Food Photography Workshop, Gulf Shores Alabama

 

It’s already been more than a month since I went to Gulf Shores, Alabama to learn about food photography and styling from the masters (mistresses?) – Helene Dujardin, Senior Photographer at Oxmoor House and of Tartelette blog fame, and Clare Barboza, whose gorgeous photography studio I’ve been renting here in Seattle.

 

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It’s still difficult to put into words exactly what the weekend meant to me, mostly because I don’t quite yet know myself.  But let’s just say that if you mix mindblowingly beautiful surroundings with a bunch of hugely talented and creative people; throw in sessions of intensely creative work spiced with highly amusing play and season everything with long, leisurely walks on a gorgeous beach, you have a surefire recipe for having your soul turned over just a teeny bit. 
 
 
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I wanted to show you the photos I took while I was there.  Part of my difficulty in summing up my weekend is that I was both immensely inspired and enormously frustrated.

I want to do this. I love doing it. There’s no reason why I shouldn’t be able to do it.  But I’m not quite there yet.

For our first session we talked about using natural light for food photography and the importance of bending it, shaping it, softening it and brightening it, with bounces, scrims and reflectors, to get exactly the effect that we want.  And we were given a bunch of beautiful desserts to play with.

Although many props were available I wanted to style things simply and just focus on playing with light for this session. I know quite a lot about this stuff now after attending so many workshops, but this was actually quite tricky for me as the southern light was so very different from the softer light I’m used to here in Seattle. In Alabama the light had to be scrimmed (using only window blinds) instead of augmented, and finding that sweet spot between harsh and flat was tricky.

 

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This is one of my favourite pictures that I took.  One of the props, a beautiful cake, got dropped and squashed before we started.  It’s more of a ‘found’ picture than a ‘made’ one – not a lot of styling and propping involved in this one – but it’s a interesting perspective on cake and I loved the way the light plays across and shapes the roses on the top.

For our second assignment we were talking more about composition and propping and had a selection of appetisers to photograph.

I still find propping a table setting so that it looks real yet beautiful to be a challenge, so this was a tricky for me, though it was super fun to play with all of Helene’s glorious props and backgrounds.

 

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It was in this session that I learned a very valuable lesson. I was so busy making sure that the light on the grapes and on the top of the cheese and on the knife handle looked beautiful, that I omitted to notice that I wasn’t showing any of the bottom of the small pedestal stand the cheese was on and so the cheese looks like it’s hovering a few inches off the table. 

And I managed to do that in every. single. one of the shots I took this session, so they all featured flying saucer cheese, most even more ludicrously than this, with the cheese plate seemingly floating over the knife.

So I ended up submitting a plate of runny cheese and crackers for the critique at the end.

 

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Our next assignment was very fun.  After watching a Helene and Clare both give a styling and propping demonstration during which they made it look SO easy, we were told to split into teams of two where we would take it in turns to be the stylist and the photographer, and given two very different real world assignments, so we had to style to spec.

I was paired with the lovely Michael and our first assignment was entitle Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. I was delighted to find out that he had been on a previous Helene workshop where learned to style the perfect sandwich, so he was the food stylist, I was the photographer and we worked on the prop styling together.

This again was a stretch for me but I was pleased with how this worked out, though it’s not my usual thing.

 

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Our next assignment was for something Colourful and Contemporary, so I chose to style the fabulous red lentil soup we’d had for lunch. The gorgeous bowls are from Suite One ceramics (as are the textured cake stand and plate in the cheese shots).  This assignment could have been made for me. I’m starting to realise that my ‘style’ is all about the juxtaposition of light, shape and colour. I was in charge of styling for his shoot and Michael was in charge of photography.  Looking at the photo now, I wish we’d done a little bit more with the light.

 

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Our final assignment was pretty challenging.  We all had to choose a can of soup and make it look appetising.  Not easy when you see what’s in these things.  In honour of my Italian heritage I decided to go with a minestrone and chose a rustic styling, which again is not quite my usual thing.

I think I made the soup look vaguely edible, but I wouldn’t exactly call it appetising. What are those pallid beige cubes floating around in there?

 

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Do you know what the single most inspiring thing about this weekend was though?  Meeting Helene. You already know from her blog that she’s funny, charming, delightful and talented, but in real life she just crackles with enthusiasm and energy and she’s just so darn good at her job. Watching her prop a shoot, with meticulous attention to detail, knowing just where to put each element and making it all look so easy, is quite simply awe-inspiring. (I will gush separately about Clare when I recap the Whidbey Island workshop).

If you’re interested in this stuff and can get to one of her workshops you really mustn’t hesitate.

And what was my ultimate takeaway from the event? It showed me that I really, really, REALLY want to do this.  I find the whole interplay between food, tableware, light, colour and composition to be endlessly fascinating and challenging.  I could do it all day.

So I’m putting it out there to the universe now.  I want to be a food photographer.

Stay tuned.

With heartfelt thanks to Laura Vein and Libby Stephens who made the most unbelievable food and looked after us all like mother hens all weekend (oh and buy Laura’s preserves – they are divine). And thanks also to Marilyn, Jerry, Tiffany, Gale, Janice, Karen, Serina, Paula, Nancy, Michael, Sharon and Kara for being such hugely fun, talented and inspiring companions.

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The Bathroom Is Finished

 

Delighted as I am with the kitchen, I am almost happier with the way the bathroom turned out. 

What used to be such an actively unpleasant, uncomfortable space now feels peaceful, clean and soothing and is filled with the most beautiful light.

Again I took these photos just after it was completed.  I’ll do some more when all the details are finished and it’s fully ‘styled’.

 

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We’re really delighted with the vanity units, which we designed ourselves and had made up by our contractors (again heartfelt thanks to the utterly amazing craftsmen at GTR Residential Contracting). We’ve kept the old round medicine cabinets for the moment (which are chipped and can’t be opened with the taps in the way) but they will be replaced with round mirrors which should be arriving shortly.

 

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We wanted this bathroom to be in keeping with a craftsman house, but also fresh and modern and so decided to use ceramic tile in a non-traditional way, particular as this is in a non-Craftsman part of the house.

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As you know we were thrilled with how the large hex tiles on the floor worked out (now complete with delicious underfloor heating) and decide to complement them with smaller hexagons around the bathtub and shower.

 

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As with the kitchen, the hideous panelled ceiling has been transformed into a beautiful design feature now that is painted with a coat of gloss paint (all the trim is Benjamin Moore’s Simply White).

 

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And yes we replaced the even more hideous glass brick window with something a little more pleasing.

The paint colours ended up being inspired by my trip to Gulf Shores and the beautiful white-trimmed pale aqua houses near the almost white sand beach. (And I like to think that the emerald green leaves shining through the window look like the emerald green sea).

 

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It took me a long time to hit on a perfect aqua, that wavers just at the midpoint between blue and green and found it with Benjamin Moore’s Lido Green.  I’m SO in love with this colour.

The alcove at the back where the toilets (and also the washing machines) are situated was painted in Benjamin Moore’s Lychee, a soft luminous colour like a shell-sand beach. The colours work so well together and I am thrilled.

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Again here are a couple of pictures of the previous baby poop coloured ghastliness. The full ‘before’ horror-story is here.

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Grand Hotel of the Week: Fairmont Hotel Vancouver

 

There’s a great exhibition currently showing at the Vancouver Art Gallery entitled ‘Grand Hotel: Redesigning Modern Life’. I saw it when I was in Vancouver last month and highly recommend it to anyone in the area who loves hotels like I do.

 

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The exhibition traces the rise of the modern hotel, and celebrates hotel design, hotel life and hotel branding (lots of examples from the Ace Hotels funnily enough). It also, not surprisingly, makes a lot of mention of the venerable Fairmont Hotel Vancouver, just opposite the Vancouver Art Gallery and fabulously located in the heart of downtown, where we stayed on my recent visit to Vancouver.

 

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The  iconic copper turrets of the ‘Castle in the City’ are nowadays somewhat lost among the other high rise buildings, and its gargoyles and statues look down on a sea of plate glass, but inside it’s just as you would expect – like its sister hotel the Fairmont Empress, it’s a gracious, elegant, timeless example of what hotel living really ought to be.

 

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That’s not to say that they’ve forgotten all the modern requirements of a luxury hotel. The pool was one of the best hotel pools I’ve seen, and amazing for a tightly-packed downtown location, and the staff was kindness and helpfulness personified.

 

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And on a Friday night the downstairs bar was hopping, and serving fabulous cocktails.  I had the new-for-Spring ‘Royal Boulevardier’ cocktail, a heady mix of bourbon, vermouth, Aperol and maple syrup, which was delicious, but will get you royally somethinged if you’re not careful.  (Click here for a PDF of Fairmont hotels Modern Classics cocktail menu, complete with recipes).

 

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Our room was spacious, comfortable and supremely elegant.

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Reflection of the hotel from our upstairs window

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And the gold stickers on the loo rolls made me smile.

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Full disclosure: We were given an upgrade to the Gold Lounge in return for a blog post.  However, the hotel has has no influence on the contents of this post and all opinions are my own. We just had a right royal time here.

 

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Things I Am Loving: Art et Manufacture

 

Continuing on my dangerous Helene Dujardin-fuelled shopping spree (goodness that woman has a lot to answer for), I have been making my way down her list of great prop providers and spending far too much money.

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These utterly gorgeous ceramics from Art et Manufacture are worth every penny though.

I love how the shapes they use are modern yet timeless and the blue and white patterns are utterly contemporary while calling back to Delftware and other traditional blue and white china. Very European, utterly chic and completely inspired.

 

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The sweet little espresso cups and bowl below are MINE though.  Look out for them in a food photograph near you.

 

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Wonderful Whidbey Island

 

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No Photoshop filters were harmed in the construction of this photo.  It really did look like this.

 

I’ve been feeling just a tad overwhelmed over the last week or so – moving eleventy million tons of STUFF back into the remodeled kitchen and bathroom; shooting some pics for a friend’s cookbook (yay!); holding the fort while the Husband was in China and generally rushing about like a crazy person.

 

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So when the lovely Clare Barboza told me there were still places left on her 2013 Farm to Table Photography Workshop this weekend on glorious Whidbey Island (just across the water from Seattle), I was wondering whether it might be a bridge (or indeed a ferry ride) too far.

 

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But with the aid of some dear friends taking the Minx for a sleepover, a wonderful Husband babysitting through his jetlag and some frantic late night packing I managed to make it work.  And I was SO very glad I did.

 

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I met some mindblowingly talented and just plain delightful women, ate fabulous food (thanks to the amazing Sean, Joe and Christine), drank too much wine; enjoyed gorgeous weather, sunsets, rainbows and scenery; and generally spent some quality time with my camera, which I always find to be incredibly soothing for my soul. We stayed at at the exceptionally comfortable Willow Pond Lake House; visited two farms -  Willowood, where they grow organic vegetables and Little Brown Farm where they keep goats and make the most delicious cheese and butter; shopped at the very cute Bayview Farmer’s Market and then got to style and shoot the farm produce.

 

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As with the Gulf Shores workshop I have MUCH to think about and process (and I will be blogging both at much more length), but in the meantime here are a few photos of the gardens at the house and from a pond nearby.

Can you see now why I loved it so much?

 

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Many thanks to Melissa (seen squatting above), who taught me how to ‘paint’ beautiful abstracts like this.

Stay tuned for the full story of the baby vegetables and the baby goats.

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The Kitchen Is Finished

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Dear hearts, it is DONE.

Just as I was losing the will to live with this whole remodelling malarkey, this morning is the first one for months where I have not been sharing my home with charming bearded contractors.  The silence is utterly blissful.

And we are THRILLED.

I just can’t get over how beautiful the light is in here. I knew it must be, but it was almost impossible to see it against the forest green countertops and burnt orange walls we used to have.

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There are still a couple of things to be done with the lighting – in particular we are waiting on a pendant light to go above the butcher block unit above -  and I also have to edit and organise approximately eleventy billion megatons of kitchen crap er paraphernalia.

But I thought I’d show you the finished empty shell and then we can talk about some of the details and styling at a later date, when it’s properly finished. I just hope I can do justice to it.

In the meantime, here are a few of my favourite details.

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Yep, the Big Chill fridge still looks awesome.

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I’m so happy with this aluminium roll door ‘appliance garage’.  We asked the contractors to customise the basic Ikea scrolling cabinet to make it deeper, so that I now have plenty of space to organise and disguise ugly appliances such as the slow cooker and panini grill and get them off the counter. I also like how the slats echo the panels in the ceiling.

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We are obsessed with the splashback tiles in one of Heath Ceramic’s ‘Dwell’ patterns.  The photo doesn’t begin to do justice to how beautiful they are. I’ll do a separate blog post all about these.

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We freaked out a little and bought a slab of walnut butcher block for one part of the counter. I think it might be my favourite thing in the whole kitchen (the rest of the counters are in honed white quartz). We asked the contractors to add a hinged flap of butcher block at the end to provide an extra bit of much-needed counterspace.

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The ceiling is painted in Benjamin Moore’s ‘Simply White’ in a semi-gloss sheen and has turned from being an eyesore into a design feature.  I am besotted with how beautifully this has turned out.  In fact we chose three different whites for the kitchen, which I will also do a blog post about.

In fact I have to say that I’m besotted with the whole thing.  The only problem is I hardly dare use it.

It’s interesting to see how similar it is to our original Sketch Up designs. Goodness that was a useful exercise to go through.

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And here’s one picture of the ‘before’ just to whet your appetite.

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Here’s the kitchen in all its former monstrous hideousness.

Oh and many, MANY thanks to the wonderful GTR Residential Contracting for making our dreams a reality.  It was a true pleasure working with so many craftsmen, in particular the ever patient and charming Dan for whom nothing was too much trouble.  If you are in the Seattle area, I can’t recommend these guys highly enough.

Pics of the bathroom remodel coming VERY soon.

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Project 52: Sign of the Times

 

Wow, I have become Chatty Cathy on here all of a sudden.

Anyway, just thought I’d close out the week with my latest submission for Project 52.  Our assignment was to take a photo for the cover of a book entitled ‘Sign of the Times’, all about the advances made in technology in recent years.

 

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I’m always seeing the Minx with various screens casting an eerie glow on her face, so I thought I’d make it into feature for this shoot, where she just got to sit in a darkened room and play games on the iPad. 

She’s never been so happy to be in a photoshoot before. 

But when did my baby get so GROWN UP?

   
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Things I Am Loving: Forms in Nature

 

This sort of stopped me in my tracks when I saw it yesterday.

 

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Created by artists Thyra Hilden and Pio Diaz, this ‘light sculpture’ entitled Forms in Nature is designed to cast spooky shadows reminiscent of a wild forest all round the room.  I have long been fascinated by the beautiful shadows cast by chandeliers and I love how they’ve taken this to the next logical step and made the shadows the star of the show.

 

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At the moment it is still a conceptual artwork, but according to their website they are looking at putting this into production.

 

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Things I Am Loving: Wind & Willow Home

 

It’s been an expensive morning.

 

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One of the more unexpectedly dangerous aspects of doing a workshop with Helene Dujardin was the list of favourite prop suppliers she sent us after the course. And after three days playing with all her gorgeous things it was impossible to resist going shopping. 

 

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My first stop was at Wind & Willow Home.  Helene had a stack of these little wooden bowls in an array of colours, perfect for salt, oil or spices and for adding a little unexpected touch to a tabletop setting.  And  of course you could also use them for actual FOOD rather than just as a photography prop.

They’re incredibly tactile too. Etsy artist Araya Jensen starts with beautifully turned bowls and spoons and then hand dips each of them in a synthetic rubber in custom-mixed colours. 

The beauty lies in the timeless organic quality of the wood combined with the soft modern rubber in a host of contemporary colours.

 

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These walnut bowls are incredibly special.  Trying to work out if I can afford them.

 

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I REALLY want that plate too.

 

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I was in yet another Creative Live workshop during the early part of this week, so apologies for lack of bloggery.  So much to catch up on over the next week or so – more from Vancouver, more from the Gulf Shores photo workshop, more prop suppliers and the KITCHEN AND BATHROOM REMODEL IS SCHEDULED TO FINISH TOMORROW.  Quite honestly it’s looking to me like there’s about six months work left to do, but the contractors seem confident.

I so cannot wait.

   
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Gulf Shores Food Photography Workshop

 

Sometimes you have weekends that are almost impossibly inspiring; good for the deepest depths of your soul and quite possibly life changing.

 

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This last weekend I attended a food photography workshop in Gulf Shores Alabama, with the amazing Helene Dujardin of Tartelette (and Senior Photographer at cookbook publisher Oxmoor House) and the equally amazing Seattle-based food photographer Clare Barboza. 

 

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I’m still processing what exactly the workshop meant to me (there’ll be a blog post with the images I took later this week), but one of the most quietly inspiring and good-for-the-soul aspects was the location.  Who knew that Gulf Shores, Alabama was so incredibly beautiful?

 

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Every day, we took walks on the enormous, blindingly white, sparkly sand beach – like dunes of soft sugar – and admired the seabirds and the soft pastel colours of the seagreen waves, the seashells and the pretty wooden houses on stilts, lined up like so many macarons on the water’s edge (I’m clearly in a dessert-y frame of mind). 

 

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It was one of those places that always looks different depending on the light, but always equally enchanting.

 

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Gulf Shores, I’m so sorry I doubted you.

Come take a walk with me.

 

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The name of the house where we were staying seemed hugely appropriate.

 

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And I wondered if the clouds on the flight back were telling me something.

 

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Check out Clare Barboza’s blog post, to see what fun we had.  And here’s another blog post from my lovely classmate Jerry Deutsch. I met such fabulous people on this weekend.

   
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