Boulder Food and Light Workshop

August 4, 2011  •  Best of the Food Web,

I spent the past two days in a food photography workshop in Boulder – it was aptly titled Food and Light, but it was really so much more. The workshop was all about the intersection of a camera, a food-oriented subject, personal style, and the use of technology. In the end it was all about feeding the hunger we all felt to learn more, to shoot better, to develop ourselves through our food photography. This still life was the first thing I shot – I actually shot it 47 times, learning as I went about my camera’s capabilities, the light in the room, and how to capture the best photo. I like it, but I don’t love it. It kind of showed me how very much I had to learn – as if I didn’t know that going into the workshop.

But fortunately, I did learn a ton this week, and as our instructors asked, I’m sharing in the hopes that some of you might also learn. I’ve accompanied my notes with a few of my favorite photos from the workshop.Food looks better with side or back lighting as it’s main source of light, coupled with a lighter secondary source to even out shadows as needed. If shot straight on, you lose the perspective. Also, as you can see above, light through glass and water lends an attractive, almost dreamy, element to a photo. I also learned that cutting food in interesting ways can make a much more interesting picture than just the single whole ingredient.Direct sunlight is too harsh (but can be treated in post processing to some extent) and indirect natural light is best, if you have it. But that doesn’t mean food can’t be shot with artificial light, you just need to know how. Use your camera settings properly, set up your primary and secondary sources of light, test it out through multiple shots until you get it right. By the way, a cloudy day can be just as hard to shoot as there isn’t a primary source of light. You can also adjust this by adding artificial light and/or by using a black bounce to remove light from one side of your subject. I finally learned how easy it is to use a bounce.Food styling is hard and takes practice. It’s sometimes about adding more elements, and it’s sometimes about taking things away. Movement. Texture. Color. Height. Background. Lines. Symmetry. Rule of Thirds. Triangles. It’s a lot to think about, no? The first shot above was my styling. It’s not very good because the white bowl sort of dies into the white tablecloth. There isn’t movement or very much texture. A fellow student styled the bottom shot (she won a prize for her photo of this, but this one is my photograph) and you can immediately see the difference styling makes. The yellow tomatoes help pull that color out a bit, the dark and rustic board makes it a bit moody, the thyme bundle adds texture and interest and the spoon balances the frame. Also, flat food (like the surface of this soup) is often better shot from above straight down, whereas food with height can be shot straight on or at a 3/4 angle.It may sound silly, but I learned how to use my camera – the same camera I’ve been shooting with for 18 months. I learned that I can operate it manually now successfully, but that I don’t always need to. I learned that aperture priority setting, for me, making use of the light meter in the camera to increase or decrease shutter speed while manually setting my ISO, works pretty darn well. Sadly, I learned that my kit lens isn’t very good, but happily I learned that the 50mm lens I purchased but never used is probably one of the most versatile lenses for food photography. I also learned that I now want a 60mm true macro lens. (Thanks for encouraging me to try it out, Jason!) And this might really shock you, I actually learned how to focus my camera. Yep, I can now take it off autofocus, know where to adjust my camera for my own personal vision (which is less than 20/20), and know how to manually focus where I want the shot to shine. Sounds simple, but it’s actually harder than you think if you aren’t a trained photographer.I learned how to correctly use Photoshop Elements to post-process my photos, but I also learned that it’s really important to get the very best shot you can with your camera first. While post processing software can help correct a lot, many of the things you end up doing are actually destructive and take away from the overall image you’ve shot. It shouldn’t take more than a minute to post process a food photo – a quick look at the tint and temperature (tip: natural light, especially with a big blue sky like Colorado, can have a blue tinge to it that you’ll want to correct), a simple run through the exposure to adjust lighting levels, perhaps a little saturation, color adjustment and sharpening (but not too much) and you should be done. Crop it. Save the original (“it’s the only copy you have of the original”). And save your processed photo with a new name.On top of all the learnings, I got to spend two days with four incredibly talented photographers, met some wonderful people who want to improve their photography for any number of reasons, and got to eat at SALT, the restaurant where my daughter now works in the kitchen (can you hear the pride in my writing?). She hadn’t come in for her shift yet, but she works the salads and this wonderful salmon salad with heirloom carrots and beets is something she would be putting out of the kitchen.

All in all, a wonderful two days – many thanks to everyone!


7 Comments  •  Comments Feed

  1. My Kitchen in the Rockies says:

    I am so excited for you that you were able to attend this photo work shop. Isn’t it amazing to finally get to understand your camera better? Karen and I took several classes with Jennifer Olson. Lighting is the key and so easy to mess up. Will you be attending Jen’s food styling work shop in September?
    Oh, I left the meet up group, so sorry I won’t see you there anymore. Lunch one of these days?

  2. Jenny @ Savour the Senses says:

    So jealous. I am going to come over some time and you will have to re-teach me everything, so I hope you took notes! 😉

  3. Lea Ann says:

    Your photos are excellent Michele. I really would like to attend that, just couldn’t this year.

  4. Boulder Locavore says:

    I have been thinking of you Michele wondering about the workshop (with no doubt it would be spectacular). There really is so much to learn when operating your camera manually and trying to style food as well (two totally different animals) I find I learn things everytime I ‘make’ a photo. I look forward to catching up live soon! I love SALT. Wrote an article about them last fall I think. Really a star staff, the owners and chef.

  5. SUsan Schneckner says:

    Your photos are excellent — this new ‘education’ will make them even more so!

  6. Chris @nestlefoodie says:

    Michele – it was such a pleasure meeting and talking with you at Food and Light! Your photos are beautiful! Loved your post-processing notes…I am always learning!

  7. Karen Harris says:

    Great write up Michele. There is so much to learn but I keep telling myself to slow down and learn from my mistakes. Your photos are beautiful.

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