Client Stories: Photographing for bDelight Restaurant

An entree photographed by Fire Horse Photographics for bDelight Restaurant

An entree photographed by Fire Horse Photographics for bDelight Restaurant

bDelight Restaurant recently hired Fire Horse Photographics to photograph several items on their menu as part of upgrading the food images associated with their brand. The owners were interested in obtaining a cohesive set of images to use for web marketing as well as for future window display print pieces and other printed advertising materials.

bDelight features an Asian-inspired and health conscious menu emphasizing low sodium and low fat.  In planning our approach to composing the photographic images for bDelight, the Fire Horse Photographics team chose to highlight the bright colors inherent to each dish as part of conveying a sense of healthy freshness.  Other decisions involving photographic composition included selecting background and plate color.  Fire Horse Photographics opted to utilize a red background for plated dishes.  We felt red complimented the bright ingredients in the food. Red is also a part of bDelight’s corporate branding color scheme.  It often holds true that food looks best set against a white plate. This is certainly the case for bDelight’s dishes. For plating, Fire Horse Photographics used square white plates the owner had on hand.  The white allowed the reds, greens, and yellows of the vegetables to visually stand on their own. The atypical shape of the plates and a black linear pattern in the plate corners added interesting graphic elements which Fire Horse Photographics decided to capitalize on by shooting the plated dishes from an overhead point of view.

Food styling for bDelight’s photographs included refreshing dishes with water and oil as needed to maintain a hot-off-the-stove appearance.  The Fire Horse Photographics team also took care to ensure colors were evenly distributed on each plate and that bright colors were featured prominently at the top of each dish.

Along with plated entrees, Fire Horse Photographics  shot several colorful smoothie drinks and pudding desserts which are part of the bDelight menu. These were photographed from a point of view placing eye level closer to the table edge. Clear glassware was used and set against a black background.  These compositional choices helped show off the full vibrancy of each dessert and drink serving.

bDelight is a relatively new restaurant and Fire Horse Photographics is looking forward to seeing our work used in promoting the growth of their business.  bDelight also remains one of our favorite lunch spots.  They take a light hand towards sauteing ingredients which results in a crisp appearance and texture that is pleasing to photographers and diners alike.

Bdelight Restaurant is located 111 W. Centre St. in Baltimore, Maryland.
A smoothie photographed by Fire Horse Photographics for bDelight Restaurant

A smoothie photographed by Fire Horse Photographics for bDelight Restaurant

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Take a Photo – It’s Only an Avocado

Homemade guacamole (© Allison Bethea & Fire Horse Photographics)

Homemade guacamole (© Allison Bethea & Fire Horse Photographics)

Name the pear shaped fruit that many people around the world use for making a dip to eat with tortilla chips___________.

If your guess is avocado, then you are correct! In Mexico, the United States, and other parts of the world, avocado is used in recipes for making guacamole as well as other types of condiments and salads. But did you know that its existence dates as far back as 291 BC, where it was purported to have been buried alongside the mummies of Peru? Holy guacamole! What’s even more interesting is the word avocado is  derived from the Aztec name ‘ahuacati’, which means testicles. The Aztecs believed the pear shaped fruit when hanging from a tree resembled testicles, therefore naming it “the tree of testicles.” Eventually, ahuacati became avocado as it is mostly known today. (Editor’s note: Thank god for that! ~Allison).

By the 16th century, avocados were being transported all over the world. Today, the avocado fruit is utilized in the dishes of many cultures. For example, in Trinidad and other Caribbean islands, the avocado is known as zaboca. Trinidadians use avocados to make zaboca choka, which contains some ingredients similar to those found in Mexican guacamole (onions, habañero peppers, cilantro, and olive oil). Trinidadians eat their zaboca choka with roti, also referred to as pita bread. Here in the US, outside of Mexican-American restaurants, avocado is commonly featured in salads and on sandwiches.

The buttery fruit comes in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and color to include the following: Fuerte, Peruano, Lula, Ortega, Red Collinson, Alcemio, Ettinger, Gripiña 5, and many others. They are grown in tropical and subtropical regions, and in glasshouses in the more temperate zones. The avocado is very nutritious in moderation and its monounsaturated fats help reduce bad cholesterol in the bloodstream. Avocado is also high in protein and potassium and aids in building muscle tissue, bones, cartilage, and skin.

The next time you gather with friends, don’t forget to order an appetizer of guacamole to share, while educating them on your new found avocado knowledge. Better yet, make your own, have some tequila, and be sure to take some photographs. Enjoy!

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Food & Photo Adventure: The Baltimore Farmers’ Market

Produce purchased at the Baltimore Farmers' Market    (© Allison Bethea & Fire Horse Photographics)

Produce purchased at the Baltimore Farmers’ Market (© Allison Bethea & Fire Horse Photographics)

Perhaps it’s the recent crispness in the night air that has sparked my preoccupation with photographing and consuming all things vegetable.   Summer is the time of year I gorge myself on fruit in a manner that would make most tree-dwelling mammals jealous.  Come Fall though, my appreciation for vegetables resurfaces.  Barbecue is a year-round love affair – but that’s a discussion for another day!

In mulling over a composition for a vegetable photograph, I decided to plan a shot highlighting the intense and varied colors vegetables bring to the table in their natural and unprepared state.  With an idea in mind, my next step was to procure some produce that fit the bill.  Since variety was a priority,  I thought a trip to the Baltimore Farmers’ Market would be a good bet for finding a range of fresh and colorful offerings.

The Baltimore Farmers’ Market & Bazaar is an urban, open air market held on Sunday mornings in downtown Baltimore.  I hadn’t attended in several years and was curious to see all of the vendors and products represented.  This year, the Market features nearly 100 vendors, about half of which are farmers.  The remaining half are classified as concessionaires who sell products ranging from baked goods, to prepared ethnic foods, to marinades, to cut flowers.  Upon arriving, I was greeted by the smell of curried meat and vegetables cooking.  Since it was only 8:00 a.m., I decided to be kind to my stomach for once and bypass some of my favorite cuisine.  I did, however, manage to munch up a giant cookie which I washed down with a refreshing cardamom/watermelon lemonade.  Visually, the atmosphere was overwhelming  for me and I wandered around haphazardly for a while before selecting some beautiful heirloom tomatoes for my photo project.  I added a bunch of orange carrots with bright green tops, a handful of nearly fluorescent habanero peppers, some interesting mushrooms for texture, and a purple eggplant.  I also learned that eggplants come in white.  Apparently, the first European eggplants were white like eggs, hence the name “eggplant.”

The lighting conditions for photography are not ideal at the Baltimore Farmers’ Market & Bazaar.  Because of its location under the freeway, natural light is very limited.  I grabbed a couple shots in some of the more direct available light but knew I would be shooting my purchases in better daylight that I could control and modify at home.

In 2012, there were  7,864 farmers markets registered with the United States Department of Agriculture.  Make a trip to one near you for great food to prepare, photograph, or both!

  • The Baltimore Farmers’ Market & Bazaar is located in downtown Baltimore at Holiday and Saratoga
  • Dates and times: Sundays (April 7, 2013 – December 22, 2013) from 7:00AM – 12:00PM
  • Free parking is available at adjacent lot.
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Tonight’s Menu: Pelau

A serving of Pelau with fresh cucumber and habanero pepper sauce (© Allison Bethea & Fire Horse Photographics)

A serving of Pelau with fresh cucumber and habanero pepper sauce (© Allison Bethea & Fire Horse Photographics)

Pelau, or as it’s pronounced in America and other parts of the world, “Pilaf,” and in the Middle East, “Pilaw,” is a main staple on many dinner tables around the world. 

Both Pelau and Pilaf recipes contain similar ingredients such as rice, chicken, or beef, and are flavored with broth and other commonly used condiments.

A recent dinner menu in my home featured Pelau, as we call it in my birthplace of Trinidad, West Indies. Dishes such as Pelau draw from the blend of cultures and cuisines in the Carribean dating back to colonial times.  In the 17th century, the British brought slaves to the area  from various parts of Africa, and indentured labor from South East India to Trinidad specifically.  Pelau is one of the most popular of several recipes cooked in most Caribbean kitchens. Trinidadians, or “Trini” as the locals refer to anyone born on the island of Trinidad, are very particular about their recipes and how their Pelau is flavored, so this means that each individual has varied from the original recipe by a teaspoon or tablespoon, all in the name of enhancing the flavors and increasing the portions consumed by Pelau lovers.

My guests tonight are: one young man from Spain, one young man from China, my better half (who happens to be Caucasian), and one of my best friends who really sticks out like a sore thumb in our hometown of Baltimore because she is a Green Bay Packers fan. My young guests from China and Spain are also quite curious as to why our Packers fan has a full studio set up in the kitchen to photograph the food.

On to the Pelau and ingredients:

  • Rice – The recipe I am using for my Pelau consists of Uncle Ben’s Long Grain Rice, which I cook separately and drain.
  • Chicken – Since I am a Trini by birth, I pride myself in making the right choices when selecting chicken parts for making Pelau. I want my Pelau recipe to stand out with an attitude, yes, that’s right; nothing wrong with having a recipe with an attitude. The only chicken part that fits the bill at this moment is drumsticks, since the Giant Supermarket ran out of wingettes. Had I been following Trini protocol, I would use a machete to butcher an entire five pound chicken for my recipe, but since I happen to be feeding a group of  non-Trini folks, I don’t want to wind up in the emergency room from a machete mishap!
  • Pigeon Peas – Wait, let’s not forget the Pigeon peas which come in a 15 ounce can.
  •  Kitchen Banquet Browning and Seasoning Gravy Sauce –  about one quarter cup to evenly coat the rice and chicken when combined into the Pelau dish.
  • Carrots – Trinis commonly embrace bright vibrant colors, whether in their garden, clothing, paint for their homes, or food, which brings me to remember that I need to cube some carrots for adding some visual flair to the Pelau.
  • Marinade –  While the rice is cooking, I generously sprinkle salt and fresh lime juice over the chicken drumsticks after rinsing the chicken in cold water. Being raised on intensely flavored foods, it is my Trini duty to marinade my chicken in my special blend of cilantro and garlic. This time around I am omitting the habanero pepper to accommodate the palettes of guests who have a lower tolerance for hot and spicy foods. The longer the chicken sits in the marinade, the more flavor for the Pelau, but my time is limited tonight.
  • Cooking the chicken – Chicken with bone in should always, as a rule of thumb, be cooked first, which is why I sauté these heavenly drumsticks in some vegetable oil and I add some of the  Kitchen Banquet Browning and Seasoning Gravy Sauce for achieving a rich brown color on the chicken. By stirring the chicken occasionally throughout the cooking process, I am ahead of the game, because the flavor seals evenly inside out and the bone marrow cooks to perfection. For clarification, Trinidadians tend to embrace every bit of their chicken, including the bone marrow; nothing to shy away from because it is fully cooked and flavored.
  • Combining components – The entire Pelau dish has a complete attitude when I combine the carrots and Pigeon Peas during the last five minutes of the chicken cooking time. The last step I take is to reduce the heat to as low as possible and combine the rice with the chicken mixture. Add salt and pepper to taste. The rice should evenly coat to the same brown color as the chicken from the chicken broth that was released into the pot while the chicken had been cooking. Turn off the stove once the Pelau has come together. To complete the meal, Trinidadians alike must have their hot pepper sauce.  I made a fresh jar of the habanero sauce last weekend. Come and take ah taste of the islands Mon!

If you reside in the Maryland area and would like hands-on instruction in how to make Chicken Pelau, you may reach me at 443-629-8370. I am willing to teach students in the privacy of their own kitchen, or with friends in my kitchen. Refer a friend to take the class with you and you will get a 10 percent discount on your class.


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Food Photography Basics for Large Events

Cups of fruit photographed at a wedding.

Fruit Cups at Wedding Reception (© Allison Bethea & Fire Horse Photographics)

Catered social events present some great opportunities for food photography. Buffets and display tables are full of dishes emphasizing eye appeal. However, the catering industry has not always concerned itself with plating, presentation, and making things look appetizing. In fact, the role of the first caterers was quite utilitarian: delivering food to soldiers of the ancient world during military campaigns. By the time the Europe of the Middle Ages had developed into a game-of-thrones feudal society, catering had evolved to also serve an entertainment function for the upper classes. While you don’t have to worry about dodging broad swords or wearing a crown before taking photos at today’s catered affairs, food photography at large events is not without its challenges. Here are a few things to consider when taking food photographs at a catered event:

Lighting – Indoor wedding reception venues and large banquet halls are notorious for poor/low lighting. Use a camera tripod if possible so your camera can remain steady (to prevent image blur) while shooting at the slower shutter speeds required for low light. In the absence of a tripod, you will need to find a way to steady your camera (rest it securely on the back of a chair for example). Try to avoid using flash as direct flash from the front of a camera is often too harsh for food — especially when you are close to your food subject. Seek out good light if available (such as food placed near a window during daylight hours).

Shooting Distance – Many food shooters prefer to be fairly close to their tasty photographic subjects  in order  to achieve a high level of image detail. Should you prefer this style, you will need to learn the capabilities of your camera for shooting very near to an object. If you are using a compact point-and-shoot camera, familiarize yourself with the macro (close-up) mode and more typical wider angle mode so you have some idea how close you can be to your subject in each mode while still retaining proper focus for important elements in your photos. Similarly, if you have one or more detachable lenses, know the minimum focus distance for each of your lenses (a minimum distance that you have to stand from the subject in order to properly focus on it).

Move Your Feet – Unless the food is part of your own place setting, you will not have the option to reposition plates and dishes in the way you prefer. (Okay, I admit to moving some small dishes around on a buffet table, but I was hired to photograph the event and was able to get away with it. This is easier to accomplish if you can strike up a conversation with the catering staff and they are interested in what you are doing). You will therefore have to position yourself in order to obtain a suitable angle. Also try positioning yourself closer to the level of the food so you are not shooting everything from above. This will often help you achieve a much more interesting point of view — especially for food that is stacked or has some height.

Humble Pie

A slice of Cherry Cheese Pie (photograph by Allison)

A slice of Cherry Cheese Pie (© Allison Bethea & Fire Horse Photographics)


“The art of art, the glory of expression and the sunshine of the light of letters, is simplicity.” ~ Walt Whitman

Discussing the light of letters is all well and good, but you can’t eat it. Walt Whitman’s insights into simplicity are at their most meaningful for me when applied to cooking. For many chow hounds like myself, the Holy Grail of preparing food is when simplicity comes wrapped up in deliciousness. And, as far as deserts go, a tasty example is Cherry Cheese Pie. The recipe was featured in the 1970’s on cans of Borden’s Eagle Brand Condensed Milk. Some sort of magical alchemy happens when you marry the tartness of a basic cream cheese refrigerator pie with a topping of sweet canned cherries. A word on cherries in a can – crowning this pie in magnificent jewel tone red is the only useful purpose they serve. I would never eat them in any other context.

This pie marked many special occasions during my childhood – birthdays, holidays, and the like. My Mother made it recently when I visited she and my Father in North Carolina. The photograph was taken on my parents’ rear deck. The biggest challenges were the changing lighting conditions and the heat. Clouds were moving overhead quickly and as I waited for more diffuse lighting, the front of the pie slice began to droop and melt. Photoshop to the rescue! I also had to chase my Pug Caesar from the set — he tried to gobble the pie slice off the bench when my back was turned.

Here is the complete Eagle Brand recipe with some notes from my Mother:

1 9″ Graham cracker crumb crust
1 8 oz. package of cream cheese (softened at room temperature; do not use low fat cream cheese).
1 can Borden’s Eagle Brand Condensed Milk
1/3 cup lemon juice
1 tsp. vanilla
1 can cherry pie filling (for topping)

Beat cream cheese until light and fluffy. Gradually add condensed milk and stir until well blended. Stir in lemon juice and vanilla. Put into crust. Chill at least 6 hours or overnight. Top individual pie slices with canned cherries.

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