The Fresh Loaf

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ehanner's picture

Digital Photography, Tips and Methods for the Baker

One of the wonderful things about the digital cameras we all have today is that we can share the look of the wonderful things we bake. It’s one thing to write a recipe and describe how things should be but as someone once said, “A picture is worth a thousand words”.

The scope of this blog will be limited to product photography and how to achieve the best results from commonly available equipment. I will try to avoid complex explanations that are better suited for advanced or professional photographers. The beginning baker need not take a magazine quality image to show for the purpose of asking for help. However, all of us want to show our work in the best possible light. We all are proud of our achievements and progress in this hobby of bread making and I am sure all of us want our pictures to reflect the beauty of our success.

NOTE: If you want to stay apprised to the updates to this blog you can subscribe below. Please feel free to post questions and I will try to be as helpful as possible.

The camera:
The myth that you need a 10.2 mega pixel camera to take good pictures has become accepted by the public as put forward by the camera makers. The simple truth is that an inexpensive camera with a good lens from 10 years ago will do just fine. Our computer monitors display images at a resolution of 72 or 96 dots per inch. All digital cameras record images at the size or resolution set in the camera settings. That means that the image saved by your camera is a whopping 3872x2592 pixels if you are using a 10 megapixel camera set on Large. That is a 10 Mb file that will display as 42X27 inches on your monitor. Displayed full size, you would only see a small portion on your screen.  The file size of an image saved at any resolution is way way larger than you need for uploading to the forum or emailing. As a general rule if you can re size your image to 4X6 inches at 72 dpi or there about, the file size will be small enough you can email it quickly and it will be uploaded easily to the image editor at the forum.
If you are thinking about buying a new camera, my advice is to purchase the best quality lens you can afford in your budget. Nikon has some very nice SLR’s in the range of $400 with wonderful optics that are  good general use lenses. Canon I am sure also has a competitive line with similar pricing. Remember that your image first has to pass through the optics on the camera. Everything that follows the lens is electronics. Mass production of plastic lenses has gotten um better, but a good glass lens will deliver sharp images on the collector plate. Yes, there are good quality smallish size cameras with plastic lenses. If size isn’t a consideration, an SLR that allows you to change lenses is my choice.

Basic Camera Operation:
First, learn how to control the on camera flash. This is important for every image you take from the kids standing on the beach to the loaf of bread just out of the oven. Even if you use the Auto setting on your point and shoot camera you can improve your results dramatically by understanding how to manipulate the flash. In outdoor settings in direct sunlight, the Sun casts a harsh shadow on the dark side all objects. The moon is the best example. When we see a crescent shaped moon, it is the shadow of the Sunlight that creates the contrast that looks like the moon has changed shape. In fact the moon is still there as always, just not illuminated so we can see the details. The same thing happens to a lesser degree when we take a photo in direct sunlight of a person wearing a hat. The camera will adjust for the overall amount of light on this bright sunny day and the face of the individual will be in shadow. If you force the camera to always fire the flash, especially on sunny days, you can eliminate the face being in shadow. The opposite is also true. If you prevent the flash from firing when in indoors but still decent light, your images will not suffer from being driven by over flash and the bounce back that occurs from camera mounted flash. Using daylight streaming in from outside gives the most natural colors for faces or bakery products. If you can use Sun light to illuminate your food products, there won’t be any need to adjust color tones later. Also, your lighting won’t be coming from the direction of the camera so there will be more interesting shadow detail in view.
Natural lighting usually results in lower light levels which increases the need for a steady hand or a tripod. Squeeze don't punch the shutter for a still camera and sharp image.

The most true colors and most natural looking images will always be the result of using the Sun to illuminate your images.  Having said that.

Flash photography is a reality that we all have to deal with. Most of my breads seem to come out of the oven at night or on gray cloudy days. I end up taking snap shots of the  breads I want to upload on a pan on the stove top with a florescent light fixture above. I put daylight tubes in the fixture and that helps reduce the green shade that florescent tubes usually cast. The on camera flash provides the majority of light and the result is a well exposed and color balanced image. The closer you are with the camera, the more prominent the light from the flash is. This is especially true with less expensive point and shoot cameras that don’t automatically adjust the flash down to prevent over exposure or burnout. In general you will get better results if you position the camera in the mid range of the flash. For example if your flash has an effective range of 12 feet, don’t get closer than 5 or 6 feet.

Setting the ISO:
The ISO setting allows you the ability to make the image plate more sensitive to lower light ranges. This is an area where I could easily get side tracked in a discussion of capabilities that while interesting, would be better saved for an advanced user discussion. I suggest using an ISO setting between 600 and 800. Image quality will remain high and at 800 the range of available light is wide enough to capture all of the details we need. Use higher numbers for lower light levels.

Natural Light Photography:
Our eye sees things as they are normally lit, with a combination of light sources and shadows. Flash lighting from a camera mounted strobe is harsh and unflattering in most cases. It’s OK for a quick snap shot but if you really want an image to show your work, a little thought about the lighting will dramatically improve your results.
Try to think about light as a liquid. It flows around sharp corners and bounces off of shapes it encounters, changing quality and color as it travels. Like the stream from a garden hose, it is most harsh and powerful closest to the source, falling in intensity as it travels away.
The most dramatic images have a wide range of depth of color and intensity. Some very dark places and some very light or white places . The focus point is sharp and well focused. The lighting establishes the mood. Long soft shadows from rear lighting with filling light on the sides make this image of a soft pretzel very interesting. Shadows creeping in from the side bring depth to any image.  The images Mark Sinclair and his wife are using of his bakery products are a good example of thoughtful natural lighting. Take a look at how they have sculpted the breads with perfect control of the light. No trickery here, just thoughtful lighting you can do at home.

All of the images above are good examples of natural off camera lighting. Thanks to Mark, Susan, and Pamela and also Stephmo for the Pretzels shot.

This will be a work in progress and added to as I get time. If you have questions, fire away and I'll do the best I can. This is a big subject that could get very specialized.


guan.xiu's picture

 hi,大家好,I'm Chinese. I'm from Nanjing




rhag's picture

Today i put together a decorative plaque, baguettes, ciabatta, and the beer and barley bread. I'm entering a baking competition this weekend and have been practicing for the last little while. On Sunday I'll be doing the decorative plaque, baguettes, ciabatta, beer bread, multi buns, challah, palmiers, croissants, and danish dough for my display. Thoughts and comments are always welcome. If people are at all interested in a tutorial for the plaque just let me know! (I'm from Manitoba, Canada and our province has heritage with the bison and farming hence the wheat and bison on the display) I've redone the plaque already to clean up the seams and braid and this was my first.








glora's picture

Where are all of the artisan bakeries in LA?

Marni's picture

Well here it goes, trying to post pictures on my blog - today I baked a traditional Jewish holiday treat called Hamantashen.  They are popular for the holiday of Purim which is next Tuesday.  I made about 110, a mix of prune, cherry and blueberry.  I'm not the most careful cookie shaper, but these are disappearing too fast for that to really matter.

I also tried the round braid that Trailrunner made recently.  That was so much fun!  I make challah almost every week and have never tried this before.  I just used a basic challah recipe that looked good. 

Here it is  just after shaping:

And just out of the oven:

Lately I've been brushing my challahs with a mix of egg yolk and dash of vanilla.  The taste is great and the smell even better.  The line is from rolling the strands , it was a technique I haven't used before and was much easier than my usual method, but I'll have to watch for those seams.

We haven't tasted this loaf yet - tomorrow night.

Whew - I admire those of you who post pictures regularly, it takes a while to do!  I love seeing everyone's pictures, so thank you for taking the time to show your work.  I loved doing this.

LindyD's picture

Inspired by Hansjoakmin's five-grain rye sourdough, I decided to try a sourdough rye. I chose Hamelman's Flaxseed bread, which is a 60 percent rye, because I've never tasted such a rye (let alone baked one). Plus, flaxseed is good for you.

Given my inexperience, I went by the book and followed Hamelman's instructions precisely, starting with building a rye sourdough from scratch.  That began on February 16, using Arrowhead Mills organic rye flour, and feeding it twice a day from the third day on.  

On February 28 the rye sourdough culture looked and tasted ready, so I built the sourdough that evening (rye flour 100%, water 80%, mature sourdough culture, 5%). The flaxseed soaker was also made and left overnight.  

The overall formula is:

Medium rye flour 60% (No medium rye available, so I used Arrowhead Mills organic rye)

High gluten flour, 40% (didn't have HG flour - used KA bread flour)

Flaxeeds, 10%

Water, 75%

Salt, 1.8%

Yeast, 1.5%

The mix the next day was short and gentle, per Hamelman's counsel, in my KitchenAid mixer.  Desired dough temperature is 80F.  Mine was 81F and while doing the calculation before the mix, I wondered why the soaker temperature isn't included in the calculation.  My soaker temp was 74F but I had to ignore that number.  I don't know the answer but have sent off a post to KAF asking why it isn't included.

While I had expected a really sticky and tacky dough (Leader advises to embrace stickiness when working with rye)  it wasn't really difficult to handle nor did it stick to my counter when shaping into boules.  

Bulk fermentation is 30 to 45 minutes and final fermentation 50 to 60 minutes at 80F.  Just about everything I've baked over the past six months has been retarded overnight, so I have to consider the flaxseed bread as a  "quick" bread!

I sprayed the top of each boule with water, dipped them in a bowl of sesame seeds, and baked at 460F for 15 minutes (steamed once), then at 440F for an additional 35 minutes.  Twenty-four hours later, on Tuesday, I tasted the bread.   It has a nice light texture and a very pleasant tang.  The sesame seeds in the crust add a nice, light nutty flavor.  Last night I made a grilled sandwich using the rye, Boars Head lean corned beef, and Swiss cheese.  Very tasty in spite of forgetting the sauerkraut.

If you haven't tried a high percentage rye bread, this Flaxseed recipe is an good introduction to working with rye - which is very different from wheat.  It was a good education for me.  Maybe someday I'll have the courage to try the Detmolder method.

blockkevin's picture



Hamelmans 5 Grain Levain


 So after much discussion on these boards I finally decided to make this bread myself to see what all of the fuss was about. I can't believe I waited so long...This is absolutly one of the most delicous breads that I have ever tasted. I did make a few adjustments to the formula based soley on what I had available to work with (noted in formula below), but I tried to recreate the formula as close to the original as possible to get a sense of the bread in it's purest form. I also recalculated his formula so that I would end up with approx. 1200g of dough, which is the appropriate size to fit on my stone.


Liquid Build

  • KAF AP Flour 128g 100%

  • Water 160g 125%

  • Mature Culuture(mine is 100% Hydration) 26g 20%


  • Bulger Wheat(The original formula calls for Rye Chops) 47g 27%

  • Flaxseeds (mine happened to be golden) 47g 27%

  • Sunflower Seeds 39g 23%

  • Oats 39g 23%

  • Boiling Water 204g 120%

  • Salt 3g 2%

Final Dough

  • KAF AP Flour(The orignal formula calls for hi-gluten flour) 255g 67%

  • Fairhaven Mills Whole Wheat Flour 128g 33%

  • Water 133g 35%

  • Salt 9g 2.3%

  • Soaker(all) 379g 99%

  • Liquid Build 314g 82%

1. Liquid Build & Soaker-approx. 12 hours before mixing elaborate liquid build, and prepare grain soaker.

2. Mixing-As per the instructions in the book all of the ingredients are placed into a mixer and mixed on low speed for a few minutes to hydrate the flour. I found that I needed to add about 2 Tbsp more water. I suspect that the bulger wheat in the soaker absorbed more water than the rye chops would have. When the dough begins to come together increase speed to medium and mix until moderate gluten development is reached. Seeing as I didn't have any hi-gluten flour I mixed a little more thouroughly then I would have otherwise. On speed four in my kitchenaid mixer I mixed for 8 minutes, and I achieved a fairly high level of develpment.

3. Ferment- 3 Hours with a fold at 1.5 hours. (Orignal formula calls for 1-1.5 hours)

4. Divide- Divide the dough into 2 approx. 600g. portions.

5. Relax- shape the dough into loose boules, and allow to bench rest for approx. 20 minutes to allow for easier shaping.

6. Shape- shape the dough as desired and place between folds of bakers linen or in prepared bannetons. Round or ovals are what Hamelman suggests.

7. Proof- Approx. 1 hour at 76 deg. F., or alternatively retard in the fridge overnight for up to 18 hours.

8. Bake- 30-35 minutes for 600g. batards 460 deg F. on preheated stone with steam for the first half of the bake. Turn the oven off and prop open the door and allow bread to dry out for an additional 10 minutes before removing from the oven.

9.Cool- allow the finished bread to cool for at least 3 hours before cutting.


Final notes and Impressions

The crumb on this bread was unlike anything I have ever made before, it is incredibly soft, and creamy on the tongue. The crust was lightly crisp, and not as thick as I would have expected given the overnight retarding. I would definetly make sure this bread is cooked long enough, and hot enough as it has a good deal of water from the soaker, and it needs a thourough bake to fully dry out.

Dsnyder once refered to this bread as a "flavor bomb" and I would enthusiasticly agree with that assessment. It has wonderful tart notes from the levain, and a lovely complexity from the soaked grains. I hope you all get the chance to make this bread sometime to fully experience how delicious it is.

Happy Baking


SylviaH's picture

This is a very nice tender and delicious tasting 100% WW Cinn. Raisin loaf using P.R. recipe.  I used dark and golden raisins in the soaker.  There were some hungry mouths so it was sliced a wee bit warm...very nice with cream cheese!  

I put the cinnamon and sugar well in the center by putting an extra thick amount of the mixture right along the tip of the edge that is first to be rolled inward on the shaping of the loaf!

This is my second attempt at a 100% WW loaf...the first was the sourdough WW.  I have some WW working now!    

This is being made with my Australian culture!  Any advice is always welcome!


trailrunner's picture

I have had this recipe for granola since the 80's. My Mom found it in the Orlando Sentinel. It is the best I have ever tasted. Here is the pic and the recipe.

Photobucket 12c rolled oates

 2 c sunflower seeds

2 c ribbon coconut

 2 c chopped nuts - I use almonds and/or pecans

2 c sesame seeds

combine in a pan: 2 c smooth peanut butter 2 c honey 1 c water 3 tsp salt 2 Tbsp cinnamon heat till well mixed toss above mix w/ this dressing. Bake at 300 till brown as you like it. We like it quite crunchy. Watch closely after first 30 min. Takes about 1 1/2 hrs.

 This is the Cherry Pecan au levain from TFL. It was a very easy formula to follow. I made a couple small changes. I put the completed dough into a large bowl and did 15 minutes of folding in the bowl w/ a large rubber spatula. I did the pecans first for 5 min to incorporate them and then put the soaked cherries in the bowl. This worked very well and there was no mess at all. Also my cherries are very moist so I only soaked them about 1 hr and drained well. They held up perfectly due to not being so fragile. The dough was retarded for 24 hrs due to time constraints. This did not affect it at all. It had gotten a nice rise in the fridge and I then placed it on a sunny table while the oven preheated. Great rise and nice crust. I no longer use a steam pan for any breads. I just mist heavily right before I put loaves in the oven and then mist one time a minute later in the oven. Seems to work very well and a lot less trouble and safer too ! These were baked on parchment and placed on a cookie sheet, no stone used today.

Photobucket Photobucket Photobucket


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