“Plate to Pixel” by Hélène Dujardin – a review

I start this post with a slight blowing of the old trumpet – my article on an extremely easy “alternative” way to make ice cream is in July’s Vegetarian Living – OUT NOW!   

I say “alternative” in that tone of voice because although it is not a traditional custard based recipe it makes exceedingly good ice cream.  

When I was cheffing in the Caribbean there was an erratic electricity supply, minimal catering equipment, and no high quality ice cream product available so I used this method to develop all sorts of yummy ices and desserts.  

Here’s a pic of one I made earlier – Cherry Bounce Ice Cream (Cherry Bounce is made the same way as Rumtopf) – and either this picture is not as good as I think it is or it’s a fluke … read on.

I have written a whole book, Luscious Ice Creams without a Machine: ... or much time or effort or having to mash the stuff as it freezes, about this lovely no-churn way of making ice cream, no ice cream maker needed! In it I give 100+ recipes together with ideas, serving suggestions, anecdotes, ancillary recipes and every useful piece of useful information I can think of.  There are even a few photos. 

Speaking of books and pictures the main focus of today’s post is, Plate to Pixel – Digital Food Photography & Styling by Hélène Dujardin (what a pretty name – Helen of the Garden) which I have just purchased. 

Until recently I have had no more than a passing, holiday snap kind of interest in taking pictures but now I've started blogging and writing it has suddenly caught my attention in a big way.  

Unfortunately this new enthusiasm is not as yet apparent in the images I produce no matter how hard I try.  Undeterred I am sometimes cheeky enough to submit pictures to the foodie photo sites who are all quite stringent about the quality of the photographs they accept.  The ones I have tried include FoodGawker, Tastespotting, Tasteologie, Dishfolio and Kitchen Artistry all of whom have  accepted a a few of my photos but I'd like to be more certain of the quality of my pictures every time I take them.  Hence my purchase of this lovely book.

One of the first sentences I read, on flicking through when it arrived, was “… you may think that this book applies to people with a dSLR camera, that it’s not for those with a Point & Shoot.  But that’s not the case” (OK – 2 sentences).  This gladdened my heart because I do have a newish P & S (photographer talk – see it’s working already) which I’m really pleased with.   

The second chapter of the book, after basics, deals with camera settings which really cleared up a few matter for me; how, when and why to adjust white balance, what ISO means (concerning light sensitivity) and how to work with it, apertures, depth of field etc.  At first it seems a little hard to take in but I found it much easier to understand whilst actually looking at my camera and its manual. 

Lighting is next, how to work in natural and in artificial light, and I learnt a lot – I’m excited to start trying out diffusion and the bouncing of light when I’ve got a bit more space.  A small caravan is not the ideal place for photographic experimentation so some of my learning will have to be deferred for a few weeks when we will be moving.

I did have a bit of a play; here are some photos I took of freshly baked shortbreads, I’m reasonably pleased with them - both the shortbreads and the photos.

The trouble is I don’t know which I like best and in any case I can’t remember what I did for each picture; I shall avail myself of a notebook for my next try! 

After the technical info the book moves on into exciting chapters on composition, styling, getting ready for “capture” (as we photographers say), props, fabrics, etc.   Hélène Dujardin does stress the importance of understanding the technical matters before getting into the creative side of things but I couldn’t resist a look especially considering my limitations space wise at the moment.

The final chapter touches on photo editing, storage, photo sharing and gives some useful resources.

Hélène Dujardin’s tone of writing friendly and informal yet very easy to understand.   Like me she got started in food photography when, as a chef, she took photos of meals to show kitchen staff how to present dishes.  There the similarity ends!

The book itself is very attractive – lovely pics, obviously - a nice heavy paperback and the only criticism I have is that it is not an easy shape to read lying down whilst sipping a brandy.  Probably just as well anyway; as I said above to really learn I think it needs a bit more involvement.

Plate to Pixel” by Hélène Dujardin, which I wholeheartedly recommend to anyone who, like me, needs a little help in the photography department, was published in paperback by John Wiley & Sons in May of this year.  Here are the relevant numbers … 
ISBN-10: 0470932139  ISBN-13: 978-0470932131 

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Marian Hearne said...

It's a great book alright. I've a copy for years and now and then go back to check something. A great reference book

Joy Weese Moll (@joyweesemoll) said...

Fun review. I'm looking forward to making better use of diffuse light, too -- as soon as I have a set up that I can work with.

I like the top right photo of your short bread. There's a little bit more shadow so the texture of the cookies is more evident.

Sarah said...

I like the top right picture of the shortbreads a lot. It would be the one I choose. I discovered that when I import my pictures to Lightroom or iPhoto that the computer takes in information about the aperture, ISO, etc for me to review. No notebook required; very clever. I still need to get a bounce board, but I have picked up the tip of using a sheer curtain in front of a big window when it's light out.