09 May 2011

Chocolate Brownies & iPhone v Camera

And another weekend comes to an end and already it is Monday. This weekend I attended a food photography course, well Plum Kitchen and I eventually attended a food photography course.  We are both missing the sense of direction gene completely. We made it out to Muriwai, West Auckland and somehow ended up right at the beach, and somewhat off piste as it were, despite having been to Gourmet Gannet, our venue for the day, before and having the help of Google Maps on the ever handy iPhone.  Intrepid explorers we are not.

Tip #1 inventive ways to soften the light

It was kindly organised by Alli over at Gourmet Gannet who arranged for Sean Shadbolt to come and share some of his wisdom with a group of us, a fair few of whom, I think it is fair to say, are nearer the amateur end of the scale when it comes to food photography.

It was a morning well spent and most useful for me was getting more familiar with my camera on the manual setting.  I have become way too lazy reliant on the auto settings, and then there is my iPhone.  With a few clever little apps I can take a picture and with a few taps I have a pretty picture.  Easy and almost instantaneous.

Tip #2 - inventive way to check colour tones.

However, I do like to learn and I am hoping to see some improvements in the photo taking department over the coming weeks as with a little perseverance and practice I should be able to get a little better to grips with my Canon EOS and hopefully produce some photos that I actually like.

Being a class full of food bloggers we weren't short on food.  I rustled up some brownies.  These ones are from Nigella, so you can trust that they will be suitably chocolatey.  A few moments mixing everything together, 25 minutes in the oven and you have a tray of chocolatey goodness.  

Their only flaw; I should maybe have gone for more colourful food for my first attempt at photography post class.  Brown food really is not a best friend to photographs.  With my "real" camera I still don't think I have anywhere near the photo I want despite having taken around 60 photos on the manual setting on my camera, various shutter speeds, aperture settings and what not.  Yet on my iPhone, I may not love, but certainly have a few photos that I like.  You can decide for yourself...

Chocolate Brownies, courtesy of the domestic goddess herself, Nigella


1 1/4 stick unsalted butter
1 3/4 cups packed light brown sugar
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
Pinch salt
4 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
About 160g (6oz) milk chocolate, chopped into small chunks (or 1 cup chips) - I used Whittaker's Milk Chocolate.
Icing sugar (confectioners' sugar) to dust, optional

Foil-lined baking pan or foil pan, about 13 x 9 x 2 inches.


Preheat the oven to 190C (375F).

Melt the butter over a gentle heat in a medium-sized saucepan. Once melted add the sugar and stir with  a wooden spoon until it is blended with the melted butter.

In a bowl whisk together the cocoa powder, flour, baking soda and salt and then stir it all in to the pan with the butter and sugar mixture.  The mixture be very dry at this stage, but that is OK.  Remove the pan from the heat and set aside.

Whisk together the eggs with the vanilla extract in a small bowl than mix it in to the brownie mixture.  Stir in the chopped chocolate and quickly pour it all in to the foil-lined baking tine or disposable foil pan.   Spread the mixture evenly and place in the oven for 20-25 minutes.  It should, will look set and dry on top but touch the surface and it will feel still a little softer underneath.  You are aiming for a slightly gooey centre, so if you are using a cake tester it should come out with a little chocolatey and not perfectly clean.

Place on a cooling rack for a few minute before cutting in to 16 pieces and dust with some icing sugar (confectioners' sugar). 

These chocolate morsels can be made 3 days ahead and stored in an airtight container.  They can also be frozen for up to 3 months. Just layer with baking paper to avoid them sticking together and thaw overnight before eating.

They are light and full of chocolate flavour, even better every other bite there is a little nugget of pure chocolate.

I will taking half in to work to work to help everyone get through Monday and the rest popped in the freezer to have little chocolate treats on hand.

So what's the verdict on the photos...camera or iPhone??
Personally with these photos I prefer the iPhone results, however I think that may mean I just have a fair bit of practicing and learning to do.  Plus I do like a fair bit of mucking around with my photos as I like to use different effects rather than a straight photo and the iPhone makes it so easy! They say practice makes perfect, although with photos, as with art, I do believe that it is all in the eye of the beholder. Saying that I am looking forward to digesting all I learned on the weekend and becoming better acquainted with my camera.



  1. I don't really seem to use my iphone camera much but I've noticed it's actually not that bad! Great that you got to attend such a workshop, it's always good to get some new ideas :-) The brownies look delicious too, by the way ;-)

  2. Do you have the American version of her book? (Just wondered, with the "stick" of butter :) I think you made them look gorgeous, but do agree that brown food is a bit of a mission! It's weird, you'd think chocolate, being what it is, would be so easy to make look good but I do struggle. I really need to re-learn some photography - now that it's winter and there's just no light, I'm sick of terrible night-time photos!

  3. There's no doubt about it - you really do seem to get the most out of your iPhone. I've been enjoying playing with my camera though and trying to use some of the tips Sean taught us on Saturday. Even made my dinner in the middle of the afternoon today so that I could photograph it in the natural light!

    Your brownies look great - wish I worked with you!!

    Sue xo

  4. Hey Laura, no I was just trawling Food Network for a brownie recipe & came across Nigella's..1 stick of butter = 113g butter. Really should have worked it all out in grams :) And so not loving the lack of light...bring on Spring!

  5. Great post Mairi. I too have been experimenting with the new knowledge and even got to photo some brown soup at 5.30pm on Sunday which came out not too bad after upping the ISO which I didn't even know where to find before Sat. I have even played with some shots under tungsten light and think winter might not be to glum after all for blogging, got some of those moody photos you liked.

  6. I am glad that you got so much out of the course. I know for sure that I am not a photographer. Sometimes the photos are good, sometimes not so good, and I don't have patience with light and manual settings... I will take a long time to learn. I prefer cooking and styling, and working with someone like Sean to make sure that everything is in focus!
    And I now love my iPhone, which I rarely use as a phone, btw :-)!


    the photos here http://alessandrazecchini.blogspot.com/2011/05/slow-food-waitakere-japanese-cooking.html

    are by Sean he took them with a normal mobile phone (not camera+ and so on), while cooking and without a chance of making us pose or check for light, and they are still great! Guess that he is a photographer!

  7. Oh wow, lucky you! I would so love to learn more about food photography. I just wing it at the mo. It would have been such a great day hanging out with fellow NZ food bloggers too!

  8. Hi Emma...I so wing it too :) And beauty is all in the eye of the beholder!

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