Chicago Food and Travel Photographer

Reader Question - Photography Gear

I recently received this email from a reader and I thought a few of you may have a similar question so I decided to post the response. I'm always happy to answer questions from readers so keep them coming! 


Good Evening,

My name is Kristine and after watching Tales By Light you have inspired my to advance my skills in photography. If you don't mind me asking, a had noticed that you use a Canon EOS camera. What type to you usually use (not the underwater fish lens)? Wanted to know if you could give me some feed back in regards to what camera preference you would use? I usually take landscape, portrait and some action shots. Not too interested in the video mode, more for the camera. Your advice would be greatly appreciated.
Thank you,



Thanks so much for reaching out. I'm glad you saw my recommendation and enjoyed the show. I'm actually a Sony shooter. For years I was a Nikon shooter but about 3 years ago I switched to Sony due to the size and image quality. My current camera bag is filled with prime lenses (lenses that don't zoom). I find that the image quality and size/weight combo is hard to beat. It can be a pain to always swap lenses but my opinion it is worth it. I currently own a 18mm f2.8 Zeiss, 35mm f2.0 Zeiss, 55mm 1.8 Sony/Zeiss, 85mm f1.8 Zeiss and a 135mm f2.0 lens. If you are looking for an all purpose lens most of the manufacturers make a 24-105 f4.0 which is a good all around lens. There are other options with more range but I feel that they are too slow (aperture) for what I like to shoot. I hope this helps and let me know if you have any other questions.


Food Photography: Steamed Mussels and Cappellini Pasta

I love seafood - and mussels are no exception. My wife and I recently visited Mariano’s Fresh Market to check out the latest local craze in grocery shopping in Chicago; it did not disappoint. The seafood bar had a variety of selections and we decided to buy a bag of fresh mussels. We’ve never cooked mussels at home but was recently inspired by an amazing mussels dish at Acadia restaurant in Chicago and decided to give it a try. The hardest part is cleaning them, but it’s worth the work! Mussels

Campone’s Steamed Mussels Recipe: 1 bag of mussels (about 2 pounds) 1/3 chopped white onion (or 4 shallots) Extra virgin olive oil 6 cloves garlic, minced Red chili pepper flakes Chopped flat italian parsley 1 cup white wine (something you would drink; I like Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay) Salt and pepper Juice of 1 lemon

Directions: Soak mussels in water for 15 minutes to remove any sand. Drain and clean the mussels, scrubbing them with a vegetable brush under cold water. Pull off the “beards”. Discard any that are not tightly closed or any with broken shells. In a deep saute pan, heat the olive oil on medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook for about 5 minutes until softened. Add garlic and cook for a minute without burning the garlic. Add a pinch of red chili pepper flakes and stir. Add a good pinch of chopped parsley, the wine and salt and pepper. Stir and bring to boil. Add the mussels, stir, cover with lid and let cook for 8-10 minutes until mussel shells have opened. Discard any mussels that don’t open. Squeeze juice of 1 lemon into pan. Pour mussels with sauce into large bowl. Serve immediately with some crusty sourdough bread to sop up the juice, and of course, a chilled glass of white wine. Cheers!

Being Italian has certainly rubbed off on my wife. One of her favorite dishes to cook on a whim is pasta. Regardless of what we have in the refrigerator or pantry she can always find enough ingredients to make a simple, delicious pasta dish. Here is one of our favorites: Cappellini Pasta with Tomatoes, Mushrooms and Basil. I love the colors of fresh tomatoes. I used a bright, colorful background to bring out the colors of the dish. A simple white bowl really shows off the dish well and is a nice contrast with the bright colors.

Grape Tomatoes

Cappellini Pasta


Cappellini Pasta

Campone’s Cappellini Pasta with Tomatoes, Mushrooms and Basil Recipe:

Two boxes fresh grape or cherry tomatoes (use both red and yellow for color), rinsed 10 large white button mushrooms, thickly sliced Extra virgin olive oil 6 cloves garlic, minced Red chili pepper flakes Juice of 1/2 lemon Salt and pepper Parmigiano Reggiano, shaved Fresh basil leaves, sliced chiffonade

Directions: In a saute pan, heat olive oil and add sliced mushrooms. Stir only occasionally to let brown on all sides, about 10 minutes. Once browned turn off heat and set aside. Cook cappellini pasta al dente. Heat olive oil in a separate large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add tomatoes and cover with lid for a few minutes. Stir and cook another few minutes, until a few tomatoes start to brown and open. Add the sautéed mushrooms, garlic, pinch of red chili pepper flakes and salt and pepper, stir and cook for about a minute to let garlic soften. Add al dente cappellini pasta straight from the pot to the saute pan. Add juice of 1/2 lemon for a fresh kick. Toss together and serve in large bowl, topped with shaved parmigiano reggiano and fresh basil. Mangia, mangia!

Food Photography: Caprese Salad and Cilantro Garlic Shrimp

I am excited to have recently discovered the world of food photography. I have always enjoyed food and consider myself a “foodie”, which is not hard to do living in Chicago. There are endless restaurants to try, new restaurants popping up weekly, food and wine festivals, and world renowned chefs from Chicago are getting more press than ever. In the spirit of feeding my passions for photography and food and my wife's passion for cooking, I have immersed myself into several food photography sessions to capture some of my favorite subjects (of course enjoying them after the shooting is done). Here is some of my latest work. Being of Italian heritage, I love simple ingredients that also bring complexity and depth. Tomatoes straight from the vine, chunks of aged parmigiano reggiano and fresh basil leaves go well together - both on a dish and in front of a camera. After a few shots of the ingredients themselves we made a simple caprese salad:

Tomatoes, Cheese and Basil


Caprese Salad

Campone’s Caprese Salad Recipe: 2 tomatoes from the vine 2 medium balls fresh mozzarella Fresh basil leaves Extra virgin olive oil Salt and pepper to taste

Directions: Slice tomatoes and mozzarella into thick slices. Layer tomatoes and mozzarella alternately on plate. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Roll basil leaves and slice into thin strips. Sprinkle basil onto salad. For an extra kick, drizzle with balsamic vinegar.

Next, a delicious, easy appetizer (perhaps also a blend of my Italian and my wife’s Mexican heritages!)...Cilantro Garlic Shrimp.

Cilantro Garlic Shrimp

Cilantro Garlic Shrimp Campone’s Cilantro Garlic Shrimp Recipe: 1 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined 4 cloves garlic, chopped Extra virgin olive oil Red chili pepper flakes Fresh lemon juice Cilantro (may substitute Italian parsley) Salt and pepper to taste

Directions: Heat 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil in saute pan on medium-high heat. Add chopped garlic and pinch of red chili pepper flakes to oil and stir for 20 to 30 seconds, making sure it does not burn. Add shrimp to pan and let cook for 2 minutes. Flip and cook another 1 minute or until all shrimp are pink and cooked through. Squeeze juice of one lemon into pan. Stir. Turn off heat. Sprinkle salt and pepper to taste and top with chopped cilantro. Toss and serve immediately.

Product Photography with Beaulieu Vineyard Wine

As a photographer, at times it can be difficult to make yourself get out and shoot. Sometimes you are inspired and sometimes you aren't. I find that my best shoots are inspired by things that I love.  A recent shoot with one of my favorite wines is a great example.  First to set the stage: it was a cold wintery Sunday.  My wife was heading out for some girl time and I hadn't been out shooting for a few weeks .  I caught a glimpse of some wine corks that we had been saving. I  love to capture short depth of field and thought it might be fun to grab a few corks and shoot. Beaulieu Vineyard

Beaulieu Vineyard

Next thing I knew I had a pile of corks on my kitchen counter.  I love shooting food so I started staging the corks setting them up in rows and laying them down.  The shoot was unfolding before my eyes.  I grabbed one of my light stands and booms and grabbed a dark grey bath towel as my backdrop.  I snapped a few photos to see if I could get the light to drop off behind the corks.

I then grabbed another light stand with my small light box and my speed light.  I set this up camera right shooting downward at a 45 degree angle at the corks and the bottle.  A few snaps later and I had the speed light dialed in to a setting that I liked.

Beaulieu Vineyard

The shot was coming together but something was a little off with the bottle.  I decided to grab another speed light and throw on a homemade snoot. I put this on another light stand and put it about 6 feet in the air and shot down at a 45 degree angle at the bottle.  This was the missing piece for the shot.  With this rim light I got a great outline of the bottle and the wine glass in the background.

Beaulieu Vineyard

I then worked through different setups with the corks and the bottle.  I moved the bottle to the front, then the back.  I kept the corks up in a row, then I laid them down.  I tinkered around with the light but kept it mostly the same with little variations here and there.  After about 90 minutes of set up and shooting I was ready to put it all away and edit.

It's hard to get out and shoot in the winter months especially if you live in a city like Chicago but through this shoot I was able to work on my product portfolio with a product I love.  I was also able to escape the winter, even if only for a few hours.  If you are considering getting into product photography or need something to do in the winter months consider setting up a micro studio in your house and getting yourself a few speed lights.  The entire setup here took up no more than 3 feet by 3 feet (not including shooter space).

Oh, and if you want to enjoy some delicious wine, check out Beaulieu Vineyard's website, I highly recommend it. Cheers.

Beaulieu Vineyard

Beaulieu Vineyard - Napa Valley CA

Beaulieu Vineyard - Napa Valley, CA Beaulieu Vineyard - Napa Valley, CA

Beaulieu Vineyard - Napa Valley, CA

Beaulieu Vineyard - Napa Valley, CA Beaulieu Vineyard - Napa Valley, CA

What Inspires You....

Photography can be an interesting profession.  If you are a creative shooter as most of us are, at some point you run out of ideas of what to shoot. I can see this being an issue whether you shoot landscapes, street photography, or in a studio setting.  After a certain amount of time you start to feel like you've shot the same shot, the same setup, the same subject.  The question is how do you keep it fresh?  How do you stretch your abilities and push yourself into new creative endeavors? I think the answer varies for most people but very often includes personal projects.  The goal is to shoot the things and projects that you like and you find interesting.  It's hard when you are in the same location to keep it fresh but even if you can't travel to a new location do something different.  Model Mayhem is a great site that matches models with photographers.  Most models work for free in exchange for copies of the photos you take.  If you are in a rut hire a model and shoot for an afternoon.  Get out and go have some fun. This time of year is especially tough because it's so dark and so cold.  It can be difficult to be cooped up all winter but consider moving inside and setting up a small macro studio.  You'd be surprised how interesting some of the small things around your house look with a macro lens.  Even if you don't have a macro lens pick up a 50mm f1.8 lens.  It's not quite a macro lens but it works fairly well.  I've got a nice little set up that allows me to shoot models in my house.  I bought a 9 foot white paper roll from Calumet Photo and a backdrop mount that I can put up in about 15 minutes.  It's a great way for me to get my fix in the winter months.  The set up was relatively inexpensive and I can buy more paper and different color paper if I decide to go that route.  The set up also works great for pets too.

I love Google+ because there is a vibrant and flourishing community of photographers that share a ton of work.  Yes Facebook is the 800 pound gorilla, but Google+ arguably gets better interactions and feedback than Facebook. This is especially true now that Google+ rolled out communities. Google+ communities are a great way to participate in a semi-private circle where only the members can interact.  You can have multiple treads with different topics such as critiques, discussion or gear. I currently participate in 4 communities (Long Exposure Photographers, Chicago Photographers, Landscape Photographers, and Sports Shooters).  I've found that in these communities the interactions and feedback is even better than the general Google+ feed and you can hone in on particular topics that interest you.  Communities are a great way to get your work out there and share it with the photography world.  You can find pretty much anything you are looking for from sports shooting to food photography and everything in between. I find myself spending 10-15 minutes a day just looking through all the great shots that are in my communities and my Google+ feed.

I also have found that there are some great e-books out there on photography that help inspire my personal work.  I personally love Digital SLR Magazine I know it's not an e-book per se but it is available in iTunes and I tend to read it on my iPad.  I also love to read Chicago Social Magazine.  They have great photographs and product shots that get me thinking of what I can shoot around the house and how I can stage my next model. Some of my other favorites come from Flatbooks which I believe is owned by Trey Ratcliff. Craft and Vision also has some great e-books that teach you the technical skills you will need but also offer some inspirational images.

One of the websites that I read pretty much daily is FStoppers.  They put up some great articles on the technical aspects of photography and do a lot of great behind the scenes (BTS) videos with experts from all over the industry.  Some of my favorites are behind the scenes videos of Vogue shoots or some of these extreme sports shoots.  It's definitely a site worth checking out and visiting often.

I think the final key to growing and progressing is shooting when you have the muse.  For all your Timothy Ferris followers out there you know what I'm talking about but for those of you who haven't read The 4 Hour Work Week the muse is shooting when you feel inspired and in the mood to do something.  It's the worst when shooting becomes a hassle or a job that you don't like.  If you are like me this is the hardest part of being a photographer because I feel that if I'm not doing something that I'm not moving forward.  When the muse is around I tend to do my best work and feel the happiest about what I'm doing.  Hope this post gave you a few ideas on how to keep motivated this winter and whenever you are feeling in a rut.  Let's hope for an early spring so we can all break this house arrest and get out and shoot.