Photo Contest for Curdbox | May 2020

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Here at curdbox we have a few Replica Surfaces that we use for our photoshoots. If you’re not familiar, Replica Surfaces are backdrops that help set a scene. For example, that subway tile wall and granite counter in our May box shoot? We wish we could say that that beautiful space was in our home, but no, those are Replica Surfaces.

We thought it would be a cool project to reach out to other photographers who use Replica Surfaces and run a little contest—they get a free curdbox and send us their photos, and we decide on a winner and send them a free Replica Surface, on us. We had a lot of fun running this contest and seeing how different people staged and paired the box. Below you can see a sample photo from each of our contestants, and read an interview with the winner!

Carly Guss
Carly Guss, of Confections by Carly, is a maker of many chocolate treats. One peak at her Instagram and you can tell she has an eye for fun patterns and composition. We loved her shot from above of the Jcoco chocolate bar, the Chocolate Capri log, and the Mexican Chocolate Cha Chas on slate.

Photo by Carly Guss

We thought was so clever to plate it such that the shape of the pairings mimics the shape of slate itself. In fact, the whole thing reminds us of the game of Set (…anyone?), each pairing has something in common and something different with the others. 

Regina Shinall

Regina Shinall is a photographer with a background in fine art photography and portraiture. And what a portrait we got—Regina really embraced the spirit of the box with her Cha Cha-Capri-Jam cookies.

Photo by Regina Shinall

The glistening jam, the creamy Capri, the crunchy cookies—a decadent photo for a decadent treat!

Nicole Grady

Nicole Grady, of Sweet Mazie's Baked Goods, also incorporated interesting patterns and props. Her photos were crisp, clean, and bright, which really make the cheese and pairings pop! 

Photo by Nicole Grady

We love how she fit the whole box into one tight shot, but without it feeling cluttered. Also, I love having the three cheeses all right next to each other—it really allows you to see the different textures in each cheese.

Caitlyn Decker

Caitlyn Decker is a trained chef, and her batch of photos included a few different series —a cheese board, a picnic, a ham and cheese sandwich, and a chocolate soufflé. The culinary elements were a delight—how inspiring to see all the different ways you can use your curdbox! 

Photo by Caitlyn Decker

This cheese and jam baguette sandwich looks so good, we don't even know how she had the self control to compose this shot—we probably would've dug right in.

Daniel Calderon—the winner!

It was a hard contest to judge, but ultimately we decided to give the prize to Daniel Calderon, whose ultra crisp images had us saying “Damn, Daniel!” Clean, sharp, and precise, his images look more real-life than real life itself. 

Photo by Daniel Calderon

Interview with Daniel Calderon

Note: The interview has been edited for clarity. 

Daniel Calderon, May Contest winner

CB: Your photos were fantastic! What is your professional background, and your background in photography?

Daniel: I’m a creative director, mostly doing website design and app design, but I also do product photography, videography and post-production. I went to school for graphic design so I was exposed to the full gamut of design—print to photography to video and obviously web design, which ended up being my career. But it’s all kind of circled back to photography. Over the past few years, I’ve been reaching for my Nikon more and more–shooting videos, doing product photography, putting myself out there, like with curdbox.

Can you tell me about how you approached the shoot?

So the biggest thing that I always think about when I’m shooting a product is I think about what type of environment that product should be in and what type of objects should be with that product. So with curdbox, it’s cheese, it’s gotta be on a cheese board, maybe add a knife. Another thing I added was fresh fruit, just to help bring out the colors a little bit. There was jam in the box, was it blackberry and raspberry? I didn’t have those, but I did have strawberries and blueberries. 

I don’t think anyone was paying attention to that.

But as a perfectionist I thought, these photos turned out pretty good, but if I did it again, I’d probably correct that. 

Tell me more about your setup.

From a lighting perspective, I used one to two lights. Sometimes I had the light just above the product, which floods the whole space with light so that the product really stands out. Some of the other shots, though, I lit off to the side and/or above the product, which kind of simulates the sun. This gives the photo a very natural style and is very pleasing to the eye. And then with the camera, I just had it on a tripod, and again, I kept adjusting the angles that I was shooting at. Sometimes I was a little higher, sometimes I was a little bit closer. Something to consider when you’re shooting product photography or food photography for that matter, think about if you want to shoot top down or straight on or somewhere in between. Different foods have different advantages. For example, pizza doesn’t really look good straight on because it’s so flat, so you typically see pizza shots over the top of the pizza. With cheese, it’s kind of in between, so that’s why I was at around a 45-degree angle when I was shooting.  

I was trying to get pretty sharp images. You can bring down the aperture and get a nice depth of field, but if the product isn’t sharp, it’s not going to look as good on a web page next to some text. I’m always thinking about how the product will look on websites or social media. Another technique I would like to try in the future is focus stacking, which involves you taking several photos and stitching them together in post to get an extremely sharp composite.

What do you shoot with?

A Nikon D800, and the lens was a Venus Optics Laowa 60mm f/2.8 2X Ultra-Macro.  It’s a nice product lens because it can get nice closeup macro shots, but you can also zoom out a little bit to capture more of the subject. I was able to be pretty versatile with a single lens and not have to worry about swapping.

How many photos did you end up taking?

The count was…71, let’s say 70. Less than I thought actually, for how long I was shooting. I started around 5ish after wrapping up my 9-5, and then it was like 8:30/9 and I was like, I need to eat dinner!

Well you have a snack right in front of you, you can just start eating the product! Which was your favorite cheese and pairing?

I’m of Mexican descent so with the Mexican Cha Chas, I was like, you’re speaking my language here. 

And for the cheese?

I was lucky enough to go to France last year, and goat cheese is their thing...anyway, there was one product that had a mix of chocolate and goat cheese. That was my favorite. Such a unique flavor, I’d never had anything like it, and the goat cheese flavor sent me back to France, where I went to an actual goat cheese farm and saw how it was made.

Did you have a favorite photo?

So, I think I like this one the most:

Daniel's favorite photo

It has this nice cast shadow, it kind of looks natural. I’m using an Aputure 120D Mark II with an Aputure Light Dome. I had the light dome above and at a 45 degree angle, pretty close to the product, and layered the light with several layers of diffusion and a honeycomb grid, so the light was powerful–yet still soft. Overall I like the contrast in this one, the shadow play, and the overall composition.

I always like the opportunity to improve my styling skills when I’m photographing a product like this. There were a lot of different items in the box, so this was a good challenge, this was me trying to arrange it on a cheese board in a way that looks natural, but it also highlights the products in a very nice light. Again, now that my OCD is kicking in, I forgot to include my favorite cheese here! So you’ll notice the first half of my photos don’t have the chocolate capri.

I actually hadn’t noticed that.

Well now it’s like Daniel, never mind, you’re not winning, I’m sorry. That Replica Surface we promised you? Kiss that goodbye.

Yeah, you’re disqualified! The photo that I had chosen was the one with the cheeseboard up against the curdbox itself. And it has the chocolate capri coin in the front.

Yeah that one’s nice too. The chocolate stands out a little bit more because I’m a little bit higher over the top of the whole arrangement. Now, as a graphic designer, I wish I would have angled the camera slightly to better capture your logo, if I did this again I would definitely want your brand more prominently highlighted. You see curds & co in that photo. But it’s a little too subtle for me.


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