Saturday, day 2 of the International Food Bloggers Conference, was the day I had been looking forward to the most. One of the primary reasons I signed up for the IFBC was for the session with Andrew Scrivani, a food photographer and food stylist who is a regular contributor to the NY Times as well as many other widely recognized publications, cookbooks, and websites.
I’ve been actively working on improving my food photography over the past few months. Have you noticed a difference? I’m almost embarassed to point out some of my earlier works, such as one of my favorite recipes, Slow Cooker Italian Chicken Sausage and Bean Stew. But compared to one of my recent favorites, my Summer Vegetable Tart, don’t you think I’ve come a long way? I think I have. However, given that I continue to get rejected by Foodgawker, and have only had 2 photos accepted by Tastespotting so far, I believe there’s still a lot of room for improvement.
So I packed my humble little Sony Cybershot into my purse and scurried off to the conference first thing in the morning. Waiting for me when I arrived was a breakfast spread befitting of any 5 star European hotel: freshly baked organic breads, an assortment of top-quality meats, cheeses and fruits, jam, yogurt, pastries, and even gluten free granola. All of this was courtesy of Pastry Smart, a local Seattle business that produces organic, ethically made breads and pastries under a variety of brand names to stores such as Whole Foods. The founder of Pastry Smart was then joined by a speaker from the American Human Association for an enlightening conversation on the treatment of animals in the food industry. Something long overdue in the industry, in my humble opinion.
After this deep conversation, we had a bit of levity. A chef team from renowned restaurant Morimoto Hawaii (The Iron Chef, anyone?) engaged in a contest with local chef/comedian John Miskewich. The chefs competed to see who could filet a whole salmon the best and the fastest.
These guys made the whole event look so easy that I, who have always had my butcher do the cutting for me, suddenly had visions of myself confidently filleting a whole salmon and whipping up a delicious salmon tartare, which I must admit I have never made before. In reality, it might be more of a finger tartare if I were to do that myself, so not sure I will attempt that by myself any time soon. But the idea is still niggling in the back of my mind!
After the salmon comedy show, Andrew Scrivani took the stage with a number of his photos to illustrate lessons in lighting, angles, focus, and composition for food photography. My biggest challenge with food photography is that I often lack natural light as the food I’m preparing is also dinner for the night and many times it’s already dark by the time I’m plating it. So I walked away with many ideas for improving my lighting and using the light and shadows to achieve different effects. I would say, though, that the biggest tip I walked away with was to use smaller props so I can fit more in the frame. This means I need to do some more shopping for plates and accessories. Darn.
I have to admit that I was a little intimidated to attend this workshop because I know that as a professional photographer Andrew shoots with a crazy expensive camera, and I just have my little Sony Cybershot that I work with. So when he talked about things like aperture and different lenses, I felt a little out of my league. But Andrew is a really personable and funny guy, and as he mingled with the bloggers over lunch, I shoved aside my star-struck self and decided to introduce myself and ask him a question.
“I use a point and shoot camera,” I said. “What advice would you give me to improve my photos, aside from buying a new camera?”
His response? “It’s all about the lighting.” He went on to say that there are some really great point and shoot cameras out there, there’s even a new cell phone with a 40MP camera that takes amazing photos. You need to have a good camera, he said, but in the end you have to pay attention to the lighting, that’s where the magic happens.
Noted. Investments in new lighting and cards are coming. More shopping. Dang.
After lunch involving more local restaurants and vendors serving up more food and giving away more swag (artisan marshmallows!), I attended another workshop with Andrew Scrivani on photography workflow. This was not about how to take the photos, his previous topic, but really about how to plan to take the photos. I loved this because, totally out of character with my true Virgo planning self, I am not good at planning my food photos in advance. While I know the recipe, I don’t think about how I want it to look in the photo until it’s time to actually take the photo and I often find myself thinking “Darn! I wish I had bought more of that ingredient to use as a prop!”
Silly, huh? My lessons from that workshop are to write out the steps of my recipe in advance, determine the story I want to tell with my photos, decide which steps or techniques I want to photograph, what I want those photos to look like, and then how I capture that completed story in the picture of the final product. This will allow me to determine, in advance, what props I need and when I need to shoot to not only improve the quality of my photos but also my time management. This seems so basic, only a pro like Andrew could bring it to light.
The last session of the day was a writing workshop that was really more of an improv workshop. That is we used improvisational acting tools to create a tighter, more interesting storyline. There were some great tips in here that absolutely apply to writing, such as finding the details within the story to link pieces together and create a seamless flow. However, I found it a bit odd that food bloggers, who are generally introverted by nature, would be put into a situation where they are required to be spontaneous in front of a large group of people. I know I said that I would take Dorie Greenspan’s advice and say yes more, but I found this extremely uncomfortable and the more public the activities got, the more I found myself withdrawing from the class.
Yes, I can hear you tsk-ing me from here. In my defense, as a writer, I am much more internal: I like to mull around my thoughts, write them down, think about them, and come back (typically the next day) and edit them before I publish them to the world. To come up with stories on the spot in front of a hundred of my new best friends was just too far out of my comfort zone. The yeses are coming, but please – baby steps people!
Luckily, the day was over. After a brief reception of more delicious food (bacon wrapped scallops!) from Taste of Alaska Seafood, I had a brief break before embarking on our Saturday Dine Around Seattle courtesy of UrbanSpoon.
This was such a fabulous surprise. UrbanSpoon sponsored and organized dinners at 20+ different 4 and 5 star restaurants around Seattle for all of the conference attendees. Can you imagine the work involved in coordinating this? And how terrifying to be a chef hosting a bunch of food bloggers!
Our group of 11 met our lovely UrbanSpoon host, Grace, at 7:30, boarded our shuttle and arrived at Spur Gastropub, an innovative downtown Seattle area restaurant from Chef John Howie. We were treated to an unforgettable 5 course meal, with drinks, that lasted about 3 hours. We were all so full when we left that we happily walked the +/- 10 blocks back to the hotel to shake off our food coma.
I sleepily crawled into my bed and was asleep before my head hit the pillow, visions of gourmet food and wine dancing through my head.
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