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 :)


Basil Prosciutto Corn Cakes
Minorly adapted from Donna Hay  to be GF (see original recipe if you are not GF)

Prep Time: 5 minutes to get ingredients together
Total Time: 45 minutes


  • 170 g instant or 2-minute polenta
  • 50 g rice flour
  • 25 g potato starch
  • 1 tsp. Italian seasoning
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • salt & pepper
  • 360 g sour cream
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • few drops of lemon juice
  • butter
  • 12 basil leaves
  • 12 slices prosciutto


1. Preheat an oven to 180 C (350 F). In a large mixing bowl add the polenta, rice flour, potato starch, Italian seasoning, soda, salt & pepper.
2. In another mixing bowl, whisk together the sour cream, eggs, and lemon juice, and then combine with the dry ingredients.
3. Grease a muffin tin with butter, and then place a basil leaf in the bottom of each and line each cup with prosciutto.  Pour the batter in, and bake for about 20 minutes or until cooked through (in my oven they took about 30 minutes).
4. Enjoy!


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