Chunky Twix Cookies: Before & After

Chunky Twix Cookies

I think it's time for another before and after post, don't you? If you missed my last one and are wondering what the heck I'm talking about, you can read about it in my Browned Butter Pecan Shortbread: Before & After post.

In a nutshell, I'm slowly updating my older posts with newer, improved photos - and adding a critique of my older photos rather than just deleting them willy nilly.

While I'd love to banish them to the dark recesses of my computer's recycle bin forever, I thought it more helpful to share them and add the tips I've learned along the way. Today I chose one of my most popular recipes, my Chunky Twix Cookies. I don't use the term "The Best" very often, but these cookies really are the best cookies I've made to date. They've made it around the blogging world quite a bit, and are highly coveted by my family. Since these are my best cookies, I thought they deserved a better photo. Now let's trash my photo! :)
Here is the Before:
Food Photography Tips
1. Too Busy:

When I first started trying to improve my food photography, I decided to jump on the bandwagon with everyone else, and tried to do what everyone else was doing. This led me to Michael's to stock up with all kinds of patterned papers to act as "backdrops" to my recipes. A few bucks poorer, a few years wiser, and I learned that SIMPLE is better.

What makes a striking photo? Usually an image that has a single theme or idea, with clutter kept to a minimum makes for the best photo. Successful photos rely on elements of composition: line, shape, form, texture, pattern, and color. Every photo whether intentional or not, contains one or more of these elements.

In this image, the patterned paper clashes with the patterned plate and the deeply textured cookies. There's also too much color going on. When composing an image, try to keep the colors to 3 or less. More than that and your picture can become distracting. There's just too much going on  in this picture and it stresses the eye out trying to decide what to focus on.

2. Awkward Focus Spot:

When choosing where to focus on your food, it's best to focus on the area that is closest to you, this is especially true when you're using a large aperture (small number) because your depth of field (the area that is in focus) will be shallow.  In this image you can see I placed my focus point near the center of the image, rather than the area of cookie closest to me. This makes the front of the food out of focus, which doesn't work in this image.

The way the plate is angled, the out of focus part of the cookie is the center of attention, and where your eye naturally wants to fall. For this reason, I should have set my focus point to the closest area of cookie, or stopped down my aperture setting so more of the cookies were in focus.

3. Composition Too Tight:

As in my last post, here is a prime example of when to back up already Amber! :) I'm either too close to my food or have cropped it too close. The plate, glass of milk, and background are so close together there's no room to breathe. When looking at a photo you want to have room for your eye to move around the image. That's not too say don't ever have a close up, but in this photo it doesn't work very well.
Now here's the After:

Chunky Twix Cookies

Settings: f4.0; Shutter 1/160; ISO 1250

A little easier on the eyes don't you think? I kept it simple with a plain white napkin under the serving dish, the milk and and cookie rack are arranged in the background to allow the eye to wander around the image and come back to the main point of focus - those yummy cookies!

I also made sure to place my focus point on the front edge of the closest cookie, to eliminate any out of focus areas on the cookie. You'll notice I set my aperture to f4.0 so my depth of field wasn't too shallow. I was lazy and didn't want to pull out my tripod, so this shot was handheld. But if I wanted to decrease my ISO I could have lowered my shutter speed accordingly. I used my 85mm lens for this shot, and generally you want to keep your shutter speed to about 1 to 1 1/2 times the focal length of your lens (if hand holding), to avoid camera shake. So for an 85mm focal length, you want to keep your shutter speed at least 1/80 or 1/100. For a 50mm focal length - 1/50 or higher, etc.

You can find the recipe in my original post for Chunky Twix Cookies. If you have any questions about this critique or want me to go into more detail, just leave a comment and I'll be happy to answer them! If you found this helpful I'd love to hear from you. Thanks!

Note: I don't claim to be an expert, but I have learned a thing or two over the years and will gladly share those things with people. I'm also a family photographer in the St. Louis area, so if you're interested in seeing my work outside of food photography, visit Amber Potter Photography.

Update: If you're just starting out in the photography world and need some help understanding all that photo jibber-jabber, my pal Karly at Buns In My Oven has started a great series called So You Want To Be A Better Photographer? Her tutorials are sure to help you "see the light". Hehe...bad pun? Anyway, her tips combined with my before and after critiques are a good way to see the photography principals put into practice, and learn to recognize what's wrong with an image. When you can tell what's wrong with a photo and why it doesn't work, then you can better improve your own skill!


Chunky Twix Cookies

This month I also joined a new project - The Leftover's Club. This is a group of blogger's who get paired up with another blogger each month, to share the leftovers from the goodies we made. It's a great way to get to know each other, and have someone else take some of the temptation off our hands. This month I'm paired up with Budget Gourmet Mom, and can't wait to share our goodies! Sound like fun? Visit The Leftovers Club online to learn more and sign up!

Savory Simple - Cappuccino Cookies
Damn Delicious - Blueberry Lemon Bars
Give Peas a Chance - Spiced Vanilla Honey Biscotti
Sprinkled With Flour - Chunky Twix Cookies
Pineapple and Coconut - Cinnamon Dolce Oatmeal Cookies
Food n' Focus - Cranberry Scones
Bakeaholic Mama - Coconut Banana Brownie Pie


Carrie B said...

You take such gorgeous photos. These cookies really do look like the best.

Unknown said...

Thanks Carrie, that's so sweet of you to say.:) These really are yummy!

Anne @The Cooking Campaign said...

These photos look gorgeous! I would love to take a class to learn how to take better photos at some point.

Unknown said...

Thanks Anne! There a tons of food photography tutorials online that can help you improve your photos, the best part is they're free! Karly @ Buns In My Oven is doing a food photography basics series right now that is really good for beginners. I've been throwing around the idea of creating my own in the future, but we'll see. :)

SallysBakingAddiction said...

Amber!! I do this all of the time too. But I don't compare the photos for my readers. That's a fabulous idea! I usually update the recipe itself too. I need to report some of my older cookies now that I think about it. There are so many fabulous cookies in my archives that are getting lost because of their awful photography! These look before AND after if you ask me. :)

Pineapple And Coconut said...

These are gorgeous and I love your camera tips!! I have been playing around with different techniques and its working great especially after your last post on using K for white balance. Love it!

Unknown said...

I'm so glad you're enjoying these posts and find the tips helpful. If you have any questions, feel free to let me know! :)

Unknown said...

Thanks Sally, it's definitely interesting going back and redoing those older posts. A lot of "what the heck was I dong?" going on. :)

Averie @ Averie Cooks said...

Trips to Michael's and feeling poorer as a result (yet still feeling cluttered...been there!) I think we've all been there! I learned my lesson with too much going on with cute plates from Anthro. Great for dinner parties or to serve something off of for a baby shower; but all that cuteness is not good for food photography in general.

And what you said about focal point, etc..totally spot on!

I have to say with your settings, I personally would have still handheld, used a 1/80 shutter speed, dropped ISO down to about 500, and still shot at a f/4.0 That's pretty much my usual settings, give or take. I never shoot with a tripod, always handhold, and with either my 24-70 or my 50mm, 1/80th is my limit and if I go slower, I get camera shake. So will play with ISO to compensate.

Great talking shop like this!

Unknown said...

Oooh I love these photography tips! I'm finding simple is better too!! And you know I love these cookies:)

Unknown said...

Thanks Averie, it is fun talking shop. ;) I handhold about 99% of the time too, the tripod just gets in my way, lol :) Sometimes I have to be careful of my shutter speed because my hands can tend to be shaky, so will bump up my ISO to compensate if I don't wan't to open up my aperture any more. Since I shoot with a full frame camera it can handle the noise pretty well.

Unknown said...

Thanks Kristy! Yes, these cookies are the bomb. :)

Cassie | Bake Your Day said...

I love this before & after thing you are doing, Amber. I need to do this so badly too! Your cookies look amazing!

Ace @ the toasted sprinkle said...

Thanks so much for these before and afters! I'm actively trying to improve my photography skills and I can't get enough. Your tutorials are some of my favorites, thanks!

Unknown said...

Aw, thanks Cassie. You never know when you start something new how its going to go over, but I'm glad you are enjoying it. :)

Unknown said...

Why thank you! I really appreciate your feedback, and glad you're enjoying it too! :)

Chung-Ah | Damn Delicious said...

Such a fun post! To be honest, I would still devour these cookies, whether it's the before or after shot! :)

Dorothy @ Crazy for Crust said...

Your photos are gorgeous - before AND after. I like the idea of going back through and re-doing them. I must do it.

Shanna Schad said...

I do have a question - why is your ISO set so high? Its that just because of the camera/lens you use? What camera do you shoot with. I have a nikon and I shoot with a 50mm for the most part and I find that anything over iso 640 gets super grainy

Unknown said...

Hi Shanna, I had to raise my ISO that high in order to get a properly exposed image. It was overcast when I shot this image so I didn't have a lot of natural light to work with. I was shooting with my 85mm lens, which is more telephoto than a 50mm, so any image with this kind of lens will have more depth of field at higher f-stops. If you notice I set my aperture to f4, because I didn't want my DOF to be too shallow, and my shutter speed was relatively low already (I have shaky hands so have to keep it higher without a tripod), so the next option in the exposure triangle is to bump up the ISO - which is what was needed for this image.

I do shoot with a full frame camera, so that is why I don't have any issues with noise. But if you have a properly exposed image with good white balance, you can go higher with your ISO too. A properly exposed image with higher ISO will have LESS grain than an underexposed image with a lower ISO setting. I don't raise my ISO unless I have to to achieve the image I want, and in this case I had to. :) I hope this answers your question, if not I'd be more than happy to further explain. :)

kelly said...

I love this post! I struggle with photo composition, so I love seeing how you changed things and your diagrams and explanations (I checked out the shortbread too). Not to mention these cookies look amazing. Twix AND cookies? yes. just yes. So glad to be a part of The Leftovers Club with you! :)

Unknown said...

Thanks Kelly, I appreciate your feedback! Yes, composition can be tricky, and some days it just doesn't work no matter what you do. :) Glad to join you in The Leftovers Club too!

So Domesticated said...

I heart your photography! Definitely going to have to check-out this club!

Anonymous said...

Oh wow your cookies look absolutely divine! Your photos are just stunning. I really can't wait to try this recipe!

Unknown said...

I lvoe this before/after series! I'm still in my "before" phase :)

Stephanie @Eat. Drink. Love. said...

I love this post! What a great idea. I'm still learning so much about this stuff. I have been wanting to go back and re-do some of my photos from older posts.

Laurie {Simply Scratch} said...

Love this! Both shots are wonderful... but I love the tips and you explain them so they actually make sense! :)

Unknown said...

Katrina - Thanks so much!

Stephanie - It's fun going back and getting to redo a photo, it's also a good way to see your own progress when you get to compare the two. :)

Laurie- Thanks gal! I hoped it made sense, I know photo talk can sound like jibberish a lot of times.:)

Elizabeth @ Confessions of a Baking Queen said...

These cookies look delicious, in both photos. I am just learning photography and sometimes I just want to get all up and personal with a cookie then I have to tell myself to step back. This is a great way to see how far you have come and to re visit treasured recipes that sometimes get lost!

Unknown said...

First off, I love the cookies and want them in my face right this instant.

Second, gorgeous photos.

Third, thanks for the link!

Fourth, let's get married. You're my soul mate. :)

Unknown said...

Thanks Karly! Name the time and date and I'll be there! :)

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