Monday, May 16, 2016

Cameras and Caramel

Caramelized sugar, the product of thermal decomposition. SCIENCE!
Today I came across an absolutely awesome blog: Serious Eats. They are serious about cooking, as they should be. It's serious stuff. Even though my MFA thesis project is created with food, it does seem odd to feature a cooking blog on a photography blog, doesn't it? No. It doesn't. Shut up, Spiders.

One of my oldest friends shared an article from Serious Eats: How to Make Rich, Flavorful Caramel Without Melting Sugar. And it's everything I love. It's food, it's science, it's kitchen-friendly, and it's easy! I was so excited after reading this article, that I had to share it with everyone. All my friends, my Instagram followers, and you, my lovely Spiders. It seemed, though, that most people were not as blown away as I was. So, I'm going to explain why this article is amazing.

It's the science of an ordinary process (caramelization) being dissected, studied, and used to make something far more amazing than you could manage without understanding what is really happening. It's about not being satisfied with the surface, and digging deeper into the mechanics so that you can really take control of a situation.

The writers at Serious Eats are, like Alton Brown, showing that cooking is all about chemistry and physics. There's another article where one of the writers goes in-depth explaining why bleached flour has its place and why, in fact, the bleaching is entirely useful. It's sometimes essential to use bleached flour. Until reading it, I assumed that bleaching flour was just an aesthetic concern. It isn't! It causes important chemical changes in the flour that give flour new capabilities.

How is this all relevant to photography? It's relevant because all photographers should ground their practice in a thorough understanding of how their tools work. If you don't understand the physical processes involved in photography, you're not going to be able to exploit them properly. You won't be able to end-run around problems, or bend the mechanics to your advantage.

Take something simple like a lens flare. If you understand why and how lens flares happen, its easy to avoid them when you don't want them, and control them more precisely if you do want them.

...Oh, and I'm absolutely going to try burying a sheet of photo paper under a layer of sugar, caramelizing the sugar, and seeing what the resulting chemigram looks like. I will not eat the caramel sugar produced, because it will probably absorb some nasty chemicals from the photo paper. I do have high hopes for this idea, though!


  1. Nice blog! I started working with Cyanotype this month. I did some experiments with wood ... tried with leather but did not work :(

    1. Really? I've had success printing on parchment, fabric, eggshells... I can't think of a specific reason that leather wouldn't work.

      Though, I did try suede, real animal hide suede, and the tanning residue caused the cyanotype chemistry to turn blue as soon as it touched the material. Is that what happened when you tried?