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the party (food) never ends

Recipe: sangria

On a recent post where I bagged on annoying blog characteristics I got a lot of comments and emails about why I hate Blogger. I’m sorry, I should have been more clear. There are a lot of people who blog on Blogger, and I love those people, I just HATE BLOGGER. Aside from the incredibly stupid and clumsy mechanics of Blogger, it is ass slow. I know this because when you try to visit over 1000 Daring Baker blogs in the course of a few days (where the majority are on Blogger) you start to pick up on how painfully stupid and poorly designed the commenting procedure is. I’m no authority on blogs, I just know what makes me crazy when I go to other blogs – although I do have professional experience on the design, programming, and implementation side (including some user testing).

my avocados ripened too late for the party, but not too late for us

Now I’m going to make a few observations about photography… I usually keep quiet, but every now and again I will let loose and rail. Here is more brain dump. And away we go!

1) A dSLR for you, and a dSLR for you… Everyone is jumping aboard the dSLR bandwagon, it seems. A lot of people feel compelled to drop a wad o’ cash for one of these pretty babies because they want to post pictures on their blog. For most folks, a really nice point and shoot (aka dummy cam) will do just fine. I see a lot of shitty looking pictures that were taken with a dSLR and some expensive glass. Such a waste. Buying a fancy camera doesn’t make you a good photographer any more than buying a slick pair of skis will make you an Olympic class skier. There is actually something to learning how to take a good picture.

2) Don’t take photography for granted. Let’s back up and think about what usually makes a nice photo (and when you get really artsy, all of these rules are out the window). Focus. Composition. Focus. Lighting. Oh, did I mention FOCUS? If you can’t hold a camera steady, there is this amazing piece of equipment called a tripod. They run as little as $25 and won’t shake up your shot like a drunken freshman during rush. I tripod 70% of my photos and of my money shots I tripod about 95%. What you are shooting will have some bearing on what type of lenses and other equipment you want. There is a big difference between shooting food and shooting weddings, for instance.

3) See the light. Lighting is a technical issue, but when you begin to understand the nature of light (natural, artificial, diffuse, offset, reflected, etc.) it becomes an art. Try shutting off your flash. Try using an off camera flash with bounce or diffuser. Try natural light with reflector. Mess around and learn how light behaves and how it interacts with your subject. If you’re outside, try shooting before sun up or after sundown. You’d be amazed at how different a change in lighting can make your shot. Light is a pain in my ass and it was something I avoided learning about for years, but it was worth it. I’m no expert, but I consider myself mildly competent now. It’s definitely a more advanced topic, but it is important.

4) *I’m* driving the bus! Take the camera off auto. Learn to use manual. Learn what aperture is. Learn what shutter speed is. Learn ISO. Learn white balance. Learn to manual focus. And learn to post-process (this is digital we’re talking about). If you leave your dSLR on auto, you have essentially purchased an expensive and large point-and-shoot camera. For shame.

5) Composition is the big one. I think compo is where the signature of the photographer comes through. It’s the translation of the vision in your head into the photograph you produce. What’s the set up? What is the subject? WHERE is the subject? IS there a subject? How is it lit? What are the implied actions/motions? Where are you leading the viewer’s eye? Is there chaos? How does it make you feel? What is the focus? What is the depth of field? Sometimes no matter how I try, I cannot make a shot work because what I see as beautiful with my two eyes doesn’t transition into a good photograph through my lens (usually in the backcountry where, as a rule, I do not move natural subjects). Your brain creates a unique and vast image in your head from the input through your eyes. Your camera – it don’t do that. Ever take a picture of something you saw that was beautiful only to be disappointed later with what the camera captured? Yup. That’s what I’m talking about – the lens and camera are far more limited than your brain and eyes. What you convey through the camera is the true art.

Composition is not so much a technical issue as a personal preference. It comes with practice and the beauty of digital is that you can practice a lot without going bankrupt! I shoot daily and when I am shooting, particularly in the backcountry, I see the world in two views: from the perspective of my eyes, and what that would look like through my camera and lens. I know them so well that I can consider a gorgeous span of wildflowers and know what I can and can’t get with the camera without even removing it from my pack. That comes from a lot of practice. So practice, damn it. Practice. And vary your shots to see what works and what sucks.

6) Zoom the hell in. Whether it means zooming in with your lens or getting up close and personal with the subject (I’m assuming food here, but yeah – other subjects too). Not all shots need to be macro shots, but people are usually too conservative and are zoomed out too much. My friend E was complaining how people who take “snapshots” for her with her camera wind up making the people subjects teensy tiny so that you don’t even know who is in the picture. Do you NEED to include their shoes? A lot of things can be implied even if they aren’t in the picture. You can get the idea of a bowl of berries across without showing the whole bowl.

7) Move your ass. If you insist on taking pictures always standing at full height – you are boring and so are your photos. Perspective is crucial. Get on your belly! Crouch low, shoot up, angle sideways, turn the camera, shoot directly down. Try SOMETHING different. It may not always work, but you won’t know until you do it.

8) And my pet peeve that is addressed directly at food blogs: multiple shots of the same frakking thing (with the exception of the end product, but that can go too far as well). I mean, how many pictures do you really need to post of a hand sprinkling brown sugar over cake batter? Six? Seven? What a waste of my bandwidth. That’s what VIDEO is for, durrrrrr.

Well, that’s my two cents and with the decline of the dollar, it’s worth less now than it was when you started reading. I’m just tossing out what works for me which may or may not mean anything to you.

Kathy had asked if I could post the sangria recipe earlier. I actually went searching online at various food blogs for a good sangria recipe because I typically prefer the tried and true recipes I see on food blogs rather than the standard online collections. I came across this one at Andrea’s Recipes and decided to give it a try.

citrus slices

strawberry and peach to add before serving

The beauty of sangria is that you don’t have to buy expensive wines – cheap wines work perfectly here. I don’t know how to shop for cheap wines, but my local liquor barn employee had excellent recommendations and pointed me to some good affordable picks. Toss in some sugar and seasonal fruits and you are good to go.

pour the wine

Sangria is one of those drinks that will knock me to the ground because I love fruit and will drink a lot of sangria just trying to get to the floating peach in my glass. So deceptive, this adult fruit punch… It’s perfect for combating the summer heat.

put up your dogs and cool off with some of this

[print recipe]

1 orange, thinly sliced
1 lemon, thinly sliced
1 cup sugar
1 (750 ml) bottle dry white wine
1 (750 ml) bottle dry red wine
2 peaches, sliced
1 pint strawberries, sliced
1/2 cup Grand Marnier

Combine orange, lemon, sugar and wines in a large glass bowl or pitcher and stir until sugar is dissolved. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 to 6 hours, or overnight. Add peaches, strawberries, and Grand Marnier before right before serving. Serve over ice.

40 nibbles at “the party (food) never ends”

  1. manggy says:

    Hey Jen :) Blogger is actually in the process of implementing an inline commenting system which is active in a few blogs. I chose not to use it yet until they’ve perfected it. Anyway, I will take this new brain dump as a sign of good health, lol. ;) Well, if it is, I’m happy. I love (okay, not LOVE-love) getting useful critique from someone who knows what they’re talking about. I once got a comment on a photo: “You should use natural light.” I rolled my eyes so hard my inferior recti snapped. I thought that much was blindingly obvious (there weren’t any shadows on the picture to hint at an artificial source), especially as I don’t have money for any other kind of light.
    My mom loves Sangria. I shoulda guessed there was sugar in it! I’m going to have to figure out a cheaper way to get that orange flavor in it, though :) Thanks for the recipe!

  2. Kitt says:

    Great advice! I am tempted by a dSLR, but I suspect just upgrading my dinosaur of a point-and-shoot will give me what I’m looking for, if it has a better macro and zoom. (And if I cleaned the lens more often!) Just learning how to set the white balance, slow shutter and self-timer has greatly improved my shots. I never use the flash unless I absolutely have to.

    Here’s a toast (of delicious sangria) to your beautiful shots!

  3. Laura @ HungryAndFrozen says:

    I too dislike multiple shots of the same thing :) Good advice on the photography – you are clearly someone who knows what they are talking about. Much as my photography course earlier this year put me through an emotional wringer I now have so much appreciation for things like aperture, white balance, macro…and the oh-so-useful tripod. I don’t always get it right, but it certainly helps. That sangria recipe makes me wish SO bad that it was summer here, I’m definitely going to remember it though, so thanks for putting it on here.

  4. Ann says:

    As someone who is working hard to learn how to handle her digital camera with the same joy and assurance she felt with her old pentax k1000, I really love this advice. I think I need to bite the bullet and go back to school. Getting the sort of photos I’d like for my blog is a real challenge.

    And lord, your photos are gorgeous!

  5. Rosa says:

    Great pictures! Really colorful and beautifully set! Thanks for the tips!

    I’s love to have a sip of that gorgeous sangria!



  6. Tim says:

    Thanks for this entry, and your reply to my comment in an earlier entry about getting a tripod. It was the photographs on your blog that first caught my eye, now of course, I visit for the articles too :)

    Given that you use digital, do you take your shots through the viewfinder or using the screen? Does it even make a difference?

  7. Andreia Sousa says:

    I was amazed by your photos. You give soul to it. Congratulations!

  8. Kristen says:

    AMEN – this is a photography post that everyone should read!

  9. Christine says:

    Jen – Amen to those observations! I know I’ve agreed with you before on this — that a dslr doesn’t automatically make one a photographer. I hope more and more will read this – I think it’s useful, informative and actually, encouraging. Thanks for writing this and thanks for the sangria recipe. I love the use of grand marnier and regular sugar. My other recipe – that I got from a madrileno – used fruit punch.

  10. peabody says:

    All good advice/observations.
    I went the first two years with a point and shoot camera on my blog. I won several DMBLGIT awards using that camera….more than with my SLR(of course I forget to submit…but that’s a different story).
    YES…if you have a SLR get yourself a tripod people.

  11. Patricia Scarpin says:

    Very, very useful. Thank you, Jen.
    Too bad I can’t try the sangria. :)

  12. Graeme says:

    Oooh! Handbags, people!

    Lol, I know what you mean. I can’t drink Sangria anymore; too many memories of very boring holidays, and my attempts to liven them up by sneaking sips my Mum’s drink.

  13. Kathy says:

    Jen, Thank you so much for the sangria recipe! We plan to try it over this 3-day weekend.

  14. Mrs Ergul says:

    Yup, all true. having had my hands on a DSLR for a few months, I think it’s too good for me now. I will downgrade to a point-and-shoot or semi-pro, play around with it, feel it and see where it brings me!

  15. Isa says:

    I’mm technically not allowed to drink until a few more years so my comment this time will only be: The pictures are beautiful!

  16. Mollie says:

    I just want to say that I heart you… and will try and take better photos. :)

  17. JacqueOH says:

    Great tips! I really appreciate you taking the time to share your experience. Being new-ish to blogging, it helps a lot. I laughed about the last one and agree. (Gotta go check and see if I’m doing that, lol).

    Love the citrus shot!

  18. cyn says:

    lol very cool. i love your straightforwardness. and of course, your shots. great layout! :)

  19. Antonio Tahhan says:

    Hey Jen!! I don’t have my white wine sangria posted yet, but will try to get it up soon. I love adding a bit of seltzer water for some fizz and also to lighten the heaviness of the wine.
    Your photography rant spoke to me and I will try to get out of my comfort zone and play with light : ( I basically use a 1000w construction light and diffuse it with a shower curtain (à a college student… then I splurge at whole foods and crate & barrel). I love the shot where you’re pouring the wine.
    Happy 4th of July : )

  20. Tartelette says:

    I am forever grateful to live with a photographer, he does not do anything for me but gives me advice that pretend to ignore only to figure out on my own that he is right. I will always remember the day he sat me down to draw me the different aperture-f stops- shutter speed results. I had in my pocket for several weeks!! The first few days I had my DSLR (last february only), I actually took one object and background and shot it at three different times a day changing f stops, wb, apertures, metering so I could get acclimated with what it did. Some days are easy some days it takes me 3 different tries on my knees, or perched up high camera in one hand and reflectors in the other. I also have a rule of 2-3 pics per post… I think it is important that each of us find his/her photo style. For ex: I shoot the end products and you shoot the whole process. My excuse is that I have chaos in the kitchen and too much sugar on my figers not to mess up my camera. Your way of shooting makes your blog personality and same for mine. I just can’t read blogs where every line is one dough turn, two turns…you get the idea…my brain disconnects.

    Ooooh…am I chatty or what tonigt?!!

    P.S: e kno I am te only one excused of proper spelling rigt?

  21. Lori says:

    Oh man you are so right. I love how you always shoot from the hip Jenyu. And since you are such a great photographer you definitely can hand out advice and I will take it willingly.

  22. Susan at StickyGooeyCreamyChewy says:

    Great advice, Jen! I appreciate it and all the earlier advice you’ve shared with me so much! When I started SGCC, I used a nice little Canon P&S and took absolutely shit pictures. You showed me that I could do better – and I did. I received a sweet Rebel for Xmas and have been struggling to learn all it can do. I use both cameras for my food shots, depending on where I am and how messy my food is.

    I set up a mini “studio” on the window seat of the big bay windows in my bedroom (the only room with any natural light). I’ve added a few Ego lights for when Mother Nature doesn’t cooperate. Though I still have tons to learn, my photos have improved dramatically. The funny thing is, that some of the ones people like best (including Slashfood) are the ones taken with the old point and shoot! It proves your point that you don’t need fancy equipment to get a good shot.

    Most of my shots are of the finished product. That is because I have the crappiest light ever in my kitchen. Flourescent lights and no window! Ugh! It’s awful and almost impossible to get a decent picture. When I am better at Photoshop, maybe I’ll be able to fix them up. I love how you show your process step by step and I’d love to do more of that. (I agree that some do go overboard with this.)

    You are one of the best food photographers I’ve seen on any of the blogs. Your pictures are fresh, inviting and gorgeous! You really should consider doing a series on this subject. People like me would kill to learn your secrets!

    Oh, and BTW, I agree with your assessment of Blogger. Unfortunately, it is the easiest option for someone as tech challenged as me. I am absolutely phobic about HTML and “coding”. I am looking for some decent classes around here, but so far, nothing available. I own my domain name and would love to switch to WP, but I’m too scared! It’s overwhelming!

  23. jenyu says:

    Mark – if Blogger is working to improve their services, more power to them. I still hate them though – soooooo sloooooow! People are always blathering on about natural light. While it’s good – it is in short supply during winter. Some artificial sources can be made as good as natural light :) You can use just lemons and no orange if you want for the sangria. Add other fruit too (mangoes!)

    Kitt – Good for you! Sounds like you are really learning some basics there without using the excuse of “dropping money” in place of education :) Thanks!

    Laura – just keep practicing and having fun – that is what it’s really about. You really need to move closer to the Equator, my dear. I sense you are a tropical bird just waiting to leave NZ!

    Ann – thanks so much and good luck!

    Rosa – thanks and here’s a virtual glass of sangria just for you :)

    Tim – my cameras do not have the option of taking pictures via the screen and most (if not all) professional or semi-pro cameras do not offer that option. I really believe that your best bet is to shoot through the viewfinder. The screen does not allow for good balance of the camera. It most certainly makes a difference and you’ll develop better habits shooting through the view finder. Hope that helps!

    Andreia – thank you :)

    Kristen – I doubt that! It’s just a rant ;)

    Christine – ah, you know all of this stuff already! Thank Andrea for her sangria recipe, it’s awesome!

    Peabody – yup! A good photographer makes a photo, not a good camera :)

    Patricia – oh my dear, if I could I’d pour you a glass right now!

    Graeme – I can only imagine you getting sloshed on sips of your mother’s sangria. You cheeky thing.

    Kathy – great! I hope you enjoy it and have a great weekend!

    Mrs. Ergul – best of luck on that. Just have fun – that is most important.

    Isa – ha ha ha ;) you can “sip” the sangria I’m sure!

    Mollie – ohhhhh, you’re so cute. The best advice to offer is to just go out and have fun while shooting!

    JacqueOH – Most folks don’t do that last one I complained about, but there are a few and they make me batshit ;) I’m sure you don’t do that :)

    Cyn – thanks!

    Tony – Sounds delish! No rush on your recipe either, as I am a slow consumer of alcohol (actually, reeeeeeeallly slow). Thanks love!

    Tartelette – you are correct that much of the advice must be “learned” and not told. I had to figure a lot out for myself and even with someone telling it to me, it wouldn’t sink in until I did it and saw what I was doing. But that’s the beauty of the hobby and the passion for it. And yes, there are many times I am tempted to say, “to hell with the process shots” especially when we made that DB potato bread – OMG!! So f#(^#ER( sticky! I wind up washing my hands a lot ;) And yes, I agree that everyone needs to find their own style. If there is one thing I cannot stand is lack of creativity. But your final shots are all varied and beautiful. I’m talking about those blatant shots of chopping the onion in 7 different angles. That’s just ridiculous… And yes, you are the ONLY person (okay, Peabody too) allowed to make crazy typos, even though we all know it’s your keyboard… ha ha ha.

    Lori – shooting from the hip? No!! I use a tripod ;) hee hee.

    Susan – hello my dearest one. Your pictures have improved by leaps and bounds in very little time. Your dedication is incredible. I do understand that process shots are not always easy to get (I have issues on my stovetop because it’s a friggin’ cave on that side of the kitchen!) I don’t have any secrets to food photography though. If anything, I’m just a glutton for punishment. I usually hate myself after a shoot because it takes more time than to just cook the darn thing ;) ha ha ha! Oh don’t worry yourself over Blogger. I love my Blogger pals – it just becomes a nuisance during the Daring Baker rounds when I have to visit hundreds of Blogger sites. That’s real suffering ;) xxxooo

  24. manggy says:

    Eep! I just realized I should have been clearer- it’s the Grand Marnier that would push the cost over the edge for me, haha! (though I hear it’s easy to make with just oranges and cognac, hmmmm)

  25. Liliana says:

    Thank you so much for your sharing your photo observations. It seems that taking the perfect photo is the most frustrating part of my blog. I almost purchased an SLR but decided to learn as much as I can taking photos wit my Canon point and shoot.

    You take such beautiful photos! Great sangria recipe. My daughter thanks you – she is hosting her first birthday dinner party and will be using this sangria recipe from Andrea.’s Recipes.

  26. jenyu says:

    Mark – oooh, that makes more sense ;)

    Liliana – thank you! Don’t worry about taking the perfect photo, just concentrate on taking a photo you like :) There is a difference. Best of luck!

  27. Beatrice says:

    This was really interesting. I am trying to learn how to make better use of my camera. Right now I take most of my food shots on my apartment balcony, but that is going to be cold in the winter!

    The shot of the wine drizzling over the orange slices is delicious.

  28. jenyu says:

    Beatrice – thanks! Just play around and have fun with it! I’m sure you’ll find things come together for ya.

  29. Lisa says:

    First off, your photos are beautiful. I was actually going to switch Blogger since it seemed that’s where 98% of the food bloggers ‘hung’, and I felt so out of the loop at WordPress.As of late, I’ve changed my mind, and decided to stick with WP until I can upgrade and design my own page using their domain or my own.

    That said, I’ve ALSO been failing miserably at food photography. Like you said, it’s the person, not the camera, and the elements. I have almost ZERO natural light in my ‘lofty’ apartment, as the windows are up high, and my kitchen has NO windows at all. I have one fluorescent lit room, and like someone mentioned above, you get some of the worst photos under fluorescent details, no shine, texture, etc. I have a small terrace, and have resorted to taking photos outside, although there’s not much room to move around to get some good angle shots, not to mention my tripod doesn’t get much room either. Too make things worse, the summer humidity turns everything to mush within minutes.

    However, I just purchased a Canon Digital Rebel XTi, so with lots of practice, and maybe an EGO light or two (damn expensive for a rectangular screen of light) when it’s too humid to take photos outdoors, I’m hoping I eventually get some decent photos. Trust me, ‘decent’ is all I ask for now, and once I get that, then I’ll try to achieve ‘good’, and then maybe one day..’REALLY good’. ‘great’, like yours, seems a long way off at this point, but I’ll get there..*knock wood* :) Your tips really thank you!

  30. jenyu says:

    Lisa – you’re very welcome and best of luck with everything!

  31. Chefsquire says:

    This is a great entry here. Thank you very much for sharing all of your tips. I have been having quite a bit of trouble shooting for my blog since I usually do my cooking in the early afternoon or evening and my kitchen is very poorly lit and. I hope some of these tips will help me!

  32. jenyu says:

    Chefsquire – you’re welcome and I hope you find some of the info useful.

  33. Lynne says:

    Your article should be read by everyone! I’m not happy with Blogger either and won’t to move my blog over to another hosting service, but it seems too daunting a task for me. Your photos are very vibrant!

  34. jenyu says:

    Lynne – thanks! It *is* some work, but once you make the move, you’ll be glad.

  35. curiousdomestic says:

    Good advice. Thanks for sharing. Hope my photos improve!

  36. jenyu says:

    Curiousdomestic – Just practice a lot and I’m sure they will improve :)

  37. Eileen says:

    This recipe shall be enjoyed this evening after a good chilling, celebrating a breakthrough in work-life balance. I have to say I was also scared of the Marnier but yay for the mini-bottles. At $4 I bought two, enough for a double recipe–woo hoo! Thank you for the recipe, I really enjoy your blog and tidbits of life in the southern rockies. Please also note my fairly high level of jealousy :)

  38. jenyu says:

    Eileen – awww, thanks. Congrats on your breakthrough. I hope the sangria makes it every bit as wonderful :)

  39. mjm says:

    Sorry to comment on such an old post but in defense of people who don’t zoom in for photos (particularly snapshots for other people);
    Firstly it’s far easier to crop and enlarge than get more in the photo after the fact =D
    Secondly, although when someone asks me to take a photo for them I know it’s not my camera, I have a terrible time getting out of my photo-mindset. I very, very rarely take photos of people, even in holiday snaps I’m usually photographing landscapes or crowd scenes and that carries over. I usually try to take one zoomed out shot, one full-length-ish shot (head to somewhere between knees and feet depending on framing) and one close-up (head and shoulders/torso) but so few people stay still until I’m done. ;-)

    (Also, I find the screen on cheap point-and-shoots very useful. I’m short and to get the shot I want I sometimes have to stand on a wall and *still* hold the camera up at full stretch. And it’s good for ‘worm-eye-view’ shots on dirty, yucky streets as well. Maybe I should look for a neck transplant of some sort of elastic? lol)

    Anyway, now I’ve stood up for rubbish photographers everywhere… A friend of mine linked me to your blog a few days ago and I’ve been reading your archives from the beginning over the last three days (just 2 years left to catch up on!). So many amazing recipes and photos! My mum is chinese and I recognise some of the recipes but I’m drooling over all the desserts. I’ll have plenty of new ideas to try in a couple of months when I have time to get back to the kitchen =D And now I’ll try not to comment on anything else until I’ve caught up. Lazarus-ing a forum thread is incredibly annoying so I shall try to avoid doing the same to blog posts. :-)

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