This post is really darn late, I know. I had grand plans to tell the story of the two days I spent at the Food and Light Workshop in Boulder with four fabulous photography mentors and 25 workshop participants, to tell about all the wonderful people I met, to wax poetic on the food, to show photos of the beautiful scenery. It was all amazing and worthy of several blog posts.
But I realized during the weeks following that what I needed to write would not go into infinite detail about what I saw and experienced, but what changed for me as a result of the workshop. Sometimes it takes a while to ruminate on, process, and digest everything when so much was learned in a compressed time period, and I’ve constantly thought about my photography since then. There were some “aha” moments, a few “why is this part still hard” moments, and many “I’m so glad I did this” moments. The weekend was very productive and worthwhile.
First of all, I came away from Food and Light wanting to improve my photography skills overall, not just my food photography. So guess what I did last weekend? That story coming soon.
Second, I thought more about direction of light. Todd and Diane did a great session on the best direction for food lighting, and the concept is very simple. Think about light in relation to an analog clock. Back lighting, or 12:00, gives a luminescent kind of light, just use a reflector in the 6:00 position so the front of the food is softly lit. Light that comes at an angle from the top, or 10:00 and 2:00, also gives beautiful light and shows the curves on the plate. Lighting solely from the front at 4:00, 6:00, and 8:00 flattens the look of the food. Just a minute or two looking at the light before you start styling and shooting can make a huge difference in the quality of a photo.
Third, I knew we had to finally do something about the lighting in our kitchen; our dark, windowless kitchen. The kitchen has pot lights embedded in the ceiling, and we had put in compact fluorescent soft white light reflector bulbs, but they give off a yellowish light in the 2700K to 3000K range, which messes with white balance and makes shooting process photos at night a real challenge. We swapped out all of the light bulbs in the kitchen and replaced them with daylight compact fluorescents, which have a color temperature of 5000K like my studio lighting. We used a mix of the 15 watt and 23 watt bulbs to give brighter light in some parts of the kitchen, and the difference was immediately apparent. This simple change in lighting made a big difference in both my photos and videos.
Fourth, the styling session with Helen and Diane was very interesting to watch and really helped me feel better about my own process. Each of them has a unique style and approach, and we got to see Helen work with a tough subject: refried beans. Great stuff to eat and serve, but as we know many brown foods just don’t appeal to the senses if not lit well and styled properly. Helen set up an ingredient shoot and showed us how she plays with placement of each item and shoots from several different directions and angles to get her final result. Her process was very precise and she seemed to have a checklist of shots in her mind as she began.
Diane demonstrated a finished dished and how she changes elements one at a time. She shoots the dish by itself, then adds a napkin, then a utensil, maybe some other food for background context, or maybe adds height to the food by setting the plate on an inverted bowl or even scrunching up a napkin and putting it under the food to raise it up, then changes placement of the added items. Diane’s process felt very organic.
We had an opportunity to try out some top notch lenses graciously loaned to us by Pro Photo Rental. I played with the 100mm macro and a 24-70mm, both sweet lenses. But as tempting as it could be, I will say that I didn’t feel an overwhelming urge spend a bunch of money on expensive equipment. I did purchase some of the clamps that Todd and Diane use to hold parts of the set or even forks and spoons in place, and I’m planning a trip to the fabric store for some colorful cloth to serve as napkins and table covers. After watching Todd and Diane’s light demonstration and seeing some of their examples using flash, I now have a Canon Speedlite and a collapsible diffuser on my Christmas and birthday list so I can play with light at home and have a portable light source when traveling.
It’s been almost three months since the workshop, and I miss everyone. Jen, Todd and Diane, and Helen were so helpful and good to work with. Photography workshops should be relaxing and fun as well as informative, and I think they accomplished that. And dinner on Sunday night at Jen and Jeremy’s place was a blast! It was great fun to hang out with Susan, Lisa, Anita, Helen, Todd and Diane, and our fantastic hosts. Jen’s food is as good as it looks, and the company was superb.
Thanks to The Kitchen in Boulder, specifically the bartender who graciously put up with my snap happy habit during lunch on Saturday.
And a big thank you to all of the workshop sponsors who made those two wonderful days possible. Special thanks to Chefs Catalog for the wonderful gift bags, Sugar Bakeshop for donating all those beautiful cakes and pastries for us to shoot, and Savory Spice Shop in Boulder for the spices in our bags as well as the spices we used in the shoots. I could spend hours in that store and wish we had one nearby.