Good Enough to Eat: Learning Food Photography

Recently I posted about the class I had on the first day at Squam—Joy of Intention—with Alena Hennessy. Today, I’d like to share my experience of the class I enjoyed on the second day of workshops—Crisp, with Hélène Dujardin. This class was a foodie’s dream-come-true. First we got to actually make a crisp and then we got to learn how to photography it! Is that a great concept for a class, or what?

Taking pictures of the culinary things I experience—be it a meal I order out at a great restaurant, a latte and pastry from my favorite coffeehouse or something I actually whip up at home—is something I’ve been doing for years. So, naturally I was excited about the opportunity to actually learn a thing or two on doing this the way a professional, such as Hélène, would approach it. Here are some examples of shots I have recently taken with my humble iPhone.

As you can see, these get the job done, but they’re not exactly food magazine or cookbook material. And that’s okay. Most of the time, my purpose for taking these pics is to quickly share on Facebook or to have them act as souvenirs to jog my memory of a particular time and place and they do these jobs as-is just fine. Yet, I always swoon at lovely photos of food in magazines and on many food blogs and certainly wouldn’t mind picking up a few pointers that I could use for a time or two when I really wanted to try and capture the story (as Hélène liked to call it) of the food in front of me.

On the day of Hélène’s class, we started out by learning things like the difference between a crisp and a crumble and little tidbits about the best way to approach each. We then each decided which we wanted to make and we set about mixing up our topping. Next, we cut up our fruit and then assembled everything in our baking dishes to prepare for baking.

While our creations were baking, Hélène started talking about the second part of the class that day—the photography. I felt a little shy with my humble point-and-shoot—a Nikon Coolpix—while everyone else in the class had brought “real” cameras, but was encouraged when Hélène mentioned that she in fact started with as basic of a camera. She said it was certainly not out of the question to get lovely photos from a point-and-shoot and that in fact, some could even rival those from a high-end SLR camera, so I tried to stand confident and sure! Hélène gave us a brief introduction to the basics on aperture, lighting, composition and so forth, referencing her book, Plate to Pixel and showing us numerous helpful photo examples from the book. (I made a note to myself to buy this book as soon as I returned home.)

After our photography lecture, it was time for Hélène to cut us loose and we headed outside to start shooting our baked works of art! I tried shooting in a few different locations including direct sun (which I knew was going to come out a bit on the harsh side) and shadier areas.

Some pics ended up with harsh shadows and over-exposed areas, but I really did have fun playing with composition and really taking time to treat my baked desert as a star.

My favorite of the group was a shot taken on the steps up to the classroom with a pretty grey linen napkin and a few crunchy fall leaves. The shots weren’t amazing, but they were a good start and I was anxious to get Hélène’s book and learn more.

The energy in this class was really wonderful and I loved sharing the experience with such great women. Just like an apple crisp, the day left me warm and cozy inside. (Cheesy, I know, but true.)

After returning home, getting my hands of a copy of Hélène’s book and reading more in-depth about some of the things she had mentioned in class, I wanted to try shooting something new, so I chose a fall pureed soup and parmesan crostini as a subject. In the book, Hélène suggests setting up your shot without the food, so you can be ready to go when the food is actually ready. I gave this a try and found it much easier to play around with the positioning of everything without having to worry about sloshing soup everywhere.

I find Hélène’s book super approachable for an amateur such as myself, and I also love her “natural food styling” approach, meaning she is able to capture the story of the food without using tricks such as Vaseline or blow dryers. As she explains, if you can simply learn the fundamentals of light, depth of field and composition you can do incredible things without a lot of fancy extras. I still have much to learn, but I’m excited to have such a great resource to teach me and future practice is going to be a lot of fun.


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