Mon 13 Jun 2011
Eat, Write, Retreat was a blast! Alive with creative energy, this food blogger conference (AKA “EWR,” held in DC May 20-22), delivered what it promised. It was an upscale, yet down-to-earth learning environment that offered hands-on workshops led by accomplished professionals. The agenda allowed plenty of time for both hardcore networking and, you know…fun. Lisa Cherkasky and I taught two Food Styling and Photography workshops there; and I have to say, organizers Robyn Webb and Casey Benedict created a high-quality, valuable experience.
For the real meat of the event, I found it so interesting to learn about other people’s businesses. I met a range of smart, ambitious, creative presenters (authors, editors, PR pros), sponsors (foods, beverages and products) and bloggers. Another lovely benefit of EWR was the crazy-good swag bag, which included Calphalon’s great 12-inch nonstick griddle pan. I was so inspired by this, that I actually cooked this frittata in it myself! (For you cooking bloggers… I didn’t use a recipe, just what I had in my kitchen: eggs, potatoes, onions, rosemary and Parmesan cheese.)
Our Food Styling and Photography workshops had two parts: In the first part, Lisa and I showed slides of our own, professional work. We explained how aspects of it (basic principles, methods and equipment) can apply to bloggers’ own photographic situations and offered realistic options that will result in greater versatility and efficiency. For instance, while we all love to shoot with beautiful natural light, often it just isn’t possible. So, we provided basic technical information on lighting: from optimizing natural light sources with reflectors; to using a simple lighting kit that is daylight-balanced, for easy mixing with natural light. We also strongly suggested using a tripod to maintain camera position while making adjustments to the subject.
First, to show how we work in my studio, in our slide show we included this image of us, with me behind the camera; Lisa styling hot lamb on the set, flanked by lighting equipment; and, in the background, my studio kitchen (and Lisa’s assistant).
Also from our slideshow, here is a shot taken moments later: the team viewing that hot-lamb image on the monitor (a few steps from the set). Looking on are: me; Lisa; Greg, the art director from Levine & Associates; and, the client (from Meat & Livestock Australia). We arranged a very similar camera-to-computer-to-screen set-up for our workshop at EWR.
Our teaching set-up in the “classroom” (a hotel ballroom) was a scaled-down replica of my studio set-up: a small draped table for our set; basic, simple lighting; and, my camera, tethered to my MacBook Pro using Adobe Lightroom software, projecting my images of workshop participants’ compositions onto a screen. After our talk and slideshow, it was time for people in the workshop to create photo-ready food set-ups for Lisa and me to critique and shoot. For both sessions, there were approximately eight groups of five collaborating on a project to assemble and present to us. Each table had sponsor-supplied food and equipment, styling tools and other assembled props (plates, placemats, napkins, flatware, etc.). The groups quickly came up with some attractive, appetizing compositions.
The official event photographers, Olga Berman and Allie Mak, worked hard all weekend, volunteering to cover all aspects of EWR. Above, Olga’s photo shows Lisa giving styling feedback to one of the work groups as they watched me shoot their composition. Below, she captured the projection screen image of my laptop, showing my photo of their composition in Lightroom.
Class time flew by, though! It felt like as soon as we got into “the zone”—really looking at the individual projects, discussing the groups’ ideas, what was working; how to improve their set-ups; making changes; shooting them in different stages—it was time for the next group to present!
I captured participants’ work and posted it here.
Thanks to the numerous generous sponsors who supported our styling & photo workshop, in particular…
Penn Camera supplied the location mini-studio set-up for our class and sold the same kit to some attendees: the Westcott Home Studio Lighting Kit #407, simple, reasonably priced professional-grade lighting equipment. Penn Camera reps Marie & Jason also provided all audio-visual services for the event. Marie even helped demo the very versatile Manfrotto 190XPro B tripod (which could be used with either of these tripod heads: the 804 RC2 or the 324 RC2).
Brand-new food preparation equipment for each work group’s station was provided by OXO products, who brought nonskid bamboo cutting boards, mandoline slicers and knife blocks; and Calphalon, who provided toasters and panini grills.
A luxurious assortment of foods were provided by sponsors including Jarlsberg Cheese, California Endive, Lindsay Olives, Phickles Pickles and La Quercia artisan-cured meats. Also represented throughout the conference was My Spice Sage, who gifted attendees with very generous portions of various spices. In my bulging swag bag, I found a large jar of My Spice Sage’s ground ginger, which I couldn’t resist sprinkling and shooting!
Since the event, EWR bloggers have been very busy tweeting, posting to the EWR Facebook page, tweeting (with the hashtag #EWR11) and posting event recaps to their own blogs. Thanks to all who mentioned our class in their own posts. They were gratifying to read, and I really appreciate the feedback!
Please let me know in the comments here: Do you have a suggestion for how we could improve our workshop? Were you inspired by our workshop to see your photography in new ways, or to try new lighting set-ups or equipment? Thanks!