Constantly on the run, the first half of the year went by in a blink. With trips to Santa Fe, New Mexico and Washington DC, then the Chef Challenge I didn’t have time to write about one of the most fun things we did in the first half of the year – the Food Styling and Photography Workshop, and this terrific pistachio-crusted salmon recipe.
Food Photography & Styling Workshop
Offered by Food Fanatics, the dynamic duo of Denise Vivaldo and Cindie Flannigan taught the food styling side of the workshop. Denise and Cindie, both professionally trained chefs and incredibly experienced food stylists, are also authors of several books.
The talented and tattooed twosome of Matt Armendariz and Adam Pearson, professional photographer and blogger and professional food stylist, taught the food photography side of the workshop with more insight on food styling.
Getting the opportunity to learn from such top-notch professionals was fantastic. Gathered were a great group of fellow food bloggers and photographers eager to learn. We had a fun and information packed two days.
The workshop took place at Matt and Adam’s studio in Long Beach, California. It’s a loft space with a kitchen to prepare food, lots of space for tables to set up and a place for Adam’s incredible collection of props, dishes, antique bread boards, fabrics, and more. Yes, it’s prop heaven for food photography.
Day One – Making Food Camera Ready
Our first day focused on food styling tips and making food ready for the camera. We learned that food styling is about control. Denise and Cindie taught about color and movement in food that is going to be photographed.
What your eye sees is not what the camera sees. I’ve learned this working with Kent shooting food for my blog. It’s amazing how looking through the lens changes everything. Because your eye moves but a camera lens is still you have to create the movement. It’s hard to make food look good for the camera.
For each beautiful, enticing, mouth-watering food picture you see in glossy magazine you can bet a hundred, possibly hundreds, of photos were taken to get that one perfect shot. Professional chefs are trained to get food to the table, to a waiting client, while its hot. The reverse is true for most food photography: cold food works better.
It’s different with food styling and that has been been a tough mindset to change. After shooting food for several hours you are not going to eat it. After being poked, moved, “painted”, sprayed and messed with, most of the time it won’t be appetizing and it won’t be safe to eat. You just have to get over it. Food stylists are paid to make food look beautiful, not edible.
Tips from the Teachers
As I am an avid note-taker (my mother swears I was born with a note pad and pencil in hand) I have great notes from the workshop. A few tips from the teachers:
- Pick good subjects for the camera in terms of shape and color
- Food must be identifiable to the camera
- Consider contrast, elevation and texture
- Think about your garnishes
- Keep props simple, remembering that utensils create movement
- Every picture tells a story, so decide on the story you are trying to tell
- Please yourself and develop your own style
- Shoot “tethered”, which means with a cable attached between your camera and a computer monitor so you can see the results of shooting instantly. We do this and it saves us a lot of time.
- Use a tripod for stability and clearer images
Cindie shared the professional food stylists tricks for making pancakes, salmon and hamburgers look beautiful to the camera and how to make bowls of pasta look perfect. Amazing!
The Right Tools
A big part of food styling is about having the right tools. Cindie, Denise and Adam definitely had their bags of tricks, an amazing collection from years of experience.
In their bags were all manner of spray and squeeze bottles, paint brushes, Scotchguard, measuring cups, Pam spray, cosmetic sponges, heat guns, Karo syrup and Kitchen Bouquet, Crisco, rubbing alcohol, poly grip, Windex, paper towels, plates, plastic cups and spoons – even a charcoal starter to enhance those fancy grill marks we all love.
I’m still building my own bag of tools, a Husky tool tote from Home Depot. I was lucky enough to snag a fancy set of tweezers from Denise to help me along the path of food styling enlightenment. Thanks Denise!
Day Two – Every Picture Tells a Story, Don’t it?
Day two of the workshop was about putting teaching into action. The fantastic teaching team of Matt, Adam, Cindie and Denise were ready to guide us through a day of food styling, shooting and implementing what we had learned day one.
The Awesome Matt Armendariz
Professional photographer and author of highly the acclaimed food, photography and travel blog, MattBites.com, Matt Armendariz kicked off day two teaching us about food photography. Matt then worked with each of us hands on through the day helping to make our food photographs professional quality.
One of the neat things about the studio is that it had a rollup metal garage door. When up, it acts like a giant window and floods the studio with natural light, perfect for “available light” food photography. A gauzy panel stretched on a wood frame the size of the door acted as a giant diffuser. It was a great setup and made us want to build a studio!
At the end of day one we were challenged to come up with a dish we wanted to shoot as our project. With salmon just coming into season, I chose my pistachio crusted salmon recipe.
Everyone arrived early armed with groceries to prepare then shoot their chosen project. Some students did their own food photography. Several of us had our partners in crime (photographer husbands) in tow. Luckily, Kent was with me. Although I have a good eye, I’ll stick with preparing the food and styling and let Kent do the shooting.
Our worktables were large boards covered with heavy felt on sawhorses. An ironing board and steamer were ready to press linens as we set our scenes. Food was prepared in the studio kitchen and we had the privilege of choosing from Adam’s huge prop collection.
It’s All About the Light
Matt explained what makes for a great food photograph and what we had to consider: light direction, light quality, how to diffuse, how to change the light. Light, light, light. It’s ALL about the light. The right light makes all of the difference in the world between an average photo and a breathtaking one.
Matt also discussed the importance of the food subject, choosing the best lens, camera angle, and more. Most students had digital SLR cameras from Canon and Nikon. One student came armed with a point and shoot and got beautiful photos, proving you can get great photos with any kind of camera. It’s not necessarily the camera: it’s what you do with it. That’s part of what we were learning.
Projects Come to Life
Part of the fun and education of the second day was watching as every student’s project came to life. The food was plated on specially chosen plates or boards to compliment the story being told. Linens and utensil were selected. Plates were set down, viewed from behind the lens, and the tweaking started.
As each project was a work in progress, we gathered to listen to Matt, Adam, Cindie and Denise coach us through the small changes that would eventually result in a professional looking food photograph. It was exciting and educational to watch each student’s project from beginning to end and the beautiful photographic result.
In regards to the salmon recipe, I adapted it from two other recipes and made my own version. As my husband’s family grows 10 acres of pistachios in central California, I wanted to create a recipe with those beautiful green and tasty nuts. What’s not to love about pistachios!
This recipe is easy and has great flavor and texture. While salmon is in season, take advantage of it and try this recipe.
Take a Class
We were really pleased with how our project came out and learned a lot of valuable information. If you’ve thought about taking a food styling and photography hands-on class, this was a fantastic experience. I plan to continue my food styling education.
So Denise, where is that next workshop? Maybe I should camp out on Matt and Adams’ doorstep and beg to assist! And this post would not be complete without a mention of the soon-to-be-released book by Denise entitled The Food Stylists Handbook. You can order it on Amazon. I’ve already order my copy.
Pistachio Crusted Roast Salmon
- 1 ½ – 2 pounds salmon preferably fresh wild, skinned
- 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter room temperature
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1/2 cup unsalted shelled pistachios toasted and finely chopped
- 1/4 cup Japanese Panko crumbs or unseasoned breadcrumbs toasted
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped chives
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh Italian parsley
- Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
- Lemon wedges for garnish
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil or pistachio oil to drizzle at end
- Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees (400 convection)
- Carefully turn the salmon skinned side up and with a very sharp, thin knife (like a filet knife) trim out any dark purple areas. See this link for an example. This is the salmon’s blood line and it can be strong tasting. If you don’t mind that, you can skip the trimming. Portion the filet into four pieces. Place filets on a foil covered rimmed baking sheet.
- In a small bowl, mix the Dijon mustard, butter and honey into a smooth paste. Set aside.
- In a small bowl, mix the pistachios, crumbs, parsley and chives.
- Season the salmon filets with salt and pepper to taste. Spread a little of the butter mixture on top of the filets. Coat the top of the filets with some of the nut-crumb-herb mix patting lightly. If you have extra of the herb crust mix it keeps for a few days refrigerated.
- Place the salmon in the oven and roast for 12-14 minutes, depending on the thickness of the filets.
- Serve with lemon wedges