21 February 2016

Food Photography & Storytelling Workshop

Yesterday I attended a Food Photography and Storytelling Workshop conducted by Elodie Bellegarde at The Kitchen Society. I have heard about The Kitchen Society through friends who had attended workshops there, and from time to time I would browse their website for any interesting workshops.

When I came across this Food Photography and Storytelling Workshop, I was definitely piqued. Since I'm an avid cook and baker and enjoy taking photos of what I cook and bake, I thought it's an apt workshop for me, to learn more about photographing food from an accomplished practitioner.

And so I found out that the workshop instructor is Elodie Bellegarde, a French food stylist currently based in Singapore. Being an accomplished photographer and writer, she has worked with international brands on food styling and publications and has also been conducting food styling and photography workshops. She has even published a cookbook!

Anyway, I simply registered for the workshop, not really knowing what to expect, and went with an open mind! Was a little apprehensive at first because I'm not into professional photography and do not own a DSLR camera. Have always been using compact camera and only upgraded to a semi-pro camera (Canon Powershot G7X) recently which allows more control. But this is as far as I would go in terms of equipment. Luckily, Elodie is very casual about equipment and doesn't really mind. Of the nine participants, only three or four have DSLR cameras, the rest are shooting using compact cameras or smartphones. Elodie pointed out that a good photo is not just about the equipment, but how the photo is composed, the story behind the photo, which is the crux of what the workshop is about.

Now The Kitchen Society is such an interesting place! First of all, it's housed in one of those heritage Peranakan houses which has been restored and preserved, so it eludes an air of exclusivity, like I'm walking into a piece of precious history.

 Upon entrance, it feels so much like a creative house, there's a messy artistic feel to the entire place.

The inner hall is where the workshop is held, as well as periodic baking and cooking classes. Love the pieces of vintage and retro furniture as well as the props and publications placed casually all over the place.

This is one of the table holding several props prepared by Elodie, ranging from crockery to cutlery, to linen and flora, to vases and ornament pieces.

 Some of the many other props, vintage bicycle, picnic basket, to paintings and ornaments.

Elodie first went through a short theory session on some technical aspects of photography like lenses, aperture, ISO, shutter speed, white balance, tripod, natural lighting vs artificial, useful tools like bouncer/reflector, absorber, diffuser etc.

She proceeded to show some photo-taking techniques about lighting and angles. Then the main topic of the workshop, about story telling.

I always wonder how professional food photographers take their photos, as in how do they make photos look so good, like the colours, the props, the overall mood and feel? Oh, so I learnt, it's all about story telling, what is the story behind each photo, what is it trying to express? Basically when we have a subject in mind, we should think about the story behind this subject, and come up with keywords to help us find the right colours, the right mood, the right props. For example, I have just baked a batch of cupcakes, I can think of the theme "afternoon tea" and all things related like casual, relaxing, cozy, artisan tea, pretty looking flora linen and crockery, enjoying magazines, and gather props along these keywords, and from there compose the photo.

After the theory session it's practical time! For part one, all participants were given a specific theme and some keywords to help us compose our photo. Mine was about soup, emphasis on homemade and freshness of ingredients. We have a total of 45 mins to compose and shoot, and Elodie would go around giving advice.

The soup prepared was potato and leek soup. At first I took the bowl of soup and then paused for a long time wondering what to do with it. As all the participants started looking around for the appropriate props, I followed suit, with some vague idea like including leeks, potatos, parsley, herbs... and slowly getting the hang of things. I like white-washed wood so that's my base, and I used some homely looking linen, rustic kitchen mitt, and copper measuring cups with a vintage spoon. Basically the story is about preparing a warm bowl of hearty soup in a homely and cozy setting.

So I set up the subject and props and started shooting away, shooting at different angles and adjusting the props. This was my initial set-up, after consulting Elodie, she advised me to adjust the leek as it was too glaring and stealing the limelight and I should also place the spoon into the soup to evoke an "action" in the story.

There. The photo really looked much better than the first one! Although unsure about what to do at first, I was glad that the photo turned out not too bad. I'm more used to shooting at 45 degree angle actually so didn't explore an overhead shot which is very popular and common in food publications. I had asked her about the angle and amount of props, she said in photography, there's no right or wrong, it is my photo, my story, the important thing is I am happy with it.

The next part, we could choose our own theme and tell our own story. I selected bread, and I wanted to have a breakfast picnic. We had about 30-40 mins to compose our photo and this time, Elodie would come around to take a shot of what we composed and tether the photo to her PC and share with everyone.

This time I was more confident in gathering the props but I was still unsure about how to compose the photo, where to place the props at what positions etc. At first, I was thinking whether to shoot at 45 degree angle, then I decided to try an overhead shot as I'm always very keen to do it. When Elodie came by to take a shot at my set-up, she also commented that an overhead shot looked better than 45 degree.

So this was my final overhead shot. Quite happy at how the photo turned out, the mood and feel evoked by the various props and colours. But looking back, I wish I had cut the orange in width to expose the webby membrane, I believe it would enhance the overall contrast in textures.

All of us took turns to share our story of the photo and admire the photos taken by everyone. We ended savoring a homemade mushroom and onion tart which was totally delish!!

All in all, I learnt alot from this 4-hr hands-on workshop and now have a better idea on food styling and photography, at least to get me started. I guess a lot of practice, patience and time is needed to compose and shoot every photo, I must get myself more organized and manage my time better each time I intend to shoot any of my cooks/bakes.

And also, photography is really tough work! During the workshop, as we had to do everything on the floor, I was kneeling and squatting up and down throughout the practical session, and suffered muscle ache on my thighs and butt today! Ouch!

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