Project’s Soquel kitchen. It was a normal day of production at the kitchen, the teens were attacking their tasks with order and a beautiful discipline. It takes so much more time to peel carrots and to prepare the ingredients for a quiche than it does to commit mass atrocity. This is what I find cool. Working together to win together.

Produce and Purpose: When our visitor arrived, we got to witness another layer of the vision. Bentley had been a cook in the military and he had received meals from the Teen Kitchen Project recently when he was battling cancer. The teens gathered around and he shared some of his experiences both as a chef and as client. Here we were looking at a man who had been nourished during some of his darkest hours by this very program. His eyes were shining like a stage actor’s in the spotlight of our attention, and he articulated himself expressively with his hands.

Feeding people is an ancient and honorable occupation and a program like the Teen Kitchen Project gets it right on so many levels. It’s an honor to be able to work with them.

What We Don’t Know

One of the realest truths that your parents every told you when you were a kid is that life is not fair. This is brutally obvious when you encounter a child like Joaquin, when you meet a mother like Sara Aluffi.

A friend contacted me through social media to make me aware of a charity event being organized as a benefit to fund the research to find a cure for Duchenne’s disease, a form of Muscular Dystrophy. I contacted the organizer and agreed to get some photos of the event. I have a busy schedule, so I didn’t have much time to research in advance of the event, but I figured I would show up get a couple dozen great photos for them and call it a day.

Another truth that many of us have experienced is that there is no love fiercer than a mother’s. What I discovered on Sunday is that there may be a stronger love; a community’s love for a family.

When I showed up to the parking area I started to see how big this event was going to be. Entire fields were full of cars with parking attendants directing traffic to the few remaining spots. A shuttle took us up to the house where the party took place. I was completely blown away by the turnout. Extra Large was playing, people were dancing, drinks were flowing and the mood was high. I started to photograph guests and everyone was happy to pose for the camera wanting to give anything and everything they could to the event. This was a community showing love to the fullest.

I saw so many great people as I walked around and it had the feel of a huge happy family reunion. Kids were running wild, getting their faces painted, playing on a bounce house, drinking lemonade and the adults were eating BBQ and enjoying a few cold ones in the shade. It was as good as parties get.

As I walked around I kept asking if anyone had seen Joaquin. I figured that the day might be a little overwhelming for him, so I didn’t want to force anything, but I wanted to get a photo of him for his mom. Everyone I asked said they hadn’t seen him. At one point during the day, I stopped and looked at an educational poster describing the disease. It is a genetic disorder that makes muscles break down over time and causes problems with the heart. Without a cure this leads children with this condition to rely upon a wheelchair by the time they are teenagers and most don’t survive their mid-20s.

As I read this poster, my heart sunk. I didn’t know Sara before this event, but I had seen glimpses of how much work it was and it made me tired just seeing her stories on Instagram. As I realized what was fueling her passion I froze in my tracks. Life is not fair. I looked around at the amazing smiling people and now I saw their hearts behind their happiness. These were families and anyone who has a child they love more than life itself understands in the core of their being what this means. Life is not fair.

I stayed till the end of the party getting as many good photos as I could and finally took the shuttle back down to the parking lot. I asked on the way down, one final time, if anyone had seen Joaquin.

“Yeah I saw him. He was playing up by the bounce house.”

I had to go back. I took the shuttle back up and re-entered the party looking for Joaquin. I asked a woman who was organizing some paperwork from the day.

“He’s right there!”

She turned around and there he was on the dance floor getting his groove on. I walked up to him and asked if he wanted a picture. Pizza on his face and shirt, a tired smile on his face, he stopped, looked at me and said “cheese!” I snapped a few frames and left him to return to his blissful dance. Right there, looking into that beautiful boy’s face I had an epiphany. The party was overwhelming to me. There were so many people and so much energy that it was exhausting, and here was this sweet five year old wearing a plastic firefighter’s hat two stepping to a reggae song.

Life is not fair, but it’s also a great mystery. There’s so much we don’t know about it. I’ll tell you this, though, when you have a child you love it connects you to the entire history of the human race and when you meet a boy like Joaquin it can inspire you to believe in angels. Life is not fair, but it’s beautiful, and what we don’t know may save us.

The Joy of Ribs

It’s not a difficult task to love food. It’s the most natural thing in the world. Humans are blessed with this amazing palette of flavors, colors and textures that they can consume via the edible arts. Is food the ultimate art form? It engages every sense that you possess and then it becomes a part of you. How powerful is that?

As a photographer, I relish the opportunity to work with culinary artists and so it was with great pleasure that I agreed to shoot my friend Teddy Danielson’s first dinner as a private chef. She had worked all day to get everything ready, and when I got there, an hour before she started serving guests food, she greeted me with a cookie. “Jake! How are you. Try this cookie.”

I looked at the powdered-sugar-dusted little nugget of goodness and got a napkin and sat down to enjoy it. I sank my teeth into the cookie and I was transported. What the heck? I wasn’t expecting what I experienced. It was crunchy on the outside, but so chewy on the inside and sweet and almond flavored all the way through. It was like a magic trick.

“Are you kidding me?”

“Good texture, huh?”

What a way to set it off. I knew that she was an expert chef, educated in technique and passionate about creating great food, but even with this expectation I was happily surprised. The cookie was evidence of her magic. Teddy was a contemporary sorceress working with her team to prepare beautiful hors d’oeuvres and rolling out some gorgeous pizza dough. These lucky guests were going to eat some absolutely perfect pizza with pears, brie cheese, and caramelized onions, as well as other flat bread masterpieces. But that was just the beginning.

As I moved around the kitchen keeping out of the way of this master orchestrating her work, I kept catching a whiff of the short ribs that had been slowly cooking all day in a bottle of wine. Next came the risotto which filled the kitchen with that unmistakable scent of rich cheese infusing rice with flavor. As she was plating the buttery short ribs atop a bed of risotto I witnessed the final course of a dinner that is as good as it can possibly get. Check her out if you are hosting a party and want the best of the best private chefs. She also delivers meals on a weekly basis for clients who want something delicious, healthy and easy to heat up.

Contact Teddy through her Instagram @takingpurejoy

Notes to a Young Artist

Nobody taught us how to say goodbye. It’s really gonna hurt. Hurtling towards that time when we have to go, running around the coffee shop like a 5-year old hopped up on espresso.

It just hit me. I’m not ready. I’m not ready for any of it, but it doesn’t matter. Not one little bit. It’s gonna happen. To me, to you, to everyone we love.

Have a kid you love. Then feel that.

It’s too fucked to be real, but real it is.

This is why Shakespeare was so great. He expressed the comical levity and the tragic certainty of life with equal energy. It’s a beautiful place full of ecstatic feelings and from time to time the most horrific experiences occur. The more wonderful it seems the harder it stings.

This is one reason why I love punk music. Bands like Black Flag help us to grit our teeth. You gotta get through the hard times. It’s gonna take a lot of hutzpah, kid.

It was the best of times and the worst of times and they just keep getting more intense. Just remember, pain is temporary. Everything passes. If you can embrace it all, make art out of everything. Judge nothing. Trust your own ability to read energy. That’s all it is. Just a bunch of signals.

Somewhere someone right now is suffering because they forgot this. A love was lost, a fortune squandered, their last chance spilled like red wine on white carpet.

Compassion is our greatest strength. To think of others is the hardest task. There’s always room for improvement. And this is how you do it. Be unbothered. Know yourself better than anything else, and especially understand that you are as finite as a wave and as infinite as water. The world is a tremendous paradox and nobody is better or worse than you.

Kindness is strength, violence is weakness, love is everything that matters.

Working Well with Others

I want to make sure that I express myself clearly. I love collaborations. They are important, and feedback is necessary to get something published with someone else. I want to do more writing with other brands, and I have become really good at working through the process of receiving notes.

I just wanted to mention how it also has reminded me that the best writing I do is when I do it alone. The thing is, the blogs I’m writing for other businesses serve more purposes than just for the sake of good writing. They are helping the search engines find them, they are providing valuable content to potential customers, and they are representing the character and mission of that business.

Obviously, I could never do that on my own. I see it as an interesting challenge: to work in collaboration with people who know a ton more about their business and field of expertise.

I also realized that I want to do more writing that is just my own, because it feels good to have that kind of creative control. It helps to keep you sharp. When it comes to art there is nothing more important. And everyone can publish their own work, make their own art. So we are responsible for our own level of enthusiasm and skill in our work.

Portraiture is another kind of collaboration. When you photograph another person, even if it is for the sole intention of making art, you are doing a dance with that person. You have to be careful to lead with confidence, to stay connected through eye contact, and to make sure not to step on their toes.

I have the pleasure to work on portraits with a lot of wonderful people, and on Tuesday, I did a photographic series with my friend Samantha. Now Sammie is a beautiful woman, inside and out. We have done a number of shoots over the years and have developed a very trusting relationship. So, I was super excited when she agreed to have me photograph her in her bedroom. I think that a person’s environment says so much about them.

We agreed to meet up in the evening after she got home from work. The light was soft and beautiful in her bedroom and we got some beautiful shots of her reading in bed. Upon walking around her home, however, I discovered some evening light beaming through the windows on the other side of the house. I asked if she would want to shoot in that light, too.

I think that a lot of what a model experiences during a shoot depends upon the energy the photographer is emitting. When you aren’t super happy about the shots you’re getting it is easy for them to tell. When you get a frame that you know is going to be great, however, your excitement is contagious. While I had wanted to photograph her in her bedroom, it turned out the living room had much more interesting light, and it was a lot easier to direct her when I was excited about the light.

Collaborations in photography are an art, and they require being open to experimentation, but also being honest about how you feel during the process of the shoot. When you are happy about the results you’re getting, it helps the whole thing to flow.

Interdependence Day

Happy 4th, friends! I try to remember that it’s a process, this thing called history. Women have had the right to vote for only a hundred years. I believe that we have a long way to go. We’re a young country, a culture actively evolving, and if we’re lucky we will continue to get wiser and better with time. I dream similar dreams as those who came before. We are connected by a common situation. This is a holiday that started out as Independence Day, but one day it may become Interdependence Day. When we build more bridges than bombs we will be closer to that reality, the true situation that we are all one.

Being Kind Of

I love writing in this Starbucks. There’s something about the corporate feel of the place that brings out my creativity. An instinctive desire for balance prompts me to dig deeper into the recesses of thought to find something gritty and grimy when I sit here. There are other coffee shops close by more brightly lit with more conventionally attractive people and lots of air plants to take selfies in front of but those places feel so uptight and to me it’s sometimes stifling. It’s a class thing, I’m certain.

Cave Writing
Starbucks Cave Writing

That’s why I like this Starbucks; it’s more working class. It’s corporate, of course, but not exactly shiny. It’s tarnished and dirty and hosts a cast of unsavory characters, just how I like it. There’s no particular kind of denim you need to wear to fit in and nobody’s sporting an ironic t-shirt. There are people of color, people of all ages, and people with handicaps. It feels like the good kind of American to me. There are other coffee shops in town with a similar working class feel, but it’s 6:30 and they’re already closed. I can’t respect a coffee shop that closes at 6. This may not be Manhattan, but it’s no Myrtle Creek, either. This Starbucks is full to capacity and we’re only a mile away from that other blue collar shop. Being cosmopolitan or provincial has more to do with your mental space than your physical one, especially these days.

Bright Reflections on New Brighton Beach
Bright New Brighton

But your physical space matters, too, which is why I’m here at this Starbucks surrounded by regular people reading and writing and doing regular things. It’s a happy medium. And happiness matters. It’s a confusing time to say the least but that’s probably always been true for humans. Can you really think of a time in history when everything seemed dandy? I can’t. There’s always been injustice and uncertainty with apocalyptic possibility never far enough away to feel secure. Still, Steely Dan wrote great songs even while the Cold War raged. Because, even when we know that it all could go to hell in a flash, that there is nothing fixed but the election, that all of our efforts and dreams could be crushed in an arrogant instant, we still have to do what’s inside us to do. That’s the human condition; we are swan diving into the great unknown.

Photo of Santa Cruz Boardwalk at night with Explore Santa Cruz Instagrammer getting a photo for her account.
Exploring with Explore Santa Cruz

It’s in times like these that we need grace. Remember that you are human and that is a tremendous thing to be. It’s easy to become overwhelmed, to feel stressed and depressed. But, succeed or fail, it matters little from the point of view of falling. What matters is style. You have to choose how you are going to be. Are you going to be happy and peaceful, or are you going to be belligerent and grotesque? Many many things are beyond your power to choose, but you can choose this: will you be kind?
This is a kind of meditation, this practice of grace, and it is a powerful way of being human. Recently, I’ve had the chance to work with some people who embody this sense of style this presence of goodness. While I like drinking my coffee and writing among regular folk, it’s an honor to do photography with some truly beautiful souls.

Photo of Martina Lin and her reflection on a golden stretch of the California coast.
Martina Lin Meditation Specialist

The kind of beauty I’m talking about is much more than a physical appearance. It’s a disposition towards the universe. It’s an aspiration to be good, to act with a respect for others, to be helpful, to add value, to shine light in dark times, and to be human.

Yoga instructor Ayla Benjamin holds a balancing pose on top of a rock formation on a beautiful and rugged stretch of California coastline.
Balancing at the Edge of Space and Time

Hungry

Thinking about the #WaterProtectors on this day dedicated to love, during the Hunger Moon-the coldest month of the year in this hemisphere. Only through our desire to respect the environment will we overcome the significant challenges we face. Now is the time for renewable energy. Now is the time to let go of fossil fuels. No more pipelines. No more tar sands. Solar, wind, hydro and bio-energy are more than adequate to fulfill our energy needs. Now is the time. Let’s make a change. Barney had this idea that if everyone on the planet thought the same thing at the same time, then anything could happen. I believe it is true. We’ve never been more divided and we’ve never had more reason to come together.

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