5 Gift Ideas for Amateur Food Photographers

Happy Black Friday, American friends of Crustcrumbs.  Any amateur food photographers in your life?  A wife who wants to start a food blog?  A friend who takes pictures of all his meals?  Here are 5 Christmas gift ideas that any new foodie photographer will love.

1. A reflector!

I will write about this in another post very soon, but I think a reflector is one of the most important tools in a photographer’s kit.  A 5-in-1 reflector (gold, silver, white, black, and translucent) is very useful, especially when shooting with natural window light, when you want to bounce some of the light back onto the other side of your food.  You can get one for under $30, and you can use it to bounce light, block light, and filter harsh light.  You can also get a stand and arm, or you can do what I do and make John hold it for you.

Using a reflector in food photography

They come in all sizes.  Some collapse for easy storage.  Photojojo even sells a miniature reflector for $15 that can fit into your pocket, so you can bring it to restaurants and really annoy the waitstaff.

My own reflector is from Paul C. Buff.

2. A lens!

Nifty Fifty

If someone you know is just starting out in photography, you’ve probably heard them complaining that their camera + kit lens takes crappy pictures in low light.  One of the best bang-for-your-buck lenses you can buy is a 50mm 1.8 lens.  Nikon and Canon both have versions for around $100-125. This is the Nikon version. This is the Canon version.  You really can’t go wrong with this lens, and I think everyone should buy one when they are starting out in photography.  It’s not so great for taking pictures of groups of people indoors (unless you have a very large room), but for food it’s excellent.  It will give your photographer friend great bokeh (the blurry part of the image) and let in a lot more light than a standard kit lens.  With this lens, your happy gift receiver can put away their pop-up flash so they stop taking photos like Martha Stewart’s.

If you want to spend about 4-8 times more money, a macro lens is also a good idea (Canon) (Nikon).

3. A tripod!


This is really boring, but a good idea for food photography.  You can get a tripod for 20 bucks, and it will do an okay job, especially if you buy a remote trigger (to fit the camera model) or shutter release cable, which will reduce camera shake. Or, if you really love the gift receiver, you’ll buy them a good Manfrotto (don’t forget to buy a ball head to go with the tripod legs if you aren’t buying a complete tripod).

4. A camera bag!

epiphanie sydney epiphanie ginger epiphanie charlotte epiphanie lola epiphanie lyric

Great for bringing your camera around so you can take food photos everywhere you go!

I have 4 camera bags from Epiphanie, because I am an addict. They are awesome bags, and I don’t feel silly lugging a huge backpack everywhere that screams “THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS OF GEAR IN HERE!”  They also have men’s bags.  I have the London, and I get complimented on it every time I leave the house.  Some ladies also like Kelly Moore bags.

5. A copy of Lightroom!

lightrom screenshot

Bold statement here: Adobe Photoshop Lightroom is the best tool for editing photos.  Every digital photographer needs a copy of Lightroom.  If your photographer friend already has Lightroom, maybe buy them some editing presets (to make their photos look pretty), like VSCO or Pretty Presets.

Happy shopping!

Zoë’s Baklava

You may have noticed that Gazelle Horns weren’t the only goodies on the Sisters of Salome‘s dessert tray.

One of the dancers, Zoë Smith, also made baklava, and agreed to share the recipe with Crustcrumbs.  Since this recipe wasn’t tested by John, the measurements aren’t in weights.

Gazelle Horns & Baklava

Zoë’s Baklava Recipe

1 Box Phyllo sheets
1/2 Cup Melted Butter

1 Cup Walnuts
1 teaspoon Cinnamon
1 Tablespoon Honey
1 Tablespoon Brown Sugar
1/4 Cup Whole Cloves

1/2 Cup Water
1/2 Cup Brown Sugar
1/2 Cup Honey

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Brush a 12″ x 8″ pan with melted butter, then layer 16-20 sheets of phyllo into the pan, brushing each one with butter.
  3. In a bowl, mix all of the filling ingredients, then spread evenly in the pan.
  4. Layer 12 more phyllo sheets on top of the filling, brushing each with butter.
  5. Use a cutting wheel to cut baklava into the desired size and shape (Zoë used 2″ squares).
  6. Stick one clove into each piece.
  7. Bake at 350°F for 45 minutes or until golden brown.
  8. When finished, bring all syrup ingredients to a boil, and pour over warm baklava.  It should just reach the top layer.
  9. Cool and serve.

Sisters of Salome

Thanks again to the Sisters of Salome for inviting us to their event!  You should check out their Facebook page here.

Using People in Food Photography

Chicken Soup

The main idea behind Crustcrumbs was to shoot food how and where it might be eaten – sometimes in an imaginative way, like slime on a Sedgewick Hotel dessert cart, and sometimes literal, like eating chicken soup in bed while you’re sick.  While John and I both love gorgeous, perfectly staged food photography, we wanted to do something a little different for Crustcrumbs.  Food can be messy – actually messy, not “here are a few chocolate chips and splashes of flour strategically placed on a distressed wood board around some cookies” messy.  And usually, it’s eaten by people.  So when we decided to do a series of food to eat when you’re sick, we knew we wanted to get a model to play our sick person.

131101 Sick People 0538

It turns out it’s fairly easy to get people to say yes when you ask, “do you want to lie in my bed and drink a milkshake for a photoshoot?”  Our sick person was played by Kevin Matviw, and the person delivering food to Kevin is Jordan Armstrong.  Both are staffers at Second City in Toronto (and you may remember Jordan as being Crustcrumbs famous for loaning us a cart for our Ghostbusters shoot).

As we’ve learned, there are some pros and cons to working with people.  For instance, pro:  people are more fun to work with than food.  Con: sometimes they light napkins on fire in your kitchen while trying to make soup steam.  (We did this after a long conversation about whether or not microwaving tampons to create steam would release poisonous tampon chemicals into our lungs.  Janice Poon writes more about creating food photography steam on the set of Hannibal, here.)

Lighting napkins on fire

Pro: even something as simple as a hand adds an element of storytelling to a photo.  Con: models talk back.  (Not pictured: Jordan yelling “HOT! THE BOWL IS HOT!”  Be quiet and accept your first degree burns in the name of Crustcrumbs!)

Jordan serving chicken soup.

Pro: when we’re done, John lets us do shots of Sortilège.  Con:  uh… none.


Since shooting people is what I do, I’m always up for using people in food photography.  Right now we’re working on everything from belly dancing to 1960s office Christmas parties to big group dinners.  Check out our Instagram feed for some spoilers.

Behind-the-Scenes: Halloween Dessert Cart

Happy Halloween!

When John asked me if I wanted to start a food blog with him, I was sold as soon as he mentioned doing a Ghostbusters-themed recipe series for Halloween.  It ended up being a huge undertaking for our first Crustrcumbs food photography shoot, but it was a lot of fun. John wanted to set up a slimed dessert cart as an homage to the scene with Slimer in the Sedgewick Hotel.


We contacted several different properties about shooting on location, but it ended up being too complicated and prohibitively expensive, so we decided to shoot at my photography studio.  We borrowed a cart from our friend Jordan (thanks Jordan!), got a cheap white sheet from Wal-Mart to cover it, and convinced Home Depot to sell us a sample roll of hotel-esque wallpaper.  Overall, it cost us less than $20.   This is what our backdrop looked like:

Behind-the-scenes food photography

I taped the wallpaper to the studio wall with gaffer’s tape.  I thought about buying a piece of plywood and gluing the wallpaper down, because it was really annoying trying to keep the pieces lined up while minimizing seams, but it was nothing a shallow depth of field and Photoshop couldn’t fix.

John prepping the fruit salad Bernardin Fruit Fresh

John made most of the food beforehand, and assembled it at the studio.  The fruit sculpture took the longest amount of time.  Food photography tip: use Bernardin Fruit Fresh to keep the fruits from browning!

John toasting Stay Puft Marshmallows John toasting Stay Puft Marshmallows

John brought his torch to toast the Stay Puft marshmallows, which made our photoshoot smell like camping.  After John had everything plated, we realized only about half of the food fit onto the cart.  It took some time to shuffle everything around.


The profiteroles were balanced on a light stand.  By the power of Zuul, they never fell down.

We wanted the lighting to look like crappy hotel hallway lighting to keep it on theme, but still highlight the food.  Believe me, “make my slime-covered food look like it’s in a hallway with crappy lighting, but also make it not look too gross” is more difficult than it sounds.

Most of the time when doing food photography, I use natural lighting or a bounce flash, but for this I set up some strobes. I use Paul C. Buff’s Alien Bees for lighting, which are reliable, easy to use, and relatively cheap.  You can also find cheap accessories and modifiers on eBay or Amazon. I ended up with the following setup:

Lighting Diagram

The main light was a big softbox on the right side.  I decided to light from the side to reduce reflections on the dishes, metal, fruit, and marshmallows, while cursing John for using so many shiny things in our first photoshoot.  I used a gold reflector to bounce light back onto the profiteroles and cheesecake.  This achieved the “crappy hallway” look, but the fruit was too dark, so I added a spotlight on the fruit plate.  I did this by using a 20 degree honeycomb grid in a standard 7″ reflector.

This was taken after we already started cleaning up, but it shows the lighting setup:

Behind-the-scenes food photography

When we were finally happy with the lighting on the food, John decided to add more reflections by covering everything in slime.  Fun!

Slimer visiting our photoshoot

This is the final image we ended up with:

Halloween dessert cart covered in edible lime slime

Still life isn’t my area of expertise, but this shoot was a lot of fun.  Tomorrow we have a photoshoot with an actor from Second City, so stay tuned for something sniffly next week.  (Sniffly?  What?)

Halloween Dessert Cart Roundup

Halloween dessert cart covered in edible lime slime

I wanted to pull together a list of all of our Ghostbusters-themed Halloween dessert recipes.  All of the recipes were written by John, and the photography done by me.  Tomorrow I’ll show you a behind-the-scenes look at our photoshoot.

Ghostbusters Halloween Dessert Cart

Halloween dessert cart covered in edible lime slimeLime Slime
A little bit of molecular gastronomy to kick off Crustcrumbs. A gooey, sticky slime that’s perfect for Halloween.

Cheesecake with a Coconut Crumb Crust

Cheesecake with a Coconut Crumb Crust
This gluten-free cheesecake is perfect on its own, but on Halloween, the lime slime is required.

Ginger Ice CreamGinger Ice Cream
A spicy ginger and boozy-sweet apple ice cream; and John explains how to stop your homemade ice cream from becoming too hard in the freezer.

Profiteroles Filled with Strawberry Mascarpone CreamProfiteroles with Strawberry Mascarpone Cream
A messy dessert covered in white chocolate and drenched in lime slime.


Exotic Fruit Sculpture

Exotic Fruit Platter
Exotic fruits arranged on a serving tray and, of course, topped with slime.

Concord Grape Tartlets with Stay Puft Marshmallow Tops

Concord Grape Tartlets with Stay Puft Marshmallow Tops
Homemade marshmallow toasted and placed on top of delicious concord grape tarts.

Gin and Tonic with Lime Slime
Lime Slime Gin & Tonic
A slimy twist on a cocktail classic.