Food Blogging & Photography with Shauna Ahern
This is my friend Shawna, and I say friend because she truly is a friend. Somebody I met doing a workshop years ago, here in Seattle, and since then our paths have crossed multiple times. We've known each other and talked to each other from a distance most of the time, and a few times in New York. But the idea is that we're here together to talk about things, mutual interests that we have and have shared over the years, and she is gluten free girl and I am not the chef.
I'm not the chef either.
So I think what we're gonna do is, Shawna's brought some pictures here for us to look at and it kind of speaks to the first question that I wanted to talk to you about. Is that the idea of, you know, how is photography intrical to your particular brand of food photography? Meaning, I mean, food blogging. Because the idea is, you have a really big audience and it's a fairly demanding audience, and I think that you've been around blogging since
2005, I'm the grandmother of the food blogging ...
Right, so the idea is that, I've noticed, and I think you can probably speak to the idea that your food photography has kind of grown over the years.
Thank goodness, yeah, it's completely changed. You know what happened is when I first began, I had no idea what a blog was. I didn't know that anybody was ever going to be reading it, and so I didn't expect to be sitting her with you. So when I began, I began with a little point and shoot and for me, where I began taking photographs, even though I think of them as a little painful now, it's still the same sort of place. I really look for light, and I don't mean technically as a photographer, I mean, I just I walk through life looking for light. It makes me happier and makes me more appreciative. And specifically after I was diagnosed with celiac, I had been so sick for such a long time. Hospital visits and MRI's and cat scans, and I started to feel better just as spring hit. So it was entirely metaphorical and real at the same time. And I took a little point and shoot out and just thought oh, all this sunlight, and I'm finally feeling well enough for a walk. And what struck me is how beautiful food is and how if food was my path to healing, which is true for celiac because all you have to do is avoid gluten, and your body starts to heal, then let me just photograph the beautiful thing that is allowing me to heal. And that's where it began.
That's great, I mean I think that your ... I would say probably there's a reaction that is like a catalyst where your traffic, your fame as a blogger, and you photography have all increased over the years. So I think maybe we can go to our slides at this point.
Look at the embarrassing ones, yeah.
Yeah, we're gonna look at where we started, you know, and I think that, you know. You said this is one of the first pictures from your blog early on.
Yes, one of the better ones of the first ones, you know. What's interesting is that this I took inside a grocery store, you can see the fluorescent light on top, and I do notice that I still am very interested in contrast. Like those green and red apples next to each other, I love that line. I took a photograph recently of two different kinds of cherries up against each other. It's a much better photograph, but I still, I'm interested in that. But gosh, inside a grocery store is terrible light. Why I thought that was gonna be good I'm not sure.
Right, and the things that we don't think about early on and we see this with our eyes and we don't realize that when we kind of stop action and it freezes, now we're not distracted by all kinds of crazy things, right. We got lights in the background, and we got, you know, the idea is when you saw it with your eyes you saw organic, look at all this great stuff. And there it was, right?
Exactly, well even the organic cracks me up now. I would never shoot it because, you know, organic is not really that, everyone talks about organic. It's not, really shouldn't be the focal point of the photograph. But that's alright, I'll let it stand.
(Man) So this is also an earlier photograph.
Very much, this still happens to me. I think I just sort of know a little bit better, and I still consider myself a ranked amateur compared to you, but I just keep following what feels right. This was chopping up chocolate for a flourless chocolate cake, and I loved the way that everything fell. But the light is so harsh, I had a skylight right over the kitchen counter in the house at that point, and just said ooh, how cool is this. I'd never shoot it in that light now, but you know. I liked the gathering.
But the growth of your photography obviously is the fact that you actually identify all of that stuff now. And again, as a chaser of the light, right, is the idea that the first thing you would do in this situation would be to tent that off and then you have that same frame, you have the same beauty there, but obviously the light is going to be way more flattering.
So, okay, another early shot.
Now this was I took in January so it was just exciting to see color at the time. And I don't think it's bad, but the thing that I notice over and over again about my first couple of years taking photographs is that everything was really tight in. My husband was teasing me the other day, he's like everything is right here. And I guess that I used to have it in my head that in order for a photograph of food to look beautiful it should look as though you're just about to take a bite. So I actually had an idea in my head as to why I was doing that, but I just don't like that idea anymore.
Well, quite honestly I think that a lot of food photographers, myself included, were always more comfortable being closer to your subject. And as you get more experience and you start to see the entire composition with your eyes you can move further and further away. I don't have a particular issue with that, I think there is some beauty in that. I mean, I think that if you took a picture of that today it would be infinitely better but it's still not a bad shot.
Thank you. I think what's interesting to me too, is that if I look at my early photographs, it was very much about the thing. I was taking a picture of a thing. And now it's so much more about the story and so much more, and it is confidence with the camera to be able to back up and really, you know, do it like, for example the fact that I cut the tip of that leaf off.
Yes, and you know what the fact that you recognize that is, you know, one of the things we were talking about earlier is that there's certain aspects of food photography where you would want only the suggestion of something. Like the handle of a fork, or maybe even the suggestion of a napkin or a drink. But what you don't really wanna do is cut off the edge of the plate, or cut off the tip of the leaf because that's that element that makes it look really beautiful. So, but again, it's the growth as we go along. So tell me about that.
This one I took a couple of weeks ago and I just loved the light. And you know, one of the things that I've noticed lately, I like, what I call a mess, but you know, the real work of cooking is. And that's what I think is underrepresented on food blogs. You know, we have these perfect little shots and you know, when they get ridiculous it's like all the plates are lined up and there' a little sprig of lavender next to them, and there's that red stripey straw and everything's ready for pinterest, which I actually don't like very much cause I find Pinterest really boring. You know there's so many photographs that are all exactly the same and if you really are cooking it rarely looks like that.
That's true, I mean I think the thing, like you say, you become more of a photographer than you think you have. Because when you look into a sink at a pile of dishes and you see something there, what you're looking at is the way the light is playing off the objects. And the idea is that when you start to see the world that way, you can't turn it off.
No you can't, it's really amazing. I can't remember who said it, you probably do. But there's a very famous quote that just hit me in the head one day, and it's when you stop taking pictures of things and start taking pictures of light everything changes. And that is the transformation that happened for me the last few years.
Right, cause that could have been anything in the sink and it would have looked nice.
Okay, I saw this one on your blog just recently.
This is an iphone photograph. And it could be any camera, it doesn't have to be the apple one, but it happens iPhone has a really good camera on it.
(man) Yup, I agree.
And this is what I, you know, I'm less and less interested in the set up shots. Only because I like movement and I like the moment and there's rarely that when you put a plate of food down and you get everything sort of prepared with the right light, it becomes a little sterile for me. So we're having a picnic with some friends, my daughter's hand is often in photographs. It's not necessarily my intention, but she keeps grabbing and then I like it, so. But I was just struck by all that color. It was right around the 4th of July so I guess it was unintentionally a red, white, and blue photograph. But it was really the movement and all that moment.
I mean I think that there is times, and I think of my picnic shots from a couple weeks ago, it's evocative of the same thing in that you have this sense of time and place and motion and it puts you in a moment. And I think that as a photographer, when you start to think that way as well, where you're starting to capture a moment and putting people in a particular place or bringing them along with you to the thing that you find beautiful and inspiring. That, obviously, is a picture where, and I love the fact that it's so square, like Instagram, so it's obvious that's is one of those kind of just a grab moment shots. But the fact that you got that hand reaching in there, there you go. It's that one tiny element, and that's the thing about photography is that sometimes it's just that small little element can really resonate with people for sure.
I took a photograph the other day that I'll probably end up using, I was at a dinner with our neighbors who go crabbing every night on Vashion Island, where we live. So they were like, oh we're so tired of fresh Dungeness crab, could you come over and have some. Like okay, these are the good neighbors to have. And so I took a shot of the table, which is just all newspapers and a you know, bouquet of daisies, and everything humble. And one of the people at the dinner was a man who was having his 89th birthday that day. And he'd never eaten crab before. And he was a World War II survivor and ended up telling us about being in D-Day and meeting his wife who had survived bookenvold and somehow all of that is wrapped up in his hands, just diving for the crab for the first time. And that's the thing, I'm so much more aware of story in the photographs now than I ever was before.
Yeah, I mean, I think when you're photographing for the blog, you feel, and multiple people have asked me this, over the course of the last few days, do you kind of story board in your mind, a little bit?
No, I'm taking the photograph. I'm pretty intense about that, I don't want to. I wanna see the moment and the light and often times, however, it's the opposite and the story will come for me when I look at the photographs. Like I used to write, and this is interesting, the beginning of the thing, I'd write and then I'd look for the photographs I'd taken or I'd go take the specifically for the piece I had just written. And now I line up all the photographs and, you know, I play with them a little bit, line them all up and then ooh, what is this story? And then I start the writing. And it's very much inspired by the photography.
Yeah, so do you find yourself being more of a visual journalist in that regard now?
Yeah, in an interesting way. And actually, this is one of the things I love most about photographs, I have been a writer since I could hold a pen. I see my daughter do the same thing now. She's just always telling stories which I love. And as soon as I knew what a book was and someone had written it, I wanted to write one. But photography is such a relief for me because it's so away from the words and if I get in the, in that kind of word brain while I'm taking photographs, they're terrible photographs. So it's nice to have a place away from it.
I love the light in this photograph. I just kind of stare at it, I wanna bake. And it's yet another Instagram photograph, it in the camera. This was at the farmers market on Bashawn, very humble, lovely people that's their burlap that they brought the vegetables in. And I was in love with this purple cauliflower and I set it down to get my wallet, and they're all used to me now, these farmers, it's small, I was like wait. And she held back. But it ended up being purple, purple, all those different versions of purple and red. And the light just kind of just killed me.
Well and the idea that you have that burlap bag there, that is something that I keep in the studio in a box full of other things because that's one of those things that's so natural and normal for these types of things. And the fact that you captured that spontaneously, you mean, that could be something that you would plan out pretty carefully in the studio. So the fact that it's right there for us to kind of grab onto is fantastic.
This was at Bouchon Bakery in Napa Valley and as you can imagine, there's not much that's gluten free at Bouchon bakery, but I love Bouchon Bakery, Thomas Gellar and their work, and I love the cookbook so I was determined to get something and I sort of, you know, interrogated them about whether or not these were made in a gluten free environment as much as the bakery can be. And they're like no, no, no, we did them first in the morning, we know what celiac is. So there was a beauty to these and the light was just stunning, it was April in the bay area. And there's just nothing more beautiful.
And you shot that with which camera?
The camera phone.
The phone, most of these are with the phone, huh?
The last three have been, most of the rest of them are with a camera, but a lot of fork. I mean, the phone has changed the way I take photographs and I think all for the better. I was much too careful before cause I didn't trust myself. And with the camera it's very easy, ISO, uh uh, and kinda, do I even know what this means, and with the phone it's like, look at that light, phoom, and I start taking it. And I think that the light comes free more on the phone than a camera.
Sure, do you feel like at some point you're gonna be confident enough as a photographer to take pictures for your own cookbook?
Possibly, you know, but it's interesting because I really love the teamwork of working with. We did a wonderful photo shoot with Penny Delasantos. Who had worked up here a couple, she's amazing. And we have always adored Penny, but then working with Karen Shinto, her food sylist is even more astonishing. So I like, like I love the fact that I have my husband to work with me because if it's just me it's like a voice echoing in a room. So we bounce idea off each other constantly, as I know you do with your wife. And people tend to think we're the voice and the vision of it all, and it's like no, no, this is a partnership.
People behind the scenes, for sure, always.
So, I don't know, I could, I mean, I think in terms of just the mere photographs I'm feeling confident enough.
Do you feel like you've gleaned enough from the professional aspect of the photography world to start to, and how is that different from what you might have imagined it in the beginning?
That's a really good question. I think it's much more humbling than I imagined. I imagined that if you're a professional photographer that you get to a place where you're like now I know what I'm doing and I'm going to take these fabulous photographs and to me, it doesn't feel like some amazing lesson every time I pick up the camera.
That's great. Lets see what else we got. Okay.
So this was a couple of weeks ago. Our friend Matthew came over with is family. We adore him and we were making Japanese fried chicken which is just with potato starch and he has an incredible book called "Pretty Good Number One Family." And it's about their amazing summer in Tokyo. So I wanna give everybody a chance to find that book and we made something that was great in Tokyo that was gluten free. And again, I like this messy work of real cooking. The first couple of years of my husband and I were working together, people would say oh gosh, you know, there's a mess on the countertop while you're working and he's a professional chef. And I'd always think, you don't really know anything about restaurants do you. You know, real cooking involves mess and, you know, strategies, and you know, the cutting board is skew and I just really like the kind of dynamic moment there.
So I mean, the thing that's striking me when we look at your images and in a consistent kind of theory of it is that you as a photographer of anything, if I could label you as a photographer, I would label you a food lifestyle photographer. Because I think that you're passion seems to lie in the process, and I think that that's one of those things where we talk a lot about over the last couple of days, about this is your style kind of photography. That you wanna kind of gravitate towards. So the idea that you are spontaneous and in the moment, the things that you see beauty in are the mess and the process and the family and, you know, the hands, I would have loved to have seen that picture. But I think that that's where it's inspiring for people because they understand that you don't need to just do what I do, we don't need to do what you do, and we don't need to do what Penny does, or any of them because we're all very different. And the reality is that the way you photograph for you blog, your blog, is a personal thing. But it's also a growth process.
Mm-hmm, very much. And you know, I've come to understand for me, that the work I love to do with the camera is to, it's similar work to writing. I love hearing other peoples stories. And there's something very still for me when I'm taking that photograph, the satsumos from earlier, there were a bowl of satsumos on the table and I took a picture of the satsumos and I'm like okay, it's pretty, but I'm not so interested in pretty. And that's why, I don't mean to bash Pinterest, I'm sure there's people who love it, but I find that the pretty overwhelms the process. And people told me that as a writer what they have come to love about what I do, if they do, not everyone does, is that it's like hey, warts and all, here we go. And for me it's the mess of having an almost five year old who is twirling and twirling in the middle of a room where she's been playing with toys and books. But the twirling and the joy in her face is what I'm really interested in. Books, they can wait, you can pick them up later. So it's kind of the same with photography.
Now when you think about the idea of the business of blogging, right, because I think what you do and what I do as far as blogging is concerned is dramatically different. Because what I do in support of my career as a photographer is in seeking to monetize my blog, or any of the things. But basically that's a support system, and sort of like a footnote, in a way, where I, and I said this the other day, where I can give credit to people or I can shout out people that I like or things that have happened on a photo set that I think is something that people might be interested in. But what you do is very different because of the bloggers that I've known and met throughout, and you say you're the grandma of food bloggers, but the reality is that the success that you've had obviously is because you've kind of been unwavering in your vision and what you wanted to do, but I think also the skill sets that you've acquired over the years. And how do you think that those things have kind of translated to the success to where you've made the successful jump from blogging to author?
Well I think what's interesting is that there's been through a whole little arc and wave. Like I've been really looking at this past year. When, like I said, when I began the blog nobody was reading blogs. There were about a hundred of us who we were weird enough to take pictures of our dinner and put it online. Now everyone does. But at the time, when I started writing, I really was just writing letters to my friends. And I had a couple of friends who said to me, like, I love your emails and glad you're feeling better with no gluten in your life, but I can't keep up with you. So can you just go put them somewhere and on the weekend I can read them all. As I keep remembering that, that keeps me humble too. So I really just came from this very pure place of just wanting to write and explore and that's when I found a community and people started leaving comments, I was completely baffled. And then I loved it. And over the next years of that, when I got my first book deal, and book deal. Even after the second book deal, Danny, my husband, was still working at a restaurnat, and I thought, like, man if things work out really well I can write more books and I can do some freelance writing. I never thought of the blog as the place. As it's own thing, you know. And about two years ago, I suddenly though, oh wait, it is. That's when my husband left the restaurant. And we lived through an interesting year where we were suddenly a little paralyzed by the need to be gluten free girl and the chef. We sort of thought, we're gonna make money off of this, this is our career, maybe we should give people more of what they want, you know. Everyone loves a cookie recipe, I don't wanna do cookie recipe every set, but all the sudden we're like, we should think about that. And I, it totally suffered. I hated it, I was so uncomfortable. It was perfectly fine, I heard a lot of people made their Thanksgiving dinner because we did an entire video series on every single recipe. But it felt very stale for me. And so starting in December, I cut off comments on my blog and I just said, you know what, I'm gonna be this like I have to go to that pure place where I began again. But with this different skill set and with a different understanding that people are reading.
Sure, so you've become more of a magazine.
Yeah, in a weird way, yeah. It was a family lifestyle magazine on the ahern. And the people we know and the food that we eat and all that stuff.
Yeah, sure, but I think that, you know, the thing about the evolution of food blogging and the fact that imagery and video and all these things have become such, and I think that in certain ways, almost intrusive, if you're deciding to bring the world to your table. But I think that is, I mean, what do you think is the future? Do you think that what you're talking about right now, where you're creating basically an online magazine where you're kind of disconnecting a little bit from. Because I'm quite honestly, with the following that you have try to keep up with comments and emails and all those other things, you would never have any time to do any work. But so, just speak to that just a little bit.
Yeah, I think certainly the pressure I felt to be Gluten Free Girl came from the fact that suddenly blogging was a business and everyone thought, you're gonna get a book deal, you're gonna become a TV star, you know, you saw thousands of people starting blogs just to get to another place. And which was never my interest. I'm still astounded anybody reads what I write. And within 10 minutes there's a comment on the post after I put it up, it's amazing. What I'm seeing now is I really feel like the people are really getting tired of it. Again, that kind of artificial prettiness only lasts so long. And for me it's about authenticity and the sites that I go back to over and over again are people who are vulnerable, who tell their stories, who share other people's stories. And whether that's through the photographs or the recipes. And I think that's going to return more and more.
So if i were starting today, and I'm anybody, not a photographer or whatever, and I wanna start a food blog, I mean, what would your advice be? This is what people, I mean I guarantee that a lot, the same way people come to me with that same question. What do you say to them when they come to you?
The first thing I would say is write it for six months in private, don't let anyone see it.
Because you are doing it so that other people will give you accolades, you're not doing it for the right reasons. And it is an exhausting process to create, whatever you call it, art or whatever we do. So if you have it in your mind that you're looking for an audience why you're creating, you're gonna blow it. It's going to be painful. And I also find that people have no idea how much work it is to keep up a blog. If you give yourself six months of solid writing and photography and improve as a photographer and a writer, and then you let people know you've done it. Most people won't make it six months, so they shouldn't be doing it.
If you think about doing it for a career, absolutely. But I think what you just said earlier about honing skill that are necessary to make it successful, make sure your writing is solid and you can edit yourself. Make sure your photography gets to the point where you found the style, you think that things are going to be repeatable. Because I think that looking at your photography from earlier and then knowing what you do now, it seems to me that your photography in particular is much more repeatable now than it ever was before. Like I think if you, I think that's one of those processes that we go through as artists where, you know, when you find something that you can repeat and repeat it over and over again, that's where you find that you can plug it in and be successful with it.
I wrote a piece about this in December. My brother, who is one of my gurus, he's a very skeptical, cynical guru, about 5 or 6, oh about 10 years ago now I went to visit him when I was living in New York and he was still in Seattle. And I came in and his apartment was covered with these wild, fast sketches of candles. Over and over and over again. And I was like, okay, what are you doing? And he said, you know what, all I gave myself I'm not doing enough art, I used to do painting and all this stuff, I just promised myself 15 minutes a day I was gonna paint the candle every day. And it was one of the most amazing artist experiences I've ever seen because grinding down, every single day he found something new and beautiful every time. And that's kind of where I think I am now. I'm just painting a candle every day. We just moved into a new studio on Basham which we're very excited about. And it has gorgeous light so you can come and shoot there sometime.
And it has absolutely beautiful light and there's just this big round table with a gray surface and I've been photographing there every single time because I wanna find something new every time I take a photograph.
But do you find that having a consistent light source and a studio where you know the light and you can kind of, does that change your photography?
Oh yeah, absolutely. I think it makes me more confident, but it also makes me more interested in ... I'm not ever gonna do a lot of propping, five years from now you can bring this back to me and I could be wrong, but I still want it to look like family cooking. I still want it to look like, you know, people are actually eating at that table in a couple minutes. But I am very much interested in okay, what's the light like now. I don't want it to be, and I don't think it ever will be like I know what ISO this is and I know. I want to learn every single time. But I feel like the less you focus on, the more you learn.
So from the time I met you, when we first did the workshop together and you came to see it, and where you are now, as far as your confidence holding the camera and understanding. Where were you then and where are you now?
I'm much more confident now. Partly because your workshop.
That wasn't really fishing for a compliment.
No I know, but it's true, it's true. What I did, it was right around that time that it thought wait a minute, I am actually a photographer. I have always said like I'm not a photographer, I just take pictures, and after, you know I have people, I believe, that 10,000 hour idea is true, you have to spend 10,000 hours doing something before you become really quite good at it. Not even great, just quite good. And I'm putting in my 10,000 hours. So I got to about 5,000 and I was like I wanna keep going. So I started taking workshops, I hung around Penny, I watched every single thing she did in the cookbook and I just, I feel like a sponge. I'm just picking up as much as I can.
Yeah, I think that's a great lesson to learn because some of the people have asked, how do I get better or who do I reach out to or what do I do. And the idea is that watching and being involved in it and yeah, maybe somebody's not gonna hire you as an assistant or whatever, but there are opportunities where the value you get from just watching and learning. So you've been to multiple workshops, but watching a professional photographer actually work in your space and how they move and how they work. Sounds like that was the most influential part of it.
It was really, really wonderful. And I, you know, Danny, again, people think that the blog is all me, every single photograph I show him. He actually has last edit on which photograph gets on the blog.
Can he shoot?
He can, but he's not as comfortable. He's sort of where I was five or six years ago. So he'll take up the phone, and I'm like honey, you want that in the background. Cause he'll ask me, I'm not gonna critique him unless he asks. He's like what do you think of this one? I'm like, well why is that electrical cord in the shot. He'll say, oh, I didn't think of that. So we're still playing, but in terms of editing and in terms of telling the story, I'll go through photographs, I'm like okay, of these four, which do you think. And he'll that one, he always knows.
Great, you know, and that's a great lesson to learn. Because having an extra set of eyes on your pictures and if that person's eyes go to the same picture that you identify with, then you know that's the one. You don't really need to go much further than that.
And often times he'll point out the one that I didn't look at. You know, I tend to sometimes look at the more standard one, that's the one I always use in the blog. He's like no, no, that one. Look at that angle, look at the way that it. Oh I didn't think of that one. So having somebody else around is extraordinary. And it think in terms of people learning, we have to be so patient. You know, we live in a culture that's all about boom, boom, boom, right now. And success and fortune, but there is no, for me, no greater satisfaction than doing work I love. And that takes a long time to get to that place.
Sure, alright, so you've identified now, finally you admitted that you are a photographer.
Okay, I'm a photographer.
So what's in your bag other than your iPhone? What do you like to shoot with, because honestly, that question has come to me multiple times throughout this whole process.
Isn't it funny, it's the first thing everyone asks. What lens do I use.
Yeah, but the idea is that everybody has a different workflow, everybody has a different, kind of, piece, so what are you shooting?
I'm now using a Canon 6D, which I had an older Canon 5D that I bought from a friend. It was in use, and then it got stolen when our car got stolen.
(Man) Oh no.
And then I thought, no I really do love this and it's my work, I'm gonna spring for it. So it's a Canon 6D, and it's a 24105 lens.
Okay so you're using one lens to pretty much capture everything you like.
Which is new for me, I used only prime lenses before. It was all 50 millimeter or 35 millimeter. And so, but now that I've noticed and really noticed that I like the tight end shots a little bit, but I mostly like the whole story.
That makes a lot of sense, considering what we talked about earlier. You kind of identify more as a lifestyle photographer and how the identification as that particular type of photographer who isn't involved in food, it's more appropriate for you to use lenses that are way more flexible. So that makes sense, so that's your pretty much standard setup?
That's it, I've decided that the only way I can ... You can just go crazy on lenses forever and they certainly are expensive. So I can always say, oh but maybe I should try that, maybe I should try that, you know. I think there, again, there's a beauty in painting a candle and having that one over and over again.
Sure, lets see what else we got in the slideshow. Do we have any more slides? We do, we have some cookies, oh wow.
Those are almond flour, dried cherry, oatmeal cookies. And so I actually just started writing a column for Food52 and they have asked me to do gluten free baking, which has been a joy to kind of try to isolate it.
Well I got a chance to show those gluten free donuts that I shot those times that were yours.
Yeah, I never got to eat those, but they were good. And so I love baking shows, I think it's interesting. It's a challenge, because baking is so brown. And so I love kind of, the little wrinkle on that parchment paper there, which I noticed afterwards. I am not a photographer who looks and says ooh I want the wrinkle on there. I'm constantly like tick, tick, tick, what's goin on and then I look at it and go, oh I like that, but let me focus on it now a little bit more.
Absolutely, I think that that kind of, that's what we watched when we had students shooting earlier was that some of them were about setting up and getting everything on their set absolutely perfect before they took the shot. And some were shooting and adjusting on the fly. So it's all a matter of personal workflow. What I see in this picture that is, and I guess I should point back here, is the fact that the lighting in this is similar to the lighting in that sink shot. In that it's kind of that sweeping, soft light, which, again, whether you've put a pile of dishes in it or some beautiful cookies, you're there. So that's the thing, you're seeing the light before you see the subject.
(Shawna) That's my line, I love that line.
(Man) Heres your table shots again.
(Shawna) There's a table shot, here's the mess. I mean,again, I grabbed this. We had a four year old and nine year old, and we had Japanese fried chicken, and I could have easily taken my daughters road map of the USA placemat off, which she looks at when we study the states. Not because we want her to memorize all the capitals, but because we're gonna go on a series of road trips this year for our book. So we want her to hey, look, this is Wyoming and we're gonna travel through it. So that's in there for me, but again, I like the mess. I mean, I think this is what most people's tables look like. And I had a woman write to me once who's like why did you use paper towels at that dinner, that shot. I'm like, well, you know what, people came over unexpectedly, we didn't have napkins clean, so we used paper towels. And I guess there's a little bit of unconsciously I'm constantly kind of remind people, like, you know, nobody's perfect here.
Well I think the thing that's talk about as far as how this kind of applies to like food photography in general is that if you look at some of the books that have been published in recent times, and the ones that have been successful, they've been all over the map. And like what I look at when I see this kind of a shot turn it into a black and white, or turn the light down a little bit and it can fit in that David Chang book. Right, because the way Gabrielle shot that book, it was obviously about the mess, it was about the process, it was about that. It wasn't necessarily about the beauty shot. So if that's the thing that speaks to you and you're looking at cookbooks or your looking at food photography or blogs or any of the other things, whatever speaks to you as a photographer, and especially if you're a blogger and you're thinking about how to translate the way you fell about food into it, you gotta be true to yourself. And I guess the message is pretty clear.
I mean, it's such a waste of time to not be true to yourself. We have to kind of hit the edges and say is this me, not it's not and come back. That's part of the process too, it's not like we fort into the day saying here I am, I know who I am. But it is really important to kind of ... The very few photographs I've tried for about six months where I'm like I'm going to stack a plates, and I'm gonna do props, it's awful. And I always remember you in that workshop saying will you please iron your linens everybody. Stuck in my head.
(Man) You remember that.
Stuck in my head, I put a napkin down I'm like I can't use that. So you know, yeah, I want it to be our house. I want it to look like us. I love Kids Book magazine, which is a wonderful lifestyle magazine, but it irritates the heck out of me too. Beautiful photographs, but it's like all these lovely, waif like people at a picnic and everything is perfectly placed. And I'm like well, that's not the picnic I'm having.
So the thing that's great about this is the perspective between what you do and what I do is so different, yet we have an equal appreciation for what each other does. And the idea is that I agree that I don't want it to be precious.
Well your photographs are never precious. I mean we wouldn't be here if they were. But I think that what the precious photographs for me are the ones where I can tell people are trying. They're trying to make a beautiful photograph.
Trying too hard you mean.
Trying too hard, they're trying too hard to make a beautiful photograph instead of looking for the light. That is a potato salad Danny made the other day and it's got dill and pickled okra in it, which is pretty darn nice. But, you know, he put down that bowl and I'm like I love the way that that pattern is going with the little dill fronds, and it just, and I could never articulate it, like I'm trying now, but at the moment I'm like gotta take a photograph. That's a salad, that was on the blog a couple weeks ago actually. That is in the new studio and I was playing with the new light, its on the bright side obviously. And that tangle of red and golden beets and those fennel fronds was just knocking me out. I think that's actually one of the most beautiful plates he's ever done.
(Man) That's the happy mess that you're talking about right there. I mean that's just a food translation of that table which is interesting, when you start thinking in terms of shapes and overall composition. I mean, it's very similar in my view as an artist. Looking at it from an art perspective, those two things side by side, they make sense together.
Yeah that's cool, I hadn't thought of it that way. Yeah, it was good salad too, dill horseradish vinaigrette.
Looks delicious. Okay, well, we're not there, but what I do have is I have a couple more photos on my computer of yours that we pulled off your blog. That I really wanna talk about because this shows me the absolute evolution of you as a photographer. The things that you see now that you may not have seen before. So this picture in particular, the way the light is sweeping down across, the fact that it's completely not composed. You basically looked at that and you saw and composed a photograph in your mind and took the shot. You recognized the light, you recognized the beauty. Everything, it doesn't have to be perfectly placed, but it's perfect for this shot. And I think that's one of those things where you know, the recognition of your trusting your vision and being able to actually adequately translate that into a photograph, that is the evolution of a true photographer and it's small elements that are here, like these knots in the bottom. These three circular knots, the kind of chunks taken out of that butcher block. I always love the butcher block, it's always a beautiful thing. Even the other tools that are kind of just peeking in behind here, is it's a great shot. And I think that the second part of this is this shot. Where we talked about this yesterday in one of my photographs where sometimes the star of the picture isn't necessarily what you think it's gonna be. Where you obviously started taking pictures of the butcher, because the butcher is working and there's all this beauty here. But the curiosity and the beauty of a child that's trying to peak in and see what's going on watching his dad work. You know, again, being able to kind of see it first, and then execute it. This is where we are, where we wanna be as photographers.
I love this photograph. I love this kiddo. This is a four year old is watching his dad do his work. Our friend Brandon has a butcher shop, very informally. Is doing a Kick Starter in order to get a real butcher shop on Basham Island. And so I said lets do some photographs, lets do a blog post. But I think that the place where I reached as a photographer, and I've never been able to articulate until we've been talking, is I feel comfortable enough with the camera that I'm an observer now. You know, when you're not comfortable with the camera it is all about me and a wait, hold on a second, let me get the light right, all that stuff. And now I can just stand back and they can forget I'm there. Which is the best, cause you can tell a story.
Right, becoming a fly on the wall. A good friend of mine is an excellent reprotage photographer. And he has taken some of the most beautiful pictures that I've ever seen of his own family. And these are not models, they're not, some of them aren't even particularly nice looking people, by model standards, by photographic standards, they're just ordinary looking people. And, come on, it wasn't that funny.
But they're beautiful.
But they are, and that's the thing is that the way he captures them, because they forget he's there. And he allows them to operate in a natural way and that's the beauty of all of us is that, just not standing there and putting your thumbs up, and posing, it's the idea of capturing people in motion and what they're doing in their lives. And you can capture these kind of precious moments. It's a brilliant shot, and I'm really happy you took it.