This past Labor Day, I flew to Minneapolis to attend a food photography workshop hosted by Lindsay from Pinch of Yum. She held the event in a charming studio space located in an old renovated brick building, and we spent two days there soaking in Lindsay’s vast knowledge and helpful hints of how to develop and improve upon our photography skills.
I had previously corresponded with Lindsay and even worked with her, but this was the first time I met her in person. And… I basically felt like I was meeting a celebrity! She’s just as sweet and funny and smart and helpful and passionate and kind as she sounds on Pinch of Yum. I highly recommend that you check out her blog—she posts all kinds of easy, healthy, and incredibly flavorful recipes! (And yes, they all include Nutrition Information too!)
Even though the two days flew by in the blink of an eye, I still learned a lot, both about food photography and about life in general, that I wanted to share with you. As well as my favorite photos. And since I’m indecisive… I really hope you like scrolling through pictures!
P.S. If you’re a food blogger or simply interested in food photography, I STRONGLY encourage you to check out Lindsay’s next Tasty Food Photography Workshop! She broke down the two days into four manageable sections, complete with slide presentations and lots of hands-on practice, plus one-on-one help whenever we asked for it. Lindsay even brought in her personal prop and background collections for us to use! It doesn’t matter whether you’re a beginner or advanced photographer; her workshop is incredibly beneficial for all levels. It was worth every penny! You can sign up for her workshop email list to be the first to know about the next workshop offered later this fall!
1) Unclutter and simplify.
PHOTOGRAPHY: Many food bloggers have a tendency to collect props, and some own huge bookshelves with plates, cups, bowls, silverware, and nearly every kitchen gadget you can imagine. As tempting as that may be to me—really, really tempting—I haven’t been able to justify spending money on so many things (I’m more of a “spend money on experiences” type of girl!), but I still want to add props to every photo that I shoot. In seeing the photos that Lindsay shot and shared in her lessons, I realized that there’s immense beauty in simple scenes with only the one food item in the frame, and I’d like to try photographing more recipes in that style.
LIFE: Growing up, I was a packrat. I saved everything, from my allowance to Halloween candy, and I rarely wanted to give or throw anything away. (Yes, even when that candy corn and those chocolate bars turned five years old!) However, the older I’ve become, I’ve realized that the more that I hang onto experiences and the less than I hang onto material things, the happier I am.
2) Embrace shadows.
PHOTOGRAPHY: When I first started photographing food, I hated shadows. I worked really hard to eliminate them by propping up white sheets of paper a few inches away from where the shadow fell to bounce more light onto the food, and I brightened those areas while editing photos if I thought the paper wasn’t enough. But this year, I started to appreciate those darker areas and began leaving them alone because I found beauty in the contrast of highlights and shadows. As a result, the photos looked more natural and realistic. Watching Lindsay photograph and analyze her shots reminded me again of the importance of contrast and how it can turn a mediocre photo into something stunning.
LIFE: In general, we want life to be a happy experience, full of laughter and joy and highlights. But life also includes moments of sadness and pain and shadows… And that’s okay. That’s normal. It’s better to accept and embrace those shadows—without permanently dwelling on them—because they make life richer and enable the highlights to stand out that much more.
3) Take a step back.
PHOTOGRAPHY: I love close-up shots, the ones where you can see the glistening of the gooey melted chocolate chips and tender crumbs inside of the muffin and crisp outlines of the oats nestled inside of cookie dough. There’s a certain beauty to highlighting those tiny details, but there’s also a time and place for stepping back and capturing more of the scene. That’s something I’m going to work on in the future!
LIFE: It’s easy to start focusing on the tiny details and forget to step back to see the bigger picture. As a perfectionist, I’m guilty of doing that more often than I’d like to admit! But I’ve found that when I can let go of the minutia and remember to focus on the larger scene, life has a way of naturally falling into place exactly as it was meant to be.
4) Look for natural, organic beauty.
PHOTOGRAPHY: Every photo doesn’t need to be staged! Sometimes scenes accidentally fall into place: cookies fresh from the oven on the metal pan sitting exactly where they baked, Lindsay’s truffles on the tray after she dipped and sprinkled them with coconut, or the empty plate above after we transferred the pancakes to a different one for a new shoot at the workshop. And many times, those organic scenes turn out more stunning than the staged ones we as photographers so carefully craft.
LIFE: When was the last time you stopped to watch the sunset? I occasionally remember to glance out the window and momentarily register the pinks and oranges and purples, but… The last time I specifically stood outside for the sole reason of admiring the sunset? It’s been a while. But when I was more intentional about looking at natural beauty this past week, from the flowers planted in front of houses on my walks to the innocent way a couple strolled downtown with their arms around the other’s waist to the warm sunshine filtering down through the old oak tree’s leaves in our front yard, the more free and peaceful and happy I felt.
5) Embrace emotions.
PHOTOGRAPHY: Once we understand how our cameras work (the manual can be hard to digest!) and feel comfortable with our photo shoots, it’s important to remember that every image should invoke an emotion from the viewer. Whether it’s simply a “Wow I want to eat that!” or something deeper like nostalgia or inspiration, we should aim to arrange the scenes and edit the photos in a way that creates that goal emotion. However… It’s easy to let our own emotions about the photos get in the way! We’re almost always our own worst critics—including, and especially, myself!—and can easily feel discouraged or disappointed in our shoots, so remember to take a step back again and look at our photos a little more objectively. Even if the photo isn’t perfect and is “90% there” but looks pretty nice, that’s usually good enough. (And really important to remember for a perfectionist like me!)
LIFE: This goes back to #2. Many of us, myself included, try to go about life happy and optimistic and upbeat. When the tough and painful moments appear, I sometimes try to fight back tears and pretend that everything is still okay… But that usually makes things worse in the long run. I once read somewhere that we should allow emotions to be welcome guests in our lives, but not permanent residents, because those emotions are what make life such a rich and rewarding experience.
6) Let yourself be RAW to take everything in.
PHOTOGRAPHY: In photography, our DSLR cameras have an option to capture images in JPEG or RAW. With the JPEG setting, the camera does some processing for us and displays what it thinks the colors should be when we upload the images to our computers. This means that files are smaller because some of the color quality is lost since the camera and computer group similarly colored pixels together and treat that as one color, instead of the varying shades and tones that may actually be there. The RAW setting captures each of those individual pixels, which makes the files larger but also a little more time-consuming to edit. If you aren’t snapping photos for your job, JPEG is just fine! But for those of us food bloggers, I definitely recommend RAW.
LIFE: Sometimes, I’m not fully present in the here-and-now moment, where my mind is frantically adding lines to my to do lists or bouncing around while brainstorming blog recipe ideas. But when I am present and soaking in this exact moment, I’m often processing the scene through a filter before it fully registers in my brain. Oh, that’s sad—don’t cry! What a funny story—is it okay to laugh? I was just invited on TV—but who do I tell first?? Instead, I want to try to be fully present and allow myself to feel that raw emotion the moment triggers because that adds more depth and meaning to life.
7) Step outside your comfort zone.
PHOTOGRAPHY: It’s really easy to fall into a rut with food photography and pull out the same props or set up the same scenes for every shoot. If you’re enjoying that and it’s working for you, that’s perfectly fine! But at the workshop, Lindsay challenged us to pick out photos that captured our eye and analyze their similarities. I currently shoot a lot of “moodier” photos with darker wooden backgrounds and lots of contrast, yet the lighter images from other photographers with lots of white backgrounds and a dreamy feeling mostly caught my eye! So now my goal is to step out of my moodier photography comfort zone and try out that other light style to see if it’s something I’d want to continue pursuing for my own photography.
LIFE: I am a girl of routine. From the way I make the bed and brush my teeth in the morning to how we dine out at our favorite restaurants and order the same entrée each time, I usually prefer predictability. However, life often becomes a richer and more colorful affair when I step outside of that comfort zone. It could be anything from cooking a new recipe for dinner or trying a new workout to planning a vacation in a foreign country or ordering something different at the coffee shop. But the more effort I make to step outside of that comfort zone, the more I’ve realized that life begins where predictability ends.
8) But never forget your personality.
PHOTOGRAPHY: Lindsay handed us a really valuable piece of advice: try to match your photography style to your personality. In doing so, the scenes should be easier to set up and the shoots should flow more naturally. Most of us have multiple aspects to our personality, so that doesn’t mean we must limit ourselves to one backdrop or one specific feel! It simply means to play around with different styles—light and white, dark and moody, bold and striking, simple and minimalistic—until we find what “fits” and feels the most natural.
LIFE: When stepping outside of our comfort zones, it’s important to remember not to go too far and try to become someone that we’re not! We should stay true to our beliefs, values, and intuition and let those be our guides while we explore everything life has to offer.
9) Trust your intuition.
PHOTOGRAPHY: Don’t force a shoot! If our guts say something doesn’t feel right or it’s too cloudy or it’s the wrong background or those props don’t fit our style or we should wait to photograph until tomorrow or we should buy a different lens… Listen. Most of the time, our intuition is correct and our photographs will turn out a lot better when we pay attention!
LIFE: Whenever I hear that little voice whispering, “Don’t do that!” or “Relax! It’s going to be okay,” I try to pay attention. It isn’t always easy since our intuitions seem to speak in very quiet tones, whereas I’d prefer a flashing billboard sign—or at least a megaphone! But I think that when we pay attention to our guts and let them be our guides, we usually end up exactly where we were meant to be.
10) Sometimes rules come in handy… And sometimes they’re made to be broken.
PHOTOGRAPHY: Whether the rules of photography compositional elements or the rules we set for ourselves, they often hold true. As an overachiever and perfectionist, I loved how Lindsay explained how she sets certain rules for herself for photo shoots; she aims for a particular number of finished dish shots, ingredient shots, and maybe a few process shots to limit the amount of time she spends photographing. That would really come in handy for me! However… I always remember that one line from Pirates of the Caribbean: “They’re more like guidelines anyway,” and we just have to trust our intuition, go with the flow, and break the rules—some of the time.
LIFE: I used to be a stickler for bedtimes at night and alarm clocks in the morning, for yearly dentist appointments and appropriate oil changes on my car, for eating well-rounded meals and taking daily vitamins… But even when I sleep through the alarm or eat French fries and ice cream for dinner, the world keeps on spinning. I don’t always remember that it’s okay to occasionally break the rules of life, but it is—and those moments often lead to the incredible memories.
And now, for the best part… More photos from the weekend!
Here are the ladies from the weekend, captured in this gorgeous shot taken by Abby. (from left to right) Amber, Lise, Lindsay, Kathy, Colleen, Megan, Jessica, me, Julie, Carla, Lindsay, Tessa, Angela, and Krista.
And a special thank you to the other people and sponsors who helped make the workshop memorable as well: Abby, Kristen, Amanda, Bogart’s Doughnuts, Chipotle Mexican Grill, K’ul Chocolate, Bai, French Meadow Bakery & Café, Common Roots Café, The Copper Hen, and Shop Sweet Lulu.