Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!


Mr. Turkey usually graces our table around Thanksgiving time.  It's a fun decoration for the grandkids and uses a perfectly good pumpkin left over from Halloween.  Speaking of turkey, last Friday I took my daughter and daughter-in-laws, (I feel bad that we were missing my oldest daughter who lives out of state), to a cooking class taught by a master chef who has more initials after his name than I could count.  He taught us how to make a perfect Thanksgiving dinner, and then of course, we ate that perfect Thanksgiving dinner after the class!  We all agreed, it all was absolutely heavenly!  Everything from the best stuffing, to rich bread pudding, to fresh cranberry sauce, to yams that anyone would love, to the moistest, most flavorful turkey we had ever eaten.   He says the main problem in cooking a turkey is that it often is very dry.  I want to share with you his secrets for roasting turkey:  

  • It doesn't matter what brand of turkey you use, or whether it is fresh or frozen.
  • The first thing to do is rip the self timer out.  He says they are often set way too high, to assure there won't be any lawsuits resulting from undercooked poultry.
  • Use your own meat thermometer put in the thickest part of the breast meat and set it for 165 degrees.
  • Always roast your turkey in an open roasting pan sitting up on a rack in the oven at the oven temperature suggested on the turkey wrapping.
  • Never cook your turkey in a bag, or upside down, or sitting in the juices because this is a different method of cooking, i.e. braising or steaming.  Turkeys should be roasted as indicated above.
  • Now comes the most important part.  The secret of a moist turkey is to submerge it in a brine mixture for at least 4, but not more than 24 hours before you cook it!  The basic recipe for the brine solution is one cup of kosher salt and one half cup sugar dissolved into one gallon of cool water.  The amount needed will depend on how large your turkey is.  You can use a stock pot, a bucket or whatever fits so the turkey is submerged and the container can sit on the lower rack of your refrigerator.  If room in the refrigerator is not an option, you can use an ice chest that you have thoroughly cleaned or one of those throw away Styrofoam ice chests, put in the coolest place you have and keep ice on top.   When you are ready to cook the turkey, rinse then rub on your favorite spices, eliminating the salt, since the turkey will have already absorbed a significant amount of salt and any drippings you use for gravy will already be salty.
We are going to give this a try to see if we end up with a moist turkey that is as mouth watering as his was.  I wish I had time to tell you how he made dressing, gravy and yams.  It was all yummy!

Well, tomorrow I hope all your tummies are full of good food that you will be sharing with family and friends.  I hope you take the time to tell your family you love them and to say a prayer of thankfulness and gratitude for all the blessings you have been given by a Father in Heaven who loves you and watches over you.  And,

Studio Lighting at Home - Something to Think About

I have always been a natural light kind of photographer.  I could say that I choose natural light because it is the prettiest light, and being outdoors is much preferred to being in a studio, plus I can't take pictures of mountains, and fields and far away places indoors!   Plus with all the lenses I want to buy, there's no money for lighting equipment.  All these things are true.  But there is another truth that keeps tickling the back of my mind and it has to do with being on the back side of middle age.  And that is, there might come a time down the road when I won't be able to traipse through the woods, or climb mountains to take pictures, or shoot bridals out at the lake.  And even though I hope this is years into the future, when that time comes, I know I will still be interested in photography, and I will still have grandkids to take pictures of and relatives and friends asking me to do family portraits, graduation pictures to take, etc.   And, I'm still thinking I might try some stock or still life photography.  I'm thinking as I type this.... when we are in the middle of a blizzard.... that it would really be nice to take pictures without having to postpone because of the wind, the rain, the mud, the cold, the whatever. 

So this means setting up a home studio.  Now if you're like me, and have no desire to be a professional portrait photographer, it's easy to dismiss this idea quickly.  After all, first you need the space, then the money to invest in lights and stands and softboxes, and backdrops, etc.  And another big deterrent is that you have to learn a whole new set of skills, which doesn't seem possible or practical when there's still so much to learn about basic photography and editing skills.  Still, wouldn't it be nice, to have a place available all the time, with perfect light and exposure control, that is only a few yards away???

Thinking about this was tempting enough for me to take an all day studio lighting workshop with one of about three legendary portrait photographers living in my area.  I learned so much that would be impossible to discuss in a short blog post, but here are several important things I can share:       
  • I realized why photographers who spent the majority of their careers in the studio, (before it became popular to have environmental portraiture), LOVE their studios.  It's because they have absolute control over their environment.  They can create beautiful light with every shot.  No guessing, no changing settings because the sun went behind a cloud, no stopping because the wind is creating havoc with the bride's elaborate hairdo, etc.  (Unless you want wind, then you turn on the wind machine, the fog machine, or any number of other devices to create interesting and moody scenes.)  
  • I learned that if you have a space in your basement or spare room or garage, it is not as expensive as I thought to set up a basic home studio.  There are ways and means to get everything you need for a very modest price, and many ways to save money by being creative and innovative.  I learned that Home Depot (or Lowes) can be your best friend!
  • Most importantly, I discovered that learning how to set up and use studio lighting is not as difficult as I thought, and with minimal training, anyone can master the basics.   And once you have your lights set to your liking, your shots will turn out perfectly exposed with beautiful lighting, every single time!
Some of the class participants at the workshop acted as models for the rest of us, and then we had a ballerina come to pose for us.  With a simple lighting set up that we all learned quickly, I shot the following image, and about 10 more of this lovely young lady, and every one turned out perfectly exposed and beautiful!
Beautiful Ballerina
This photo was taken in our classroom after it was quickly transformed into a 'studio'.  The windows were already  covered with non see through fabric, a backdrop was quickly taped to the plain wall behind her, then three lights moved into place.  A fill light at the back of the room, a main or key light to her right side and slightly behind her and an accent light to her left.  Voila!  This is what I shot!  Tomorrow I'll post some of my other shots of our class 'models'.  
So, bottom line, I'm sold and will slowly start buying, gathering and/or making elements to set up a VERY modest home studio.  Next Tech Talk Tuesday I'll tell you some of the tricks I learned about how to do this on a tiny budget!