Tillman's Roadhouse

It's been a busy 4 months here in Dallas, Texas, shooting jobs AND moving from old to new studio!  Here is a job I shot for one of our local favorites back in May, Tillman's Roadhouse. Some new tasty dishes for their 2014 menu.  Shot in a 7 hour day, with available window light, at the restaurant.  Using black cards to substract light and increase contrast.  I kept moving the table to adjust for best light on each dish.



Dinner Party For Modern Luxury

Modern Luxury Magazine invited me to shoot and enjoy this fine evening of food, friends, and the best Rosé I've ever drank!  At the Burn's residence in Dallas, Texas.  Read more about the Rosé here.  Shot with available light.


Parsnip for New Year!

Happy New Year to all!  Wishing all my visitors good health, peace, love, prosperity, and good fortune in 2014.

I begin this year with a couple of pictures of the parsnip.  Why a parsnip, you might ask?  Because one of my fav art directors, Jamie Laubhan-Oliver, called me with a last minute request needing a shot of it.  And in my humble opinion, It’s a pretty shot, and because I haven't posted anything since October!  And because somewhere in the universe, this handsome vegetable is a symbol of fertility, or good fortune.  Perfect foto for the new year!

Finding it in December was not easy though.  No luck at at the local grocery stores.  Adorable and perky Kelley, better known as Jennie Kelley, of MasterChef fame, knew exactly where to find it, but I can’t tell you where, I am sworn to secrecy.

Parsnip actually makes a great zuppa.  And Jennie actually used it that same weekend for her underground restaurant. I’ll have to photograph the recipe soon…

I present to you, The Pastinaca Sativa!  Root vegetable of fertility gods, somewhere.

Feliz y prospero año nuevo!


Central Market. Keeping It Real.

Real food. Real meals. Fotographed for Central Market, with art director Garrett Owen from RBMM, Dallas. I am very fortunate to had been chosen to work on these images with Garrett, spurring us to “make it dirty”! Food styling by Stephanie Jo Greenwood and Robyn Valarik. Prop styling by Kristen D. Butler. Food stylist assistants, Yvonne Clarke, Jennie Kelly, and Tony Montanez. Asistente de Fotografo. Benjamin Gibson.

Shot with DSLR directly above dish, on simple white background. Lighting source was one soft-light box high above, with a fill card here and there.

Casa Rubia

Baudoin y Flores! (wouldn’t that be a good name for a bottle of a vino tinto español?) are the dinamic duo, manager and chef respectively, of the deliciously successful Driftwood restaurant in Oak Cliff, Texas.  This fall they will be opening a second restaurant in Oak Cliff by the name Casa Rubia, focusing on “modern tapas” a la Omar Flores.

I’ll be hoping for a Paella Valenciana, can Flores deliver?   ;-)

When I arrived at the restaurant for our photo session, John Baudoin was seated at a table with the wine rep, tasting Spanish wines for Casa Rubia. A tough job but someone has to do it.  There was beautiful energy and light to photograph John Baudoin right there where he was sitting.

The restaurant (Driftwood) where Flores was cooking the dishes for the shoot has windows all around so finding a table to use the available light was not difficult. The fotos below were lit with window light from the left side of the camera, rotating the table and dish so as to have the strength of the light coming from behind the dish.  I almost always rotate the plate to find the best highlights and shadows on the food.  If you do this the food will tell you how to shoot it. And as usual, no extra cards or reflectors were used.

The fotos of Flores in the kitchen, were a bit more challenging.  It’s a tight kitchen and the guys are prepping food, so adding a light-stand, a power pack, cords, and camera tripod, was out of the question.  I shot Omar with the available kitchen lights, with a high ISO (2400), hand held DSLR. I think it works.

Read more about Casa Rubia and Driftwood here and here.


Muchas Gracias! To all of you who voted for me!

DaVinci Wines has selected me as one of the 12 finalists to capture the DaVinci wine making culture with my camera, in Tuscany! Please go here and, if you think I deserve it, vote for me! (you can vote once every day) 
Molte grazie!

Butternut Squash Soup

A quick post of the butternut squash soup I shot for D Mag last week. I love soup! Growing up, seems like mom made some variety of soup almost every month. One doesn't wait for cool months in Miami to drink soup. This butternut squash soup was very delicious but we will have to wait for the recipe till the next issue of D Magazine's D Mom is published.  Food styling by Stephanie Greenwood.  Art director, Jamie Laubhan-Oliver.


The background was a large marble slab we use in the studio all the time.  It is one of my favorite surfaces. For lighting I used one large softbox high and to the left of camera, and slightly behind the soup bowl, placed just at the perfect spot to capture those pretty "liquid" highlights on the surface of the soup.  No fill cards. Camera was placed almost directly above the bowl, and the capture had to occur promptly so that the spoon wouldn't sink too fast.

Playing With Macarons

Some people are obsessed with macarons, I’ve learned.  I guess that is why there are quite a few places popping up around town that specialize in macarons.  I am not one of them, I find them extremely sweet.  Go figure, for one who likes to have ice cream for breakfast with sugary cereal and sweetened condensed milk!! (see previous post)  

These images were taken for one of our favorite Dallas agencies, The Richards Group.  Art directed by the fabulous Glen Dady, with the help of art producer and macaron taste tester, the incomparable Wendy White.  Resourced and styled by Kristen Dale Butler.  Macarons came from Tart Bakery.


Lighting was a single strobe shooting through a 6’ X 6’ diffused scrim, what I like to call a simulated window light, on the left side and slightly behind the macarons, with no fill cards.


Ice Cream For Breakfast!

Ridiculous!  Oh come on, once a year won't hurt.  Pick your favorite ice cream, your favorite cereal, and your favorite topping, and enjoy.  Look, it's cereal with milk and sugar.  What's the big deal.  

We actually did this for a client a couple of years ago, and they all participated!  They had a very guilty look on their faces all day, and not much got done the rest of the morning, but they loved it!  My personal favorite (not photographed, so not to be tempted) is Häagen-Dazs Chocolate with Sugar Corn Pops, drizzled with sweet condensed milk!

Camera directly above.  Window light from the left.  Black 4' x 4' card above the camera to kill any fill light and add contrast.  Kristen Butler keeps it cheery and breakfastsy looking with her prop styling and Food Stylist Stephanie Greenwood whips up the real thing in six different flavors.  Ben Gibson, photo tech and official taster. Couldn't do it without them!

So, without much more to say, here is our take on it.  


Boar’s Head Red Velvet Cake

Yes you read correctly.  A red velvet cake made into the shape of a boar’s head.  This was one tremendously fun shoot for Rob Brinkley at FD Luxe Magazine.  Conceived and styled by the one and only Jimmie Hensley.  

Not a typical food shot, but I decided to include it in my blog because it was fun and simply wanted to share this with you all.

We love how Jimmie mixes it all up here, a $17,000. Hermes folding bench, a $5,000. Ralph Lauren stag punchbowl to hold the McDonald’s french fries, and the amazing cake by Lauren of Fancy Cakes. The cake was all real!  Fondant on the outside of course and delicious red velvet inside. Served with veggies made with fondant as well.

I did not include the picture of the boar’s head cake sliced open because it didn’t look very appetizing. Tasted like red velvet, but not a pretty shot.  :-(

The mostly overcast day was perfect for the shoot!  I am lucky that way.  Just a few fill cards here and there. The main shot was done with camera on tripod, later I walked around with my camera hand held.

I hope you like the change of pace.

 Click on dots to see the rest of the fotos!




La Ventana

Taco stands in Dallas, Texas are like Pizza stands in New York, seems like there's one in every corner. 

This one, La Ventana, I shot for FD Luxe Magazine last month and it sits directly behind another two Tex Mex restaurants.  Yes, three Mexican restaurants on one city block!  Yet they all have their distinct flavors, decor, and atmosphere, keeping us all addicted to Tex Mex. 

We didn't take any lights at all for this since we new we were going to be outside, the only seating available.  We shot the food right before dusk, and simply held a 4' X 4' black card directly above the food/table allowing light to come from the sides.  Other than having my assistant tilt the card to allow more or less light in, that was it.  Sweet and simple.  The other environment shots were done with a tripod at dusk and after, allowing longer exposures for the lights around the eating area.

Hope you like.

Click on image to view more images from this shoot.

La Ventana For Fd Luxe Magazine


La Ventana For FD Luxe Magazine

Chinese New Year Studio Dinner 2013

What is a Cuban doing celebrating the Chinese New Year you might ask?

Well let me give you a tiny bit of Cuban history my friends.  The Chinese came to Cuba in the mid 1800's to toil in the sugar cane fields.  Some as slaves, others looking for better working and living conditions as compared to what was going on in China at that time.  The Chinese found the Cubans attractive, started marrying and having sex, or maybe the other way around, and by 1870's there were over 40,000 Chinese in Cuba!  In Habana they established "El Barrio Chino" (Chinatown) becoming the largest community of Chinese in Latin America.  And to our benefit, leaving behind a rich and unique fusion of Chinese-Cuban cuisine!  Not to mention the countless Cuban Chinese anecdotes, stories, and jokes that I grew up hearing in Miami.  I will not attempt to tell you one of those jokes here because I will ruin it.  Trying to tell a Cuban Chinese joke in English is just not going to come through in writing.  It's like trying to read Cervantes in English, or Shakespeare in Spanish.

Still I haven't answered the question, what is a Cuban doing celebrating The Chinese New Year, in Texas?!  Well first of all, Cubans will celebrate just about anything, anywhere.  And since my Chinese food stylist Erin Quon was in town styling another job for me, she wanted to do this for the crew, how could I deny her.  So, we made it into another photo shoot opportunity to share with you all.  I believe we got some great images while having a great time with our family and friends. Pretty good, no?  You can view the complete dinner here.

Food styling by Erin Quon and Jennie Kelly.   Set and props by Kristen Dale Butler.

The menu included:

Asian style whole baked rock cod with sesame oil and soy and ginger.

Chinese  fermented black bean and tomato Dungeness crab.

Steam pork buns.

Pork and shrimp dumplings with scallions and soy sauce.

Stir fried egg noodles with chicken shrimp and sautéed veggies.

Stir fried baby bok choy with ginger and garlic.

Braised pork belly with hoisin sauce and finely sliced scallions.

Steamed rice with lemon grass.

Dessert: coconut ice cream with black sesame short bread cookies and fresh passion fruit.

Click on image to view all the images from this session. 

Lighting consisted of bouncing one daylight 1200 watt HMI lamp (like ones used in movie sets, very bright) off a white wall about 20 feet from the table/set (wall is about 20 feet wide, 10 feet tall).  I chose this way of lighting for two reasons, first I new I was going to have a large set with people and needed a very soft source of light to avoid deep long shadows.  Second, I wanted to have just a bit of movement as our guests served them selves and moved around, (HMI light is a continuous source of light, as different from a strobe, allowing me to capture movement).  As far as lighting, that was it.  No bounce cards.  The light was bouncing off the main wall and spilling everywhere, ceiling and other walls in the studio.  

We had one camera attached to the rafters directly above the center of the table to capture the overhead shots. My assistant Roderick JalaPeña triggered that camera remotely from the computer, while I walked around with a second camera capturing details. The shutter speed on the overhead camera was set at 0.4 second to capture the movement you see in some of the shots. ISO was at 800 at ƒ/14.  On the second camera I pushed the ISO to 3200 allowing me to hand hold the camera at a faster shutter speed (1/125 second at ƒ/5.0)

Duffy Doughnuts!

I love doughnuts. Plain doughnuts.  No glaze, no sprinkles, no fillings.  However, plain cake doughnuts will have to be for another day.  For this photo test we did chocolate doughnuts with all kinds of glazes concocted by our one and only Jersey girl, Dr Duffy!  Liz Duffy is another highly skilled food stylist that I have the good fortune of working with. While on one of her recent trips to Dallas for a photo shoot at my studio, after we were done shooting for our client we decided we weren't tired enough that evening, so we made doughnuts.  We shot them while she was prepping them in the kitchen and immediately took them over to a 1960's set styled by our own Texas boy, Jimmie Henslee.  The table looks a like my mom was about to have some cafe con leche y un dono, back in the 60's when she use to smoke.

Lighting for both sets was the same, one strobe head in a soft box, about 6 ft high, almost directly above the surface, slightly camera left. No bounce or fill cards.  I just wanted to do it a little diferrent than my usual window light from the side.   

To view all of the images click here.



¡Bate Que Bate Chocolate!

That's Cuban for "beat that chocolate well", as in mixing it well.  As you can see, it rhymes.  And if you can sing it to an afro-cuban beat, as in rhythm, you can imagine how sexy that can sound.  Yes, Cubans have used it in their songs for many years, like Celia Cruz and her "Azucarrrr"!  And my beautiful wife and kitchen goddess, Vanessa, can beat that chocolate pretty well!  For our studio Holiday gift to our readers and subscribers, she has mixed her often requested hot chocolate with a Cuban favorite, caramelo. Hope you like it.  

Below is her recipe.

Wishing you all a Happy Navidad, and a Propserous New Year, regardless of what those bufoons do in Washington. 

Amor y Paz.

Vanessa's Hot Chocolate

4 oz. Ghiradelli bittersweet chocolate baking chips

2 oz  Whole foods 365 Organic semi-sweet

2 c. Half & Half


To Make:  Melt chocolate chips on med heat with 1/2 c. of half & half, whisk while melting.  After choc. melted add rest of ½ & ½ slowly while continuing to whisk.   Heat till warm enough to drink; (I heat till it starts to just bubble around the edge).



 3/4 c. heavy cream

3/4 c. sugar

2 tsp unsalted butter, room temperature

1/2 tsp sea salt


To Make:  In a small sauce pan, heat the cream over medium heat until it just begins to bubble at the edges; turn the heat down to low.

In another med. saucepan, add the sugar and heat over medium heat until the sugar is melted and light to medium gold in color about 5-7 minutes.  

If your melted sugar is darker gold in color, remove the pan from heat, and add the heated cream, a little at a time, whisking after each addition to avoid lumps.  Once all the cream is added, whisk in the butter & the salt.


To serve:  As this is rather decadent...I find it best to serve in an espresso cup.  Pour the espresso cup 1/3 full of caramel, top with hot chocolate, and enjoy.


Chocolate Bliss

Not much of a story with this one.  Just go to the FD Luxe website, read about it, look at the images, salivate, and make your reservations at Five Sixty.  It is truly delicious and worth the experience.




The lighting for this one was a fun challenge to say the least.  The dining area where we were to set up our shot is 560 feet in the air, atop Reunion Tower, on a rotating platform!  So, as you can imagine, the light was constantly changing.  The restaurant rotates 360 degrees, and the sun was sometimes on our side and sometimes not.

First we had to find the right table, in the right section, that would allow us room enough to move the table in one direction or another, making it easier to adjust our table to the light.  Then, set up the dishes, napkins and silverware, take some test captures till I had the composition I was happy with.  Once I was satisfied with everything, then it was a matter waiting for the sun to come around and let the waiter do his thing!  And what a delightful thing it was!  He re-did the soufflé for me about three times, but that in itself was marvelous watching.  Just tearing into the hot soufflé, seeing it melt the gelato and the whipped cream, and then that dark chocolate sauce being poured all over it!  One gains weight just looking at it.  Now it was time to just let the waiter pour the chocolate sauce and allow the sun to come around and bathe it with life.  Not a bad job, no?

And yes, my assistant and I ate what was left. And no, no lights added, just the sun plus a 3' X 4' white bounce card about 2 feet to the left of the table to provide a bit of fill, and that's it.


Yet another restaurant that proves that Dallas Texas has no reason to envy the great restaurants in New York or Chicago, or anywhere else!  Boulevardier in Dallas’ Oak Cliff neighborhood is at the top of the list! 

My eyes and mouth had the superb pleasure of enjoying this place a few Sundays ago during a photo shoot for FD Luxe magazine.  One notable dish, their bouillabaisse, a very sensual offering that requires a pause when it first arrives at your table.  You just stop everything you’re doing and stare at it, mesmerized. My senses in lust over the texture, the flesh, the colors, the smell!  I wanted to shoot it immediately, but I just kept turning it and admiring the view from different angles. (Yes I am still talking about the bouillabaisse)  Clams, mussels, snapper, octopus, prawns, in its broth, oh my, what a broth!  Reminding me of the Paella Valenciana back in my home town of Miami, Florida. The hell with taking a picture of it, I just wanted to eat it!  

But wait, I’m loosing light!  I must deliver this image to FD by Monday morning!  When I was finally able to concentrate, I took at least a dozen different angles, they were all beautiful!  

James Wolfe, my assistant, and I, were finally able to sit down and enjoy this deliciousness, wine and dessert included!  So if you live anywhere in the Dallas metroplex area, you have zero excuse not to try this place, and soon.  

Please, visit the FD Luxe website here to read a bit more about Boulevardier.

Bon appétit!


Best of Big D

For this year's D Magazine's "Best of Big D" Issue, big D's best art Director ToDD Johnson wanteD a 3 scoop ice cream cone with a reD scoop on top.

And what ToDD wants we give! 

After shopping arounD for the brightest reD ice cream ever maDe and not finding any, Big D's best fooD stylist Paige Fletcher haD to create her own secret Fletcher formula that I am not alloweD to reveal.  She maDe real ice cream.  None of that fake baking soDa with crisco combination!  That is not the way she rolls.  So it melted. A lot.  And she haD to reDo the ice cream scoops over and over again till we haD a great series of fotos to present to DemanDing ToDD.  

The folks back at D office loveD the shot.  It maDe the cover and I will get paiD for taking a picture of an ice cream cone!  Life is gooD.  No?

Lighting for this shot consisted of a single light source high above the ice cream cone slightly to the left of the camera to create the sense of strong sunlight.  The strobe head had two layers of scrim/silk material placed very close to the bare bulb itself, partially cutting back the amount of light that was falling on the ice cream cone yet allowing a higher value of light to spill on the background, hence the lighter shade of pink requested by the art director.  A small white card (approx 5" X 7") was placed camera right, slightly behind the cone to add a little fill and catch a few highlights.

My goal was to create strong specular highlights combined with deep shadows that highlight the creaminess and the texture of ice cream.  Probably a dozen diferrent ways to achieve that. 

The scoops were done and replaced on set over and over again, no less than two dozen times, till we had the desired shape, hight, and melt.

Torticas de Morón a la Manny

Torticas de Morón are a short bread cookie originally from the city of Morón in central Cuba, in the province of Camaguey.  This was from way back before Castro's revolution, so no, not in any way a result of Castro's influence.  Nothing good has come from that man any way.  Don't get me started!  ;-)  

It seems like this cookie was what put Morón on the map, and I've never met any Cuban that doesn't like them. This one is not authentic since I give it my own twist with cream cheese and guava.  And that little sprinkle of sea salt on top, suggested by my friend Kristen B, makes it very unauthentically yummy.  

The idea came to us from a request made by an editor at Saveur, so look for the recipe on their website this coming holiday season.  I'l keep y'all posted when that happens.

Recipe tested and baked by the illustrious Jennie Kelley!  Propping and styling by Kristen Dale Butler.  Tasting by Manny R.




Heirloom Tomato

My fab studio maven Kristen Dale found this gorgeous tomato at market this morning while shopping for our shots today. She new I would like it.

I lit it with the light from another set. Simulated window light, coming from about 10 o'clock. No fill light. One 2' x 4' black card above tomato to increase contrast.