Amateur’s Food Photography: Basil and Prosciutto Corn Muffins

by Jenn on December 20, 2011

in Breakfast,GF Substitutions,Gluten Free,Meats,Photography

Basil and Prosciutto Corn Muffins, Gluten Free

Over the past couple of weeks I have been making these savory muffins.  I could eat them for breakfast.  Or with dinner.  Heck even for dinner!  They are surprisingly simple to make, and I think are sure to impress.  I knew I would be excited about them the minute that Simone posted this recipe for this month’s Donna Hay Styling and Photography Challenge.

As always, the first obstacle is converting the recipe to gluten free – but being corn meal based, I knew this would not be difficult.  I have made gluten free cornbread quite successfully on several occasions, and did not see any reason why these would pose any other difficulty.  Since all of the recipes Simone has posted so far list the ingredients by weight, this makes the gluten free home cook’s life much easier to come up with a substitution – as I have been learning over the past year from participating in the gluten free ratio rally, often merely replacing the same weight of conventional flour with gluten free ingredients seems to work rather well.  In this case, for the flour component, I used 2/3 rice flour and 1/3 potato starch – I kept the substitutions simple here rather than using a lot of varying ingredients because I knew gluten wasn’t really important in this recipe – it often isn’t in muffins and cakes – and so I didn’t have to worry about replicating all the culinary effects of gluten.

Next came one of my favorite parts of this blog, creating the photo!

I studied the original photo to first see what type of light was used and where it was coming from.  To me light is always the most important feature so it’s what I try to figure out first, before anything else.  The more I take the time to analyze food photos, the better I am able to glean what type of behind the scenes setup might have been used to create it.  In this case, I look at where the shadows and bright spots are – I see a shadow around the lower left of each of the plates, and notice the sheen on the cakes also indicating that the light is coming from slightly back and right, around 2:00.  The pepper shaker also gives clues – sometimes it’s easier to look at the shiniest (i.e. most reflective) element in a photo, because it will often giveaway highlights and shadows more obviously.  To recreate the image though, I would need a background that was large and light colored – one that wouldn’t take away light and that wouldn’t distract from the food – I have no such background, so decided to manipulate the light slightly differently, by putting fabric over my windows and having the light coming from behind, in a way to replicate that background but still let a lot of light in.  By angling the table 45 degrees to the window, I was still able to get a nice sheen on the cakes.  A folded white foam core helped soften shadows on the left, and an aluminum tray that I held up reflected more light to the right side.

As for the styling/composition, I kept things fairly similar.  A stack of muffins front and center (well, lower center), a plate in the background, a wine glass, and something off to the back left.  Lacking pretty white plates like the original photo, I opted for metals ones that I had instead, and lined them with white napkins so that they would still be nice and light.  The wine in the original was rather orange and honeyed looking, but not wanting to open up our fancy dessert wines from Piemonte just for a photo (which with a baby on the way I wouldn’t be able to enjoy anyways), I opted for not worrying so much about the color – in fact I lightly brewed green tea and poured that in the wine glass! Since the feature is the muffins, and this is not an ad in any way, I felt I only needed to bring about the feeling of wine and the fact that it was really tea was not so important. And lacking a silver pepper shaker, went with this pewter piece which I could envision being used to maybe spread honey or something on the muffins, and also omitted the napkin behind it.  I did add food to the back plate – it just seemed empty without something there.

When it came to the treatment of the photo, I didn’t try to replicate the original at all, but went with what I felt I liked for the image I had created.  I always like a bit of color and contrast, and I think that shows in most of the images I create.  However what I have started playing with recently is white balance.

White balance refers to the color of the light in your image, and how your camera is “tuned” to see that light.  It’s often hard for us to see the different colors of light, because we are so good at adjusting to our environments – so white things will almost always be seen as white to us, red as red, blue as blue, etc. no matter what is lighting it.  But the camera does not adapt.  So it sees the literal color of the light.

I find the easiest way to set white balance is to match the setting with the current light conditions (which auto may or may not get right) – if I’m using daylight, I set my white balance to a daylight color.  If I’m using flash, I set it to flash, and so on.  However, one can fine tune these settings even more by using the temperature scale – the “yellower” the light, the lower the temperature one needs to set in order to match it so that in the photo white will appear white.

Here is a rough guide I made as to what color temperature settings are appropriate for what kinds of light – so if you want to manually set your white balance, you can try to match the color of light in the scene – but of course the colors may not be exact depending on the exact conditions –

So if it’s natural daylight I am using, I will often start my white balance at 5500 K and see how it looks.  These days fluorescents come in many colors, so you often have to look at the label on the box to see what “color” it is.  While “sunny” “cloudy” “flash” etc. can be useful starting points, if you really want to fine tune the white balance in camera, playing with the temperatures is the way to do that.

If your camera doesn’t have those options or you didn’t get the white balance quite right, luckily there is post processing – the slider that goes from blue to yellow in most programs is so you can adjust the white balance. It may seem a bit opposite from what I just explained, but setting your image to a lower temperature after the fact will make your photo bluer, not yellower.  And vise versa.  This has to do with the “color” the program is adding in to compensate for the lighting you told it the image was taken in – so if you told the program that you took the image in yellow light by setting a lower color temperature, to “correct” that the program would add in more blue so that the result when combined with the yellow light would be white.  If all this talk about temperatures sounds confusing, the slider should be color coded so you can simply move it in the direction of the color you want to alter. But beyond “fixing” the photo to get the correct color of white, one can also play with the color temperature to set a mood.

Knowing that the tablecloth and napkins are all supposed to be white, when I first opened my image it looked to me as if I’ve set a fairly “correct” white balance when I took the photo.  But what happens when I play a bit? Sometimes moving the temperature a little bit cooler or warmer can help give a mood to an image.

Each temperature setting gives a slightly different feel to the image.  I used to always go with warm yellowed images because I thought food needed to be warm and yellow to look appetizing.  But lately I have been playing with temperature a bit more, and find I am really liking cooler food images – the blue adds a nice contrast to the yellow corn cakes I think, and so for my final image I chose to incorporate a bit of blue.  I’m always trying to play around a bit and find my style – this is just one more way to experiment :)

Catch up on the rest of the posts in this series!
Look at photos with a critical eye (and making fun of one of my early ones!)
Food photography is about celebrating light
Take your time and find your “zen place”
Angles of Light
Pay Attention to Props
The Histogram
It’s Not the Camera, It’s the Lighting
Exploring New Directions
Plate to Page Workshop Summary
Building an Image
Shades of Gray
White Bean and Ricotta Salad
Apple & Caramel Dumplings

{ 44 comments… read them below or add one }

Simone December 20, 2011 at 8:37 pm

Jenn! Now I might have missed this or you just decided to share this with the world but congratulations on the baby on the way!! So cool! Hope you feel fine and all goes well.. :) Then on to less important matters. I love what you’ve done to the photo and brilliant explanation too on your whole thoughtprocess and the white balance. I know that confuses a LOT of people so I am sure this is really helpful.
Which also reminds me I will have to find the new challenge next week already! Doesn’t time fly! Thanks for taking part this month!

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Jenn December 20, 2011 at 8:53 pm

Thanks Simone! So far so good :)

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Rosa December 20, 2011 at 8:58 pm

Great information and gorgeous click! those muffins look marvelous.

Happy Holidays!

Cheers,

Rosa

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Jenn December 20, 2011 at 9:03 pm

Thanks Rosa!

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Renee December 20, 2011 at 11:22 pm

I have been looking for food photography tips, thanks for posting about this and explaining white balance. Enjoyed reading it! Those muffins look quite delicious. :)

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Jenn December 21, 2011 at 5:23 am

Thanks, I’m glad it’s helpful!

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Barbara | Creative Culinary December 21, 2011 at 1:19 am

Well, congrats on the baby from me too even though a birdie might have told me. :) LOVE these muffins; I have some proscuitto and corn meal and they look so easy but really elegant and tasty too. Can’t wait to try them!

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Jenn December 21, 2011 at 5:24 am

Awww thanks :) Def. try these, I loved them!

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Priscilla - She's Cookin' December 21, 2011 at 1:46 am

Corn muffins are always a winner in my house – and the prosciutto adds a wonderful saltiness to them. I’m really enjoying the photography info your sharing as part of the Donna Hay Photo Challenge! Congrats for baby on the way, too :)

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Jenn December 21, 2011 at 5:25 am

Thanks so much Priscilla!

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Christine December 21, 2011 at 3:34 am

Hey Jenn, your Corn Muffin is a Recipe Guessing Game on Knapkins. Think your friends can win? http://www.knapkins.com/guess_games/1094?source=blog

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Jenn December 21, 2011 at 5:25 am
Jennifer December 21, 2011 at 3:41 am

These are so beautiful as are all your other photos! All the food looks so incredibly gorgeous that I’m debating whether I’d eat them or just admire them if they were placed before me. Oh, who am I kidding, my nose and stomach would take over and I’d helplessly have a bite or a few :0

My 3-year-old son had severe eczema until he was diagnosed with food allergies a few months back. I have a blog that shares our family’s battles with eczema, allergies, and asthma (yes, lucky guy has that too).

I think the key is to learn from one another, so the more information out there to the masses, the better. With this in mind I’ve started a blog hop for anyone dealing with allergies, eczema, or asthma, either for themselves or as a caregiver. If you’re interested in joining, please add a comment. I’d love to welcome you to the group. http://itchylittleworld.wordpress.com/blog-hop/

Thanks.
Jennifer

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Jenn December 21, 2011 at 5:26 am

Oh thanks! Will check it out :)

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Jonathan December 21, 2011 at 5:05 am

I love how accessible the world of food styling and photography becomes through reading your post(s). You’re a wonderful teacher and you can tell that that comes from truly loving what you’re sharing. Thank you, Jenn!

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Jenn December 21, 2011 at 5:26 am

Thanks so much Jonathan!

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flo makanai December 21, 2011 at 9:22 am

Great post, Jenn, and I’m anxious to try this recipe, it seems just fantastic. Very nice idea during this holiday season.

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Jenn December 21, 2011 at 7:37 pm

Thanks Flo! Hope you enjoy it :)

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InTolerantChef December 21, 2011 at 10:59 am

Very pretty- and the photos aren’t too bad either! :)

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Jenn December 21, 2011 at 7:38 pm

thanks!!

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AmandaonMaui December 21, 2011 at 11:05 am

Your photography is so good. I can only dream of having mine come out that way. At the moment I’m mostly relying on my iPhone 4 to do the work. It’s much better than my first generation iPhone was, but it’s still not very good. We have a Nikon D100 in the office, but it’s bagged up and can be a hassle to pull out and use. We might eventually sell it and upgrade to something better as well since it is getting old and it really requires good lighting for a nice shot. We also killed the nice separate flash. *meh*

Oh, and by the way, these look super yummy and I may just have to make them.

P.S. Shhhh I like your photo better than the original, but both are very nice.

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Jenn December 21, 2011 at 7:38 pm

Oh thanks Amanda!!

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Magda's cauldron December 21, 2011 at 1:35 pm

Your tips are very helpful. And your photo is beautiful. I like it more than the original. The colder colours really help the photo, the original seems so yellowish. And it is easier to focus on muffins at your photo. I love the pewter piece.

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Jenn December 21, 2011 at 7:38 pm

Thank you so much!

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Ann December 21, 2011 at 4:22 pm

I wish I had seen your recipe before I baked cornbread this morning. I love the addition of prosciutto.

Ann

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Jenn December 22, 2011 at 4:54 am

Thanks so much! I love Donna Hay recipes :)

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AmandaonMaui December 21, 2011 at 7:14 pm

I agree about the muffins being the focus in this picture whereas they aren’t totally the focal point in the other. I like it this way too.

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Jenn December 21, 2011 at 7:39 pm

Aww thanks!

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Rachel December 21, 2011 at 7:55 pm

those corn muffins look amazing!! Definitely will have to give them a try!

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Jenn December 21, 2011 at 8:01 pm

thank you! hope you like them :)

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Lora @cakeduchess December 22, 2011 at 4:42 am

Beautiful and I also like this shot w/the cooler look to it. Your muffins look fantastic!:)xx

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Jenn December 22, 2011 at 4:53 am

Thanks Lora!

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Jaime "The Tomato Snob" December 22, 2011 at 11:15 pm

These look wicked! I can’t wait to use this recipe. Thanks Jenn. Happy Holidays!

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Jenn December 23, 2011 at 5:02 pm

Thanks, enjoy!

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Elies_Lie December 23, 2011 at 6:40 am

love the photos jenn!
and tq for tutoring the white balance, love it :)
I never try a savory muffin before but this one is a must to try , thx again ;)

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Jenn December 23, 2011 at 5:01 pm

Thank you, glad it’s helpful!

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ilva December 27, 2011 at 3:15 pm

I really love your version, Jenn, it is great!

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Jenn December 27, 2011 at 8:46 pm

Thanks Ilva!

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Heather | Farmgirl Gourmet December 29, 2011 at 6:54 am

AWESOME post Jenn. I have been struggling with my camera lately….and have not played with white balance at all. You better bet I will now. :) Thanks for sharing your wealth of knowledge.

xoxo
Heather

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Jenn December 29, 2011 at 11:10 am

Thanks so much Heather!

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Jeanne @ CookSister! January 25, 2012 at 5:26 pm

Beautiful, once again, and such fun to hear you talking us throught the process. White balance is the single fastest and biggest improvement most newbie photographers can make to their photos in my opinion – just get off auto and play! Great shots and fab-looking muffins!

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Jenn February 8, 2012 at 9:32 pm

Thanks so much Jeanne!

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Chrissy February 8, 2012 at 7:29 pm

These look wonderful! Mmmm and that prosciutto looks perfectly crispy. I am going to make some savory muffins/cupcakes this weekend!

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Jenn February 8, 2012 at 9:33 pm

Thanks so much – hope you enjoy them!

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