Food styling and photography workshop at the Irish embassy

by Jeanne on July 29, 2010

in London food blogger events, Meeting bloggers, Photography

Post image for Food styling and photography workshop at the Irish embassy

When I started a food blog, I had modest aspirations.  I hoped to meet a few like-minded people and pictured myself perhaps being asked to write a few words for magazines.  What I didn’t picture was myself sitting on the grand staircase of an embassy, changing my trainers for strappy sandals in front of two lovely PR ladies that I only met seconds before; or discussing South African restaurants in London with the ambassador.  But that was in fact exactly how my evening kicked off last Wednesday night.

The occasion was a rather novel function hosted by the Bord Bia (or Irish Food Board) to promote Irish products and to provide food bloggers with some useful food styling and photography tips.  To this end, they had provided lavish amounts of Irish food for us to try and to photograph; delicious Irish-themed canapés (the black pudding crostini stand out in my mind); and the company of talented food writer, stylist and photographer Alastair Hendy for the evening.  After my chat to the Irish ambassador, I had a chance to mingle with some of my other favourite London food bloggers like Niamh of Eat Like a Girl, Sarah of Maison Cupcake, Ailbhe of Simply Splendiferous, Bron of Feast with Bron, Pascale of Extra Relish, Michele of 5a.m. Foodie, Anne of Anne’s Kitchen, Rejina of Gastrogeek, Kavey of Kavey Eats and Joanna of Joanna’s Food, Matina of Feta & Arepa and Luiz of The London Foodie before Alastair’s talk got underway.

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I am not going to give you a blow-by-blow account of the excellent tips that Alistair gave – for that, you can’t do much better than Sarah’s excellent post containing 21 top tips from the night.  Instead I will tell you about the random things that I personally found to be the most useful from the talk.  In general, I did not need information on aperture/shutter speed/ISO or white balance, but mostly enjoyed Alistair’s styling tips and listening to how he goes about creating a mood or a series of cohesive pics.  As a general observation, it also struck me how different the worlds of the professional food photographer and the food blogger are.  Unlike Alistair’s shoots, everything that you see on this blog is made primarily to eat – usually less than 30 seconds after the photo is taken, by my ravenous husband.  So although tips like using dulling spray on cutlery may be useful in a professional shoot, I don’t think hubby likes the taste of dulling spray anywhere near his food! I also had to have a giggle at Alistair’s advice not to rent props but to buy whenever you see something you like.  Hubby is NOT going to thank Alistair for that ;-)

Here are my five top tips from the night:

  • Light – it’s the single biggest influence on the quality of your photos.  Get to understand its many colours/intensities, and learn how to use it to your advantage. Diffuse light is better than direct; natural light is better than artificial.
  • Try to take a series of photos that tell a story, e.g. not only the finished product, but some raw ingredients and maybe a relevant landscape or other non-food shot to give context.
  • Keep a series of photos cohesive by keeping to a consistent colour palette, but don’t go overboard on the props.  The food must be the star.
  • Brown food is often ugly – liven it up by giving viewers something else to look at: hands holding the bowl, a spoon dishing up a portion; or a colourful napkin wrapped around a bowl or pot.
  • Perennially popular subject matter for magazine covers (and by extension, blog posts!) includes chocolate, figs and ice-cream.

It was also refreshing to hear Alastair say that Photoshop is an essential final step to crafting a photo.  While I agree that you need to get the best image possible captured on camera, there are very few images that can’t be improved with a slight upping of brightness and contrast, and some colour correction.  People seem to equate the use of Photoshop with somehow faking a photograph (hello BP!!), but Photoshop is the digital equivalent of what a darkroom is for film photographers – a place to tweak.  Realise its limitations (no amount of Photoshopping can fix an out of focus picture!) and use it to your best advantage.

And finally, here is a selection of my photos from the night – the full set is available as a Flickr album (and here’s one of me and my camera from the Bord Bia website!).  For the curious among you, all these shots were taken with my trusty Canon EOS 20D and a Canon 50mm f1.8 lens, which accounts for the very shallow depth of field.  Which is your favourite shot?

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Thanks once again to Alastair for giving up his time to come and speak to us; to the Irish embassy and Bord Bia for organising; and to FoodMatters for inviting me!

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{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

nina July 30, 2010 at 4:53 am

I saw the photos on FB yesterday and I knew there was some great inspiration behind them, thx for revealing the secret……Stunning pics and what a stunning opportunity!!

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reena, coconut raita July 30, 2010 at 5:59 am

Sounds like a great evening. The tip about brown food is going to be useful for me! Thanks for sharing.

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Firefly July 30, 2010 at 7:46 am

Great use of DOF in those pictures. I struggle to get that with my prosumer, but I will get there. I think I have the same aspirations as you had with the hope that more wil come like you have had (makes sense?).

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Juls @ Juls' Kitchen July 30, 2010 at 8:52 am

Lovely lovely lovely! Another reason that makes me regret not to live closer to you all, say… in London!

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Tandy July 30, 2010 at 8:53 am

this sounds really informative – and my favourite is the fork and spoon – somehow it lets the imagination run.

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Marisa July 30, 2010 at 8:54 am

My favourites are the apple (top right) and the cheese (3rd row left). I’m a sucker for bright & happy photos!

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meeta July 30, 2010 at 8:54 am

brilliant pictures sis! he’s not too far off from my presentations and beliefs. I too believe light is the most important aspect and that brown food is most definitely ugly. That is why I have such a hard time shooting Indian curries! LOL! I want a spoon to dig into that honeycomb!

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Rosemary July 30, 2010 at 9:01 am

You have been an inspiration for me. I always try to follow your tips on successful blogging. I am working on my “props” and backgrounds and it really does work. Still have a problem with the winter nights and natural light – have to make food in the afternoon to get the good light (which is a pain).
Thanks again and have a great weekend.

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Nicola July 30, 2010 at 9:08 am

I like the pacman and pink marbled cheese shots, what can I say… I’m a #cheeseslut :)

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5am Foodie July 30, 2010 at 9:20 am

Hi Jeanne. I think I must have some sort of odd obsession with cutlery, because my favourite of your shots above is the one with the fork lying inside the spoon. They both look like they’ve helped someone have something very nice to eat and now just need a bit of a rest!
Excellent summary of the night. I will be taking you up on your offer of a session on photography tips…

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Pascale July 30, 2010 at 9:37 am

Hi Jeanne, great great post! I love the pic of the camembert with the whole red apple behind.

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Ailbhe July 30, 2010 at 9:42 am

Yum, the fork & spoon my favourite. Immediately want to lick them! It was a fun evening and gave me loads to think about later. Shooting in natural light is achievable in summer but like Rosemary above it’s the evenings when I get home and cook that prove the most challenging. Need to give up my day job : )

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Sarah, Maison Cupcake July 30, 2010 at 9:48 am

It was a great evening wasn’t it, we really were spoiled with the content of the evening, the venue and Irish produce we got to take home with us. The light was very challenging but you would never know this from your wonderful pictures. I reckon I need a lens like yours to play with now. See yo soon x

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Helen @ Fuss Free Flavours July 30, 2010 at 10:04 am

I am so so jealous, I adore Alastair Hendy and love his books, but I actually did not know he is a photographer as well.
I must get the camera out and spend a few days just taking photos.
I like the photos of the bread and the one of the apple.

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Kerry July 30, 2010 at 12:50 pm

Great photos! Lucky you getting to go to that event. I wish the Irish embassy here in Copenhagen would do something like that ;-) Also nice to see some other great foodie blogs via your links.
Keep up the great work!
Kerry

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CherylK July 30, 2010 at 2:14 pm

That must have been so inspiring…am really glad you had that opportunity. My favorite two photos are the shot of the red cheese and the honey and yogurt. It was fun to see the shot of you “in action.”
Thank you, too, for the additional photography tips especially the suggestions for improving the look of brown food!

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norma July 30, 2010 at 2:36 pm

What a great eveing. Thanks for sharing. Great tips.

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SALLY2HATS July 30, 2010 at 6:14 pm

Great tip about brown food. Like the last pic best btw!

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valentina July 30, 2010 at 7:46 pm

I love the tips – thank you so much for sharing. You just have this lovely way of putting words together. The brown food tip is pretty good and awfully handy. Now..choosing the favourite shots was hard. However, if I must…I chose two(may I?) 1) the fourth on the right from the top and 2)the one with the honeycomb in the plate – I feel like sticking my fingers and grabbing a piece (excuse my fingers!!)

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Joan Nova July 31, 2010 at 12:28 am

these photos are really beautiful!

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deeba July 31, 2010 at 10:03 am

Fantastic event and a gorgeous post Jeanne. I need to learn a lot of this stuff, and enjoy reading your posts! Loved the montage of pictures, and the aerial apple and cheese view, and the very last picture are my top favourites, but I love the brightness in all of them. Have to stop by at Sarah’s to check out the much needed list of 21! {Just as soon as I get the blessed cobbler you inspired me to bake posted!}

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Jeanne @ CookSister! August 3, 2010 at 12:31 pm

@Nina – it was really a great event. Nothing beats hands-on experience! Flattered that you of all people like the pics :)
@reena – brown food is always a challenge… Hope the tips help!
@firefly – the DoF is a function of the lens, so if I were you I’d invest in something that will do f1.8 or f2.8. The Canon lens I used above is very reasonably priced! You know I love your site & I know you will achieve whatever goals you set.
@Juls – thank you! And oh there are so many reasons for you to move to London :)
@Tandy – glad you liked the cutlery. I loved it even as I was pushing the shutter button!
@Marisa – me too! I struggle to do the whole “muted palette” thing. Give me colour any day :)
@Meeta – YOU struggle with photographing anything?? Now that I find hard to believe, you talented chica! The honeycomb is tempting, isn’t it?
@Rosemary – you always make me blush, girl!! Glad if any of my ramblings have been of any use to you – I love your photos! I think we all need more space (and more understanding husbands!) to expand our prop collection… The light issue is a real pain (particularly in London in the Winter!!) – if you invest in a set of small lights you will never regret it.
@Nicola – aaaha, I KNEW there was a reason why I was drawn to the cheese table – of course I’m a #cheeseslut! :)
@5amfoodie – then we share an obsession because I love that shot too! Love your descripition of it :) And look forward to 23 Oct for our photo session!
@pascale – lovely to see you and glad you liked the pic :)
@Ailbhe – I hear you (about quitting the day job) – life would be SO much easier. Apart from the lack of salary!! Also had/have lots to think abotu after the session. The cutlery pic is proving surprisingly popular :o)
@Sarah – lovely to see you too! The light was a pain – first too yellow, then later too low. Photoshop is your best friend for that :) Hope to see you soon & good luck with the blog migration.
@Helen – I had never heard of him (crnge!) but LOVED his pics. We might be arranging a little photo info-sharing session in oct, if you want to come and play with your camera in the company of other bloggers?
@Kerry – glad you liked the photos :) You should mail Bord Bia – perhaps they COULD do something similar in Copenhagen?
@CherylK – glad you liked the pics (that yoghurt pot was very photogenic, wasn’t it!). As for being photographed “in action” – it was nerve-wracking!! :o)
@norma – glad you liked it :)
@Sally2Hats – brown food is always a challenge, isn’t it? Hope the tips help!
@valentina – thanks! You say the sweetest things :) I love that shot of the blue cheese on the blue check cloth too – it was one of the last ones I took that evening. The honeycomb does look amazing, doesn’t it? Your fingers are excused!
@Joan – thanks so much :)
@Deeba – it was so great to listen to a pro photographer and then have all the food and props on hand to try out what you’d learnt. Wish you’d been there!! I love that aerial apple pic too… And gosh – I inspired YOU?? That’s truly something :)

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