Behind the Scenes
Friday, June 06, 2008
Now that you’ve seen my current photo studio, I thought I’d back up a bit and show you how I used to take photos before 2006, because you really don’t need all that if you’re on a budget and especially if you’re not doing the volume I do.
WHAT I SHOOT WITH
My camera is the Sony DSC-V3. I bought it used on eBay for $375 in March 2006 and it included a 1 gb memory card (which I actually fill up in one photo session from time to time but more importantly it’s fantastic for my whale watching).
WHERE TO SHOOT
I had two spots I liked to take photos:
1. Early in the morning at my old office. The roof in the building across from mine was resurfaced with some sort of white reflective stuff back in 2004 and suddenly became an amazing bounce-board for my north-facing office windows. I never needed to turn on the lights during the day. I’d position a series of sheets of white office paper, tape it to the side of my laser printer and let it curve down. Then more white paper to cover the desktop and shoot. I’d use some other pieces of white cardstock to bounce light to fill as best I could.
I didn’t have a tripod, I’d just place the camera on a book or notebook (angled if I needed it), set the shot up and then turned on the timer (this left both hands free for holding the cardstock for bouncing the light).
2. The roof deck at my house. This was a little trickier because I spend more daylight hours at the office than at home, so it was usually on weekends that I’d set up my photo shoots. Of course it was outside ... and sometimes it was windy, or hot or overcast.
The light was much better up there, most the time I’d set up a piece of white posterboard, sticking one side to a cardboard box and letting it slope down onto the surface of the table. This was under a white patio umbrella, which provided a nice diffuse light and of course I’d use the other pieces of posterboard for bounce.
On these occasions I used a tripod, which gave me much more control and crisper shots.
While some folks call my old methods a little ghetto, I still take photos like that from time to time. Just some white office paper to grab a quick snap and when I’m traveling, sometimes I pick up some posterboard so I can take some product shots on the road.
The other option, of course is to get some studio lights. The photo of my studio looks kind of jumbled, and believe me, it’s pretty much chaos all the time.
SETTING UP THE SHOT
While the photos may show the candy isolated in the middle of nothingness, believe me, there’s lots nearby.
This shot shows how most of my setups look. A little piece of the Tac ‘n Stik in a wad to prop up a package, and then the candy in front of it ... there’s no need to clear the decks of other items unless it’s something that has silver reflective wrapper. (I also use little dots of the sticky stuff when I have spherical candies to keep them from rolling around.)
Silver reflective packaging is a bugger to shoot, everything has to be masked around it or else it shows up as a reflection. I have a piece of white posterboard with a little hole the size of my lens for just such occasions. The bonus is that it also bounces a good deal of light, so it gives a crisper, more even exposure.
The trick here is to light the background and foreground at the same level. This will give the best base for the high key white.
I also keep the objects quite close to the edge of the table, about 1/3 of the distance to the curve of the back (you can see that I didn’t do that in earlier shots, that’s part of what creates that shadowy background). A tripod is essential to product photos. It’s the best way to get clear and sharp photos, especially for longer exposures. Tripods are not expensive, so even if you can’t afford a shooting table like this, get a tripod.
Take test shots. Then look at them on the camera - zoom in and really look at it. Nothing worse than getting through a shoot (after you’ve eaten the candy or torn the wrapper open) and finding out that you can see yourself in the mylar or a glare is obscuring the brand name. In this case, with the Morinaga Black Sesame Caramels, the package is upside down. In my desire to feature the Japanese on the side of the box instead of the English that’s on the other side, I turned the whole thing upside down instead of just turning it ... and it wasn’t until several months later when I actually did the review that I realized this. (Gah!)
I work from the outside to the inside. It’s common sense, but something I’ve messed up on before. I shoot the outside of the package (sometimes right after I buy it and don’t complete the rest of the process until I schedule the review), then open it, shoot the item with the wrapper, sometimes solo ... then and only then do I break it open or take a bite. Sometimes, if I have a bounty of individual items, I’ll do several versions to get the best “bite with caramel pull” or “cross section of panned nut.”
At the end of the session I usually have a dish of bitten candies.
The shooting surface is a matte plexiglass. I wipe it down with 409 quite often, either because it’s gotten sticky or because I plan on eating whatever I place on there later. When I was shooting on posterboard I would often throw a piece of white office paper down when I knew I was going to have something gooey.
POST PROCESSING THE SHOT
I always take pictures on the highest setting (the full 7.2 megabytes). Most of the time I use the plain old JPG setting, since these photos are for web. If I were doing something for print, I’d probably use TIFF or RAW - but then I’d run into storage issues. As it is I have about 60 gb of candy photos.
If your camera has something called bracketing in the settings, I recommend giving it a try. It bumps the exposure up one level and down one level, taking three shots pretty much at the same time. This is a good way to see what levels would be best for a particular shot without moving the settings.
For the most part I use the program mode (P) on my camera. I set the exposure bumped up to +1.7, even so, the background rarely turns out white. It’s gray.
If I’ve done everything right then all the photo needs is a little adjustment in the Photoshop Image > Adjustments > Curves menu. I push the upper white a little brighter and usually pull down the midtones a little darker. That’s it.
BTW - you don’t even need the full Photoshop to do this. Photoshop Elements (which I got for free with my Wacom graphics tablet) works perfectly fine. Some other free image adjustment programs also do a great job - the best thing to do is take a great shot that needs only a few adjustments.
But sometimes I’m sloppy and a few more adjustments are necessary. I might clone out some crumbs and sometimes the corners are a little darker for very large field shots so I’ll whiten them with the eraser or paintbrush.
Then things might need a little additional help, maybe a little burning/dodging for glared spots or things that are too dark in the shadows and lose their detail. Cross-sections might need a bit of dodging to enhance the difference between the caramel & nougat or at least bring up the contrast in that small area.
RESIZING FOR THE WEB
For the most part I’ve moved to Flickr to host my photos and share them there (for a while I had them both on my own server and on Flickr). Flickr automatically resizes the photos to three useable sizes: 100 pixels, 240 pixels and 500 pixels. Flickr has a limited but good photo editing service called Picnik that will allow you to do some of the above adjustments right there. Picasa also offers some excellent hosting & editing services.
If you’re hosting your own photos it’s usually best to use your photo software to create the web version so that it will be sharp and small at the same time. Photoshop has a “save for web” feature that allows you to preview exactly what the photo will look like saved at various compression settings.
DEVELOPING A STYLE
The style of Candy Blog photos is supposed to be clinical.
My original idea with my photography was for it to be a true representation of both the candy and the package. Because the blog was supposed to do what I wanted the internet to provide for me - a breakdown of what that candy actually is. (I couldn’t find a site that did that, so I made one.) I like the photos on a blank white background, no background stuff to interfere. It isolates the subject and it really helped me to focus on just the candy itself, if only for that brief session when I photographed it.
Yes, many of them are quite tasty looking, but I’ve always done my best to show what the candy actually looks like. I’m not trying to sell you anything.
(There first dozen or so posts on Candy Blog actually don’t have the candy featured. It wasn’t until a couple of weeks later that I realized that’s what people really wanted to know ... what’s inside that box.)
I set up my shots to be eye level with the candy for the most part, like the candy is as big as you are.
TIPS FOR SHOOTING GOOD PHOTOS
TIPS TO MAKE YOUR PHOTOS EVEN BETTER
Friday, May 09, 2008
Since the temperatures were back in the nineties in Los Angeles and I just returned from a long road trip, I thought I’d discuss chocolate storage for cocoa butter hostile climates.
Freezing or even refrigerating chocolate can encourage sweating (condensation) and transfer of odors from other foods. I simply don’t use my fridge for my candy. It’s never worked out very well, it’s too cold. Also, if you do end up freezing your chocolate, it’s important to bring it back to room temperature slowly - first in the fridge, then into a cool room. (Too much work & planning! I want my chocolate now!)
If you have a nice cool cupboard (preferably on an inside wall away from appliances that get warm), just keeping your chocolate sequestered should be fine. I have a set of Pyrex containers that won’t transfer odors and seem to give a bit of insulative protection. It also helps to have a climate controlled house. I don’t have central air and Los Angeles can experience some wide swings, temperatures inside my house go from the low sixties to over 100. (I’ve taken clothes out of my dresser that feel like they just came out of the hot dryer.)
These glass containers at the moment reside in my Chocolate Fridge. Technically it’s a wine fridge (meant to hold a dozen bottles). I’ve repurposed it to hold chocolate by amping up the temperature to 65 (instead of 55, which is where you’d probably keep your wine). Because wine fridges don’t dehumidify, the glass is also good for protecting against moisture. It also helps to prevent transfer of flavors and odors. Mint and Coffee items are additionally wrapped in ziploc bags and kept in separate containers from other non-flavored chocolates.
That’s what things looked like about a month ago. I ended up taking out two of the shelves and just stacking some of the glass containers because I have so much stuff. Yes, be sure to stagger things to encourage circulation, but also remember that a full fridge is more efficient than an empty one because the stuff inside insulates itself.
I bought a little thermometer to keep on the inside as well to monitor the temperature. There wasn’t anything on the settings, just low-med-high, so I wasn’t sure what I was getting, right now I have it set on low and the temps have been 62-65 ... well within the ideal range. (That little white thing at the bottom is a container of baking soda, also to absorb odors.) Some folks also love to use charcoal briquettes to absorb odors and control humidity - just be sure to get ones without lighter fluid in them, which will result in an unpalatable flavor.
While this is elegant and all that, it’s also expensive to buy and of course requires electricity (no good for brown outs in the summer heat). However, if you’re the type of person who is spending $8 a piece on bars, or place orders online for quanties far larger than can be consumed in a week, it may make sense in the long run.
Not only that, it doesn’t hold that much (well, not enough for me). So my second line of defense is a series of Insulated Coolers (ice chests) in my closet. This closet happens to be in the north-west corner of the house which is naturally shaded in the late afternoon by my neighbor’s house. Inside the cooler I layer my candies ... full boxes on the bottom (I still have some Snickers Rockin’ Nut Road bars left), then a layer of cold packs. At the moment my cooler isn’t really that good, I’m planning to upgrade to a better insulated ones (called 5 day coolers by Igoo).
I don’t actually freeze the cold packs I use, but sometimes I toss them in the fridge overnight. I don’t want to freeze anything or shock it, I just want to keep the climate consistently under 70 degrees. When I put them back in, I usually wrap them in a paper towel, just in case they cause a bit of condensation. (I’m thinking of making sleeves for them out of old fabric napkins. Cold pack cozies, anyone?)
Then if I don’t have any other candies that must be kept cold I fill in with other candy, just for insulation value. If I don’t have any candy sitting around sometimes I use throw pillows or bubble wrap. A full cooler will stay cool better than one with a large gap of air in the top. When returning from San Francisco, because I took more candy up there than I brought back, I ended up stuffing two wool sweaters on the top of the cooler as insulation from the glaring sun from my hatchback window. I also placed a windshield reflector over the cooler to give an added measure of protection against heat.
Another solution is water bottles. I have quite a collection of sport bottles that I just fill with tap water. The large mass of room temperature water provides yet another layer of insulation. I could also put them in the fridge for a while should the temps rise (this is a great solution if you don’t have access to those cold packs - but again, if it’s humid they will sweat, so put them in a clean cotton sock or something).
I also have an old styrofoam cooler box that I got a gift of cheese in once. For the most part, I just put stuff in there as a storage space for things I pick up on sale (my Hershey’s Eggs in this case), but as it’s been getting warmer I’ve tossed a few cool packs on top.
For shorter trips around town, remember that your car is a portable solar oven. Leaving stuff in the trunk or back seat is asking for moltency. Again, a cooler is a wise choice, and those insulate lunch bags can be rather helpful as well. If you have no choices, put lots of layers around the chocolate and water bottles or any large volume of liquid is your friend.
I have a couple of other smaller options as well. Inside my purse I carry this little anodized aluminum sunglass case. It doesn’t have much insulation value, just a little fuzzy lining, but the fact that it’s durable metal helps to minimize direct transfer of heat to a precious candy bar that might pick up at a deli such as this valuable BonBonBar from Joan’s on Third.
Finally, for carrying to parties or a special picnic, why not consider this wide mouth Soup Thermos:
As I found out, it doesn’t do much to protect candies from changes in air pressure.
Here are some other resouces about how to store your chocolate goodies:
Do you have any solutions, or words of warning?
Sunday, April 27, 2008
My Saturday schedule in the Bay Area was focused on the East Bay (Oakland, Emeryville and Berkeley). I had a meeting in the morning and a dinner planned, so my mid-day hours were devoted to the further amassing of sweets.
I didn’t buy as much, mostly because I already have so much stuff from my previous days, these were kind of informational, not acquisitional.
Michael Mischer Chocolates
Sampled: raspberry truffle
Lovely shop that is at once spare and comfortable without feeling sterile. There are even some sugar-free selections. Michael Mischer himself was there, I asked him about the salted peanut butter cup that I tried the day before at Fog City, alas, he didn’t have any more of them. So I got a plain peanut butter and a salted caramel ... I can put them in my mouth together.
Sampled: chocolate covered matzah, triple chocolate hazelnut
I stopped into this old fashioned candy shop & gift store. I didn’t buy anything there, not because it’s not a good store, but much of the inventory is stuff that I’ve already reviewed. They have a nice selection of class bulk candies (sour balls, mary janes, imported hard candies, Koppers cordials, etc.), some chocolate candies in the case and the usual fun candy novelties.
No samples. I asked about the Pralus bars, the fellow said that the best was the Sao Tome, but beyond that, I couldn’t seem to get much interaction going about the chocolate. (Two of the folks were eating and the manager was chatting with some regular customers.) It was probably one of the loudest cafes I’ve been in for quite a long time. I’ve been in the shop before, so I think I just caught them at that bad moment after the lunch rush while everyone needs a little break. They have an amazing selection of chocolate bars on display, like some cafes will have poetry books.
Total for the day: $110.42
I’m packing up my car this morning to get ready for the drive back to Los Angeles. This time I’ll be taking the 5 South, which goes through the intensely-agricultural San Joaquin Valley. Not really much to stop for candy-wise. That’s fine, I have plenty.
You can look forward to the inventory from my three day adventure to be photographed copiously and reviewed here.
Saturday, April 26, 2008
I’ve been to San Francisco quite a lot, I love the city, mostly because I know so many great people here. But also because it has such a wonderful confectionery tradition. San Francisco is a candy town. I spent my first night after driving up at the Ocean Park Motel, way over by the ocean (a part of San Francisco I’ve never explored before). After checking in I took a walk, got some eggs at a diner and then walked down to the beach where I spotted a whale and watched it for about ten minutes as it made its way north to its feeding grounds (kinda like me!).
In the past three years I’ve visited Miette Confiserie, Ricchiuti Chocolates, Jelly Belly’s factory, Scharffen Berger, Charles Chocolates (in both their old & new location), CocoaBella, Fog City News and The Candy Store.
On Friday morning I packed up my car (my destination was Oakland for a meeting at 4PM at the National Novel Writing Month headquarters, but there were many zags and zigs along the way) with a nicely chilled cooler ready to be filled. Well, it actually held three boxes of candy bars and another six or seven pounds of other stuff for the staff to munch on.
Here’s how the day went:
Sampled: Caffarel flower bud, Domori Porcelana?, Vegan/Raw chocolate from Marin and something else that I’ve spaced on completely.
I had an absolutely awesome talk with Jack who runs the place. He’s tasted everything there and is really committed to his inventory. He tries to carry the best bars that each company has to offer (so you won’t find all of the Domori ... or anyone’s line). He also does a lot of repacking, so you can just buy a package of two Lillie Belle truffles, and then two Cluizel Champignon ... it’s the best thing for candy lovers who are still searching for the most amazing experiences. (And if it’s not an amazing experience, then you’re only out a couple of bucks!)
Sampled: Ecuadoran single origin bonbon.
An interesting new space. Rather clinical and spare, it reminds me more of Los Angeles than San Francisco. The selection is immense and includes Elbow’s bonbons and prepackaged items (bars, chocolate covered nuts & gift packages) as well as a brief menu of cafe selections. I made my chocolate selections (picking some of the items that I’ve tried before like the Strawberry Balsamic that used to be in white chocolate and is now in dark) and picked out a hot chocolate. I had it prepared to go, but did sit for a moment in the lounge area. The woman who prepared my chocolate that morning (it was about 11 AM) said that things would usually get very busy in the evening, as it was a popular after dinner spot for people to come on Friday and Saturday nights. (This is exactly the thing I want in walking distance from my house!)
After making some notes for myself I walked over to:
Sampled: Haribo Smurf (actually a raspberry jelly candy, not a gummi)
Again, a lovely experience as I got to chat with Caitlin (one of the owners) about Napoleon bonbons & the little tins they come in, licorice and the lack of similar candy shopping in Los Angeles. (Though we’re coming along.)
I found out about the shop on SFGate.com. It wasn’t quite as impressive as the story (and comments) made it sound. It was very small, I didn’t feel like I could look at everything and I was rushed (and didn’t get to finish ordering my items before my card was swiped and I ended up paying cash for my Turkish Delight). I actually meant to try a couple of other things, but didn’t see them until after that ... sigh, there’s always next time. The cool thing is that it’s walking distance to Fog City & not far at all from the Ferry Terminal.
Fog City News
Total: $27.92 (Discount! 20%)
Sampled: Michael Mischer Salted Peanut Butter Cup (awesome but really salty) & Amano Ocumare. Had an excellent talk with Adam, who runs Fog City. (He recognized my name when I signed up for the newsletter so I could get some discounts on my bars. I don’t necessarily hide my identity but I don’t go up to the counter and say, “I blog about candy, now gimme some!”) They have an awesome sale on Amano right now (25% off) if you’re in the neighborhood. My favorite is definitely the Ocumare.
I stopped as I was walking down the street because I spied some La Florentine Torrones, but was so pleased to find the BruCo Anise bar.
I read about this shop on Chowhound and definitely wanted to see how it measured up to the grand San Francisco tradition. It has a very young vibe to it, it feels much more “accessible” to children. They have a great selection of gummis, traditional favorites (candy jewelry) and some crazy hard to find items like C.Howards, UK import Cadbury bars, a really good selection of Koppers ... I could go on and on. The prices per pound are specific to the candy (instead of just pricing the whole shop at one point which makes things like Smarties crazy expensive and chocolate malt balls kind of reasonable), so you get what you pay for.
I had other places on my list, like Z Cicciolato and XoX Truffles but I really needed to balance out my purchases of perishable items, so they’ll have to wait until I return in the summer.
I’m kind of logging all this stuff so you’ll know what sort of items you can buy at these shops, and what they cost. (And also because I have a tendency to forget these things.)
Total spent today: $153.77 (yeah, I’m kind of feeling candy buyers remorse, mostly because I haven’t actually eaten any of it, I just get to look at it and tally up how much money I spent, not how much enjoyment I’m getting).
I’m in Oakland, CA right now, just back at the apartment I’m staying at for a little rest. Mostly I wanted to take a moment to begin documenting what I’ve been doing. Usually when I come up for a weekend, I pay for my lodging (as well as the gas). This time I’m fortunate enough to have a friend putting me up for two days (thanks Chris!) so with the money I’ve “saved” I’m throwing it all into candy. (I have to wonder if I can actually spend $150 a day on candy ... hmm.)
On Thursday morning I headed up to San Francisco for a long weekend. Usually when I go to the Bay Area from Los Angeles I take the 5, which is very fast and efficient but rather boring (as there’s very little of interest to candy-minded people besides what can be found at a gas station). So I decided to take the slightly longer & slower 101 N route.
Along the way I had three stops planned (I would have stopped in Santa Barbara, but I passed through town at about 9:30 AM, before some of their promising shops open, so that’ll be later this summer when I go up for one of my whale watching adventures).
San Luis Obispo is about three and a half hours north of Los Angeles, so it’s a pretty quick drive and a logical place to stop for a cup of coffee anyway. Sweet Earth Chocolates is an organic & fair trade confectioner based right there, they also sell their sweets right from the Splash Cafe, so it was perfect rest/candy stop.
Sweet Earth Chocolates @ Spash Cafe
Here’s what I picked up (some for later review):
(plus a vegan turtle sample)
This is also the point where I stopped for gas. That was $33.57 (I have a Prius ... which doesn’t hold a lot of gas, so even at $4.09 a gallon, I only needed 8.2 gallons).
The other high priority stop for me along the way was in San Jose, which is another three hours north of San Luis Obispo.
Holland Pastry & Gift Shop sells a huge selection of licorice, and in all sorts of different sizes of packages from the original manufacturer. Now that I’ve sampled quite a bit from my other candy trips, I was ready for some bigger bags of the tried & true favorites and some more experimentation. The best part about the shop is that everything is a fraction of the price I’m paying at the upscale shops. Of course without all the fancy packaging, ambiance and prime location in choice neighborhoods, too.
Holland’s Best (aka Holland Pastry & Gift Shop)
(plus a trollendrop sample)
The last stop was mostly because I was there, literally, it was just an exit off the freeway. So I stopped at the See’s Factory, which has a little store attached. Now, as far as I know, See’s rarely has “outlet” sales. I know that some folks pick up after-holiday merchandise there on sale, but that’s pretty rare. I didn’t find any grand deals there, but I was happy to see the homeland of happy-habit chocolates.
(plus a Mocha Truffle sample)
So that total for Thursday: $122.66 (includes departure cup of coffee at Winchell’s in Silverlake).
Thursday, April 10, 2008
Since my first post on April 9th called Adventures in Candy, things have changed quite a bit. I was not new to blogging at that point, I’d been keeping Fast Fiction since 2001 and blog regularly for blogging.la since early 2004.
I’m not sure I realized how much it would take over my life.
I was at a wedding that day in downtown Los Angeles of my friends & neighbors Amy & Robin (mentioned here often). My husband had laryngitis so I did a lot of the talking and much of it seemed to be about candy. (I can’t recall what we were talking about.) My passion for the sugary stuff impressed my table-mates and they mentioned that I should blog about it. I came home and started that night.
There was something about blogging about candy. It just clicked. People I’d never met started reading. I had fun and I realized that I’d been writing about candy my whole life. From the short story in 5th grade to essays in high school to my masters thesis, a river of candy ran through it.
The default template and limited features I was using on Blogger were suddenly insufficient to hold all the possibilities of blog about candy. I decided to broaden my goals, I wanted to become a recognized candy expert from the consumer’s viewpoint. (I also wanted to go to the All Candy Expo, where you could only get in as a member of the press, a difficult thing to score as a blogger at that time.)
So I hired Hop Studios in late 2005 to redesign the blog which meant great new features like following comment conversations, the regular polls, related candies, search, the fun ratings & specs chart and intensive category tags.
At first I envisioned Candy Blog as a place to experience new candy, or at least candy that was new to me. Part of what I wanted Candy Blog to be was something that I couldn’t find on the internet then, someone to tell me what was really inside that package. This was especially true for regional candies and foreign items. As the years have gone by I realized that I needed to revisit the tried and true favorites in order to give the new items perspective. There are still plenty of classic candies missing from the blog. I will get around to them eventually.
I continue to work with Hop Studios, tweaking functionality, adding new features and of course just fluffing it up once in a while.
There are over 1,200 posts here on Candy Blog so far. I don’t know for sure how many products I’ve reviewed (some posts include multiple reviews), but I put that number at about 800. My flickr Candy photoset has documentation of over 2,100 product photos (including at least 200 things that I’ve tried but never reviewed) .
That was the one thing I didn’t expect with Candy Blog: the photography. I wanted the photos on the blog because it was what would make the blog unique (not just the wrapper) and would satisfy the one thing that I’d want to know when thinking about a new candy ... what does it look like?. Little did I realize that I’d take so many photos and that I’d actually get good at it. (Take minute and look at some of the early photos ... not really up to the current standards.)
Readers are a big part of things here too, there are 12,700 comments logged here from you (and another 800 or so responses from me). I have no idea of the number of people who have visited the blog over the years. My statcounter says 4.6 million page loads since November of 2005 (and that doesn’t count me). The best part is that I’ve come to know so many of Candy Blog’s readers by name, via emails and through their blogs linked in the comments.
The fun part is that I’m no longer alone with my obsession. (When I started CandyCritic.org and Writers and Artists Snacking at Work had not been updated in a while and most of the current big food blogs hadn’t even started.) I love having other voices and views of the candy world and enjoy updating my blog roll with new candy reads. The amazing part is how long so many of us continue to write about candy, owing to the enduring passion that we share.
I’ve traveled for Candy Blog, covering the 2006 & 2007 All Candy Expo (the largest trade candy show in North America), the 2007 & 2008 Fancy Food Show, the 2007 & 2008 Natural & Organic Products Expo and trips to candy factories in Pennsylvania & California. No matter where I go in the country, I try to see what’s going on in the local confectionery.
Since its inception, Candy Blog has become more than just reviews. Though I’ve never considered Candy Blog to be a global candy zeitgeist, mostly it just reflects my transient obsessions (often inspired by your suggestions). This is what I hope keeps me sincere and authentic. But then sometimes it’s not all frothy fun; readers helped get out the word last year about the threat to real chocolate and helped Gary Guittard to mobilize 34,000 people to respond to the Citizen’s Petition the FDA received from the Grocery Manufacturers Association.
But for the most part Candy Blog has become a faithful review site, five a week ... sometimes more, every once in a while I take a day off.
Candy Blog accepts direct advertising now (which covers the above trips & some of my equipment and candy purchases plus the growing hosting costs & programming of the blog), but I never accept money in exchange for a review and will always tell you when any product has been comped so that you can judge my objectivity for yourself. I also never use affiliate links, so you’ll never see me benefiting directly for a review or from a link to any store, source or manufacturer of candy.
Late last year I did add an extra layer of insulation from advertising concerns by taking on my husband as my publisher. He talks directly to people interested in advertising (in case they may be manufacturers) so that I don’t have to worry about that stuff.
At the moment my plans are modest. Simply to gain readers by writing the best that I can muster, try more candy (my list is pretty long) and visit some more candy cities. I’m flirting with the idea of forums so that you have a place to expand your discussions (poll over there to the right until April 12th) and some better search options to help you find the candy you’re looking for.
So now it’s your turn, this is an open thread for you to request things from me. More giveaways? Forums? More recipes (though I fail at most of them)? Factory tours? Candy destinations? News? Buyer’s guides? Company profiles? More history ... it’s your call.
Sunday, April 06, 2008
I get emails and comments all the time asking how I do the photographs for Candy Blog. So I thought I’d show you my home studio (yes, I cleaned up for the photo).
I store most of these underneath the table, which means that they’re always readily available.
The Tac ‘n Stick is indispensable stuff. I used to have a bunch of yellow stuff (I don’t know what brand) but switched when I found the white/gray stuff at the drug store a few months ago, since it blends in better with the background.
It’s completely moldable. I pull out little bits for propping up chocolate eggs or roll out a teensy string to put behind spherical candies like malted milk balls. I have a large wad of it on an old votive candle on both the base to keep it from slipping and on the face of it to stick the back of packages to, this gets them to sit up straight.
It’s probably the best $2 you can invest in your tools.
I also have a bunch of props and prop-em-ups sitting around. I have little glass vases, a selection of brandy snifters, wine glasses and ramekins. They don’t make it into the shots very often, but sometimes I like to play.
I usually keep a few small dishes ready too. As I’m photographing, as you may have observed, I take a bite out of a lot of things. I usually just set the rest aside on a plate or put it back in the package to finish later. But there’s usually a dish of leftover items for my reviews that I munch on later that day or the next.
Stay tuned for a tutorial on getting that white background look in photos.
Saturday, September 29, 2007
Each day a the All Candy Expo I balanced my sense of discretion with each candy booth’s generosity.
I think the candy companies won.
Each attendee was given a small bag to put their samples in on the floor. The same bag was used each day and it was about the size of a shoe box for some nice women’s dress shoes. Basically, not too big.
Many booths had “eat it here” samples, little cups or sections of their products for sampling. I generally didn’t eat much while on the floor of the show, so I didn’t go for those often. (I couldn’t bring them home, they didn’t have the ingredients and nutrition info on them.)
I was pretty picky about what I picked up, but often when I’d get into conversations with the candy purveyors, they’d offer me full sized samples. A 6 ounce bag of some new gummi spiders, a stack of six 3.5 ounce chocolate bars, a 5 ounce bag of delicious dark chocolate coated toffee almonds or a half a dozen full-sized Ritter Sport bars. It adds up. So somewhere around the middle of the morning my bag would be full and probably weigh about five pounds. I had a benefit over most attendees, somewhere to stash the contents of my bag. I’d go to the press room and empty it out and leave it with my other stuff (my jacket, etc.) and go back out onto the floor.
At the end of the day I’d be hoofing it back to the hotel with 15 or so pounds of candy along with a sampling of press kits which are also heavy in their own right.
So with a little math you can tell where this is going. At the end of the show I had at least 45 pounds of candy, probably closer to 55 pounds (if you include the press kits, which as I said in my defense, are heavy).
I planned well, or at least I thought. I brought one large suitcase to Chicago. I packed my 8 days worth of clothes (I was heading to visit family in the Midwest when I was done) and another smaller, collapsible suitcase in the bottom. I had my laptop messenger bag and a purse. Once back at the hotel I tried to pack all my stuff. It all technically fit, but I was concerned that the large bag was going to be over the weight limit. If figured if I could carry the large suitcase down the three flights of stairs to the lobby, it couldn’t be that heavy. Certainly not over 50 pounds.
I got to the airport dragging things behind me (may I thank the fellow who invented the wheel at this moment?) I found that I was correct ... my luggage weight 101.5 pounds. However, the large bag was 61 pounds and the little one was over 39. (The good news, apparently, is that I can carry 61 pounds down three flights of stairs!)
Luckily the nice agent at American Airlines said I could take a moment and transfer some things around instead of charging me for being overweight (that’d be $50). She even helped me by pointing out the items she thought were heaviest. I stuffed some of the heavier things into my carry on and in the end each of my bags was balanced at 47 pounds each. (Yes, I was now toting an additional seven pounds in my carry ons.) I thanked the ticket agent for her patience and help and gave her a full-sized Hershey’s Cacao Reserve nibby bar. This was when she told me that she only worked part time for American Airlines. Her day job was as a dental hygienist. She said she would have given me a toothbrush if she had one on her!
At my brother’s (where the guest room is sadly on the third floor, but happily he carries my bags up for me) I took all my candy out and organized it and repacked it, using a bathroom scale to make sure that each bag was 45 pounds. I left plenty of chocolate and candy there, too. I gave my mother three full sized dark bars plus a box of Russell Stover Private Reserve chocolates that I just wasn’t going to get to review anytime soon (but I’ll go buy at some point). I left only a few things at my brothers ... sadly I didn’t find his new perfect candy bar for him at the Expo. He was a Snickers Cruncher fan. I’ll have to keep working on it.
It took about three days after I got home for the sore shoulders to go away (carry forty pounds on them regularly takes a while to get over). It’s been 10 days since the Expo ended and I can now say that my feet don’t hurt any longer. Maybe next year I won’t walk that mile to and from the convention center and just splurge on a cab.
In case you’re wondering, this is what 50 pounds of candy looks like, all dumped out on my dining room table (which is 50 inches around, by the way).
In case you’re wondering the result of this trip on my weight ... I’ve lost four pounds. Don’t worry, I have a notion of where to find them.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.