Photography Workshop and oh, yeah The Food Blog Forum Conference in Orlando

Last weekend I did not see the inside of my kitchen.  Instead, I was in sunny Orlando, eating huge amounts of food provided by great sponsors like Whole Foods Markets and McCormick & Schmick’s, learning a tons of things from industry recognized stars and meeting the most welcoming group of people I have ever meet.

If you were not following my tweets throughout the weekend, then you would not have known that I was attending the third Food Blog Forum Conference which took place in my home state.


Are all food bloggers this way? Open, giving, fun, crazy, resourceful, talented and I give up! Because I can try to write all the words in the world and still not come close to how this food blogging community keeps blowing me away time after time.  If you don’t believe me, start planning so you can attend the next conference, which will take place in Nashville this coming October and be hosted by Lindsay from Purr Design and Love and Olive Oil.

I started to write a recap on Monday, but as you can see it’s Thursday and that ship has sail, many of my fellow conference attendees have beaten me to the punch and have write stellar ones, much better ones that I could string together and you can read about it from them.  You may want to start with Julie from The Little Kitchen (this girl ROCKS) since she was one of the organizers/host.  The other one was Dawn from Wicked Good Dinner, who also was part of the speakers panel in the conference, and of course we cannot forget the one and only Jaden, from Steamy Kitchen who is one of the founder of Food Blog Forum and an instrumental force in creating the conferences in the first place.

So instead I’m going to write about what I was most excited about in this conference and that was the session with Food photographer and stylist extraordinary Helene Dujardin of Tartelette.  When I started Sweetbites, I wanted my photography to one day reach the caliber of Helene’s photography.  I mean yes, they are so many food photographer out there, and I continue to find them - one better than the next, but Helene – oh boy, she is my “metric bar”, my “golden Star”.  At least for me, because her photography is just so effortless, clean, organic and just plain inspiring.

Needless to say, I was REALLY looking forward to it.

Then a couple of weeks before the event, looking through twitter, there was a post about Helene having a side photography workshop after the conference and there were only 12 spots available.  I think I never responded a tweet so fast in my life. 

I was in! and my level of expectations rose about a gazzillon megawatt - as the days to the conference grew closer, I was as giddy as a bird with a French fry!

Meeting her was truly the highlight of the conference for me.  She is tiny, funny, talented and a great force, the energy in that tiny package is HUGE!.  She makes food photography look so easy and I had the opportunity of seeing that it is true.  In her words – “It’s not rocket science” and as long as you know your equipment, know how to work light to your advantage and practice, practice, practice and practice some more, your photos can be awesome.

On Sunday, she was able to prove it to twelve of us, who gather at the Whole Foods Market and sat for four hours and listen to her talk about her work process, tips and tricks and then help each one of us hands one.  The biggest thing to remember is to READ YOUR CAMERA MANUAL, play with the settings; take tons and tons of pictures and practice, practice, practice and you will soon see what works for you. Expensive equipment is not always needed to take great pictures, she proved it when she showed us some amazing samples that were taken with a point and shoot camera.  At that point I was no longer intimidated by all the “big” cameras around me and my little Sony P&S - I had something to prove! I could do this.

Other things I took away:

  • every photographer is different and each has their own individual favorite shooting mode, so the best thing is to find your own.  
  • always go that extra step to get the great shot so there is little to no post processing (Helene used Adobe Lightroom to organized her photos but never photoshops any of them)
  • read the camera manual to learn what it’s able to do and how.
  • think of aperture and shutter speed settings are sliders and try to get them to meet somewhere in the middle by sliding them closer or opposite of each other, then shoot and shoot some more and see the results until you find the manual setting you like best.
  • play, play and play, by taking picture after pictures
  • use different angles
  • set the mood you want your readers to feel when they look at your food picture by styling it with the right props.
  • don’t go broke buying the best equipment, work your way up to it, by getting the most out of the one you have right now and then when you outgrow it, move to the next one.
  • ask questions but, be specific about them, so the expert can show you how to fix your specific problem.  Don’t ask “how you take that picture” (to broad) Ask “How did you catch those shadows?, fill the frame with light?” be specific in your question and you may get the answer you are looking for.
  • learn the rules, now BREAK THEM.

And so much more.  I know she travels around the country giving her workshops, so if you ever have the opportunity, book it!  Or run to NOW and pre-order her book: Plate to Pixel which is full of all the good stuff you need to know.

The second part of the workshop she put us to work and let us loose around the market to buy food with the sole purpose of styling it and taking pictures of it before it became our lunch.

Do you know how hard is to narrow down a concept to photograph in WHOLE FOODS? And this particular location was HUGE!  I ended up with their roasted tomato soup, a mini ciabatta bread and a spinach and artichokes salad.

Brought my stuff back to our room and set to work.

First I needed a better background than our table surface, so I cut the brown paper bag and used that as my backdrop/place setting.  Then I decided to make my mini ciabatta my bowl and cut a whole and filled it with my soup… topped it with a spinach leave to act as a “fake” basil leaf and left my camera in my usual setting which is my food pre-setting.  this was my first shot:

Not bad, the lighting was coming from the window in front of me and I liked the paper bag but I was not convinced, there was that shadow and well I was not feeling it.. so I took another shot:

as you can see, well above it, looking straight down. Not my favorite, the spoon got cut off and there was more shadows and it was just missing something, I moved things around a bit and this was my third shot: 

Can you catch what I did? I moved the spoon away, poured some more soup, making sure a piece of tomato fell off my bread bowl a bit, and SCORE! I got a spot on my paper, which I totally loved, I started to feel a bit daring and turned my dail to manual mode and played around with my aperture and shutter speed settings. And got closer and started to shoot - picture number four:

Loved it, BUT now the long piece of bread was bothering me, so I walked around and thought about it and re-styled it and once more, with feeling…

Oh yeah baby… this one I REALLY loved, I tried to focus on the dropping piece of tomato and really like the off-focus of the pieces of bread, which I turned into rough broken pieces and just threw them down and left them where they landed… but then, I thought, where is that spoon???? and…..stick a …

fork spoon in me… and if you look closely, the original three pieces of bread became two pieces, for some reason three felt off, so I ate a piece to even it out (I was hungry!).  But, again, it was not working for me yet.  I moved a bit back and tried a different angle and took the top of my container, which had a metallic finish and put it between my soup and me, in order to create a bit of bounce and shine more light coming from the window in front of me, my intention was to make it brighter (at this point I was totally playing)…and got this:

Bounce my friends, BOUNCE that light around!  But, it was way to “bright”.  And I wanted my reader to think “I WANT TO EAT THIS NOW” (because I was getting hungry) so, I thought about another thing that Helene mention “Use your props to guide the reader to something specific in your shot” mmmm, re-style and one more time:

A HA!  Do you want a spoon full of roasted tomato soup?  YUM!

So what do you guys think?  

To see what my other fellow bloggers shot during this workshop you can go to Helene facebook page and take a peek. 

In the meantime I’m going back to playing and shooting some more.