One of the highlights of my brief but intense career as a food photographer has been to teach food photography; I really enjoy the passing of knowledge and experience down to those who want the knowledge.
For a couple of years now, I’ve been running one to one food photography workshops in Brighton and London and most recently, I was offered a lecture on food photography at the CNM College in London. I’m running two courses there: A full day food photography workshop where I teach the basics of photography, the differences of food photography, light and styling and then we set-up different food scenarios to put the theory into practice. The other one is a food photography lecture as part of their Natural Chef course where I teach the fundamentals of plating and manipulating food, the composition of a dish based on the recipe and ingredients and then the basics of food photography and food styling. It’s awesome to put my culinary skills into practice and more when it is for education.
Now, something I’ve learned from teaching is how unprepared people generally are when it comes to photography. What I mean here is how little a starting photographer knows about operating the camera and knowing the tools inside out and how much we, keen and experienced photographers overlook this.
Just recently, for example during a whole-day food photography workshop, I was getting ready to get into the theory when I asked, “Are we all shooting RAW? Let’s put our cameras in A/AV mode and set it to the widest aperture your lens allows you to” The look in their eyes rang a bell and I had to ask each student if they knew how to operate their camera. The following hour was spent helping them adjust the right settings and explaining what every item in their settings menu meant and why should be on or off.
I also spent some time explaining the settings for mobile phone photography which makes the course more challenging to teach because I have to explain the differences of using a DSLR or bodied camera and a mobile phone.
I was pleased to see that at the end of the workshop, everyone agreed that there is world of difference between taking a picture of your food and making food photography.
As an extra, If you’re thinking of getting into food photography, learning food photography or wanting to teach food photography; here are some of the most important things I talk about on all the workshops I run:
Know your gear inside out. You wouldn’t drive a car without having a notion of how it works, where the ignition is, your indicators or if it runs on gas or diesel right? The same applies to anyone who wants to get into photography, not just food photography.
Know your camera inside out! This is very hard since we learn most of the camera functions as we progress in our photography but at least take the time to know how to switch between all manual and automatic modes, what white balance is, what ISO is, why your kit lens might be limited to what you want to achieve and why RAW vs JPG matter and how to switch between all settings. Also, know what your mobile phone can and can’t do.
Know food inside out. Not essential but definitely will make a difference. Knowing ingredients, sauces, cooking temperatures, cooking techniques, plating techniques, cooking trends, history of food… all that is the world that you are getting into so learn to differentiate the fact that you are photographing food as opposed to just eating and liking food. If you’re getting hungry while shooting food, you’re definitely doing something wrong.
Understand light. See the effects of basic front, side and back window lighting, then throwing some light back with everyday tools like a blank sheet of paper, a small baking tray, a purse-mirror or your phone. Practice creative lighting and add it to your repertoire. Shoot under difficult light conditions and try to the effects of artificial light, light temperature. Look at tools that you can use to recreate window light if there is none available. I encourage my students to read the light and the effects it has on food rather than focusing just on the food they have in front of them.
Learn to cook. Food styling is probably the most difficult part to teach because food styling is very personal and super-skillful. Food manipulation can be as simple as just placing ingredients on a table and be as hard as the cooking, preparation and plating of a whole dish. Styling is 50% artistic and 50% skillful so that’s when the knowledge of food comes in handy. If you learn a couple of knife skills, you’re doing your photography a favour. Pinterest and cookbooks are a great source of inspiration for food styling especially if you’re starting out.
Compose a shot. Even more personal than styling is the composition of a shot. Shoot a dish from several angles including the obvious overhead, 45 degrees and eye level and then move around to create more interesting compositions. Get closer or further away, be creative and break the rules.
Get inspired. Look at tons of other work for inspiration, be it painting, design, cookbooks, comic-books… inspiration comes from unexpected places so don’t stop stimulating your photographic mind.
CNM Courses & dates: Food Photography Workshop