Much like professional food writers who feel threatened by the ever-growing cadre of "amateur" food bloggers, professional food photographers are assailed not only by those same food bloggers, but also by the whiz-bang, point-and-shoot cameras that they brashly carry into restaurants and kitchens. Some argue that these high-tech marvels can make even the most hapless would-be photog look like a pro. I must confess that I too have subscribed to this argument.
That is, until this past Sunday when the Houston Chowhounds hosted a Food Photography Workshop with Austin-based photographer Penny De Los Santos. Working with a professional food photographer for the first time, I came to realize the true art and skill of the best food photography. The workshop was held at REEF with Chef Bryan Caswell and an assistant working on their day off to create photo-worthy dishes for the 60-plus would-be food-porn creators.
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The workshop was divided into five lectures and corresponding assignments, each based on the five-step process that Penny uses to evaluate a food-photography project: angle, lighting, editing, preparation and process. After a slide show in Reef's private dining room, the attendees moved out into the expansive public dining room, where the full-length windows allowed in streams of sunlight. For each assignment, teams of five students took pictures of a dish prepared from the Reef menu. After shooting finished, attendees were allowed to sample the dish.
One of the most challenging assignments was to edit a dish for shooting. An important part of food photography is to understand the chef's intent in making the dish, and then decide how to edit the dish to best communicate that intention through photography. Editing might include moving the food around on the plate, cutting into the food, or removing items from the plate. For this dish, Caswell created his signature redfish on the half-shell, with mac-and-cheese and greens on the side. At the end of the assignment, it was determined that the essence of the dish was the fish alone and that the sides offered no real visual or creative appeal. The best editing solution was to shoot the fish by itself.
A sampling of the participant's photos can be viewed in this photo set. Following the success of this workshop, more intensive, full-day workshops are being planned.