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food photography workshop in birmingham

beef stew demo (14 of 37)There is a period of time at the beginning of a new relationship when you realize you are entering into something truly special. Something life changing. It’s difficult to talk about. In fact, you hesitate to talk about it too much, as to not risk cheapening it’s impact and importance in your life.

At the risk of sounding overly dramatic, I have been struggling with these exact feelings and how to share the experiences from my trip to Birmingham a couple weekends ago. I’ve had a week to absorb and mull over the trip in my head. To really look into myself and to consider where I go from here. While I might not have it completely figured out, I know one thing: I have found a true passion in food photography. While I’ve been struggling with putting into words the impact that last weekend has had on me, I at least have a bunch of photos to share that will help fill in the gaps of my rambling. beef stew demo (7 of 37)The focus of the weekend was to tackle styling and photographing difficult dishes: dips, cocktails, soup and casseroles. We also had the chance to watch Helene, Mindi and Tami work together to photograph the most stunningly beautiful beef stew I’ve ever seen. It’s centerfold worthy. At least it was by the time they got done with it. beef stew demo (10 of 37)First, Mindi walked us through her creative process of choosing props and setting the scene for a photo shoot. She gathered and paired surfaces, linens, bowls, dishes and flatware in a way that will forever change they way I see photographs. She encouraged us to experiment and push the limits – extend and break out of our comfort zones. Something that I very much needed to hear. Push and play and never stop trying new combinations. Continue to see surfaces, textures and props in new and inventive ways. Her passion was utterly contagious. Not to mention that her kindness and encouragement kept me going the entire weekend – and far beyond. beef stew demo (6 of 37)Then it was Tami’s turn to work her magic. She walked us through how to cook foods in a way that would preserve their color and texture for a photograph. How carrots and beef cooked too far will lose their presence in front of the camera – even though they may taste delicious. demo and shooting (5 of 14)Tami built the most stunning bowl of beef stew, with the perfect amount of sauce and rosemary, that I have ever seen. Plus, she had a tray full of awesome styling tools, perfect for whipping a tricky dish of food into shape. I am in awe of her skills. Plus, she was quite possibly one of the funniest and nicest people I’ve met. She gave me confidence that I  could succeed. beef stew demo (20 of 37)beef stew demo (24 of 37)demo and shooting (9 of 14)During the time that Tami and Mindi were working, I loved watching how they worked as a  team. Allowing each other to move in and out of the set, checking and tweaking their work. Working seamlessly beside each other. beef stew demo (27 of 37)After the styling was complete, Helene stepped in to capture the perfect, story telling light. Her passion for light was evident. She spoke to us about the quality of light and how to bend, diffuse and bounce light. She encouraged us to play and push ourselves further to see what we could create.

Light is key. beef stew demo (23 of 37)beef stew demo (31 of 37)The entire weekend took place in the most incredible studio. The entire building was covered in rich textures that just made me want to start photographing. Original brick wall, crumbling plaster and charcoal colored concrete floors. beef stew demo (34 of 37)beef stew demo (35 of 37)When it came to the photo assignments, we dove right into some lumpy and oddly colored dips. I chose to tackle a red pepper hummus. food challenge (1 of 9)food challenge (2 of 9)Next up were cocktails. I worked with a grapefruit cocktail, The Salty Dog. This challenge was very fun and Tami blew our minds with her variety of ‘fake’ ice. Unbelievable. food challenge (3 of 9)food challenge (4 of 9)Then came the casseroles. food challenge (7 of 9)food challenge (8 of 9)food challenge (9 of 9)My favorite challenge, for several reasons, was the canned soup challenge. We were given a can of soup and a list of instructions or, guidelines really. My soup was a minestrone and my guidelines were that the photos would be for a cookbook using both modern and rustic props, and they had to feature moody, directional lighting.

What I loved about this assignment (besides the fact that Mindi saved me from the New England Clam Chowder) was the challenge of melding my ideas and style to fit those of a client (although, an imaginary one).

It was also refreshing to realize that anytime I feel like shooting or playing with light and styling, I don’t need to have some brilliant recipe up my sleeves. Don’t get me wrong, cooking, creating and tweaking recipes is something that I absolutely love to do (obviously), but there are times that I just want to (I’m going to borrow Helene’s term) geek out with photo stuff. Play with props, lighting and styling, but don’t have the time or energy to cook up something spectacular. This was a very freeing notion to me. One that I have already played around with at home.

Here are my final ‘canned soup’ photos that I took of my trusty can of minestrone and my very cool client guidelines:food challenge (5 of 9)food challenge (6 of 9)This workshop was eye opening to me in many ways. I feel like my desire to learn and grow in my skills as a photographer, specifically food photographer, have been both confirmed and fueled like never before.

Plus, I met the most incredible group of people there, all of whom I’ll never forget. We bonded over prop choices, parking concerns and roasted salmon salads. To describe the feeling of being surrounded by a group of creative, talented people who take napkin placement as seriously as I do, would be impossible. It was fabulous, and even as I say that, I know that cliche word doesn’t even begin to do justice to our weekend together.

So I’ll stop here.

Well, perhaps I’ll add just one more thing: If you want to do something, don’t hold back. Take the risk and go after it. Follow your passion. demo and shooting (12 of 14)Happy Wednesday, everyone!demo and shooting (13 of 14)

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15 comments on “food photography workshop in birmingham”

  1. This looks like an incredible experience!
    Do you know the brand/model of the tripod that’s in the first photo? Thanks!

    • Thanks, Sarah! It really was a wonderful experience. That tripod in the photo is Helene’s (from I totally should have checked to see what she used, but it slipped my mind in the moment. I’m sure if you wrote her a note, she’d be able to tell you what she used. As a side note, I have the Manfrotto 055xPROB and love it. It’s very sturdy, plus has a horizontal arm for overhead shots (like the one in the photo). I hope that helps! Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Great post and what a cool experience. All your photos have always been gorgeous so I can’t wait to see what you come up with now.

    • Thanks so much, Rachel! It was so inspiring, I feel like I just want to play and experiment with composition, propping and light all day long. Hopefully I’ll be able to effectively apply what I learned. It was such a great time!

  3. What an amazing experience- thank you so much for sharing your words and photos of this amazing workshop!

    Your photos are always beautiful 🙂

    • Thank you so much, Heather! It was such a wonderful experience, I am looking forward to trying all of the new things that I learned about 🙂 Thank you for stopping by!!

  4. Emily, I was anxiously awaiting to hear how things went for you at the workshop. I knew you would take loads of information away with you. I have never met Mindi or Tami but after working with Helene, my work saw dramatic improvements. I love what you did with the “canned” minestrone. Not an easy feat. Your photos are wonderful. Looking forward to seeing how you kick up your future photos given your new found knowledge. Your work was already quite wonderful.

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  6. Hey there girly!!! I’m just now getting around to reading your recap of our weekend. It was great, right? And so funny about the napkin. That’s exactly what we talked about. As much as family and friends try and be involved and supportive, no one really gets just how important that napkin (or surface or bowl or tiny spoon :), all of it) really is but us and it was wonderful to sit and talk about it all.
    How are you doing on your surface search? I think I see some new ones in your photographs. They look awesome!
    I’m ready for another conference! Are you? 😀

    • I totally have to email you!! Yes, I’ve been busy like crazy mixing up all of my backgrounds! My new favorite though, is an old (I’m talking crazy beat up and rusted) baking sheet I got on ebay. It made my mom cringe when I showed it to her, but it looks beautiful in photos!! I just wish it were twice the size – ugh. How did your copper turn out?? Have you used it yet? I’m so ready for another conference, lol, I just need to save up again 🙂 We need to keep in touch :)!!

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  9. Hello! Just found your site when I was looking for food photo hints. I was wondering what sort of lights were used at the workshop? Were they LED panels? Keep up the gorgeous work!

    • Hi Justine!
      Thanks for the kind words!! At the workshop, we used exclusively natural light. We were lucky to have huge windows in the studio that provided plenty of sunlight for the shots. At home, I also use exclusively natural light, but have been toying around with the idea of trying out some strobe lights. I hope this helps! Thanks so much for stopping by!

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