Food Photography Workshop with Sweetgrass Food Co.

Last summer I was approached by a fan of my magazine, Laura Knaub, who asked if I would teach a Food Photography and Styling Workshop at a place she was working with called Sweetgrass Cafe

 Students photographing sweetgrass food in the Sweet & Honest Workshop. Photo by: Anne Marie Zarba 

Students photographing sweetgrass food in the Sweet & Honest Workshop. Photo by: Anne Marie Zarba 

Sweetgrass is a really cool, modern cafe right in the heart of downtown Seattle. Focused on a whole-food menu, their airy, serene approach to food is echoed in the white-washed space framed by ceiling-high windows. Downstairs is a busy counter where you can order and a bundle of tables. Upstairs sits a loft and unique pieces from local artists frame the walls. It's also where they host occasional classes and where this workshop took place. 

 Students watching my demonstration of building a set. Photo by: Anne Marie Zarba

Students watching my demonstration of building a set. Photo by: Anne Marie Zarba

Teaching this class was a huge deal to me. Huge because I have intense anxiety (as many of us do!), about standing up in front of a group of people and presenting. I once read that more people list public speaking as their number one fear than death- and I'm with them!

So it was a hurdle. And usually the only way over those is through them. Between wanting to share and give back to people looking to learn about photography and styling, and getting over a personal challenge, I said yes.  

 Showing a common angle and set-up for a food photography photo shoot. Photo by: Anne Marie Zarba

Showing a common angle and set-up for a food photography photo shoot. Photo by: Anne Marie Zarba

Between "How to become a food photographer?" and "what are your tips for food photography and styling?" I get a lot of questions about how to become a photographer, so I had a lot to base my curriculum around. I decided to work the class into three parts:

1. A Food Photography Set Demo

2. Hands-on Shooting Time (with one-on-one help from myself and Anne Marie)

3. A Review and Supportive Critique (of our favorite images) 

My good friend (and fellow photo-school graduate) Anne Marie was my right-hand gal for the workshop and took all the photos in this post (thanks Anne Marie!).

 Tweaking the styling of the salad and using a fork to show movement. Photo: Anne Marie Zarba

Tweaking the styling of the salad and using a fork to show movement. Photo: Anne Marie Zarba

 Showing how to use what's known as a "white card" to reflect light back onto the site. Photo: Anne Marie Zarba

Showing how to use what's known as a "white card" to reflect light back onto the site. Photo: Anne Marie Zarba

To start, class began with introductions, what everyone hoped to learn and what brought them to the workshop. Then, gave a demonstration on how to:

 -Build a food photography set

-Select props that go together, tell a story and support the scene

-Create ambiance and put the viewer in a scene

-Select a favorable angle for your subject and story

-Work with natural light to create hierarchy, a time of day, a mood and flatter your subject

-Work in challenging lighting conditions

-Style props and food and use accents to add detail and finesse 

I also spoke to the ideas of: 

-Creating and developing a concept

-Planning & execution

-Working with unexpected variables

 Helping each other out. Photo: Anne Marie Zarba

Helping each other out. Photo: Anne Marie Zarba

Then, students took off on their own to photograph the colorful, vibrant food and drinks provided by Sweetgrass. Bowls of garnishes to style with lined the table next to stacks of linens, silverware, dishes and glasses to prop with. The class expanded- one person shooting down from the loft above, another shooting on the sidewalk, finding different backgrounds (the plant in the corner, the colorful sidewalk tables), everywhere they went. 

 Using the natural light outside and the bright color of the table as a background. Photo: Anne Marie Zarba

Using the natural light outside and the bright color of the table as a background. Photo: Anne Marie Zarba

 Getting creative with surfaces- the sidewalk makes a neutral background. Photo: Anne Marie Zarba

Getting creative with surfaces- the sidewalk makes a neutral background. Photo: Anne Marie Zarba

It was so fun to watch everyone get out and get their hands dirty and to see the variation and creativity in their choices. I loved watching them go- and no one wanted to stop when time was up! But, with the promise of a delicious Sweetgrass meal, they settled in to see and review everyone's favorite image from the day. 

Critique is a delicate subject. It can be exceptionally fun in a supportive, encouraging environment, getting honest feedback and other perspectives helps you identify your style and see things in a different way. Doing so in an unsupported environment does the opposite. In school, critique felt like both to me. We would spend hours on one persons single image at times. I loved it, and I learned so much, but in a class for those who weren't seeking this as a profession, I wanted to keep things light and helpful. The goal was to point out movement, color and patterns in peoples shots to make them notice what they are drawn to- to find and develop their own voice. 

 Showing pattern and movement in the image. Photo: Anne Marie Zarba

Showing pattern and movement in the image. Photo: Anne Marie Zarba

In the end, it was a huge success! Because of the fabulous group of people that came to take the class. So many eager, positive, attentive attitudes, each with their own unique way of seeing the world & excited to be there. Also, all the help from Anne Marie! And, of course, Laura & Sweetgrass Cafe. 

I've been asked to do more in other locations, including in my own neighborhood, and I'm looking forward to doing so as soon as my schedule lets up. So if you're ever interested, head over to HonestQuarterly.com and sign up for the mailing list at the bottom of the page to stay posted the next time a workshop rolls around. 

I hope this post on the Food Photography and Styling Workshop and this one a while back about the behind the scenes of a photo shoot help paint a picture for those of you curious. 

Until next time,

Shannon