Tips for Better Food Photography

How To Photograph Food – Preparation

Just like an eager home cook peeking into a professional kitchen, a behind-the-scenes look at a professional photography studio is often enough inspiration for nascent food photographers to take their images to the next level. Whether you’re picking up a camera for the first time, or are looking to improve your skills, we hope these tips will get you snapping in no time. (Yes, smart-phone photographers, everything here applies to you, too!)

We’re starting with the basics, and will build future blog posts that are geared towards different concepts and skills. Please always ask if you have specific questions about how we shot a particular still image or video—we’ll happily share the details.

Read on for some basic tips on planning, equipment, and technique.


Here’s the scenario: You’re in the kitchen preparing a sumptuous meal, and you want to share it with the world (or your Instagram buddies, at least). The first rule is this: keep it simple. Before you even start cooking, remove clutter from the area and make sure everything is clean and orderly. Set up your tripod, and any tools you might need, within an arm’s reach. In a professional kitchen, this process is called mise en place; the same principle works for food photography.

Before we document anything at ChefSteps, we also discuss exactly what we want to shoot. Since prepared food changes rapidly, it’s best to think about these elements and stage your shooting area before you cook. When you’re all set up in advance, you can work fast to capture a frozen dessert at that perfect icy temperature, or show hot steam escaping off of warm rolls just out of the oven.


If you can get it, natural light will show off your food to its best advantage. We’re lucky to have huge windows lining our kitchen, so we can shoot almost everything using natural light—even on those famously dreary Seattle days. Lighting your food evenly is one of the easiest ways to create a delicious-looking photo, so a bright but cloudy day is actually the perfect time to shoot.

But still, too much or too little light can affect your outcome. If it’s too dark outside (at dawn or dusk, for example), we use artificial lights, or we move very close to the window to make use of whatever light we can. And while they’re great for sunbathing and barbecues, sunny summer days can create harsh shadows and overexposed highlights in photos. When it’s too bright, we’ll pull the shades to diffuse the light, or just move plated food further from the window. To get rid of heavy shadows cast from bright light, we’ll hold up a piece of poster board to reflect light onto the shadowy areas. This reflector can also be used on darker days, to reflect whatever light there is evenly onto the subject of the image.


Make the food the star of the show by keeping compositions clean and simple. We like a bright, minimalist look, so we use white or black plates set against clean backgrounds like butcher blocks. Personal styles vary, of course, but even if you’re after a more homey, rustic look, less is often more. Play with different surfaces around the house to see what works best for you.


If you’re shooting solo, we highly recommend using a tripod. That way, you can “style to the camera”—positioning your tripod first and then plating with a set angle in mind. With a hand-held camera, it’s more difficult to remember camera positioning as you adjust items in the shot. Working with a tripod will also reduce the blur that comes from accidentally moving the camera while shooting.

Another great item to invest in is a remote for your camera—you can capture sprinkling powdered sugar over the moist doughnut you just baked without having to lean over and snap the photo at the same time.

How to Photograph Food – Lighting

We hope these tips are helpful and inspiring enough to get you cooking and shooting. Let us know if you any specific questions—we’re always here to help.

Join our community for empowering recipes and techniques, access to our lively forum, and lots more behind-the-scenes stuff. 

Get Fried All Summer Long


A lot of people like to spend the summer smoking meats—trust us, we are among them. In fact, our devotion is such that we created this in-depth barbecue class complete with techniques, science, 20 recipes, and a method for making smoked Bloody Mary ice. So, you probably want to check that out.

But lazy, sunny weekends are also a festive excuse to chow down on some fried goodness—and despite what your “health-conscious” friends might have you believe, the deep-fried foods are inevitably the most popular dishes at any party. So without further ado, here ya go: five crispy, crunchy party foods for all your summer celebrations.

1. Potato Chips: Make them yourself and they don’t count as junk food. (The same applies if you eat ice cream standing up. Or eat pizza for breakfast. Or—this is getting kind of sad, isn’t it?)


2. Some people might not love the idea of eating poutine in the hot season. They’re clearly not staying up late enough. No matter the time of year, any evening at the bars should end with gravy-covered fries studded with cheese curds. We’ve got two versions: old school, and new. This may be the most patriotic weekend of the year, but we salute the Canadians nonetheless.


3. Chicken Wings are right up there with ribs when it comes to food that sticks to your face. That’s why we love to eat them with family and other assorted loved ones—anybody who can’t leave you even after they’ve seen your lips stained orange.


4. Man, we love snacking on Fried Tendon Puffs. Wait, where are you going? Seriously, try these salty, crunchy treats and you will end up dreaming of them at meetings when you’re supposed to be analyzing web metrics.


5.  Imagine you, only with a great Fish & Chips recipe you can whip out whenever your friends are hungry and looking to be impressed. Oh hey there buddy, no need to thank us! The joy is in the giving. Enjoy your summer!

Fish and Chips recipe – ChefSteps

For more great recipes, plus cooking classes, game-changing techniques, and more, join the ChefSteps culinary community





Recipe Inspiration: Five Meaty Meals

In honor of this week’s Barbecue Class, we’re putting all things meat at center stage. Read on for the makings of your next carnivorous feast.


1. If you’ve gone through life thinking your tiny urban kitchen wasn’t up to the task of producing the sort of deeply delicious ribs you get with an outdoor smoker, prepare for a life-altering experience. Cooked sous vide for four hours—followed by a quick stint in the oven—our Apartment Ribs recipe produces juicy, tender meat, chewy bark, and plenty of great flavor—no backyard (or even sunscreen) required.

PSST: Don’t have sous vide equipment? Never fear, we’ve got a hack right this way.

Serve with: Baked Beans, Rich as F*¢k Biscuits.



2. Pitmasters who have a smoker at the ready, this one’s for you. Dry rub a pork butt with a blend of mustard seed, paprika, and lots of other stuff, then leave it to do its thing for 12 hours. The result: rich, succulent pieces of delicious piggy guaranteed to up your barbecue game.

Serve with: Creamy Coleslaw or Red Coleslaw.



3. Brined for 48 hours, this Braised Pork Belly recipe takes a well-loved pig part to a whole new level.

Serve the pork belly in our Kung Pao Carnitas.



4. For the hi-tech type looking to take beef to the next level, we offer our Reconstructed Roast. Via the magic of Activa, you can remove all the unwanted bits, then glue the good parts back together. Okay, it sounds a little strange, but trust us: It’s amazing.

Serve with: Thin-Cut French Fries.



5. A steak dinner is as classic as it gets, but preparing steak the old-fashioned way—pan-roasting or grilling—is tricky. Guarantee yourself a perfect slab of beef by opting to cook it sous vide instead. We baste our Sous Vide Steak in butter and thyme for an even more decadent flavor.

Serve with: Microwaved Radicchio Salad as a starter; Pomme Purée as a side; and a good bottle of red wine to wash it all down.

For more meat recipes, plus cooking classes, shopping advice, butchering techniques, and more, join the ChefSteps culinary community

Father’s Day Ideas: Five Great Recipes to Cook with Kids


Okay, so there’s part of you that would like to spend the day scarfing burritos and binge-watching Archer reruns—hey, every man’s allowed his fleeting fantasies. Now back to reality: What awesome activity are you going to do with the kids this Father’s Day? You know, the kind of roll-up-your-sleeves, all-engrossing project of which great memories are made. Here at ChefSteps, our favorite family-friendly projects usually happen in the kitchen. Below, we’ve assembled five of our top ways to spend time with kids while cooking. Your children will be thrilled when you sit down to a Father’s Day feast of homemade pasta or ice cream they churned on their own—so thrilled, they might just skip off to bed without protest. And then you can start that Archer marathon.


1. Ice Cream and Ice Cream Cones

Maybe your ice cream socials are the stuff of neighborhood legend, maybe you’re brand-new to the world of DIY frozen desserts—either way, our free Ice Cream Class will inspire your family to make all sorts of cold creations in the kitchen. Pick that fresh mint that’s taking over the herb garden and pack it into a refreshing Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream, or go buy some dry ice and teach the wee ones to whip up ice cream in a stand mixer (but only when supervised, of course.)

Short on time? Grab some rocky road or Neapolitan at the store, then head home and make your own Ice Cream Cones. Your kids will be dazzled when Super Dad turns their plain-old sandwich bread into a delicious edible vessel.


2. Chocolate Soufflé

You’ve seen your offspring flip out over chocolate plenty of times. And those chocolate lava cakes they serve at steakhouses are the stuff of childhood dreams. Way more dreamy: watching your kids’ faces as they discover they can produce a dazzling Molten Chocolate Soufflé at home. Our technique is remarkably easy and requires no special tools—so it’s a perfect solution for families in search of a last-minute plan.


3. Spherification

Any parent with a budding scientist in its midst should consider investing in a spherification kit. Trust us, Young Einstein will never forget the day she and Dad learned how to make liquids appear to be solids, creating tiny spheres that burst with flavor when consumed. Our free Spherification Class walks you through all the fundamentals. Fear not, ye overachievers, there’s a quiz you can take at the end.


4. Homemade Soda

Soda seems to have a magnetic pull on children, which is why you’re always pulling them away from the fizzy drink aisle. Because it uses real fruit juice, our Strawberry Soda is a drink you can let them consume without visions of cavities dancing in your head. And you’ll all have fun creating a carbonated beverage that harkens back to old-timey soda fountain days.


5. Fresh Pasta

One of our all-time family favorites: Fresh Pasta. Work through our simple recipe for supple noodles, and you’ll be making them together for years. Plus, the pasta holds up in the fridge for three more days. What better way to stretch out a holiday that’s all about you? (in name, anyway.)

Looking for more ways to cook with the kids? Join the ChefSteps community to talk recipes and techniques with chefs and home cooks. 

Seasonal Inspiration:
Eight Things to Do with Salmon

Salmon Bites ChefSteps

Here in the Pacific Northwest, we’re just a wee bit obsessed with salmon—particularly at this time of year. When you buy it fresh at a trusty fish counter, there’s no end to what you can do with a gorgeous hunk of sockeye or chinook. In the warm months, grilled salmon makes for a lovely light dinner. But if you’re burnt out on the cedar plank, we’ve got ideas to inspire you all year long.

Unsure about how to select the best fish? Consult our video for tips on seafood shopping, then move on to our handy salmon butchering tutorial. After that, it’s time to get cooking. Oh, and should questions arise, please pose them in the comments. We’re always here to help—and, (you may have already noticed), we do love talking about salmon.

1. Pass it around

Cancel the caterer. Your guests will be über-impressed to learn you made these elegant Salmon Bites all by your lonesome. Brined, cooked at a low temperature, then chilled overnight, the fish takes on a dense, rich texture. Augment with watercress purée, pickled onion, and Horseradish Cream and serve as an amuse-bouche before brunch or a passed snack at your next garden party.


2. Roll on

Master our technique for Fish Roulade, and you’ll use it time and time again when you need a fancy, yet foolproof, seafood preparation. Our favorite way to serve salmon roulade? Quickly seared and dressed in Piccata Sauce.

3. Discover the cure

Loving curing meats? You must see how expediently this Quick-Cured Salmon method turns raw fish into something toothsome and full of flavor.

4. Chop it up

Topped with fresh chervil and a few orbs of ikura roe, our handsome Salmon Tartare classes up an outdoor dinner and showcases the awesome fresh fish available this time of year.


5. Perfect your plating

Looking to bone up on your plating skills? Use our lemon oil–enhanced Salmon Crudo recipe to help you master the basics of composing the sort of sexy dish you find in fine-dining restaurants.

6. Have a smoke

To make Salmon Pastrami, brine your fish in our signature brine, give it a good rub, then smoke it to bring out that savory-sweet flavor. Mmmm…salmon candy.


7. Wait it out

Our PNW Salmon requires some planning—you’ll need to make the Salmon Katsuobushi months in advance—but it is So. Very. Worth it.

8. Explore modern cooking techniques

The dish that launched ChefSteps, our Salmon 104 °F is a great way to begin exploring modernist techniques and walks you through the steps of creating one of our all-time prettiest plates.

final_dish_salmon 104Click here to check out other salmon recipes, or upload your own by clicking “Add Recipe.”


Eight Things to Do With Simple Syrup


Simple Syrups

Simple syrup is a vital bar ingredient. Most good bartenders wouldn’t dream of starting a shift without a healthy stock of liquid sweetener. That’s because simple syrup dissolves easily into cold drinks and makes scaling recipes easy—an important factor when you’re furiously batching cocktails at a high-volume bar. But simple syrup has plenty of applications in the kitchen as well. Along with salt, sugar is an age-old preservative that was once essential for storing fruits in the cold months—you can think of simple syrup as sort of a pickling brine for sweet stuff. Bakers, meanwhile, keep sugar syrup on hand for glazing, and brush layer cakes with it to keep them fresh and moist.

Start by checking out our three Simple Syrup techniques. Depending on what you get up to, your syrup may require some modifications—it’s good to add glucose to the mix when you’re candying fruit, for example, to prevent crystallization. But all the ideas below begin with a simple solution of sugar in water.

From there, the sky’s the limit.

1. Create custom infusions

Bartenders regularly wow their customers with exotic-sounding “housemade” ingredients such as lemongrass or blueberry syrup. What they may not mention: infused simple syrups are shockingly easy to make. And they have all sorts of fun uses—try, say, setting up a DIY cocktail bar with a few different spirits, simple-syrup infusions, mixers, and garnishes. Your party guests will love building their own drinks while experimenting with new flavors. No need to heat the mixture either; cold-processed infusions have a distinctly bright, vivid quality that’s especially appealing when working with fresh fruit.

2. (Half-) candy and cure citrus fruits

If you find most candied fruits to be cloyingly sweet, try our technique for Half-Candied Blood Orange. We blanch the fruit in salt water—the salt diffuses into the pith, masking its bitterness. The best part? You can use any citrus you have on hand.

Equally versatile: our method for smoothly textured Cured Lemon Peel. We cook the peel sous vide with a 1:1 simple syrup, slice away the pith, then keep it around in the fridge until we’re ready to use. Wake up a weeknight dinner by sprinkling cured peel atop chicken, salmon, or our Chickpea Tuna Salad, or serve it alongside your favorite ice cream or sorbet.

Get creative—there’s no limit to the uses for this bright, addictive snack.

Half_Candied Blood Orange_5

3. Whip up some sorbet

One of the all-time best uses for leftover simple syrup: work it into a light, refreshing sorbet.

4. Dress fruit salads

Use simple syrup in a just-sweet-enough dressing to transform a simple bowl of fruit into a cohesive dish with a great glossy look.

5. Moisten layer cakes

Baker pro tip: brush simple syrup onto cooled layers of a layer cake to keep your confection fresh and moist. Adding a little booze—rum, vodka, etc.—will reduce the risk of a too-sweet treat and keep the cake nice and moist.

6. Mix muddle-free cocktails

The extent to which bartenders hate making mojitos may have been overstated, but there’s a reason those mint coolers have a bad reputation. It takes time and energy to muddle drinks à-la-minute, and it’s easy to overbruise delicate ingredients if you’re not being careful. Often, cocktail recipes that call for muddling can be adjusted by using simple syrup instead. A great example: this muddle-free Old Fashioned from Seattle’s own Robert Hess.

7. Design elegant garnishes

Start with our gluten-free, Flourless Carrot Cake, topped with super-cute candied carrots cooked sous vide in simple syrup.

Jellied Beans_1

8. Make jelly beans with actual beans—seriously

For the Jellied Beans in our Fruit Minestrone, we sous vide navy beans and a simple syrup made with sucrose and glucose syrup to yield toothsome little candies that will last in the fridge for months.

Want to mix a cocktail with simple syrup right this minute? Check out our very own Yard Bird, a smooth libation made with rum, Cynar, and two kinds of bitters. And of course, we’d love to hear about your favorite uses for simple syrup—let us know in the comments!

Coffee or Booze? On St. Patrick’s Day, You Don’t Have to Choose

ChefSteps resident musician Hans Twite also happens to be a killer bartender. In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, we asked him to come up with a Seattle-y riff on the traditional Irish coffee—after all, what better way for ChefSteps to celebrate any holiday than with booze and coffee?

So Hans set out to develop a simple, semi-sweet cocktail with a lot of character, a lot of booze, and a little caffeine. He used Seattle-based Herkimer coffee, Noah’s Mill whiskey, and a drizzle of maple syrup to round it out. With a nod to our penchant for party tricks, Hans lit the whiskey on fire, burning off a little bit of heat from the alcohol, and imparting a mild smoky flavor while at it. Even the whipped cream has complexity—Hans added a touch of Bénédictine to taste, bestowing a bitter, herbal note to the cool topping.

The final product is an easy-to-make layered drink: hot coffee on the bottom; smoky booze in the middle; and silky, freshly-whipped cream on the top. Irish coffee purists will surely squirm at this unconventional version of the classic—that’s why we changed the name to Derby Mourning. Put that in your corn-cob pipe and smoke it.

So raise a glass to Seattle, to Kentucky, to Dublin, and back again with Hans’ new cocktail. We hope you love it. Sláinte!

Office Hours

Oh, man. I see you looking my way, wondering where I’ve been. Quit staring. I am back.

Have you ever wanted to see the ChefSteps space? Well, in exchange for some of your time, say 30 minutes, I’d be happy to walk you through the space and see where all the magic happens. Now is your chance: Every Thursday, I’m going to be hosting user interviews at ChefSteps—If you’re visiting Seattle or are local to the area, feel free to contact me and set up some time to come by. I’ll ask you some questions about how you use ChefSteps and more generally just have some conversation about cooking and how CS fits into your life. Hope to hear from you!

Our New Mobile App Was Built by Unicorns

Here’s what happens when people who love cooking and learning work together. 


It’s only a matter of time before you hear of Nick Cammarata and Andrew Hsu, so we might as well get it out of the way. Call them what you will: entrepreneurs, prodigies, unicorns. We’ve thrown all those words around here at ChefSteps, and they’re all true. Nick and Andrew spent the last four months building our brand new mobile app, and we couldn’t be prouder to show it off.


In their combined 44 years on this planet, Nick and Andrew have done more than many will do in a lifetime. By age 16, Nick had founded his first start-up company; by 18, he was awarded a Thiel Fellowship to skip college and work on software solutions to optimize teaching strategies at the high school level.

In Nick’s 2011 Thiel class was Andrew Hsu, a former 19-year-old PhD candidate in Stanford’s neuroscience program. Andrew started undergraduate at the University of Washington at age 12, and graduated at 16 with degrees in neurobiology, biochemistry, and chemistry. He left his PhD program at Stanford four years later in order to pursue the Thiel Fellowship. Nick and Andrew bonded quickly over their passion for education and learning. They started a company together last summer committed to developing high-tech solutions for learning and acquiring knowledge.

Enter ChefSteps. And guess what? We love learning, too. So we asked Nick and Andrew to build a mobile app that would encourage people to learn more about food and cooking through our recipes and videos.

“We’re both passionate about cooking and were instantly fascinated by the quality of the ChefSteps content, and wanted to help in any way we could,” says Andrew. “When we visited ChefSteps, we kept hearing people talk about how mobile technology was often used in the kitchen to view recipes, as mobile devices are way less unwieldy than laptops. So, we started working with ChefSteps on developing the mobile experience and decided that the initial release would be a beautiful mobile recipe viewer. We knew that ChefSteps’ content, photos, and videos had to be placed in the forefront of any design, and we hope that we’ve made a first step at showcasing it properly.”

We think Nick and Andrew did a great job, and we hope you’ll think so, too. Try out the app and please, as always, let us know if you have any feedback.

The ChefSteps app is currently live for iPhones running iOS7. It allows you to view, search for, and filter recipes, and quickly gather all the information to prepare, learn, and create your own recipes.

PSST: This is only the tip of the iceberg. Nick and Andrew are already at work on their next ChefSteps project, creating a new, modern, unified forum, commenting system, and community tools. Stay tuned for more from our unicorns-in-residence.

UPDATE: We hear you, Android and Windows users! Unfortunately, right now our community traffic doesn’t support the decision to develop non-iPhone apps. Invite your fellow Android and Windows users to join ChefSteps, and we’ll do our best to get development underway. Until then, borrow your friends’ iPhones and check it out!

Cook Smarter with ChefSteps on PBS Food!

We’re pleased to announce that our web series  ChefSteps: Cook Smarter is now live on the PBS Food site! We’re very excited to bring our work to a new audience at PBS.

Each week on ChefSteps: Cook Smarter, we’ll publish some of our favorite recipes and techniques, which will appear alongside other amazing food series, like Made in Spain with José Andrés and The Mind of a Chef with Anthony Bourdain and David Chang.

We’re thrilled to be part of PBS Food, which is a curated resource for educational cooking shows, blogs, and recipes from around the world.