Sunday, September 20, 2009

Tasty Travels: Foodsnap in Seattle

From the list of numerous reasons I decided to start this blog, becoming a better photographer was right up there at the top. But I can tell you that after almost a year of shooting my delicious life, I have a long way to go before "food photographer/stylist" is anything I can list on a resume. A LONG way. Truth be told: I have no idea what I am doing, and it very often shows. Granted - I pull off some great shots from time to time (if I do say so myself), but for every one of my photos that comes out well-lit, beautifully composed and drool-worthy... there are dozens of others that stink up the place like the remnants of last night's fish dinner. And don't just take my word for it - the voluminous quantity of images I've had rejected from juried food photo sharing sites like Tastespotting and Food Gawker for reasons such as "unflattering composition," "unappealing subject matter," "dull/unsharp image" or "lighting issues" only further prove my point. But, ego aside, I learn a lot from the anonymous criticism (even if I don't agree), and keep attempting to improve.

So imagine my delight one day when I was catching up with my Twitter feed and saw a notice from Keren Brown of Frantic Foodie for a hands-on, one-day food photography seminar that she was putting on in Seattle. The class would be taught by Lou Manna (formerly of The New York Times, currently working with pretty much any chef you can name off the top of your head), along with a host of some of Seattle's top food shooters (Lara Ferroni, Barry Wong, Rina Jordan and others). The thought of such an amazing wealth of expertise and talent not only assembled under one roof, but doling out tips and advice to folks like me? My heart skipped a beat. And then I bought a ticket.

If you know me, you know that I'm not exactly the spontaneous, impulsive type. To not only purchase admission to the seminar, but to go as far as to book a plane ticket - without consulting husband or boss or conscience first - something obviously had struck a chord. I was hungry.

So this past Friday, off I went. Bound for Seattle, determined to come back with a full plate of new skills. Even so, I was intimidated, no doubt about it. One of the requirements for the seminar was for attendees to upload samples of their food photography to a Flickr group that Lou would publicly critique. After looking at the other photos that were being shared, I started to wilt with self-doubt... there were some damn good photographers coming to this thing. How would my work compare? Me, with the non-existent studio and rudimentary equipment, attempting to play with the big boys. I got a stomach ache.

Turns out, I could have left the Tums behind... the review was one of the highlights of the seminar, and probably the point at which I learned the most. Lou was very fair and honest with his critiques, and delivered even the harshest assessments with a smile, a joke, and some advice for how to improve.  When he got to my photos, they were all very well received (phew!) - he complimented the composition of each and every one. And for my shot of some Purple Heirloom Tomatillas, he had an especially glowing review: "Nicely lit, beautiful composition.... seriously, this is a very pretty shot."

After hearing his take on the nearly 200 photos, I have a much better understanding of composition and learned that the devil is in the details. (The amount of detail that goes into a commercial food photo shoot... hoo boy. I thought I had an idea. I didn't.) I couldn't wait to put it into practice.

Lucky for us, after some technical instruction on how to use our cameras (stuff that - go figure - I was doing right!), and some insider tips on lighting (using mirrors, reflectors, foil, glass bottles...), we were turned loose on a room full of food products, props, tableware and more, provided by the seminar's sponsors. They had different studio lighting scenarios that we could try, various tools and materials at our fingertips, and the pros at our disposal.

I couldn't have been any more geeked out. Not only was I spending an afternoon taking pictures strictly for pleasure, I was in a room with fellow foodies just as geeked out as I. It occured to me that I actually didn't really know any other food bloggers until that day. To suddenly be surrounded by people who don't find it one bit odd to want to take a photo of a chili pepper that you have placed just so was pretty empowering! Needless to say, I met a lot of really great, wonderful, encouraging people.  The networking aspect to the day wasn't something I had necessarily anticipated, but has already turned out to be extremely rewarding.

All that being said, I put together the following photo essay of my day. I figure that a picture really is worth 1,000 words... so I'll quit writing right now and leave you to the pretty stuff. Enjoy!

Milling about the gorgeous space, 
waiting for the seminar to begin.


Doughnuts, Frost

Tablescapes from Red Ticking; food from Fooducopia

Wraps from Andaluca

 Cheese plate, Fooducopia

Flowers, InBloom Designs; Tableware, Red Ticking

Tableware, Red Ticking 

 Vegetables, Fooducopia

 Spices, Fooducopia

 Grains and rolls from Bluebird Grain Farms

  Chocolates from Emily's

Chocolates, Emily's

Cupcakes, Wink

Gelee Cocktails from Kathy Casey

Gelee Cocktails, Kathy Casey


  1. Very well done. You got some great shots. I think my fav is the teasophy teas collage. Nice compositions.

  2. I may have a new complex brewing. A photographer I'm not, but you,my dear, certainly are! Great work. I can't wait to see how this impacts your blogginess!