These days, isn’t everyone a food blogger? Whether I’m cooking at home, eating Lunch Bunch at work, or about to dig into a plate of tacos over margs with friends, someone will invariably hit Pause for a smartphone overhead shot of what’s being eaten. (Hang on, I have to Tweet/post/Instragram this. The world cares! #yum)
But we of iPhone filters are the amateurs. A far cry from my here-and-there documentation of dinner, there are real food photography geniuses. Take Aran Goyoaga of Cannelle et Vanille and Karen Mordechai of Sunday Suppers who blog their culinary endeavors with charm, wit, and professionalism. (You might have seen our gluten-free breakfast feature with Aran's recipes in the October issue.) Last weekend, I was fortunate enough to attend a food styling and photography workshop with both of them (taught by Aran, hosted by Karen in her light-flooded Brooklyn studio) for a day of cooking, playing with food, and documenting our eats.
My fellow attendees had come from as far as Australia just to glean an ounce of Aran’s expertise. Many boast their own blogrolls, while others, myself included, have only dabbled in styling and food photography (read: making cheese grits for dinner and emailing a phone picture to my proud mom in Tennessee). Aran gave us the seemingly reasonable goal of walking away from the workshop with at least a single styled photograph to be proud of. Easy peasy! Yeah, right.
To start, Aran indulged us with insight about her professional background (culinary school, pastry-making at the Ritz, and motherhood all have their place in her artistic development) and walked us through her process from start (scouring the market) to finish (le blog). We began in the kitchen. Aran pressed mandolin-thin slices of beet--picked up from the greenmarket that morning--around goat cheese dollops to make “ravioli,” which, drizzled with herb oil and crowned with a tuft of microgreens, would have been fit on the menu at any five-star New York eatery.
From there, we hit the ground (literally) running. Aran took her artwork of beet morsels straight toward the window for documenting. “I love the floor here,” she said of Karen’s white-walled, big-windowed studio, and [artfully] plopped the plate on the ground for photographing. With reflectors and aperture lessons, we learned about the importance of light in food photography. (Aran photographed her entire cookbook in her son's room, as it gets the best natural light in their home.) Aran’s accessible F-stop and shutter speed explanations were easy to follow when she showed us the results on her computer; I tinkered with the manual dials on my camera with success for the first time possibly ever.
After lessons, we lunched on a light salad of cauliflower with currants and quinoa and Tortilla Española out of Karen’s kitchen. In this crowd, no one batted an eye when Aran paused to stand on the bench and snap an overhead shot or two before we indulged. Fed and informed, we launched into our own afternoon styling sessions with vigor. In the business of food blogging, any surface or object is fair game for use as a prop; some people even brought their own tea towels and roasting pans. (I, on the other hand, purposefully removed my scarf for use in an arrangement with beets, figs, and pears—because I'm so prepared like that.) We collaborated, photographed our own and each others' work, and arranged foodstuffs thoughtfully, while Aran gave one-on-one advice for getting the most out of every shot.
By the day’s end, we were a visibly tuckered out crew, winding down by nibbling on props (or was that just me?) and chatting like old friends. I was as satisfied with what I’d learned as the photographs I’d taken, the delights I was lucky enough to eat, and the company I had the pleasure of keeping. (I might not have a food blog, but I’ve got plenty of new friends who do.) Aran’s perspective is that there’s room in the world of food blogging for anyone willing to give it a whirl, but I know now that there’s a lot more to it than simple point-and-shoot.
All photographs by Karen Mordechai