Photography and Savory Sweet Life’s Pint-Size Biscotti

June 9, 2012

Thank you to everyone who entered the Savory Sweet Life Cookbook giveaway! The winner is announced at the end of this post. But before I get to that, I wanted to talk a little bit about food photography. I’ll be the first to admit that my photos aren’t anywhere near those of some other amazing food bloggers. Since I work full-time, I’m limited with when and where I can photograph recipes, and don’t even get me started on winter food photography when it gets dark at 5 p.m. Summer months are easier, since there’s good light in the morning and at night after I get home from work, but it’s still a challenge.

But what I really need to work on is my patience and developing a willingness to stick with a photo/recipe until I get the lighting and propping just right. Sometimes I feel happy if I manage to simply photograph the recipe once, let alone take multiple passes at the same shot. Do other bloggers feel me on this one?

Let’s be honest, my last photo of Savory Sweet Life’s Watermelon Feta Salad wasn’t the greatest. Alice even warns against over-mixing the feta and watermelon, saying that it makes the dish look unappetizing. Somehow, I still managed to over-mix and the photo shows it well. So I decided to give one of Alice’s recipes another go. And besides, the biscotti were just calling my name and seemed like a perfect way to end the night with a cup of decaf. I’m not entirely sure why I’ve never made biscotti before, but I’m glad I did. This recipe is incredibly easy and ultra-tasty, with just the right amount of almond flavor and a pleasant crispness that gets better when dipped in coffee.

Back to the photos. Here’s a look at my first pass at photographing the biscotti yesterday…

Pretty bland, right? It’s not fuzzy or out of focus, but the white background I usually love with colorful food did nothing for this golden biscotti. There’s no sense of drama, place or color in this lifeless photo. Normally, I would call it a day with this photo and say it was good enough. But I knew the recipe had the potential to create a beautiful photo, much more beautiful than the photo above.  So I gave it another try this morning. I dipped the biscotti in chocolate and garnished it with a little coarse sugar, then attempted to photograph the biscotti in-process on my Silpat. It looked like this:

I actually kind of life this photo, and would be happy to post it. It’s natural, real and a totally looks like it came from my kitchen. But since it’s biscotti, which I consider to be a somewhat formal and dignified cookie, I wanted to create a bit of drama with a dark background and re-introduce the espresso cup and saucer with a dark background. So I ended up here…

That feels right, doesn’t it? Thanks for taking a little photography trip with me. I still have so much to learn, but it’s fun to see how my photography has changed since the first days of the blog when I was using a point-and-shoot camera in my sorority kitchen. Yikes!

The winner of the Savory Sweet Life Cookbook is….

Congrats, Theresa! Send me an e-mail (madisonjanemayberry@gmail.com) and I’ll get your book sent out!

Pint-Size Biscotti
From the Savory Sweet Life Cookbook
*1 cup granulated sugar
*2 large eggs
*1/4 cup vegetable oil
*1 tablespoon almond extract
*1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
*2 cups all-purpose flour
*1 teaspoon baking powder
*Milk chocolate and coarse sugar (optional)

*Preheat oven to 375°F. Line a baking sheet with a Silpat or parchment paper. Set aside.
*In a medium bowl, combine the sugar, eggs, vegetable oil, almond extract and nutmeg until well combined. Add the flour and baking powder and knead the mixture with your hands until a heavy, workable dough forms.
*On a lightly floured surface, use your hands to shape and roll the dough into a 12-inch-long log. Transfer the log to the center of the baking sheet. Flatten the dough to form a 1/2-inch thick rectangle that’s a bit thicker in the center and thinner on the long sides.
*Bake for 25 minutes, or until firm to the touch. Leaving the oven on, remove the biscotti loaf, on the parchment, and place it on a cutting board. Let it cool for 5 to 8 minutes, until cool enough to touch but still warm.
*Cut the loaf crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Place the slices on the baking sheet, lined with the parchment paper, cut side up, and bake for 8 minutes. Flip the biscotti over and bake for 8 minutes more. Let the biscotti cool completely on a wire rack before serving.

Happy Baking!


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  • I think the second two pics are BOTH great! I love learning photography, too. I am too limited in what time I can take pics and where the light in my house is. What lenses, etc. do you use?

    • Madison Mayberry

      Time is always the kicker, isn’t it? If we were all home during the late morning and early afternoon I think all our photos would be stellar! Post on equipment coming soon!

  • I really enjoy hearing others’ approaches to food photography… sometimes I get stuck taking photos a certain way, or I feel like they are dull. Usually a solution is so easy, you just need a new pair of eyes to give you some ideas!

    • Madison Mayberry

      Jaime, what a cute site you have! And your photos are great!

  • Wow, what a difference the darker background makes! I agree – trying to photograph food around a real job is tough. I’ve noticed that my photos turn out better for things like desserts and drinks… things that I usually make ahead of time and have the time and patience to photograph. The quality of my photos quickly go down for real meals usually because I plan on eating the food as soon as I’m done taking the photo. I never have the patience to set up the scene and shoot two dozen photos.

    • Madison Mayberry

      It’s funny because the backgrounds I use are things around my house. The “black” backdrop is actually a shelf in a dark bookcase near my window. You never know when you’ll find something that works, right? And I can totally feel you about the difficulty photographing meals. I rarely have the patience to let my food go cold, especially when I’m serving Joe and myself!

  • Love all these photos!! That’s the thing I really struggle with on my blog. You can make the tastiest food, but if you can’t take good photos it sort of defeats the purpose of a food blog.

    • Madison Mayberry

      Isn’t that the truth?! It’s SO frustrating to make something that’s really delicious and then end up having it look terrible in photos.

  • UrbanWife

    Love those photos with the dark background! I’m with Liz….what kind of equipment do you use? That would be a great post (unless there is already one and I missed it)! Enjoy your weekend.

    • Madison Mayberry

      I think that’s a great idea! I’ve been hesitant to do something like a “photography post” since I’m far from an expert. But I would be happy to share the equipment I use. Post to come!

  • beautiful final photo madison! i really know nothing about photography and the longer i blog the bigger desire i get to learn a little more about it. maybe something to tackle this summer? you aren’t doing too bad at all.

    biscotti are so fun to make from scratch! i used to make them all the time in high school…need to do it again!

    • Madison Mayberry

      Thanks, Sara! I’m with you on wanting to learn more and more about how to take great photos. I’ve been meaning to read a new food photography book I got at Christmas, so hopefully I can put a few posts together on what I’ve learned along the way. And yes, biscotti are the best! I’ve been enjoying one with coffee as a sweet way to end the night.

  • Clara Artschwager

    Hey Madison! Boy, can I relate. I feel like sometimes by the time I finish cooking the recipe, plating up the whole thing, and taking photos of the process, the last thing I want to do is take more photos! But then it’s like, what’s the whole point of this food blog thing then? It has to be a balance, I guess. I’ve started reading the book Plate to Pixel which has been really helpful. I can’t recommend it enough!

  • Emilie

    Love your final photo Madison! I completely agree, I usually just take one or two and call it a day, telling myself that I don’t really know how to make them any better. You’ve inspired me to pay a little more attention to backgrounds and coloring though 🙂

  • I love how candid this post is! It was great to see your different photo variations and the reasoning behind all of them. And for the record, I think each photo got better and better–and you’re already awesome to begin with. 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

  • Lauren E

    I recently found your blog- I love your stories and photos and recipes are great! I started my own blog about 2 months ago… big work in progress- but I love it! Do you have any photography recommendations- that are still budget friendly? I have been watching youtube videos… any in particular you recommend! Thanks!

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