Subject Out of Focus

If you're reading this post right now, then you probably either arrived here by accident, or are one of the small number of my slow-growing readership. However you got here, welcome to my little slice of the blogoshere. I'm happy that you've found me.
Since you are here, you must have noticed that my last post was almost a week ago. Everyone has periods of time when life takes over and there isn't enough time to cook, bake or blog. Vacations, illness, family and work obligations and even apathy can all contribute to this. I, however, have not been on vacation, sick or plagued by any of these other issues. Actually, I have been cooking up a storm lately, taking advantage of the cool, dry weather we've had. Why then, you ask, haven't I been posting about my recent kitchen exploits? BECAUSE OF THE DAMNED PHOTOGRAPHS, THAT'S WHY!
Now, I have never professed to be a great photographer, or even a good one, but I have always managed to adequately capture my life's most significant moments on film (or whatever they call it with digital cameras). The photos that I've posted on this blog haven't been award-worthy, but some have been pretty decent, considering I have a little point and shoot camera and no experience. There were some that I thought were really nice, especially after a little help from Photoshop. Although I have lusted after the lush and vibrant pictures displayed by many of my fellow food bloggers, I didn't feel like a failure. Until I began began submitting some of my images to TasteSpotting, that is. That was when I realized how sorely lacking my photography skills really were.
I started small, only submitting a few shots of my SHF and WTSIM... entries. Then, I waited.....and waited.....and waited. With great anticipation, I clicked on the site hourly, longing to feel that rush of seeing MY work displayed with all the other luscious offerings - to be a part of the "In" crowd - to belong. But, nothing.....and nothing.....and more nothing. I certainly knew what THAT meant. You don't have to hit me over the head with a Canon-EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM Telephoto Zoom Lens! I didn't get it, though. Yes, there were hundreds, even thousands, of beautiful and creative photos on TasteSpotting, but not ALL of them were that great. Frankly, I noticed more than a few that looked muddy and mushy and a little "unappetizing". I thought mine were better than that.
One evening while I was looking at my pageload activity on StatCounter, I came across an entry that went like this: wwwDOTtastespottingDOTcom/trash. TRASH? WTF? I was crushed! I felt like the kid in gym class who was the last one left after choosing teams for volleyball. Not that that's ever happened to ME!) Not only was I rejected, but I was relegated to trash. I know it wasn't personal, but it felt personal.
Smarting from my wounds, I spun into overdrive. I twiddled and tweaked every halfway decent picture I had. I had something to prove! One by one, I submitted them to TasteSpotting, eagerly awaiting the outcome. But, nothing.....and nothing.....and still, more nothing. I was ticked off then. What the hell did I have to do to get a &*#%@ picture posted! Now, I am absolutely not bashing TasteSpotting. I love the site. It is a great resource and a lot of fun to browse around in. I'm just being candid about my experience.
I reluctantly grasped the fact that it wasn't enough just to be a good cook or even a good writer. You eat with your eyes first. That was when I began to feel self conscious about my pictures. So, while I have been baking and cooking all week, you haven't seen it. Instead of posting, I have been studying, analyzing and practicing; trying to learn, grow and make my blog better.
I have found numerous very helpful sites and other blogs with really helpful tips and information on food photography. My sincere thanks goes out to Kalyn, Kitchen Wench and Smitten Kitchen, to name just a few, for their recent posts on the subject. I have greedily devoured all of them and have found them very helpful. In fact, I spent two hours yesterday afternoon taking pictures of this pear. I never did get the lighting perfect, and the shots weren't as sharp as I'd like, but there was a definite improvement by the end.
Why am I telling you all of this? Well, sometimes it feels good just to rant a bit. But more importantly, I discovered something about myself. I lost sight of why I started this blog in the first place - because I love to cook and I love to write - and I wanted to share that. I wanted my voice, no matter how small, to be heard. But, you know what? It doesn't have to be perfect. It just has to be honest and sincere. I missed that. I couldn't see the salad for the radishes! My subject was out of focus.
Now, since you've gotten this far in this self-indulgent rant of mine, the least I can do is offer you something sweet for your trouble. Here is the recipe for my very favorite banana bread. It is THE BEST I have ever had. It is so dense, moist and full of fresh banana flavor that it really should be described as a cake. But then, how could you justify eating it for breakfast!

Banana Banana Bread
Adapted from Shelley Albeluhn and

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 eggs, beaten
2 1/3 cups mashed overripe bananas
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Lightly grease a 9x5 inch loaf pan.
In a large bowl, combine flour, baking soda and salt. In a separate bowl, cream together butter and brown sugar. Stir in eggs and mashed bananas until well blended. Stir banana mixture into flour mixture; stir just to moisten.
Pour batter into prepared loaf pan. Bake in preheated oven for 60 to 65 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into center of the loaf comes out clean. Let bread cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack.


Helene said…
You're right, it's easy to get caught up. I have a basic poit and shoot and learn along the way playig with aperture and shutter speed. When I get aggravated, I take a step back and remember to have fun, and be true to what you want to convey. I enjoy reading your post and I hope you will keep up the good work.
Susan @ SGCC said…
Thank you, Tartelette. You are very sweet. I appreciate that you take the time to come visit me.
Linda said…
I really feel your pain here. I have a digital camera and I have no idea how to adjust anything on it except flash and no flash. If I use my fancy-pants camera then I have to develop film and that would take forever to get posted. And what happens when you make all of your food at night... crappy lighting. Photoshopping isn't a bad idea though...
Susan @ SGCC said…
Linda, Ain't it the truth! The lighting is the hardest thing. I can never get it right. My house is set under a beautiful canopy of trees, which I love. But, it is always so dark inside, even during the day! Besides, who cooks dinner at 11:00 in the morning? I never get home until after 4:00 and it is dark by 5:30! Very frustrating!

Photoshop is great, if you know how to use it. I'm still trying to learn the basics.
Anonymous said…
I've been food blogging about the same amount of time that you have, it looks like - and I'm really starting to realize how important the photos are to me, and what I'm trying to get across. I have an ancient point and shoot getting more decrepit by the day, so I've been struggling trying to make my food look edible. Especially with the early evenings, ugh!

I am learning a tremendous amount just practicing, though I don't think I'd be brave enough to submit anything to TasteSpotting - good for you for trying!
Susan @ SGCC said…
Jessamyn- The shorter days certainly do make it a lot harder to get good pictures. I find myself taking twice as many shots now, but have fewer usable ones.

What is your web address? I'd love to visit you.
Anonymous said…

I'm having fun with it. Let me know what you think!
Jen Yu said…

I'm so sorry that the photography has frustrated you. It can be an incredibly opaque thing to break into and I'm sure the learning curve looks rather steep but... there is always hope and I think you shouldn't be so hard on yourself.

I have a few suggestions that may help you out there.

1) Use a tripod. When I first began shooting, I never used a tripod because I did a lot of outdoor photography. As I began to understand light and strive for more dramatic landscapes, I realized that a tripod was essential for dealing with low light levels. My house is very bright, but even so, I find that my indoor shots require pretty slow shutter speeds (and I like to shoot in diffuse light). A tripod eliminates any shake from your hand because it holds the camera steady for as long as you need. Most folks introduce camera shake when the shutter is slower than 1/60 sec. I can hold it steady down to 1/8, but plenty of my shots go slower than that! You don't need a super expensive tripod either, you can probably find one for $30?

2) Try different perspectives. One of the beauties of digital photography is that you can take as many exposures to your heart's content and it doesn't cost you a thing. Too many people give the wrong impression on the web that you need a fancy camera to take good pictures, but that is utter hogwash. A point and shoot can capture some very nice shots - it's the photographer that makes the picture. So one of the things I learned in my photography journey is that practice with your camera helps you to begin seeing the subject the way your camera does. Get low and close, stand above the subject, put the subject in the corner, try a tilted shot. See what works for you visually and try to create that through your camera. Looks close, but not quite? Make a few more adjustments - play with it! Photography should be fun.

3) When the sun goes down... Everyone loves shooting in natural light. It gets dark too early now, so I resort to external flashes. That's definitely beyond what you should worry about. The reason on-camera flash looks so garish is because it's a strong point source coming right from the camera. What you can try to do is diffuse the flash. Diffuse light is more flattering and softens those hard line shadows you get with unfiltered flash. Try using something like a piece of coffee filter to cover your flash and experiment. If it's too thick, try some white tissue paper. I haven't actually tried these techniques, but I have flash diffusers for both of my external flashes and they make a huge difference.

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me. Taking good pictures should be as much fun as making great food. All the best.

jen at use real butter
Susan @ SGCC said…
Jen- Thank you so much for giving me such great advice. When I wrote this post, I was beyond frustrated. Thanks to kind and considerate people like you, I have learned a lot. I have finally learned how to adjust my camera and have been practicing. I bought a small tripod and it has helped. I can already see a difference in my pictures. I will definitely try the diffuser trick and your other tips too.

Take care,
Susan :)
John said…
I agree with you totally, it is easy to get caught up in the want for perfection, or the feeling that others have better pictures/posts. The truth is that we are doing this because we enjoy it not to compete with each other. I am a professional chef since 20+ years and my food speaks for itself but of course there are better chefs, and a lot worse. I feel that we need to be happy with what we put on our blogs even if it is not as good as someone else. A challenge that I do fight with myself. I get lots of inspiration from food bloggers out there, I find that the knowledge and quality of food is very good. Great post by the way Regards John
Susan @ SGCC said…
John- Thanks for the encouragement. You're right. I started blogging because I love to cook and I love to write. I found that I was holding back from posting some great recipes because I was dreading having to take all the photos. That is just silly!

I'll probably never be a great photographer, but I'll just keep trying to get better. If I could only figure out how to put music on this blog....I'm a professional singer and I know I could knock people's socks off with that! (LOL)

Thanks for visiting me.

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