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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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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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: 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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Mad Men Season 6

 

I SO cannot wait. 

And aren’t these promo shots by Frank Ockenfels freaking GORGEOUS!

 

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Sadly it looks like Megan Draper is going to be just as pouty and irritating as she was last season (she is SO high on my ‘irrational hatreds’ list she needs oxygen).

Here’s writer/director/producer Matthew Weiner talking about this season, a fascinating interview with photographer Frank Ockenfels about making the shots, and here’s my post on Megan and Don’s new apartment which was featured in the LA Times (thereby marking one of the pinnacles of my blogging career).

The show premieres on April 7th in the US.

   
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Project 52 PRO: A Weather Poster

 

This week’s Project 52 PRO challenge was to shoot a poster for the Seattle Chamber of Commerce advertising the weather in Seattle. 

Seattle is of course famous for its rain, but also has glorious clear bright days of sunshine, the most amazing sunsets and the most incredible cloudscapes it has ever been my good fortune to see anywhere.

For the entire week of the challenge though, we were blessed by unremittingly boring, flat, grey, overcast skies leavened by the occasional bouts of weak-willed drizzle.  Not even the rain was photogenic.

So plans had to be changed and this is what I ended up submitting.

 

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Please ignore the amateurish graphic design – we weren’t being critiqued on that, though I’d love to improve my graphic design capabilities (can anyone recommend any good books or courses I could do?).

And although this isn’t at all the sort of photography I want to do, it was interesting and challenging to spend the afternoon with my coffee machine in the kitchen, trying not to get too many distracting reflections on the shiny bits.

   
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Project 52: Food Glorious Food

 

I’ve been having fun with my Project 52 assignments recently.  The last two assignments have been to take hone in on the type of commercial photography we want to focus on and to take a picture of the raw ingredients for a simple recipe.

So I got to shoot food and more food.

First up I decided to shoot a graphic shot of doughnuts.  I was feeling lazy and baking is tricky at the moment without a proper kitchen, so I picked up some Krispy Kreme doughnuts and then mixed up a pink glaze to get some interesting drips and splodges.

 

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For the raw ingredients challenge, I tried to get a bit arty and was inspired by the idea of an artist’s palette.

 

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Beetroot, Orange and Pistachio Salad

Roast some beets whole in their skins in a little olive oil, salt and herbs (some thyme branches are good) until soft.

Peel the beets and make a salad with some perky watercress or rocket/arugula, some peeled orange segments, some pistachios or pecans and some chunks of goat cheese.

Dress with sea salt, extra virgin oil and some good syrupy balsamic vinegar.

Slowly and painfully I feel that I am groping towards a style – I’m not there yet, but it definitely involves interesting colour stories, graphic elements, shapes and repetition and lots of mess.

   
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Meyer Lemon and Rosemary Posset

 

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Last year we planted a little Meyer lemon tree at the south side of our house by a sheltered wall. 

There had been a citrus bush there when we moved to the house, so we knew one could grow outside, but it hadn’t survived the recent snowy winters. This winter on the other hand has been extraordinarily mild, so we were rewarded with a bumper crop of lemons from our new baby.

 

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Sssssh all of you folks in California, stop laughing. Words cannot explain how proud we were of the little Meyer Lemon Tree That Could. This is the frozen North after all.

For those of you in the UK, Meyer lemons are an intriguing fruit, which I had never come across before moving here. Thought to be a cross between a traditional lemon and a mandarin, they are softer, sweeter, less acidic and a slightly deeper yellow than a traditional lemon, and therefore highly prized for dessert making within their short season.  Meyer lemons can be replaced by traditional lemons whenever you see them in a recipe.

Anyway, I wanted a recipe where my one tiny lemon would be the feature ingredient rather than being an afterthought and was given a simple and but glorious one by a lovely Facebook friend.

This is deceptively simple but utterly delicious. Your next dinner party is crying out for this dessert.

 

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A posset is a traditional English dessert where cream is heated and then slightly curdled by the application of an acid, such as lemon juice or wine, so that it sets. The infusion of rosemary adds an intriguing savoury undertone that marries perfectly with the lemon.

 

 

Ingredients

Serves 4

2 cups (approx 500 ml)) heavy/double cream

2/3 cup (90g) organic sugar

1 sprig fresh rosemary

5 tablespoons Meyer lemon juice or any fresh organic lemon juice

 

 

Method

Bring the cream and sugar to boiling point in a small saucepan, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Add the rosemary. Remember that the boiling point of cream is much lower than that of water, so take care that it doesn’t boil over.

Remove the saucepan from the heat, add the lemon juice and stir and allow  the mixture to cool for 15 minutes. Remove and discard rosemary. Pour into 4 ramekins or glasses.

Chill until set, about 4 hours.

 

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Project 52: Portrait of a Stranger

 

So a couple of weeks ago, I kicked off Project 52 PRO – a year of critiqued professional level photography assignments, with ace commercial photographer Don Giannatti (although Project 52 PRO is no closed, you can always sign up any time for the free version Project 52).

The first assignment was a tricky one for me. We had to make a portrait of a stranger – someone we’d never met before, even someone we’d just approached in the street with our cameras.  And they had to be aware that we were taking the shot and be participating in it, no candids allowed. 

It was difficult for me, not because I’m particularly nervous about approaching people, but because I have very little interest in actually making portraits and hardly ever do anything other than the odd snap of the Minx.  There’s a pressure to people shots which doesn’t exist with still life or landscapes – you want to create something interesting and hopefully beautiful, but you can’t push people, especially strangers. around like you can with food.

 

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I cheated a bit with my first portrait by posting on here and on the Seattle Bloggers’ Unite Facebook page, to see if I could find a willing victim er, client. 

First out of the blocks was the gorgeous Inward Facing Girl Melanie Antley Biehle.  I’d been wanting to meet her for a long time, so it was no hardship at all to arrange a meeting in a local coffee shop which I knew had pretty light.  (Go read her blog – it’s excellent and thought-provoking).

It did feel like I was breaking the spirit of the assignment a bit though.  I’d followed Melanie via her blog and on Facebook and she really did seem like a friend, even though we’d never actually technically met. 

So I decided to challenge myself to just walk into local shops, and see if I could find someone willing to pose for me.  I struck gold in our beautiful local stationery and paper Paper Delights, where the very pretty assistant agreed to pose for me in between serving people buying Valentines’ cards, and where the window displays and light were made for photography.  We managed to put this shot together in about five minutes.

I ended up submitting the Melanie shot, because I found her wistful expression gazing out of the window to be more intriguing; though I’m prouder of the Girl in the Shop as I had to screw up my courage to ask her and had a much shorter time to get the shot.

Which shot do you prefer? Do you prefer portraits where the subject is looking away or one where they’re engaged and looking at the camera?

Thanks to everyone who emailed me offering to help.  I’m sure there will be many more chances to be my photographic victims as the year progresses.

   
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Reboot

 

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There’s been quite a lot going on behind the scenes here at mirrormirror global headquarters over the last month or two. The mysterious backpain has been coupled with days of utter and total exhaustion and nights of bizarre dreams, insomnia and very unrestful sleep. 

I read everything the Internet had to offer on piriformis syndrome – the clenched muscle in my left buttock that was squeezing on the sciatic nerve and radiating pain all down my left leg making it impossible to sit and often to sleep – and discovered that some people think it’s stress related, that the muscle spasms due to stress or anxiety in the same way that we might get a tension headache when we’ve got too much on our plate.

And just believing that I needed to relax and that the pain wasn’t due to a major structural issue, and that I could walk and sit as normal, immediately started to bring relief and now the pain is pretty much gone. I’m convinced that for me the pain was stress-related.  I can even feel the muscle start to tighten again if I get agitated. (If you think you might be going through something similar, you could do worse than check out John Sarno’s book Healing Back Pain. It’s a terribly written book and could be condensed into one chapter if you got rid of all the padding and filler. But I’m certain he’s onto something.)

As all this was going on, it slowly started to dawn on me that, what with being the mother of a young kid, moving countries, trying to run my business from afar and finding time to blog, I’ve actually been living with a mountain of stress for years. I’ve always been a very type A personality – rushing about everywhere, and with a ton of stuff on my plate – and although many of those stressors have now abated, I realised that  I had absolutely hit a wall, that the chronic insomnia I’d been suffering from since the Minx was born was not going to go away on its own, and that the exhaustion I was increasingly feeling  during the day was not exactly normal.

And then I started reading about adrenal fatigue – where you are literally running on empty and caffeine, – where your adrenal glands, worn out through years of pumping adrenaline and cortisol into our body in response to stress, stop producing the cortisol and adrenaline you need to make you feel wakeful and energetic and just respond to stress and anxiety. I was waking up exhausted, struggling through the day, getting more stressed, producing more adrenaline and cortisol in response to the stress and then ending up so stressed out that I had trouble sleeping. And the following day the whole vicious cycle would start up again worse than before. 

So I’ve been resting and relaxing as possible, clearing a lot of stuff on my plate and working with a naturopath to rebalance my sleep cycles. Hence the lack of blogging in recent weeks. The good news is that I think I’ve turned the corner. I’m sleeping better, though not always soundly, and the dragging exhausted feeling during the day has lessened. So I’m hoping to start up regular blogging again. To my one remaining reader, I have missed you!

Reboot – Part 2

The other big change has been in what I do with the rest of my life.

I closed mirrormirror over Christmas. It’s been pretty much on hiatus for the last couple of years and you might have noticed that I’ve been completely uninspired by it for the longest time. In fact you probably thought it was already closed.  It just became too complicated running it across the different time zones and since it seems that we are here in Seattle for the foreseeable future, I had to bow to the inevitable. It was HARD to say goodbye to my baby – at one point it seemed like we were running a successful little shop -  but I wasn’t doing right by her. Sometimes you just have to let go. 

Thank you so much to everyone who has supported the shop in the past, by buying from it or promoting it. I really appreciated all your help and encouragement. I was hoping to hold a big sale before Christmas but all my health issues got in the way, so we do still have a bit of stock. If there’s any stuff you remember liking let me know and I can give you a fabulous price. I’ll also be hosting some ‘Bargains of the Week’ via the blog over the next couple of weeks and months.

As to what I do next, that’s a good question. All I know at the moment is that food and photography are drawing me somewhere.This blog is probably somewhere in the mix too. Where it’s all leading I’m not exactly sure but I’m intrigued and excited to find out. 

I’ve signed up to do ace commercial photographer Don Giannatti’s Project 52 PRO course, which is a year of critiqued professional level photographic assignments, which should help me build my portfolio. I’m renting some beautiful studio space so I’ve finally got a proper place to work. And  I’ve committed to working really hard at building my blog, my photography and my foodie credentials over the next year and I’m excited to see where I end up. Watch this space. And I hope you can join me on the ride.

And yeah, just while I’m supposed to be relieving stress we start our kitchen and bathroom remodel next week. Oh my lord!

Oh and as a further aside, our first Project 52 assignment is to ‘photograph a stranger’. Is there a Seattle-based blog reader whom I’ve never met who would like to meet up for coffee and a quick portrait session? I don’t normally take many people shots, except of the Minx, so I don’t promise they’ll be any good, mind you.  If you’re interested drop me a line.

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