Monday, March 30, 2009

Lou Manna's Food Photography Workshop

A couple of weekends ago, I was lucky enough to spend the day at the studio of Lou Manna, a commercial food photographer here in NYC. He was giving a workshop through Adorama all about digital food photography, so obviously I had to check it out!

Here's Lou. He is definitely a character! He is very approachable and outgoing, and not afraid to speak his mind. In his own words, he's "in your face", kind of like his style of food photography — bold and striking! (He really liked that pointer and nearly broke his TV with it at one point ;) )

Lou is the author of Digital Food Photography, which is a great read and has a lot of good information about both photography basics and working with food in particular. I definitely recommend it as a jumping off point, as well as his blog, which also has some photography tips.

His studio has a big kitchen, and the rest is filled with computer and photo equipment. One corner of the studio was dedicated to props — glasses, plates, fabrics, and an incredible amount of little bits and bobs to add character to the photos.

We also had the pleasure of working with Dennis Williford, aka "The Photo Cook". Dennis is a chef and photographer, and he cooked us a delicious lunch and helped us to style food for our photo shoot at the end of class.

The first half of class was a meet & greet, followed by a portfolio critique of each of the students' portfolios, which was very insightful and helpful. After that, Lou gave a presentation to go over some concepts like color balance, composition, and working with the food. We had some chicken cacciatore for lunch, and then Lou went deeper into the subject of lighting. To end the class, each person styled their own food and took photos.

Lou works mainly with studio lighting, which was perfect for me since that is what I use in my "finished product" photos on this blog. His setup is a bit more sophisticated than mine, though!

Lou's primary studio setup is a stand with a sheet of translucent plexiglass serving as the base. The translucency is great, because you can shine light coming from underneath to get a bright white backdrop for the food. The food in the picture was styled by one of the other students in the class.

Some food styling action:

Dennis helped me with my styling and suggested that I use this beautiful purple potato. I'd never seen one like this before:

Lou set up the lighting for us, using a main light with a softbox, a bright backlight and some mirrors to reflect light back into the shadows. He is a huge proponent of mirrors and a technique which he calls "feathering the light", which means directing the main light slightly away from the subject and bouncing it back with reflectors.

Here's one of my attempts — I opted for a relatively simple salad and used some of the cool props available. Dennis gave me the tip to keep the salad in the fridge while setting up my shot to keep it looking fresh.

That one was OK, but Lou made it more enticing by spraying a mix of water and glycerin onto the salad:

I guess that's why most of the food used for professional photos isn't actually eaten! :)

In professional food photography, no matter what kind of style the final shot has, there is always a stylist at work to keep the food looking its best. If you're interested in learning more about food styling, I have taken and highly recommend the online food styling class given by Photo Styling Workshops. You can also check out Lou's blog or book, or the wonderful blog of Lara Ferroni, Still Life With.


Debra Snider said...

Fabulous! This post was fun to read, your photos are striking as always, and I'm so glad you took and enjoyed the class!

shira said...

So cool!!! Do you have more pics?

kimberly salem said...

Thanks!! @shira, that's pretty much all the pics I have since we only got 10 minutes each to shoot, but it was helpful to see other people shoot and to watch Lou work with the lights.

Shari@Whisk: a food blog said...

That looks like an amazing class! Thanks for sharing it with all of us.

VeggieGirl said...

Such a sensational opportunity!!

Eliana said...

Thank you so much for sharing. I have been admiring the photos on your blog for some time now. They are always stunning and never disappoint.

Joy the Baker said...

What a great post! This looks like so much fun!

The ScootaBaker said...

this was a great post to read! i'm a novice photographer and am saving some funds for a digital slr purchase. my point and shoot really limits me, and the white balance is all off, but i love that you started out small and took classes to get where you are now. i have always enjoyed your photos! thank you for sharing your knowledge and experiences!

Teanna said...

Great post! I'm trying to learn more about food styling step by step... 1st step... get a real camera!

Kara said...

So jealous! I wanted to go to this, but couldn't fit it into the budget (travel costs were just too much). It looks like you had a great time!

Cathy said...

What a fun experience and a great opportunity! I think you are a natural talent and could do this professionally if you wanted to.

kimberly salem said...

Thanks so much everyone! Loving your comments and I'm so glad you enjoyed this post.

@The ScootaBaker & @Teanna, the point and shoots can definitely be limiting, but you can still get some decent shots out of them without shelling out for the dslr, as long as the light is good. I will try to do a post on the differences soon!

@Kara, it was worth it for me because I live in ny already... I hope you can go to another session some day!

@Cathy, that is so sweet of you! I have a lot to learn about the business side of being a professional first, though ;)

Banjo said...

How fun!! I am jealous... what a great opportunity! :)

Carol Peterman said...

Except for a really great cooking class, I can't think of a more fun way to spend a day. What a great experience that must have been. Thanks for sharing the info and the links.

Lou Manna said...

Thanks so much for your kind words!
I love what I do and i loved having you there!
Your work is wonderful!

The Food Librarian said...

What a great experience. Thank you for posting such an interesting day! Your photos are so nice I can't imagine them getting better after this class! :)

SceneOne Photography said...

Food photography! Pretty cool. Good job.

Jamie said...

Great Info...I bet it was amazing! :)

Lauren said...

Banana Cream Pie and Lou what a great combo. Thanks for the info on the class. Looks mouth watering.

clippingimages said...

great post...m novice in food photography :)

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