Monday 20 August 2012

Top 10 photos, Pinterest, Delicious and Eat Your Books

When I started my blog back in 2007, I wasn't that concerned about my photos.  It shows in my early posts.  My interest in food photography was an afterthought.  I tried to resist, but it has crept up on me.  A year into blogging, in 2008, I did a post on my Top Ten Photos. In this post, I am doing an updated and annotate Top Ten Photos to illustrate some reflections on photography, Pinterest, Delicious and Eat Your Books.  (Yes the long title does give a hint about the length of this post - make yourself comfortable!)

Plum and Cinnamon Oat Slice.  April 2011.   Photographed at a friend's place.  I like the composition and the natural light.  Nostalgia is also very powerful in photos.  I love these sunflower plates that we ate off when I shared a student house with Nicki.
During the Olympics Closing Ceremony, I spent some time pinning old blog photos onto a Pinterest Board.  It was an interesting exercise in thinking about the photos on my blog and how they have evolved.  Like many other bloggers, I have many embarrassing photographs in my early posts (and a few in later posts too). 

Choosing my Top Ten Photos wasn't easy, but at least the questionable quality of many of my photos made it easier to shortlist. My favourite recipes aren't always the ones with the best photos.  And here is the frustration.  When I love a recipe, I want the photo to reflect just how good it is.  Yet it still feels like great luck when I am really happy with my photos.  I have a lot to learn.  Below and in the captions on my photos are some reflections.

Gingerbread biscuits.  August 2009.  I love these Aussie cookie cutters.  This photo has nice natural light and I like how the koala on the plate echos the koala biscuit.
My camera.  While people not cameras take great photos, the camera does help.  I think I am now onto my third camera since I started blogging.  I started using point and shoot Canon Powershot cameras.  In December 2011 I purchased a digital SLR camera - a Canon EOS 550D (these are known as Canon Rebel cameras in the USA.)  I mostly use a standard lens but I really want a macro lens, though the more I read about photography (as I have been doing recently), the more I think the perhaps I need more space around my food rather than more close ups. 

Haggis Nachos.  January 2012.  The tartan table runner and gingerbread men serviette signify Hogmanay or New Year.  I like how the darker background makes the nachos seem lighter.
Reflections on my photograph

What I like in styling my photos:
  • Natural light.  I can see in these photos what a difference natural light makes.  It is not always easy to get my timing right.  Some days I take photos in the morning but it is often done in a rush without time to think through a photo.
  • Colours.  I know that the accepted wisdom is that white is great to show up the food but I love colours and patterns.  I need to learn to tame them sometimes.
  • Plates and bowls.  I collected quite a few of these that I love which enhance photos.
  • Surfaces.  My kitchen table is plain white.  Too plain for me.  I've started collecting fabrics, tea towels, serviettes etc with the sort of patterns I love.  They need to be subtle enough to let the food be the star but pretty enough to make the heart sing.
  • Aerial views.  I noticed that some of my favourite photos are taken from above.  Not only do they block out the clutter but they often tell more of a story than my usual close ups.
  • Hands.  I don't like to show faces on my blog but I find hands very expressive. They bring action and emotions to the photos.

Smoky lime peanut baked sweet potatoes.  June 2012.  A quick lunchtime snap.  New camera made the focus right, new teatowel looked pretty under the plate and I had lots of midday light.  Plus I think I got the colours right.
Challenges I face in taking photos:
  • Clutter.  My house is full of clutter that clamours for attention in the back of photos.  I have got better at removing it but still need to work on this.  A cheap foam board is a start.
  • Getting the focus right!  It is so frustrating to have everything right in a photo except the focus.
  • No dedicated space to photograph.  I take photographs in the midst of the chaos in our kitchen.  I love seeing the spaces that bloggers set up for their photos but it just doesn't happen here.
  • Taking pictures with a small girl underfoot.  Often I am racing to take a photo before Sylvia grabs something out of the arrangement.
  • Drinks.  I find it really hard to photography drinks either as the star or in the background.
  • Using the manual settings on my camera.  I really need to practise using these to understand them better.  Reading about this lately has made me think a good start might be to use the aperture only setting.
  • Maybe I need to get some decent photo editing software.  I use the most basic editing tools that comes with the computer and could really do with a tad more sophistication.
Condensed milk fudge sauce.  January 2008.  This photo is not perfect but I still love it.  The fruit is nicely arranged and catches the light like an old Masters still life.  If I had my time over I would have reheated the sauce.
Now on to the bookmarking sites.  The web has many places to help organise and make connections.  Recently I heard Russell Howcroft on Gruen Sweat say that if Twitter is teletext, Facebook is a letter.  If that is the case then a blog is the newspaper column.  Maybe we could say that Pinterest is the shop window and blogging is going inside the shop to take a look around, smell the spice, try on the dress or browse the book.

I was attracted to Pinterest by its clean elegant style.   It it so appealing to look at.  I was frustrated that I had to have a Facebook or Twitter account to sign up but I dutifully signed up to Facebook.  (Incidentally I am only using Facebook in a very limited fashion and am still very wary about it.)  It then took me a while to work out about Followers and Following.

Pumpkin fairy cakes.  July 2011.  This is Sylvia's hand.  We decorated these cake for Dolly's tea party and the bright colours of the spotted plate and the kiddie table are cheerful enough for a children's party.
Now I like to check what new things those that I am following are pinning (by going to and select 'Following').  Here are a few comments on pinning:
  • I have found that some people I have not chosen to follow have got into these feeds and I can't work out how to get them out. 
  • I sometimes wish that people who follow me didn't have to see everything that I pin.  For example when I did all the pinning from my blog during the Olympics closing, it seemed like navel gazing and I wasn't sure everyone needed to see that.  It would be nice (but probably impractical) to decide what to share and what not to.
  • I dislike how when I repin an image, the person's comments also are repinned.  Again, I understand this is a matter of practicality.  But I hate how it looks like I said that the brownies were the best ever or that my kid loved the snacks.  I try and edit the comments on pins I repin but there are days when attention to detail is lacking.
  • I try to include the name of the blog or website in the label/comment because it helps to promote it and also helps me remember where it is from. 
  • It is helpful when I repin to see other pins from that person's board and form the blog/website where the pin has come from.
Pear and Walnut Chutney.  July 2009.  Good food photography is about suggestions for how to eat a dish.  Bread and cheese and chutney is such a satisfying simple supper.  The chopping board gives it a touch of rustic charm.
Other comments on Pinterest:
  • Pinterest is great for sharing ideas with other people.  I find it much easier to send a url to a board of pictures if we are talking about lots of ideas than to send a list of urls.
  • One of the attractions of Pinterest is the clean design.  When an image has a really long label or too many comments this messes up the look.
  • I am still a bit unsure as to whether to create lots of specific boards or keep to just a few boards.  
  • I have written before about Pinterest copyright issues.  I prefer to repin from someone else than to pin from a website.  I generally try to pin from sites that are clear that they endorse pinning.
  • I really liked Nupur's post on Pinterest etiquette at One Hot Stove. 

Cheese and onion beer bread. June 2012.  I took this photo for the Queen's Jubliee earlier this year.  I love the blue, red and white stripes that are so very royal but even more Mod!
Long before Pinterest there was Delicious.  Whereas Pinterest is great for choosing and sharing images, Delicious's strength is in organising and tagging urls.  (There are thumbnail images but they are not nearly as pretty as Pinterest).  While Pinterest is easy on the eye, I am still using Delicious because it is far more practical.

I don't know any fellow blogger who doesn't get overwhelmed by bookmarks.  Blogs offer far more recipes than we can ever make or remember.  Searching the tags in Delicious turns up recipes from years ago that I had forgotten about.  For example, if I want to search for a cake that is vegan and chocolate, I find it far easier to search recipes in Delicious than in any other system that I have used.  It is amazing what old recipes have been found thanks to this system!

Cheesy Carrot Nut Roast.  April 2012.  This is my favourite nut roast photo.  Simple with lots of natural light and a small depth of field (ie blurry background).  I particularly love just how meaty the nut roast appears.
Eat Your Books
Enter the new kid in town.  I have been aware of Eat Your Books for some time now but have only signed up in the last few weeks.  You can browse my bookshelf via the link on my right hand menu.  Eat Your Books is a system of indexing the recipes on cookbooks to make them searchable online.  It is a great idea but I am still unsure of how it will work in practice.

Some numbers re Eat Your Books:
  • To date, 104,218 books are included on the Eat Your Books library list.  Even so, I couldn't find all my books on Eat Your Books.  Some of my cookbooks are quite local and couldn't be found.  (There may be a way to add them but I am not sure.)  
  • So far I have added 109 books to my virtual bookshelf. 
  • On my virtual bookshelf, 30 books have been indexed and another 2 are listed as to be indexed soon.  I gather that over time more and more books will be indexed. 
  • I like that we can also add blogs but so far there only 39 blogs are indexed.  (I guess the amount of blogs will increase.) 
Some reflections on Eat Your Books:
  • It seems that on my virtual bookshelf, I can only search a fraction of my cookbooks.  Unfortunately the ones that I can search are not necessarily the ones I prefer to use. You could argue this is good or bad!
  • Who knew there were so many cookbooks in the world!  When selecting my cookbooks from the library, I found it confusing was that there are many versions of many books that I own.  Often I own an Australian edition but the USA edition is indexed.  Some indexed books are linked to other editions.  Multiple entries of books makes it hard to find the right edition.  Thumbnails of covers helps.
  • I like the system but it seems a lot of work.  It took quite some time to add my cookbooks to my bookshelf.  I can also add recipes but it seems a lot more work than tagging online recipes on Delicious and there are no images of recipes as far I can tell.
  • Most frustrating is when searches bring up the meat recipes from my omnivore cookbooks.  Fortunately a lot of my cookbooks are vegetarian.  Delicious is better in bringing up only the recipes I choose to bookmark but it is not nearly as comprehensive.  Incidentally, I have noticed that I can bookmark recipes so if I had the time this might help fix this issue.
  • The biggest attraction of Eat Your Books is that is allows me to search my cookbooks so quickly when I don't have the time to flick through all my cookbooks.  It has great potential to rescue cookbooks from being neglected in favour of online recipes.
It is early days for Eat Your Books and me.  I expect that Eat Your Books will only get more powerful as more and more books and blogs are indexed.  I don't imagine that it will altogether replace the joy of sitting on the sofa browsing my cookbooks, but it an exciting way to marry my online blogging with my cookbook collection. 

Update August 2014: I have been enjoying using Eat Your Books when I want to cook with a particular ingredient.  It helps me identify recipes in my cookbooks and actually does as it intends and takes me away from my online recipes and back to my bookshelves.

Apricot Delight.  September 2011.  I bought these bowls at Tea Too and still had lots of orange wrapping paper which I used as a background.  It nicely complemented the colour of the Apricot Delight.
My accounts:

Do you have accounts with these sites?  What do you think of them?  I'd love to hear your thoughts and if you have an account that you would like to share, I'd be interested to have a look.


  1. I'm always impressed how you take such good photographs of vegetarian food. Photography is not my strong point, I have neither the patience nor the skill but I find it particularly difficult trying to make a savoury dish look good.

    Pinterest is a bit of fun, but I don't have the time to use it as a resource - it's just another place to have to look. But Eat Your Books, I'm finding really useful. If I've just picked some courgettes or beetroot or been given some pears for example, I can just type in beetroot and a nice list of recipes comes up which I can just quickly scan to see if I fancy any of them. Same with baking - although typing in chocolate is NOT a good idea. None of this beat browsing cookery books though - they are my bedtime reading.

    1. Thanks Choclette - photographing dinner is harder than a sweet bake that hangs around longer and is available in better light. Glad to hear you like eat your books as I am quite interested to see how I go with it

  2. I like hands in photos (also faces) but since I photograph alone at home, it makes it a bit trickier and of course I have no Sylvia around! ;)

    1. Thanks Lorraine - Sylvia's hands are great in photos when I get them in focus but often they are zooming out of focus over something I am trying to photograph so there are the downsides of having extra hands around. I quite like photographing hands when people are about apart from sylvia but it is less often when I am blogging!

  3. I have the same problem with my Eat your Books library! Some of my favourites are not searchable. I am particularly upset that my Vegan Fire and Spice book isn't searchable because I love that book, but its binding is coming off so it would be great if I could search it online. I am thinking about letting my membership lapse since I can't search the books I want to, but I do LOVE the concept!

    1. Thanks Sarah - I love the concept too - I have wondered about whether I could index any books (they invite members to help out with this) - I have just tried indexing one recipe and it wasn't speedy so I am not sure but you could consider that if you have a cookbook you really want up there!

  4. Great reflections on the photos--and I know what you mean about some older, embarrassing (or even recent, embarrassing!) photos! For some reason the pear/walnut chutney is my fave--I guess I like the aerial shots, too. :) Re: Pinterest, I don't see it as any different than Foodgawker or Tastespotting (except they 'accept' everything!). As long as the recipe isn't included, it seems fine to me.

    1. Thanks Ricki - we all have a few embarrassing photos. I am a bit unclear if you have to be the owner of a blog to submit to foodgawker or tastespotting or if anyone can submit a photo they like. I agree it seems ok as long as the recipe isn't included (but I was a bit cross to see one of my photos with the recipe virtually there).

  5. I'm just terrible at taking pictures Johanna. I've always enjoyed the way you set your pictures up. They always look so natural especially since you got the "new" look which I know has been around for a while:) I sure wish I would get around to changing mine.

    I'm not on Facebook, I'm barely on Twitter and that's pretty much it besides Pinterest which for no apparent reason to me, I have become quite obsessed with. I can't figure out why, lol...Oh by the way, before I sat down with my pie to read your post, which wasn't really long because it was oh so informative, I took a quick run over to Pinterest. I may just be your newest follower! When someone leaves a description about the pin I usually write Pinner Wrote: "Best Chocolate Ice Cream." because I don't want people to think that I agree especially since I have never tasted it!!! When there are comments that don't make sense, I delete them and put in the correct title of the post. I also check all pins before repinning them to make sure they go to the site they are suppose to and directly to the link. If it doesn't, I try to find the right one. If I can't, I don't repin it!

    I'm really enjoying it but I am neglecting my blog more than I should and that, I don't like!!!!

    Thanks so much for sharing, Johanna. I bet Sylvia is getting so big:)

    1. Thanks Louise - I find pinterest fascinating because it is not the most useful site and yet it is so appealing. Interesting to hear how you get around the commenting. I am trying not to spend too much time on pinterest but it is easy to get sucked into a black hole

  6. Goodness Johanna, this is an amazing post! There is so much of use in it too - I hadn't heard of eat your books, have never joined Delicious, and rarely use my Pinterest account! I may need to find some time to do so. I liked your thoughts on photos too as I am still on a learning curve in that department. Light is my biggest challenge I think, especially for evening meals where there is no natural light to be found. Time for photography practice would be a good thing too! It is nice having something to focus on improving at over time.

    1. Thanks Kari - it was interesting looking over the pictures that I thought worked best and finding that so many of them are taken in natural light and what a difference it makes. Soon after I started blogging I read about a blogger who would come home in her lunchbreak to photograph last night's dinner in natural light - I am beginning to understand but I just don't have the time.

  7. This is such a great post, so much to think about and digest. Your photos are great - finally, someone who understands what it is like to have to take a photo before a pair of small hands grabs a knife (or the dish itself!) I love pinterest and twitter, have only taken baby steps with EYB but find it very confusing and possibly not worth the bother. As for Delicious, I'm going to check it out right now!

    1. Thanks Lucy - small hands love to seek out whatever I am photographing - you have to be fast when they are around! Do check out delicious - I think if I could combine delicious and eat your books I would be very happy - but I understand that new systems are hard to take on

  8. Great post Johanna! I loved reading about your thoughts on your top 10 photos and food photography in general. It's definitely an area that I was terrible at when I first started blogging and although I've improved a bit, I've still got a long way to go. It's really hard to pick a favourite but I love the nachos, nut roast and fairy cakes photos. I always love the photos you take when Sylvia (and often Dolly) is helping out in the kitchen!

    1. Thanks Mel - dolly and sylvia are great food props :-) I have a lot of small photos on my blog from when I started and it is a relief for most of them but a shame when the photos are worth looking at and they are so hard to see. I think your photos are nice and clear so I am sure you are gradually learning stuff (like the rest of us)

  9. A very honest and lovely post Johanna.
    To be honest I am not feeling so inspired these days with photography. I guess it has to do with the limited time I have, and the mountain of stuff I am photographing for my book. It can be taxing...
    I like your homy style. Sometimes we style the photos a little too much and lost that appealing home-feel quality...

    1. Thanks Anh - Having to do photos for your book must be a different kind of pressure altogether! Good luck with it. I think you are right about some photos being styled too much. I've been thinking about this because I want my photos to look good but I like them to reflect my life too. Not an easy task!

  10. My fave photo above is the koala gingerbread - so cute! I find it hard to get natural light for photos because of the layout of my apartment and because I usually cook at night.

    1. Thanks Cakelaw - that is funny you love the koala gingerbread after I just saw your gorgeous koala cupcakes on your blog today! I am lucky to get natural light in my kitchen but it isn't in the easier area to find space (and I still use my fluro light in the kitchen)

  11. Isn't it crazy how much your photography improves over time? It's also so gratifying to see the progress!

    I use pinterest a LOT and Eat Your Books, also. Perhaps more of my cookbooks are indexed because they're based in the US, but I can't imagine there's that much difference...hmm.

    1. Thanks Joanne - your photos are amazing so I am sure you have ridden a large learning curve! I mean to add a few notes after emailing Eat Your Books - apparently they divide up countries so it is not just the US that gets the most indexing - fascinating work to be doing!

  12. What a great post!
    I'm also on my third camera. I tend to leave the styling to those who are good at it and concentrate on the food.
    Never heard of Eat Your Books, but do enjoy Pinterest. I shouldn't investigate EYB as I'm sure it would be another time waster for me, lol!

    1. Thanks Nic - each new system seems to be another time waster - they are meant to support us and yet there are just so many that it makes life hard! I think Eat Your Books feels like a time waster to get the library on the system but once on it is actually a lot less work than Pinterest or Delicious - because unless you are buying new books really regularly EYB doesn't need such frequent updating


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