Field Trip to the Aquarium

In retrospect, it was a terrible idea to visit the new Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada during the holidays, with the crowds of horrible children pushing and shoving, and their parents sticking their iPads in people’s faces to take terrible direct-flash 0.7 megapixel photos.  Nevertheless, when John suggested a field trip to the new Toronto aquarium that opened in October, I jumped at the chance.  Our main purpose was to take pictures of the octopuses, in preparation for a food post about cooking octopus.  (Yes, I’ve been told that’s kind of twisted.)

Sometimes, as a photographer, you approach a situation with a clear shot in mind; something that will truly capture a subject in its all its majesty:


… but instead you end up with this:


Or, this:


Nevermind the aforementioned horrible children and their parents, nor the tiny octopus tank with curved glass that distorts everything, nor the reflections, nor the lack of light… octopuses are nocturnal.  We were at the aquarium for almost 3 hours, and when we looped back through to visit them again at the end of our trip, neither of them had moved.  So, I ended up with the worst octopus photos in the history of octopus photos.

Luckily, John can’t fire me because I own the Crustcrumbs domain (ha HA!), so I’m going to share some other pictures of fish from the aquarium.  However, fish and seafood are so not my thing, so I cannot promise the scientific accuracy of any of my captions.  On the other hand, seafood is John’s thing, so if you stay tuned later this week, he’s going to write more about the edible kind of fish.  He might even use their real names.

Shiny fish.

Aquarium field trip
Drunk fish. Sarah took a pretty good video of these guys, who seem to just float around all day going “whoa…”

Aquarium field trip

Aquarium field trip
Colourfish!  Bonus Crustcrumbs game: guess how many children found “Nemo” while we were looking at this tank?

(Highlight for the answer: ALL OF THEM.  ALL OF THE CHILDREN FOUND NEMO.)

Aquarium field trip

Aquarium field trip
Lazy shark who rests on top of the shark tunnel.

Aquarium field trip
Fat sharks.  (I’m not crazy, right?  These sharks are pretty chubby, yes?)

Aquarium field trip
They still have pretty sharp teeth, though.

Aquarium field trip
Here’s a pile of dead sharks that look like rocks.  (Note: not actually dead.)

Aquarium field trip
Fabulous glitterfish.

Aquarium field trip

Aquarium field trip
This is a stingray photobombing a picture of another stingray.

Aquarium field tripAquarium field trip

So, I may not have taken a really good photo of an octopus, but I did take an average snapshot of a stuffed octopus in the gift shop.

Aquarium field trip

Stay tuned on Thursday for octopus.  Cooked, this time, and much more cooperative as a photography subject.

Behind-the-Scenes: Christmas Cocktail Party

Merry Christmas!  As the Santa Claus of Crustcrumbs (oh wait, no, that’s John), I’m here to bring you the greatest gift of all: behind-the-scenes pictures from our Mad Men themed office cocktail photoshoot.


The worst part about doing a big photoshoot like the one we did for our Christmas cocktail series is that I can’t post all of the images from the shoot.

Whether it’s Sara Hennessey getting weird with a nutcracker…

Sara Hennessey

Crustcrumbs Behind-the-Scenes

… or creating a cheesy conga line solely because John said “NO CHEESY CONGA LINES”, and he should probably learn by now that I’m going to think everything on his forbidden shot list is a good idea…

Crustcrumbs Conga Line

Crustcrumbs Behind-the-Scenes

… or just general “pretending to be drunk” shenanigans…

Crustcrumbs Behind-the-Scenes

Crustcrumbs Behind-the-Scenes

… we obviously had a lot of fun doing this shoot.  It was also sometimes difficult to remember that it was supposed to be about the drinks.

Crustcrumbs Behind-the-Scenes

Because I was having so much fun, I forgot to take a behind-the-scenes photo of my lighting setup.  Luckily I’m also clumsy, and I took this picture by accident:

Crustcrumbs Behind-the-Scenes

Shooting in an office is difficult.  First of all, when you’re dealing with multiple light sources, it can be a pain to balance the colour between the window light (blue) and gross fluorescent office lighting (orange).  Since I knew I wanted to desaturate the images and give them a bit of a “vintage” look, I didn’t worry too much about colour balancing.

Secondly, there is stuff everywhere.  Stuff casts a shadow.  Since I didn’t want to spend all day setting up multiple lights everywhere, I set up just one as seen in the photo above – an ABR800 ring flash in a moon unit pointed down at the girls over the cubicle wall camera right.  For a secondary light source, to fill some of the shadows and make them less harsh, I used a shoe mount flash (speedlite) attached to my camera and pointed it at the ceiling.  You can read more about bounce lighting here.

The end result:

The Ladies of Crustcrumbs

A big thank you to all five of our models and to Eagle for letting us use their office on a Sunday afternoon!

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?)