Primping and Pimping for Premium Pix

The art of enhancement.
The art of manipulation.
The art of deception—sometimes.
The art of turning something pedestrian into something irresistible.
No, I’m not talking about push-up bras. I’m talking about food styling.
I had the good fortune learn some food styling tips from one of the top names in the business, Delores Custer, thanks to a workshop offered by the Portland Culinary Alliance at The Art Institute of Portland’s Culinary School.
My wildly swinging appetite during her slide show attests to her skill. Oohhhh, I want a hamburger—char grilled, juicy, crispy with lettuce and onion. No, I want pancakes dripping with syrup and melted butter.  Wait, no, bread pudding swimming in chocolate sauce REALLY sounds good.
I am easily manipulated.
No longer an obscure behind-the-scene art, food styling is increasingly on everyone’s radar, not least because of the explosion of enthusiastic amateurs snapping tasty pix for their blogs, review sites like Yelp and food-obsessed websites like Chowhound
While a sumptuous dish viewed in person triggers all five hungry senses, a successful photograph utilizes every trick to appeal to our eyes alone, suggesting tempting scent, luscious texture, a hot sizzle or refreshing chill, and a transcendent deliciousness. Experts like Delores harness a variety of techniques, which she discusses in her new book–the absolute bible on the topic–Food Styling: The Art of Preparing Food for the Camera. After over 30 years as one of the top names in the business, she knows all the secrets, many of which she invented. A split-second with a heat-gun gives chocolate chip cookies that straight-out-of-the-oven look. An eyedropper—or even a tiny jot of soap—gives coffee that just-poured freshness.
I was inspired to put my little Canon digital point-and-shoot through its paces. Here are a couple shots in which I captured that tight depth of field so popular in food photography today. And now, armed with the methods Delores shared, my food pictures–my favorite souvenirs of any trip—will burst with sensory appeal.

Escape to Carmel Valley


Sometimes travel isn’t measured by the distance or the time spent, but by the sense of escape attained. That’s what Saturday was like for me.

An author speaking at the Carmel Valley Village library caught my eye, so at 9 AM I embarked on a gorgeous drive, heading south from my parent’s house near Monterey over the Laureles Grade and into Carmel Valley. It was clear and warm, with sculpted clouds accentuating the far-flung landscape. Looking at a map, I realized that Carmel Valley Road runs roughly parallel to Highway One: the two roads embrace Los Padres National Forest, so I was viewing the back of the coast range, the back side of Big Sur. No wonder it was fabulous. Winter rains have left the grasslands brilliantly verdant and wildflowers are beginning to bloom. An orchard of still-dormant, gnarled mossy trees rose above a blanket of mustard flowers. Rugged mountains (yes! over 4,500 feet) soared up from the valley floor, a patchwork of oak and scrubland and rock and meadow.

It reminded me of Malibu: the wild terrain tamed by a few roads, the panoramic views, the multi-million dollar homes. It seems like the immense wealth actually does infuse the air out there–I could smell it and taste it. Wineries, horses, tennis courts, and those palacial houses, scattered in the wilderness. Vanity vineyards–small residential plots of grapes–dot the terrain. A store displayed statuary of a massive scale: marble columns, enormous fountains, carved animals.

All the rampant wealth notwithstanding, it’s a place of rapturous beauty on a spring day. After the library event, I strolled, I had a coffee, I popped into a few stores and then concluded with… a spontaneous photo safari! Mix is a store with a couple of acres devoted to large-scale imports for the garden from Southeast Asia. After a recent photography workshop, I was eager to try some of my new tricks on their photogenic merchandise.

An hour of photography, half an hour from home, was a low-budget vacation. It was the sense of leisure, more than the activities, that I carved out of a pedestrian Saturday morning that left me feeling refreshed and transported, having had a brief window into the lives of folks just over the hill, in a destination predictably embraced by the Beautiful People.