Friday, August 17, 2012

Let’s Cook Healthy Together Photo Contest - Photography Tips

Few days ago you would have seen a post I put up on the HPB (Singapore Health Promotion Board) Let’s Cook Healthy Together Photo Contest.

Why is the HPB asking Singaporeans to eat healthy? It’s because in the National Health Survey 2010 and National Nutrition Survey 2010, it revealed that 40% of Singaporeans are overweight or obese. That is quite a high percentage! That number is for year 2010. Today, around 2 years later, what is the number like?

Singaporeans are also exceeding in their daily intake of salt. We all do need salt in our system, but if there’s too much salt, all of us know about water retention, high blood pressure and the risk of cardiovascular disease. I do not need to list what each of it does, you can do a search online and you can read all about it.

One thing though, cardiovascular disease means nothing to you until maybe you or your close family gets it. We know this because it happened in our family recently. The anxiousness waiting in the hospital, the battery of tests, CT Scans is horrifying!  Out of a sudden, you are forced to find out what angiogram, angioplasty, stents etc are! It was stressful indeed!

Suddenly eating healthy, having less salt, substituting salt with fresh herbs, having more fiber in your food, exercising makes sense.  Even when you dine at restaurants, ‘the healthier choice’ logo on menus seems to catch your attention. We know we are picky in our food, we want something that taste superb, the best recommended dish, but probably from the 3 or 4 dishes we order, we substitute 1 dish with the healthier choice version. Not as oily or salty as the original recipe, but depends on what you have already ordered, don’t overload the oils and fats in one meal.  I personally think it’s ok to eat what you want, but don’t overload it all in one meal, eat in moderation.

Let me write about something more interesting how to take eye-catching photos. The HPB contest is about taking photo of food and family right? I hope these tips would help you.

This blog has full of food photos, some are nicer but some don’t look as appetizing. For food that I eat outside with friends, I usually only take less than a minute to photograph it. People are hungry and also food should be eaten hot not cold. Even cold food like ice cream melts if you take too long to photograph it.

Taking food at home is different though. You can take your own time to photograph it. Since it’s at home, you can also style it the way you think is nice. People at home also get impatient when you take too long to photograph something. I usually do it very quickly. You can take your own time, take the best photo for the contest!

Here are some tips that you can follow to take nice photos. Follow those that work best for you. Photography is an art, art is not something fixed, it depends on your inspiration and creativity. Go forth and take photos!

Photo Example 1
Take a look at this photograph. This was a muffin made by my sis recently. It’s a reduced sugar muffin by the way.  Use ripe bananas for natural sweetness, so that you can reduce the sugar you put in.


What do you think of this photo? Does it look nice? Do you think the judges will like this photo when I submit it for the contest?

Let me tell you how I took this photo?

Some rules that you can follow, I am not a professional photographer. I have lots more to learn. This is my simplified version that I follow.

Rule 1: Use natural light.
When you want to take nice photos, use real day light. Take photos when there’s sunlight. This was taken on a small table just beside the window. When light falls from one side, it gives some slight shadow  to the photo and it looks more 3D. Does the muffin looks as if you can take it out of the photo?

With natural light, photos will turn out extremely pretty!

Rule 2: Some slight bo-keh.
I took this photo using a DSLR camera, so there a bo-keh. Bo-keh is the effect of blurring. Some people like it, others don’t. I think a slight bo-keh is nice, but too much looks too fake.  You can see the top of the muffin is sharp, but the rest of the photo is a bit blur, so the emphasis is on the muffin.

You do not need a DSLR to have this effect, some point and shoot cameras can also have this effect. Experiment with your camera. If you are taking photos using your iPhone, you can also achieve this effect. Sometimes you just want to download an editing app to do it.

Rule 3: Rule of Thirds
This is what photographers usually obey. You can read more about it here Imagine your image divided into 9 equal segments by 2 vertical and 2 horizontal line. The most important part of your subject is placed where the lines intersect.

I don’t follow it exactly at times. I adjust it a bit to my own liking, but still follow the concept. You can see the muffin is not place right in the centre of the photo. The walnut on the muffin is around where the lines intersect. I adjust it a bit and I like how this turn out. Photography is an art, art sometimes don’t follow rules.

Rule 4: Some props
The muffin was taken on a small little table by the window. Wood grains look nice, but I wanted to make it look more luxurious. I look around and saw my sis’ blouse hanging for drying nearby. It had a nice dark blue and the texture of it coarse. I asked for her permission and she laughed at me.

I put it on the table, put 2 muffins on it and also 1 very shiny small fork beside it. Place the props where you like it, and this is the result.

Rule 5: Crop away junk
For 90% of my photos, I do not bother to crop the images. It’s too time consuming. I blog for fun and not for work and it’s not a food magazine where all the photos must be perfect.

Sometimes, there is people’s hands, or the position of the food just look wrong. Just crop it away. (Cropping is to cut away part of the photo so that things you do not want can’t be seen in the photo)


Photo Example 2

Yam Rice

Another example of recent photos I took. You can scroll back a few posts to get the recipe. The ingredients are simple and it’s tasty too.

I took this photo at the same location I took the muffin photo. Just that this time I did not use anyone’s clothing. It was on the natural teak wood table I had. I wanted to give it a subtle Japanese look to it. (though I know it’s a very Chinese dish that mum made since I was young) I chose this Japanese bowl that I have in the kitchen. Fill it up with the Yam Rice. I put a pair of Japanese sharp-ended chopsticks beside it. I did not take a long time to style it.  Since I am not submitting the photo for a contest so I just took 3 photos of it and chose the best to keep for remembrance. (and also to post it on the blog)

Photo Example 3

If you look at Food Magazines, you would notice lots of top down or aeriel view photos. I also took a few photos of the same Yam Rice top down.

Yam Rice

I only took 2 shots of this photo, so it’s not that perfect. It’s also not as sharp too. It was a quick photo taken. I could always prepare this dish again to take a photo of it. That’s the thing with home cooking. You can always cook it again!

This photo had no editing done. I only changed the size of it so that it would load faster on a webpage.

Some people like their photos to have lots of ‘white’ space. For the white space, I could have put a piece of yam at one corner. That would give it a different look.

For your photo, if you are using fruits or vegetables are part of your ingredients, you can use them as props too. Maybe a bunch of tomatoes on the vine might look good beside your dish.

When I took this photo, what I had in mind was a square photo. 

Yam Rice

By applying Rule 5 above, I cropped away the space that I don’t need. This is how it looks after the cropping. I like what I see.

The Contest:

For the contest, you would need to submit 1 photo of the food. If you want you can also submit 1 of your family that conveys the message, “Cooking healthily together as a family” and get extra points.

Here’s the judging criteria that might help you.

Judging criteria will be based on your recipe, dish creativity, and whether you and your family had fun in the photo.


Max. Points Possible
Healthy Recipe
a.     How healthy is this recipe?
b.    Are the key steps easy to re-create?
Dish Creativity
a.     Does the dish look appetizing?
b.    Is this a creative recipe?

Family Fun
a.     Does it convey the message “Cooking healthily together as a Family”?
b.    Does the family look like they’re having fun together?

I hope this post will help you in your HPB Let’s Cook Healthy Together Photo Contest. To join the contest and get you might want to get connected to the HPB Facebook page at: 

The prizes are quite good!

1st prize:
‐ $3,000 worth of FairPrice vouchers
‐ 3 Cooking classes for a family of 4 at Cookery Magic

2nd prize:
‐ $2,000 worth of FairPrice vouchers
‐ 2 Cooking classes for a family of 4 at Cookery Magic

3rd prize:
‐ $1,000 worth of FairPrice vouchers
‐ 1 Cooking class for a family of 4 at Cookery Magic

Plus, there will be consolation prizes of $100 worth of vouchers each

Submission of the contest is from 13 Aug 2012 (09:00) to 16 Sept 2012 (23:59)

It’s now a good time to think of a recipe or recreate what your mum or dad cooks at home, but with a healthier touch to it. All the best!

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