Coming up with an idea for two pictures that show the contrast between “straight” and “curved” kept my mind busy for a while. I eventually decided on two different pictures of a cucumber – if it’s one of the EU-standard-adhering, within-nought-degrees-curvature cucumbers, then it is straight when you look along it, but curved if you look at a cross section created by slicing it.

Cucumbers, chilli, sunflower seeds on a chopping board

The ingredients for the cucumber salad. I got a bit carried away and made sure to get all the cucumber sticks to be exactly the same size.

The next step was to figure out a way to make a picture of a cucumber interesting. Let’s face it: A straight picture of a cucumber has about as much visual appeal as a bland cucumber has taste. But maybe a nice salad, with different shapes, flavours and textures, incorporating some straight cucumber sticks, might be interesting. So I set off to the local Sainsbury’s to look for ingredients that could add that little bit of special to my salad, and came home with cress, baby leaves, sunflower seeds, cucumbers and some red chillies for visual contrast, as well as for adding a little kick to the concoction.

Having mixed the salad, and dressed it with some extra virgin olive oil (oil for creating a sheen on the vegetables, extra virgin for taste) I put in on a white foamboard for a nice, clean background, polished a stainless steel fork, and set to work on the lighting. Food typically looks best with light from above and behind, so I put a flash on a boom behind the salad. With the flash bare, I got nice specular highlights in the surface of the salad – and ugly specular highlights on the fork. So I added a softbox, which made the light a lot more pleasant. However, the softbox also reduced the amount of texture I could see in the salad, so I added a bare flash from the side to let a little light rake across the salad without hitting the fork. To finish the lighting off, I made a couple of reflectors of crumbled alu foil to throw some light back into the scene, and to soften the shadow in front of the salad. Exposure was a matter of trial and error until it looked good. Finally, I added a bit of freshly ground pepper to the salad for some additional texture and detail.

With everything dialled in, I simply shot a sequence of about 8 pictures, turning the salad a little between each of them, to give myself a selection of different views to chose from.

Cucumber salad with straight cucmber sticks

Reviewing the picture today, a week later, I’m not sure if I got too caught up in “picture of salad” and forgot about “picture of straight”, but since there are straight cucumber sticks in the foreground, I’ve decided to stick with it (if you’ll pardon the pun).

For the curved shot, I wanted to emphasize the soft colouring of the flesh and the multitude of curves in the circumference of the cucumber. So I cut a handful of thin slices and placed one on a glass shelf with a flash underneath, so the light would shine through the cucumber.

The first shot with just a single slice and focus on the seed pods didn’t look quite right, so I experimented with placing additional slices partly covering the orignal. As long as the slices were thin, I found that the flash could easily shine through several layers. The setups got more and more elaborate, but in the end I picked one of the first shots where there’s only five additional slices placed in a circle around the center of the first one.

Overlapping thin slices of cucumber

Overlapping thin slices of cucumber, lit from below to emphasize the curves

And then, with the two shots in the bag, I ate the props. Apart from maybe adding a bit of sea salt, which would also give some nice, bright specular highlights, I’d do it all the same way again!