As I climb the narrow winding staircase to William Reavell’s studio I am hit with a very strong sense of deja vu. Not only have I been here before, I have worked with Will in my capacity as Art Editor a few years ago (on this book if anyone is curious). Today I am here to attend Will’s Level 2 Food Photography course – one of the most exciting prizes I have ever won through this blog.
I am joined by Angela – a.ka. Patisserie Makes Perfect – who I have invited along, and Sissy who is an aspiring blogger. The studio is filled with the mouthwatering aroma of curry bubbling on the stove courtesy of our food stylist Tara Sura – and it isn’t even 10am yet. It all feels reassuringly familiar as I have been styled, propped and art directed plenty of food shoots during my career in publishing. But being around food photography and being a food photographer are not one and the same – I only picked up my camera to shoot food when I started this blog in December 2012. My first attempts were pretty cringeworthy but I progressed slowly through trial and error and without any actual training. Now really I wish I had attended Level 1 of this course when I first started out.
Will’s studio set up is not unlike my little set up at home – a table, natural light from a north-facing window, a tripod and a camera. The backgrounds and backdrops are a mix of wooden boards, fabric and pretty handmade paper rolls that are all laid out on a table together with a selection of props for us to use. We have to style our own curry shot – curry having been chosen by Will and Tara as it is a difficult dish to photograph. I decide to go dark and moody for my shot and choose a wooden board (flipped over to reveal the wood grain texture) and dark props to show off my fish curry’s bright yellow colouring.
With the boards and props all ready, I hand my bowl over to Tara to fill with food. The role of a food stylist is vitally important in making food photos look both appetising and somehow effortless. As food bloggers we take on that role ourselves and it is interesting to see just how much finessing my simple bowl of curry has to go through!
When I photograph my recipes at home I review my images in the camera. If I have enough time, I transfer the shots to my computer for a more detailed look. But Will introduces me to the wonderful world of tethered capture – my Nikon D610* is connected to his iMac through a long USB cable and each shot appears on the computer screen for immediate review. This is how food photographers normally work and I have wanted to try it for ages – turns out you just need the cable, Capture or Lightroom software and a computer within a short distance of your camera. Mentally I am already calculating how I can possibly afford a laptop.
With tethered capture you can instantly see which areas of your photograph need more or less light, whether the food creates weird shapes or if there are crumbs you need to brush away. You can even adjust your exposure and aperture through the computer. It is a brave new world and one that takes some getting used to.
I am soon perched up a ladder trying to get an overhead shot and Will’s advice to use manual focus becomes too much for me to handle what with having to hold the camera steady and not fall over. I switch back to autofocus but his advice comes very handy when I try to shoot my Grey Goose cocktail and the camera sensor doesn’t know where to focus. After capturing a few shots I am happy with, I take my camera off my beloved Manfrotto 190 tripod* (which I am pleased to note Will is coveting) to take a few snaps from different angles. Handheld shots are definitely encouraged. They often turn out to be the most interesting, as long as the shutter speed is safely above 1/60 second.
After shooting our curry, it is time to eat and it is just as delicious as it smells. Eating the food has to be the best part of any food shoot! But we don’t sit down for very long because after the curry we move on to the two cheesecakes Tara has prepared for us. They look so delicate and pretty on their little cake stands that the shot calls for equally lovely props. Out goes my dark background and the table is draped in pretty fabric with patterned wrapping paper as backdrop. The first few shots are a bit too busy so I switch to a plainer background to show off the strawberry topping. For some reason it feels more difficult to get this styled right – and there’s nothing more frustrating than a prop or element spoiling a shot. It can make the difference between a stunning photograph and one that ends up deleted – and I have my fair share of those.
Time is racing however so we swiftly move on to a drizzling shot with some raspberry coulis. Drizzling it off a spoon looks wrong and so we transfer it to a small jug and try again. But, as anyone who has attempted drizzling shots will tell you, we have limited opportunity to get this right before our elegant cheesecake (below left) turns into a volcanic eruption (below right)! I immediately make plans to try the drizzling action at home (see photos at the end of the post). My little £3 shutter Remote* will finally come in very handy.
Throughout the day Will is very hands on helping us with everything from the initial set up and styling to exposure and the right way to handle a camera. It is invaluable to have this guidance and it doesn’t stop there as we are given a quick demo of Lightroom. I have been using it since I started the blog to import and catalogue my photographs but turns out I have only skimmed its capabilities as a developing tool. Not only that, I have acquired some bad habits when processing my images, but by taking Will’s instructions onboard I can see instant improvement. Thankfully I always shoot in RAW format which means I can now go back through my old photos and process them again with the benefit of more experience.
As the course winds down and we regretfully start to pack things away, I feel physically and mentally exhausted. But I also feel incredibly motivated, energised and eager to take my food photography a step further – I can’t recommend this course highly enough to food bloggers who wish improve their skills. Below are a couple of shots I did at home the very next day (you can tell I am an eager pupil) trying to capture dusting with icing sugar and drizzling with chocolate. A fair few cupcakes were drowned in chocolate sauce much to the delight of my children!
Final thoughts… Will and Tara will be at Food Blogger Connect teaching a photo workshop so I will inevitably stalk them again soon (thank you for answering my endless questions and being so encouraging). Meeting Angela was like running into an old friend that I hadn’t seen in ages. I wish we lived a little closer but this is definitely not the last time we meet. Make sure you read her post about the course and take a look at how she styled her photographs.
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