May, 2011

May 11

Food photography at its best.

KirschtomatenOver the weekend I was watching a food photography workshop at creativeLIVE given by photographer Penny De Los Santos. It was an amazing workshop. Very intense. Very informative. Very instructive. Very motivating. Very captivating. Very inspiring. Very diverse. I was glued to my computer screen three evenings in a row to watch this incredible course live.

Penny De Los Santos, who is known for her work for National Geographic and for the food magazine Saveur, started off with an introduction to food culture and the business of food photography as well as her own photographic journey. She did an interview with James Oseland, Editor of Saveur Magazine, and an image critique with Larry Nighswander, Director of Photography of Saveur Magazine. Day two was a full day of food photography in the studio. Penny shot a series of dishes live which were prepared and styled by food stylist Karen Shinto and prop stylist Kaleo Quenzer. The workshop closed with a live shoot of a number of assignments (oyster bake, food truck, farm table dinner) on day three. All the time while shooting, Penny was explaining what she was looking for, why she was doing certain things and infecting the world around her (onsite and online) with her pure passion for photography: “This career in photography has never been a career for me. – It’s a lifestyle.”

The focus of the workshop was not the technical aspects of photography but to capture the essence of food photography. As for every photographic subject, knowing one’s camera well is a prerequisite for good photos. I find the following points about Penny’s technical/gear approach worth mentioning:
1) She uses natural light only. She impressively demonstrated how to do a beautiful shoot both in the studio as well as “on assignment” powered only by natural light and reflectors if needed.
2) She shoots all manual to have full control over how to expose a photo.
3) She uses very little gear. She said, that she generally travels very lightly (1-2 lenses) and for this reason uses zoom lenses. In the workshop I only saw her using one single lens (EF 24-105 mm 1:4 IS USM on her Canon EOS 5D).
4) Although using zoom lenses Penny stressed that she chooses the focal length on purpose and kept reminding the viewer that they should explore their subject, by using their feet (changing the physical distance) instead of using the zoom lens: “That’s how pictures are starting to happen”.

When it comes to food photography, Penny stressed to pick the food subject well. Use real food and only use the best quality of ingredients (“Go to the farmers market.”). Think about the quality of light, color and composition as well as graphic elements – the key ingredients to a good picture. Be aware of the layers in your photo (effective foreground, contributing middleground, background). Make sure that you eliminate any distracting elements. Vary and explore your camera angles – not all food looks good from the same angle. Typical angles in food photography being overhead (Penny’s signature shot), 3/4 view and side view. Do not forget to photograph food in preparation and of a meal in progress. “Edit” your dish (cut into it, break the bread, etc.) – the food you photograph should look real and not sterile: “Make it real, make it messy. It’s about the food.”

Always make sure that you try to surprise the viewer. Penny reminded us that we learn the most when we force ourselves to go beyond what is obvious to us. Don’t shoot cliches. Push yourself to see it differently. Practice your looking every day and get inspired regularly by looking at pictures of other photographers. Analyze them and find out which elements make you react to those photos. “It’s about the seeing. That’s the hardest part to learn.”

Larry Nighswander of Saveur magazine shared what he is looking for when editing photos: technical excellence, compositional creativity and editorial relevance. He also reminded to think about the entire story and not only about the single image. During the studio photo shoot Penny created a “hero board” showcasing the takes (i.e. heros) of each photographed dish to see the visual process and to be reminded not to always shoot the same style of photos, i.e. to get more variety: “It’s a crutch. People make the same pictures over and over again.”

Penny demonstrated that creating an image is a process – it is team work of the entire crew on the set. During this process it is normal, also for an extraordinary photographer like her, to sometimes not see the photograph right away and have to start over from scratch. For me personally, it was very interesting to see how little photos Penny was taking in the studio. She was in her element, totally concentrated on her work, analyzing every single shot in detail. Nothing was left to chance. Every element in the photo was placed intentionally. Penny was “making” or “building” photographs, not taking them … and she was always pushing herself to do better: “I want it [the photo] to be better … we have time to make it better.”

For the assignment shoots, Penny made it clear that she was listening to her instincts, reacting to what was going on around her and anticipating what could happen next. Here, she displayed a lot of patience and reminded that many people are staying with a scene not long enough: “Stay in the moment, wait for the action to finish. It might happen, it might not happen”.

The workshop changed my way of seeing my photography. My 365-Days shot for Sunday (day three of the workshop)  already reflected what I had learned in the first two days of the workshop. The photo would not have turned out the way it did. Penny commented on this photo in the image critique on Day 3 with the words “clean, graphic, nice color”.

Thank you, Penny, not only for critizising and analyzing photos entered by many viewers but especially for letting us take part in this workshop, for sharing openly your insights and experience, for making sure everybody was getting your point (“Does that make sense?”) and for being so open at answering questions! You are not only an exceptional photographer but an amazing person at heart.

Let me conclude the summary of this amazing weekend with my favorite quotes from Penny De Los Santos:

  • “You have to self-assign your dream-assignment”
  • “You need to keep looking every single day. Never stop looking … that’s how you grow.”
  • “You don’t have to cross a huge ocean to find a great story. There is a great story in your backyard.”
  • “Blogging & Twitter should be part of your camera bag”
  • “Pause and take your time! It’s really about the quality”
  • “If you’re not doing what you love, why not?

So what is your dream assignment? Are you doing what you love?

May 11

112/365 Duomat

Tag 112: 19. Mai 2011
Day 112: May 19, 2011
Tag 112 Projekt 365 Duomat gaming machine
Duomat – alter Spielautomat @ Outlane, eine private Sammlung von Flipperkästen und anderen Spielautomaten
Duomat – old gambling machine @ Outlane, a private collection of pinball and other gambling machines

May 11

111/365 Pralines

Tag 111: 18. Mai 2011
Day 111: May 18, 2011
Tag 111 Project 365 Pralinen
Pralinen – leckere Pralinen von Lienert Konditorei-Confiserie.
Pralines – delicious pralines by Lienert Konditorei-Confiserie.

May 11

110/365 Nature’s pattern

Tag 110: 17. Mai 2011
Day 110: May 17, 2011
Tag 110 Projekt 365 Muster der Natur Gerbera
Muster der Natur – Gerbera
Nature’s pattern – Gerbera

Weitere Posts aus der Serie gibt es hier.
More posts of this series can be found here.

May 11

109/365 Tartufi dolci

Tag 109: 16. Mai 2011
Day 109: May 16, 2011
Tag 109 Projekt 365 Tartufi dolci pralinen
Tartufi dolci del Piemonte – dunkle Haselnusspralinen
Tartufi dolci del Piemonte – dark hazelnut pralines

May 11

108/365 preparations

Tag 108: 15. Mai 2011
Day 108: Mai 15, 2011
Tag 108 Projekt 365 Erdbeerjoghurt
Vorbereitungen – Vorbereitungen für einen Sonntagsbrunch … Erdbeerjoghurt
Preparations – preparations for Sunday morning brunch … strawberry yoghurt

May 11

107/365 a yellow treat

Tag 107: 14. Mai 2011
Day 107: Mai 14, 2011

Tag 107 Projekt 365 gelbe Gerbera

Etwas Gelbes – Diese Gerberas habe ich mir heute gegönnt.
Da ich heute den ganzen Abend Penny de los Santos tollen creativeLIVE Workshop über Food-Fotografie angesehen habe (und zum Zeitpunkt des Posts auch noch immer schaue), musste ich mein 365-Tage Foto in einer der Pausen unterbringen … :-)

A yellow treat – I treated myself to some Gerberas today.
I have been watching Penny de los Santos’ great creativeLIVE-workshop on food photography all evening (and I am still watching at the time of this post) … I had to squeeze in my photo of the day shoot in one of the breaks :-)

May 11

106/365 no refill

Tag 106: 13. Mai 2011
Day 106: Mai 13, 2011
Tag 106 Projekt 365 Cola Flasche
Kein Nachschank …
No refill …

May 11

105/365 imagine …

Tag 105: 12. Mai 2011
Day 105: Mai 12, 2011
Tag 105 Projekt 365 Imagine Ipod

“Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace …”
John Lennon – Imagine

May 11

104/365 some more

Tag 104: 11. Mai 2011
Day 104: Mai 11, 2011
Tag 104 Projekt 365 weisse Schokolade Truffes
noch ein paar – weisse Truffes von Sprüngli
some more – white Truffes by Spruengli