Pretty Dishes

Food Styling and Photography Workshop
August 15, 2010, 1:21 pm
Filed under: Photography

Last weekend I attended my first, and much-anticipated, food styling and photography workshop. It was held at the Spare Room studio and taught by Lara Ferroni, a multi-talented photographer and writer with whom I have worked on several books. The class covered the basic principles of lighting, aperture, focus, props, etc. specifically for food still lifes. We discussed our areas needing improvement, the general rules of styling and image layout, and some tips and tricks for accomplishing the best photos possible.

Since I am very shy in new situations, it was to my advantage that I already had a relationship with Lara and also had previously attended a cookbook photo shoot (by Clare Barboza) at the studio. It allowed me to get out of my head and calm my nerves, and instead get to work. Another nice thing was that only three people had enrolled for that particular session, so the group was intimate; it allowed for more personalized feedback and questions.

I will refrain from sharing a list of what I learned (though I may make mention in random future posts if they relate to a given photo shoot), as I don’t think it is fair to simply regurgitate the information without context. Anyone who is looking to improve their food photography would be well served by attending the class and getting that one-on-one time with Lara. This was the most valuable part for me—I was able to ask a professional direct questions and get her detailed critique right as I was shooting.

I am so pleased with my final photos. I can’t believe I took them! I started with the items of focus (nectarines, peaches, cookies) and then just built the set around them. I was amazed at what I could capture with the right lighting and reflection tools, all of which were natural and easily accessible. Certainly it didn’t hurt that there was plenty of space to move around, multiple tables on which to set up, myriad linens and dishes to use as props. But I styled everything myself, I directed the angles and use of light, I shot it with all my own camera and lenses.

That didn’t keep me from walking away lusting after my hopeful next step up, the Canon EOS 7D body. Not only is it an upgrade to more professional specs and capacity, one of the coolest newer features that my Rebel lacks is the Live View mode, which enables using the full display screen (or a tethered computer) as the viewfinder. You can zoom in to find the exact point of focus, ensure the highlights and shadows are just perfect, and other detail work that the eye viewfinder just can’t provide. I hope to get my hands on a 7D in the next year or so, which will only help me improve further.

As for the photos themselves, we did a few setups: fruit in a bowl/on a plate (I tried two variations) and then two styled shots using props. Of note: Usually I downsize the photos for the web, but in this case I uploaded them at full resolution to display every detail. I shot about two hundred frames total, playing with various angles, placement, light fill, and the like, and then I narrowed these down to one favorite image from each of the four setups.

Overall I have tended to shoot landscape since I am often documenting the cooking process, and as such I want the focus to be on what is happening front and center rather than showing glimpses of what is in the background (on the counter, etc.). With styled finished shots, however, it is more typical to shoot portrait so that depth can be established and there can be a “story” about the dish through the use of related props. Also, since these types of shots will typically be used in a book or magazine, portrait makes the most sense.

Anyhow, as you can probably tell, the class was exciting and fun, and it made me ever more pumped to continue on. One downside is that I won’t always be able to recreate the lovely lighting conditions we had that day, so I will continue to be disappointed when my photos have a yellow or blue cast that I can’t quite compensate for in Photoshop. I also won’t always have the time to take such special care with plating and display (yet another argument for not shooting when you are starving . . . ). This is all part of the learning process, though, and I have to acknowledge that I am not yet at the point where I can push aside all other obligations to pursue photography, which is a factor when considering what I can reasonably accomplish with it. That aside, the fact that the potential is lurking beneath the surface somewhere is thrilling.

Do you have questions or feedback about the workshop or my final photo selections? Be my guest!


3 Comments so far
Leave a comment

These are great! Makes me want to take a class like this. I think I like the peaches best – their juiciness comes through your picture in full force – I think I may have to run to the farmers market real quick to get some…

Comment by greeneyedgirl

Thanks very much! Lara had just canned them the day before (and they smelled heavenly). Welcome and I hope you enjoy the blog!

Comment by prettydishes

I love the overturned purple-blue container in the last picture, along with the mint sprigs. Interesting and beautiful detailing, bravo!

Comment by Christi

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