Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Photography - May/June 2020

The May/June blog hop for the Jewelry Artisans Community is about photography.  Specifically, how we photograph our jewelry.

My jewelry photos have definitely evolved over the years.  They've gone from out of focus, reflecting the glare of a flash and poorly composed photos to fairly well composed, well lighted and in focus.  There is room for improvement, but I'm mostly satisfied with the quality of my jewelry photos these days.

I use a Cannon Power Shot SX720 to take my photos.  I'm very pleased with the Power Shot; it not only does a good job for close up work, but it takes terrific photos of landscapes, wildlife, people and even action shots.  With it's powerful zoom I can even get photos full of lots of detail from far away.  It's said that taking good pictures isn't so much the camera as it is the person using the camera and I believe this.  I've seen stunning photos taken with a smart phone camera and lousy photos that have been taken with a high end, expensive camera.  What I think is really important is to learn how your camera works (both it's strengths and weaknesses), study lighting in various scenarios, work on composition and practice, practice, practice.

My current set up is to take photos in a corner of my kitchen where a west facing window and a south facing window meet in a sort of 'L' shape.  The light is filtered by the over hanging eaves, and thanks to the eaves, I never have to work in direct sun.   Using this location, the window of opportunity to take the best photos is between 11:00a.m. and 2:00p.m., when the sun is high in the sky and isn't making deep shadows.

I use three large pieces of foam board as background and to reflect the light.  I put one piece of foam board on the counter and lean two of them against the window.  The reason for two pieces of board against the window is because I find that the light coming in from outside shines through one piece of board, but two is enough to block it out.

Laying on top of the bottom foam board is a piece of off white textured scrap booking paper.  I gave up long ago on having bright white backgrounds which are difficult to achieve as they often have either a bluish, yellowish or grayish tint.  Instead, I favor having a bit of texture to give visual interest to my photos without creating a distraction that takes attention away from the jewelry which is the main subject of the photos.

Next, I usually place a small prop on top of the textured paper.  It could be a piece of coral as pictured here, a rock, a piece of wood or a white plate.  There is a great deal of debate among jewelry photographers about the use of props.  Some feel that they create busy backgrounds that distract from the item that is being showcased, while others feel that they enhance the photos and tell a story.  I happen to love props, but I always keep in mind that they should be something simple and I avoid the temptation to go overboard with props.  In this case, I'm using a piece of white coral as a backdrop for a pair of earrings.

When taking photos of small items such as these earrings I use the macro mode on my camera and get in as close as possible to the subject.  The camera lens is no more than an inch or two from the item being photographed and I take several shots from many different angles.  The end result is a close-up shot that is clear and shows all of the detail in the earrings.

When photographing earrings, I also want to show what they look like hanging in order to give people an idea what they would look like being worn.  A white coffee mug makes a good prop for this purpose.

Again, I get in as close as possible with my camera:

At this point, I will often crop my photo to remove distractions such as the line where my foam boards meet, to take out most of the mug and to focus attention on the jewelry:

A tripod is a valuable tool to use when taking photographs as it eliminates camera shake which is often responsible for out of focus photos.  I use a gorillapod mini.  It's small, easy to put into most any position and prices start around $25.  They are also cute, colorful and fun!

When it comes to editing, there is also some debate about that.  Some photographers feel that photos should be published as is and that editing is a form of cheating.  Personally, as long as the item being photographed remains true to it's real life appearance, I think editing is a valuable tool.  I use a free online editing program called BeFunky and I'm quite happy with the site.  There is also a pay version that includes many more features than the free version. 

My photo editing is mostly limited to cropping, resizing, brightening and adjusting colors.  I also like to use the sharpening tool.  When editing, I think it's important not to over edit; the idea is to simply enhance the photo just enough that it's the best photo it can be.  If that can't be done with minimal editing, it's time to take more photos.

Overall, I very much enjoy taking photos, both of jewelry and of things I see while going about my days.  When I look back at photos I took a few years ago, it's really quite rewarding to see how much progress I've made with improving my skills.  I look forward to continuing to improve as I try new techniques and learn new skills.

To see what the other participants of this months blog carnival have to say about photography, please click on the links below:

Cat's Wire

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Making Yogurt at Home

Plastic.  Yes, all those empty plastic yogurt containers and my desire to reduce the amount of plastic consumption in my household is what first led me to attempt making yogurt.  Those containers seemed to multiply by the day.  I saved some to use when making jewelry, to hold paint or glue or water to wash out paintbrushes.  Some of them held stray beads.  Others were used for food storage.  But, still they came.  The area where I live does not have a recycling program and I had to do something to stem the tide.

I checked out recipes on the internet and came across a few that called for making yogurt in a crock pot.  After trying a crock pot recipe, I started wondering why I couldn't just use a heated bowl.  I tried it and that worked great without all the bother of getting the crockpot out.  My first attempts at making yogurt were not exactly what I had in mind; the yogurt was too thin and runny, but it tasted good.  So, I kept at it, learning from each batch I made, trying new things and am now at the point that I am thrilled with the results.  The texture, thickness and flavor have surpassed any expectations I started out with.

It is not hard to make.  It is actually surprisingly easy although it does require some time, but most of that is for culturing the yogurt and does not require anything from the person making the yogurt other than waiting.  I find it to be a very interesting and rewarding endeavor and I hope that if you decide to try making yogurt, you think so too.

Besides reducing your use of plastic, making your own yogurt gives you control over the ingredients that go into your yogurt.  It will also save you money.  Your yogurt will have a lovely tang, not that sour flavor so often found in commercially produced yogurt that has to be covered with loads of sweetener to be edible.

You will need the following ingredients to make your yogurt:

1/2 gal or 2 liters whole or reduced fat (2%) milk
6 ounces / 100 ml plain whole milk yogurt

You will need the following items:

A large heat safe glass or ceramic bowl or a slow cooker/crock pot with removable crock
Large colander/strainer
Large bowl/container
Cooking thermometer (preferably electronic/digital, but I have used a candy thermometer successfully)
Large cooking pot
Three large towels

Pour milk into large pot and slowly heat to 200 degrees F / 93 C stirring occasionally.

While milk is heating, bring water to a boil, pour into heat safe bowl and let stand.  If using a crock pot, turn empty crock pot on to low in order to heat removable crock.

When milk reaches 200 degrees, remove from heat and let cool to 115 degrees F/ 46C.  To speed up this process, you may put your pot into a sink or large bowl full of ice.

When milk reaches 115 degrees F / 46 C, pour hot water out of heat safe bowl, dry bowl and add cooled milk.  If using a crock pot, remove the crock from the cooker before adding cooled milk. If water conservation is a concern, save the water for watering plants, filling pet bowls, making tea or coffee, etc.

In a separate small bowl, stir together 1/2 cup / 100 - 120 ml of cooled milk and 6 oz / 100 ml of plain yogurt.  These measurements do not have to be exact; I'm trying to give both the US system of measurement and the metric measurements while keeping in mind the size of containers sold in the grocery stores.  For example, in the US a small container of yogurt is six ounces, but a half cup is 4 ounces.  There is no need to try to measure four ounces of yogurt to get a half cup - six ounces will work just fine.  

Stir the yogurt/milk mixture into the bowl/crock containing the rest of the milk.

Cover bowl of yogurt mixture.  I use a dinner plate.  If using a crock pot, use the lid that comes with the crock.

Set covered bowl/crock on a folded towel and wrap the remaining two towels around the bowl/crock.

Place out of reach of curious pets and away from drafts.  Leave for 12 - 14 hours.  I like my yogurt really thick and have found that 13.5 hours works best for me.  I make my yogurt mixture in the evening and let it sit overnight on my kitchen counter.  After 12 hours have passed, remove towels and check yogurt.  It should be thick and look similar to pudding.  If it is too thin, cover and allow to stand longer.  Check every 30 minutes until it is the right consistency.

When yogurt has reached the proper consistency, fold cheesecloth into three thicknesses and line colander.  Place colander over large bowl and spoon/pour the yogurt into the colander.

Refrigerate, cover and allow excess liquid to drain into bowl for 4 - 8 hours.  The amount of time is a matter of preference.  When you decide the yogurt is the thickness you like, it is done.

Midway through the draining period, remove yogurt from fridge and gently stir in order to allow whey to continue to pass through colander.

 The liquid byproduct that results from draining the yogurt is whey which is a good source of protein and micro nutrients.  I love the taste of it and usually drink it after it has been chilled in the refrigerator.  It can also be used in cooking - add to mashed potatoes, soups, smoothies or use in bread dough in place of water or milk.  I recently used whey instead of milk in my bread dough and it made the best bread - a wonderful, chewy texture and a light sour tang that  was reminiscent of sour dough bread.  Will be doing that again for sure!

When yogurt reaches desired thickness, stir gently until creamy and put into a covered storage container.  As I mentioned earlier, I like my yogurt thick enough that a spoon will stand up.

This recipe will yield approximately 45 ounces of yogurt and 16 ounces of whey.

I love the slight tang this yogurt has and find that eating it with fruit adds just the right amount of sweetness for my taste buds. 

However, I realize that many people do not care for the flavor of plain yogurt, not even delicious homemade yogurt.  To get the flavor you want, simply add honey, sugar, maple syrup, jam or jelly, fresh fruit, canned or frozen fruit, dried fruit, granola or chocolate chips - the possibilities are endless!

Refrigerate and enjoy.  Will keep for two weeks, although I think it would be fine for up to three weeks.


Whole milk makes a richer, creamier yogurt, while reduced fat (2% milk) has less calories.  For my taste preferences, I find the reduced fat milk to have a lovely creamy texture and I feel that it is a healthier choice.  

Prior to making yogurt, remove milk from fridge and allow it to come to room temperature to shorten the time it takes to heat the milk to 200 degrees.

My experience has been that if the milk is allowed to culture longer than 14 hours, it turns into a soft cheese. Similar to cream cheese, it can be spread on English muffins, bagels or crackers.  The cheese can also be seasoned with garlic and herbs if desired.

Save 1/2 cup of your homemade yogurt as a starter for your next batch of yogurt.  If you keep it going, you will never have to buy yogurt again!

This yogurt has a nice tang, but is not sour like so many commercially produced yogurts.

Rinse out cheesecloth, hang to dry and it can be used again and again.

Besides having found a way to reduce my consumption of plastic containers, I have come to really enjoy making yogurt.  To me, it's very interesting to see how the culturing works and to explore the sometimes unexpected results (such as making cheese!).  If you decide to give it a try, I hope you enjoy the experience as much as I have.