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Food Styling and Photography Workshop

To most people out there, looking at food pictures triggers the instant reaction: ‘oh I want to eat this’.

What us food bloggers do is meticulously analyze every food picture we encounter. How did they choose and arrange the props? What kind of textures does the image combine? How’s the lighting? What mood does it transmit? How is the food presented? All of these elements and many more interact to create what we regard a great or a not so great (even crap – I just say flash) food photo.

Whilst I think some people are natural food stylists and photographers, there’s a lot to be learnt for all the rest of us.

So you can imagine how happy I was when I was summoned to the Irish Embassy by Board Bia, the Irish Food Board, to attend a workshop on the tricks of the trade with renowned food stylist and photographer Alastair Hendy. Most of you Brits know the man. Not personally, not as a celebrity, but from your weekly food shopping. Alastair is the master behind most of the mouthwatering photos on Marks and Spencer packaging. But that’s just his bread and butter. Alastair has written and photographed beautiful books like Home Cook and the stunningly looking Food and Travels: Asia. So the man knows what he’s talking about.

Bron styling some Cheese

Sarah shooting some jelly beans

Creating a light box with a piece of cloth - very clever!

The evening kicked off with Alastair lecturing us on the do’s and dont’s of food styling and photography. The three main points being: the look, the light and the lens.

You want to get your food to be the star of the photo, so selecting matching and flattering props is a must. Then, arrange the food so that it looks appealing: find the Angelina Jolies and the Brad Pitts amongst your ingredients (that perfectly curled salad leaf, that beautifully shaped strawberry) and arrange them so that they make the dish look perfect.

Lighting is always key in food photography. No one drools over a bowl of pasta submerged in yellow light, no one feels like digging into an overexposed hamburger and I’ve never, ever heard of someone raving with endearment ‘oh what a wonderful carrot cake’ at a picture taken with FLASH! Yes, flash is your worst enemy. Unless you want your food to look like it’s just been clubbing all night and still wants to order that very last gin and tonic, don’t go there. Never. Ever!

Last but not least, your lens plays a big part in the whole deal. I personally only have a standard 18-55mm lens, but I’m very,very, extremely close to buying a 50mm 1.8 II one. It just does magic to your photo. Know that beautiful blur that most food photos have in the background? Well it’s called a low depth of field, and it’s the holy grail of food porn. Lower your f-stops and play with angles and hope for the best that you get it. That’s how I’ve been doing it. Maybe, possibly, hopefully this new lens will change this. Please.

After the lecture we got to actually play with our food – and with Alastair’s props, oh joy! Divided into a few groups, all food bloggers had to select a few things, then style and photograph them. Considering that we had a room full of Irish delicatessen to us, it could have been worse, right? It actually was heaven!

We had the choice between beautiful cheeses, fresh seafoods, cases of whiskeys and even Irish Turkish Delight (yes, I was pretty speechless at this, but it did actually taste damn good!). I kind of felt like a kid in a candy shop – running around without a clue where to begin with. What’s worse, all others seemed to be super organized: creating light boxes out of napkins, arranging crabs to accentuate a glass of whiskey or placing Irish jelly beans in little teacups.

By now I know that I’m super crap at pressure situations (I blew the bake-off for the TV show after all), so I decided to take a step back, grab a glass of that wine they were pouring and observe my fellow foodies frantic at work. Don’t get me wrong, I did take pictures, and I did style my food, but I just needed a moment of that ‘pheeeewwww’, that deep breath that puts you down to earth and says ‘hey, no pressure, just enjoy the ride.’ It did work. Or maybe it was the wine. But hey, results either way!

At the end of the whole experience, we even got to take home a huge goodie bag, filled with tomato relish, oats, jelly beans and Turkish – em sorry – Irish delight. I even sneaked out some of that gorgeous cheese that you saw on an earlier photo: an amazingly aged specimen that can give any British, French or Dutch cheese a run for their money. Seriously, I never thought of Ireland as a great cheese producing country, let alone as one excelling in it, but hey, here I am taught for the better.

So thank you Board Bia, Alastair and Tess of Food Matters for inviting me to this truly enjoyable evening!

July 26, 2010
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31 thoughts on “Food Styling and Photography Workshop

  1. A fantastic evening wasn’t it? Like you I was not feeling I was getting my best pictures under the circumstances but thoroughly enjoyed the whole evening. You got some great pictures of the event itself, I was a bit lazy there on this occasion.

  2. You got some stunning snaps, Anne! I think I like the cheese and lettuce in a teacup photo best. There’s something catchy about the really red tomato relish against the pale background.

    I like your narrative of the event – sums it up really nicely. It really was a fun evening and I look forward to more.

    • Thanks Michelle! I wish the photo with the cheese in the teacup had turned out a bit more in focus.. That’s the problem with shooting in low light. Thanks for holding the spoon in that pic, you were a great sport! 🙂

    • Hey fragolina! Thanks so much for stopping by! Yes it’s a real privilege to be invited to such events! I’m going to miss it when I leave London. But hey, the internet’s great to follow what’s happening out there too, isn’t it?!

  3. Oh, what a nice post and fantastic event! You are definitely not crap at pressure situation. I love how you managed the situation, calmed yourself down with a glass of wine and than did a great job! 🙂 Sometimes it’s much better to step back and observe. Love your photos here!

  4. Anne you’ve done a great job conveying the essence of a really interesting and enjoyable evening. Know what you mean about feeling overwhelmed at the sheer possibilities of it all – just so much lovely stuff!

    • Hey Bron! It really was a great night, wasn’t it?! I haven’t put any of my goodie bag ingredients to use yet, but am planning on making some cherry oatmeal muffins later next week… Oh, and can’t wait to hear about who gets those wonderful Asia cookbooks by Alistair 🙂

  5. What a great experience! I’ve learned all I know (i.e. not so much!) about food photography from trial and error. It must have been such a treat to get some tips from a pro.

    • Emiglia, I’ve done exactly the same – learn from trial and error! But now I’m getting totally into finding out more professional tips and tricks… it’s really addictive!

  6. I have been reading about it on the other blogs and i would have loved to have taken part. Great narrative. And I really like the shots you took of the actual event, the bloggers prep’ing their shots. you have some really good shots yourself.What about the top one – the youghurt dripping on the jar. I want that one!!!!! Now!!!

    • Ah thank you Valentina! And you can look forward to a Luxembourg post late in September – I’ve decided to move home for a bit, before going travelling to Asia in January for a few months.. It’s all very exciting…

  7. Oh Anne, please let’s have a coffee before you move back home prior to your travels. you are one of the nicest persons’I have met in a very long time.x

  8. Hello lovely Anne
    Great great post. It was such a fun event and so nice to see you again too. I would love to join you and Valentina for that coffee by the way!!!

  9. Great set of images from the night. I think you produced fab photos in such difficult conditions. We had seafood at our table which was fun but my photos were only so-so! Bit too hectic for me – focus is my problem!

    • Oh Ailbhe! Focus! Don’t talk to me about that! I took about 50 pictures of that cheese in the teacup, and none of them turned out sharp enough! It’s nearly impossible to shoot in low light without a tripod!

  10. It was a lovely evening, wasn’t it? Great to see you again and I think you took great pics under admittedly difficult circumstances! Love the yoghurt pot pic. And just get the 50mm f1.8 lens – you will LOVE it!

    • Yes it was pretty fab! I hope you get to enjoy one such event one day too – but your photos are so great already, I doubt you need the advice!

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