Lights Camera Currys: Food Photography with Nikon

As the daughter of a professional photographer, I wish I could say I was a little better with the visual side of blogging. Sadly, I’m not; I snap a quick photo on my phone or on a basic point-and-shoot camera, and move on. But I do want to be better, so when I was invited along to the Nikon School of Photography for a class on food photography, I was thrilled. Even my dad says how difficult food photography can be to get right, and he’s been wielding a camera for over forty years.

I have featured food on Is That You Darling before, but always with the caveat that the photography isn’t great. Getting the chance to learn from some experts (and to play with a nice expensive camera) wasn’t one I was going to let pass, and so I headed to Margaret Street for the evening a couple of weeks ago.

Now, I learnt some great stuff, and I had a lot of fun, but the first thing of note that I simply have to share is this fact: I ate my first ever macaron at this event. I know you’re wondering how I’ve been masquerading as a blogger for all this time without getting one of the most fundamental blogger basics under my belt, but it’s true. And I wasn’t disappointed. I now understand why everyone raves about them. Thanks to Nikon, Currys and Joe Blogs for helping me pop my macaron cherry!

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As you may be able to tell; this photo was snapped before we started to learn anything, with my phone, in the low light. Hopefully you’ll be able to notice a difference with the later photos!

We were taken through the basics by a fabulous member of the Nikon team, who thankfully didn’t assume that any of us were experts. I was given the loan of a Nikon D750 to use for the evening, as I don’t have a DLSR to call my own. It’s a very nice camera that felt fabulous in my hands; it’s easy to feel like you know what you’re doing when you’re holding expensive equipment!

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Some tips I learnt from the class:

  • Cameras basically just want to let as much light in as possible, so if you are using your camera in automatic mode, that’s what it’s going to do, at the expense of some of the other settings that will actually allow you some control over the way your photos look.
  • Your shutter speed is the amount of time that the shutter is open for; when it comes to food, if not using a tripod, it needs to be at a minimum of 1/60 to avoid that shaky, unwanted blur.
  • Changing your aperture setting will allow you to play with your depth of field. This basically means that you can choose to focus on one specific part of the frame, and leave the rest of the image blurred – this is a shallow depth of field, achieved with a low aperture. This is good for food photography, because you can focus on the one thing you want to show off, and leave the rest blurred.
  • When working with artificial lighting, adjusting your white balance is really important, and will make all the difference with your photography. Our teacher was explaining this to various members of the group, and I eavesdropped enough to just about work out how to do it, but I think if I’d had the nerve to actually ask for advice, I could have taken some much better pictures. My inherent shyness got in the way yet again!

Having been given all of the information, it was time to get down to business, and we were encouraged to wander around the room and take photos of various fruit vegetables set up under some lights.

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These two photos are a good example of changing the white balance. While I don’t think the second photo is a great one, by any stretch, changing the white balance really shows, making the white surface actually appear white.

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These peppers became an obsession for me; I really wanted to try and get some good photos of them! I think I managed a couple, as shown here. They are definitely better than anything I could have achieved before I went to the class.

There is still much to learn, and until I have saved enough to buy myself a nice DSLR, it will have to be on borrowed cameras. But it’s nice to have a basic knowledge of how these settings work, so at least when I’m changing them, I know why!

Thanks again to Joe Blogs for inviting me along (they really do put on some amazing events), and to Currys and Nikon for arranging such an enlightening lesson (and for providing me with the chance to eat my first macaron). You can read some more about the evening on the Currys blog, and check out #lightscameracurrys on Instagram for more photos from the other bloggers I was too shy to chat to!

Sourced Locally Fortnight

Sourced Locally Fortnight is a two-week celebration at the East of England Co-op that does exactly what you think it does: it celebrates locally sourced food and drink The aim is to show how amazing local farmers, butchers, brewers and bakers are, and to make buying local food as easy as possible. At a time when many people are concerned with their carbon footprint and where their food comes from, it’s good to know that there is a place where you can shop and worry less about that sort of thing (if you’re in the East of England, that is!).

I was provided with some vouchers so I could shop at an East of England Co-op, and sample some of the local produce that was on offer. I never do a ‘big’ shop at a Co-op, as I find it a bit more expensive than the other supermarkets, so it was fun to take a look and see what I was missing!

I shopped in the middle of the Sourced Locally fortnight, so there were a couple of displays in store with a great selection of food and drink. I hadn’t realised what a selection there would be, to be honest, expecting it to be mainly fruit and vegetables. On the display as soon as I entered the store, there was jam, pasta, apple juice, tea, coffee, cakes, cookies – so much stuff! I had to be careful not to spend everything I had just on this display!

In the end, I was pretty pleased with my selection. I got pasta, pasta sauce, ice cream, vinegar, tomato sauce, strawberries, jam, salt, steak, coleslaw, potatoes and loads more! I really wanted to get some Wilkins & Sons jam, because Tiptree Jam Factory is a favourite, and I also wanted some Maldon Sea Salt, because I spend so much time in Maldon. Everything else was very local, of course – the potatoes were from a farm that is very, very close to where I work!

Because I had all this yumminess, I had to make something nice for dinner, so I had steak, potatoes, carrots, parsnips and sweetcorn. The steak and potatoes were the Sourced Locally items, and they were just delicious! And then I just had to eat some Rossi’s ice cream for dessert. That was never going to last long in my freezer.

I’m really pleased with everything I got with my voucers, but I have to say that ultimately, I can’t afford to shop like this for myself. The items are good quality, and taste amazing, and the price refelcts that. Unfortunately, I’m not in a position to regularly shop at those prices, but I’m pleased that I’ve had my eyes opened to the vast range of food and drink that are available from local sources, and I think I’ll be going back to stock up on certain things (the steak for a start!).

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Pizza Express ~ Summer Menu

Earlier in the summer I was lucky enough to be invited along to Pizza Express to try out their summer menu. After a few false starts, I finally managed to head along to the Colchester branch with Hannah last week, making the most of the last of the summer and trying out their delicious menu.

I’ve been to Pizza Express a lot; it’s the restaurant we always end up when I go to Olympia for work as there is one right on site, and it’s easy to stop by on our way out of the venue. I always know there’s going to be something that I will like, even if I don’t fancy a pizza, because I really like their salads and pastas too. I usually plump for the Pollo Pancetta Salad, and I always enjoy the dough sticks, even if they add unnecessary calories to a salad!

Talking of unnecessary calories, a starter at Pizza Express is always, always Dough Balls for me, and this visit was no different. They are hard to resist, and because Hannah and I were both ordering them, our lovely waiter suggested we get Dough Balls Doppio to share, rather than a portion each. It came with pesto as well as garlic butter, and the whole thing was just as yummy as ever.

For my main meal, I opted for a pizza from the summer menu: the Pollo Forza Romana. I have been known in the past to overestimate my ability to deal with spicy food, and after I had ordered this, with its hot roquito peppers and chilli oil, I did wonder if I had made a mistake, but it wasn’t too hot in the end. It was just right!

Hannah is a vegetarian and has a dairy intolerance, so she can find it quite hard to find meals that suit her. She plumped for the Leggera Superfood Salad, and was very impressed with it! She said that it completely filled her up, and that’s not something she finds with salads an awful lot, but when it’s packed with roasted butternut squash, beetroot, avocado, pine kernals, lentils and cucumber, you shouldn’t really expect to feel hungry afterwards!

We also partook in a summer cocktail, the Hugo. It had been recommended to me, and Hannah had picked it off the menu when she was browsing it before we got to the restaurant, and it totally lived up to all expectations! Prosecco with elderflower, fresh mint and lemon over ice – it was never going to be anything but delightful!

 

I’m really impressed with the Summer menu at Pizza Express. Everything seems to be really fresh and light, and just what you need on a hot summer’s day! If that Indian Summer that has been mooted is on its way, there should be ample opportunity to pop in and try a refreshing Hugo cocktail and a pizza or a salad!

* I was given a free meal at Pizza Express in exchange for a review.

Ilumi Review

A few weeks ago, I was offered the chance to try some meals from Ilumi. Ilumi pride themselves on making meals that are nut, gluten and dairy free, meaning that they are safe for people who suffer from a wide variety of food intolerances. I don’t suffer from any of these allergies myself, but I know plenty of people who do, and I know how awkward it can be to shop for food when you have to check the ingredients and make sure there is nothing off limits in it. The fact that their products are dairy free means that any of the meals without meat in will also be suitable for vegans.

Generally, I’m not one for ready meals. I have never had particularly good experiences with the ones that I have bought in supermarkets, and as a result, I always think I’d rather just make myself beans on toast than reach for a ready meal. But when the Ilumi box arrived with my four choices, I could tell, just from the packaging, that the meals weren’t going to be the same as a sloppy lasagne with a funny taste from Tesco!

Piri Piri Portuguese Style Rice – £1.50
I’m a big fan of Piri Piri, but I don’t like anything too hot, so I was pleased when I tried this and found that it was just mild enough for me.I had it with some chicken and vegetables, and it tasted great. At £1.50, it’s a good price too.

Spanish Style Rice and Vegetables – £2.75
This is a full meal, so it’s a really quick dinner option. It tastes really good; I don’t think it’s obvious that you are eating a ready meal, because it’s really tasty, and completely lacks that artificial taste that so many microwave meals have. This is one of the options that is totally suitable for vegans.

Cantonese Style Chicken – £3.75
Chinese food is one of my top choices when it comes to a takeaway, and while I wouldn’t pretend that this is the same as getting your favourite chicken dish from the local takeaway, it’s certainly a good compromise. It tastes amazing, it takes a few minutes to prepare, and there’s nothing in it that you need to be worried about.

Basil & Garlic Chicken Meatballs in a Tomato Sauce – £3.75
This was my favourite of the bunch. I had it for dinner last week when I needed to eat fairly quickly, and just had to really wait on the pasta cooking. Instead of cooking it in the microwave, I put it into a saucepan and heated it up, and it felt a lot more like a real dinner that way! I’m not actually usually a fan of meatballs, but I think that’s because I have never had chicken meatballs before, always opting for the beef version. These were yummy, with a great texture, and the sauce was fab.

Three of the products I tried came from the new Mediterranean range (the Cantonese style chicken obviously being the odd one out).

I’m sure you can tell that I’ve been won over, as far as microwave convenience meals are concerned. When they are as tasty as Ilumi’s meals, there’s definitely an argument for having them in the cupboard, for those evenings when you get in late and you can’t be bothered to cook. Most of them would be great for lunch too, provided you work somewhere with access to a microwave!

I think the prices are pretty reasonable too; the full meals are no more than £3.75 and the rice pouches are between £1 and £2.75, depending on what else you have with them. Given that the postage is free, and next day, I think it’s a really good deal, especially when you consider a) how tasty the meals are, and b) that they are suitable for people with a wide variety of food intolerances. I’m thinking of putting in another order, to have a few pouches in reserve when dinner is too much of a chore!

* Ilumi provided me with these products for the purposes of review, but as always, reviews on Is That You Darling are fair and unbiased.