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Food Photography

Lesson 22 of 32

Q&A With Shauna Ahern


Food Photography

Lesson 22 of 32

Q&A With Shauna Ahern


Lesson Info

Q&A With Shauna Ahern

Hi Shauna. Hello. When you're taking picture of mess on the table, do you ever modify the light, or are you just like pointing and shooting effectively, or do you ever do anything, for example, with your sink shot or something like that? That's a great question. Do I ever modify the light? I never modify the light. I might ... I'm still trying to figure out how to get rid of the harsh shadows, something I'm playing with a lot, but in terms of the light, I always leave it as it is. I feel like the light is almost sacred for me. You know, it's happening. I don't have the right to say, could you be a little less, you know so... But I will of course look through the camera, or look at the photographs, and I love standing on the chair and looking out from above and say, "Well it might be a more harmonious photograph if I move this fork over here." So I'll play with what is in the shot already, mostly so that, you know ... For example, when I watch movies, I always get really upset if ...

someone comes into the room and leaves the door open, and they're having a conversation the whole time. I'm like, "Go close the door, go close the door, go close the door." (audience member laughs) And so I just don't want there to be any, "go close the doors," in the photographs. Like, why didn't you notice that that's like glaringly weird and obvious? But in terms of the light, I just leave it as it is. All right. Thank you. Anyone else? We have questions here? Oh we sure do. So for Shauna, question from Whitney: at what point did you develop your voice as a blogger, writer, and what blogs do you read regularly, and which photographers do you admire? Well, that's a lot of questions isn't it? (Shauna laughs) Three parts. Let's start with developing your voice. You gotta get in 10,000 hours. I feel like I put my 10,000 hours in as a writer long before I started the blog. I wrote a lot of really bad poems and short stories in my 20s, as most of us are one to do, and even sent a batch of them off to The New Yorker, which embarrasses to no end now. (Andrew laughs) They were so bad, but everyone has to do that. But I think the best thing anyone can do, if you really want to be a writer, is to just, is blog. And be also willing to put yourself out there and be embarrassed. You know? I mean it's fine. You're not really embarrassed if you choose it, but if you just think this is a work in progress, I don't need this to be a perfect piece, I've gone through a ton of transformations as a writer because of that. So I would say probably, oh you know, two or three years in is when I felt comfortable with writing for that space. [Male Panel Member] Cool, do you use a professional editor? For the cookbooks, definitely. Yeah, cookbooks and other memoir essays. I love the process of writing a book, and it's a very different process than keeping a blog. The process of writing a blog is I don't think anything I've ever published is better than a first draft. There are some great first drafts on the blog, but they're still really a first draft. And what makes it into a print is hopefully third, fourth, fifth draft, and I have a lot of eyes looking at my writing before it ever goes to print. [Male Panel Member] Great, cool. And bloggers I look at? Oh gosh, I'm gonna play favorites, aren't I? That's not very nice. Just briefly, I guess, the ones that stick out are still my friends. When I began this process eight years ago, there were these oddball, my daughter's favorite word right now is, "you goofball," there are a lot of goofball people I became friends with. My friend Molly Wizenberg who writes Orangette is a tremendous writer. I think as writers and photographers too, you need people who kick your butt that you read their writing and think, "Whoa I wish I'd written that!" And so, Molly does that for me a lot. So does Luisa from The Wednesday Chef, Heidi Swanson from 101 Cookbooks, not for her writing or photography, she's very much a lifestyle photographer as well, like the little spent lemon rinds on that marble countertop and that beautiful light in her kitchen. There are like 55 people I could name. It's always, however, what really pulls me in is the writing and the authenticity and the vulnerability. [Male Panel Member] Cool. [Female Panel Member] Great, Michael had asked, "How often, or does it ever, does a photo ever drive a blog post versus the dish or the story?" For me, the photography always drives the blog post. Oh wow. It really does. I switched. You know, I used to be, like I said, that I would write something, and then I'd go take a photograph thinking that would be good to match the story I just wrote. But I think that my, it's all gonna be artsy-fartsy artist talk about here, but since photography is so much about a place without words for me, if I think, if I put down those photographs and really think, "There's that light, and I feel good about that photograph." Then I sit down to write. I also feel more comfortable going to an unsafe place and just writing. I always think of David Byrne and "Stop Making Sense" whenever I sit down to write. I have that song in my head. Like stop making sense because it's very easy to put sentences together that are very neat and concise and do the job. And that's not why I'm doing, what I'm doing. I'm glad that you said that though because quite honestly, the fact that your writing starts with a visual kind of experience. I found that with my blog too when I was doing the things like developing recipes, and I've talked about not really doing much of that anymore. Yeah. But everything I do is photo driven in my life, so I decided that. I made a switch as well, and the driving force in mine is now photography, and I find it so much easier to write about pictures than to take pictures about writing. Yeah, like a bicycle and a fish, right? Exactly, so that, you know ... I think we're at the same place in a weird way. Yeah, and I think that readers are in that place too. I mean we are bombarded with information in this society, and I've made this mistake, as I said, for a while, thinking people came to our site for the recipe. As soon as I made that soft pretzel gluten free, then I've kept them happy. And what I found in the last six months or so is I've heard from thousands of people saying, "I'm not even gluten free, I've never made a single one of your recipes. I check into your website every single day because I love your story, I love your voice, I love your family." Which is a very humbling beautiful thing, and so it's released me from the notion of making sense and trying to fit into some monetization, blah, blah, blah. (Shauna laughs) Sure. How are we on questions? Good. Great, so actually a question from yesterday. Tony Kwai had asked, she's starting a food blog and wanted to know how necessary is it to write three or four or five paragraphs. What do you guys think about that? Can you write just a sentence? Can you write? I think you should write whatever feels right to you. Yeah And that of course is so funny. I have never paid attention to SEOs, Search Engine Optimization, right? [Male Panel Member] (laughs) Right. So we switched over to WordPress a few years ago, and now there's a thing on WordPress, so it will check your SEO. And out of interest, I went to look at it, and it consistently says, you have written your piece above an eighth-grade level. You need to bring the language down. And I'm like, "Yeah, that's not gonna happen, sorry." And then sometimes I will. If a photograph is really stunning, and I want to put up a post, and the only thing I want to do is show that photograph and write a quote from, I don't know, Anne Lamott or something, then I'll just write one line, and it will also say, "Well now you need at least 780 words." And I'm just like, "Oh screw you." I agree with her 100%. I think I felt the pressure early on when I was blogging that you had to write a certain amount of words, and you had to make a certain amount of posts, and you had to do a certain amount. Sort of fall into a certain amount of rules. Yep. But the reality is that you do what feels right, and if I post a picture and I decide to write something about it, that's great. Or maybe I'll just post a picture. Or maybe I'll write a whole story, but the reality is that it's gotta come from an honest place and if it does, then it will resonate with the audience. One of my readers just left a comment on a post I wrote the other day that ended up being pretty vulnerable and powerful for a lot of people. She said, "I feel like you must unintentionally write a post for every person reading." So there's something that I've written that is hopefully going to connect with someone out there reading, someone else be like, "Oh my god, she's talking about her kid again, great." And somebody else might say, "Oh my daughter's doing the same thing. Thank you, I'm not crazy." So someone out there reading is going to connect, and I very much feel like writing and photography, for me now too, is an act of letting go, and it's a way of saying, "This is an experience that I try to live as fully as I can. And now I'm gonna put it on the page, virtual page, and I'm gonna let it go into the universe, and whoever finds it and connects with it, great." But it's certainly not about SEO. (Andrew and Shauna laughing) For sure. [Female Panel Member] Awesome. Well we have a couple questions in the studio audience. Yeah, Kristin? I had a question on your workflow. How often do you blog, and are you blogging and then publish? Like scheduling posts or do you just kind of do it on the fly when you're, you know ... And I'm also kind of, I'm also a writer, but it's definitely ... I mean I spend so much time running my photography business that I am starting to feel like I want to start migrating back to getting down to the reason why I blog. Yeah. You know, the images with a story, and I have so much fodder for multiple posts, and I'm like, "God, where do I start?" Yeah. So I'm just kind of curious what your creative process is. Yeah, that's a great question. I'm constantly trying to figure it out, and I think that is one of the places where I've come to rest now is just, "I am constantly trying to figure it out." As I mentioned I have a daughter who is the light of my husband's and my life, and it's summer vacation. (laughs) And there's not much childcare right now. I have two kids. I got it. (laughs) And so, you know, what I've come to understand is that I need to put my phone in a different room than she is. Otherwise it is just too easy to constant be like, "Oh, honey, you want me to read you a story, but ..." Uh-uh, not doing it to her or to me. And so what I do is I will take ... We'll cook all the time, and if something seems beautiful, I'll take out the camera and start taking photographs of it. But I have cut way back on social media. It is a very lovely, alluring drug. (laughs) It is just too easy to constant check Twitter and see are there more mentions. Can answer a question? What's going on in the world? And the same with Facebook and all those other places, and there are lik 400 of them now that I don't even know the names of 'cause I'm not going to join them. And I just think it's all really about connection, and for me it's just a reminder constantly to say, "How can I connect with myself, with my own work?" You know, being a mom, or a dad, or both it's very easy to put the kids first, to put business first. So I, when I sit down to write, I turn off all of that stuff. In our studio we don't have wifi on the computer. We have it on our phones if we need it, but I just don't have anything to listen to besides that place. And so turning off social media really helps a lot, and, for me, in terms of writing what I'll do is do all of the work in the business of a blog post. Like let's cook something. "Oh, that's beautiful. Let me take a photograph." I'll process the photos and then I do all the little tagging and the things that I hate on blog posts. And I forget half the time, but I should do it, and then I put it aside. And I tend to write, now, at night after my daughter's asleep. And I've got everything in place, and I can just sit down and it's just writing. Two months from now will it be the same? I don't know, but that's working for me right now. Kate had a question. Well part of it was part of her question, but also like about how much time do you invest in each post. Does it vary? It varies, but it's a lot. It's a lot. I mean this is my life. This is what I do, and we're also working on two books at the same time right now, so there's a lot going on that I can't really talk about. Every post is a lot more hours than it may seem. You know, you just count in the constant conversation my husband and I have about what are we going to cook, and when are we going to do that, and we haven't done that, and look on the blog. Did we do that salad before? I can't even remember, you know, which is joyful work, but it's still work. So I would say the number 10. 10 hours for every post is popping up in my head. You know, it's a lot of work, which is why when people will say, "You need to post three times a week, or you need to post everyday, or you need to post ..." I'm terrible at that. I must be driving people away because sometimes it's once a week, and sometimes it's five days a week, and it's really, for me, I have to stick with, "Do I need to tell this story right now?" If it feels urgent, then I'm going to put it up, and lately that's a lot. Sometimes it's not. And you had a question as well? It fell right into that as well. Do you schedule your posts? But it sounds like it's-- I don't. It's really a lot more what's coming through you and needs to be told. I have a very similar experience as well. There are days, there are weeks, where I'll post once a week, and then there's things going on, and then things that feel urgent, and you post them right away. So, again, it has to be kind of organic, but? Just kind of a second part of that along those same lines, and it's for you actually. Do you think that as a professional photographer, introducing personal themes on your blog are ... Is that taboo or is it not appropriate, or would it be a deterrent for potential clients? Oh, I see what you mean. I don't think so. I mean I think it's a personal choice. I think, people, when they come to your blog, and even if it's a client, that's why I have a professional website. I don't talk about anything on my professional website. I show pictures. This is what I do for a living. If you want to talk to me as a professional, then there's a platform for that. My blog is personal. It's in support of my work, but it is not the primary vehicle to show people my work because this is things that vary outside of the norm for me. It's photos that I didn't have published. It's things that I want to talk about it. It's food that I'm interested in, and I'm classified as a food blog because I'm about food mostly. But, I mean, the idea of it being a deterrent because I may present personal recollections, opinions, whatever, I don't worry about that. I'm the queen of that. (everyone laughs) You know because I began as a writer before I started as a blogger, which I still don't accept. It sounds so funny: blogger. You know, for me there's a certain amount of openness that always goes into my writing probably because when I start to sit down to write, it is an act of letting go. Now the writing I would do for a magazine or for someone else is not that. It's a very different kind of writing, but on my own personal space there's been times including last week. I did a piece about the adoption process that we're in the middle of and how heartbreaking it is, and it's just so long, and slow, and a lot of false starts. And Danny and I talked for probably the last year about whether or not we should write about it because people feel like they know our lives and know what's going on, and I reached a place as a writer and as a person where I thought, "It's just taking up too much space in my chest to not write about this because ..." And what I ended up writing at the end, which is like if you want to know the flavor of our food, there's sorrow mixed in, some of which I haven't been talking about so here it is. And I just sort of get to this state where I'm like, "I just got to write. I'm going to publish it." And then I almost forget that people are reading it. But now I've heard form hundreds and hundred of people just this week alone saying how much that piece meant to them, and their sister's going through an adoption process, and now they understand their sister, or they did, or they are, and I feel like, for me, food is just ... It's so immense. There's so much involved in food and sitting at the table together. That if it's just about a recipe it's kind of meaningless for me. Well I think it's interesting though that when you say it sounds funny to call yourself a blogger. But I think that in the overall, the business of media, the importance of blogging. Partially because people like yourself, who started doing this, and have built an audience, and have transitioned into traditional media. I think that there's a power there that is now ... That transition of power is in full effect. Yeah it is. It's true, it's true. You know, traditional media is scrambling about how do they keep up. Do they need a blog? Do they need ... A news outlet will have a blog, and it's just a very funny type of space right now. Well it's also about how to tap into your audience. Right, right. Why you resonating with a million people? Right, right. You know, and that's a question that I think speaks to all of what we're talking about: your style, the idea of putting how you feel into your photography, into your writing, and why does that resonate with so many people? Because there is very little barrier between you and your audience. Right, sure is. And I think that comes through in the visuals. I think it comes through in who you are and when you speak in public. So, I mean, I think that the affection that people throw at you, and also some of the vitriol is-- (Shauna laughs) Right, oh yeah. Which we've had conversations about, is really about the fact that you do not put the barrier between yourself. Nope. And I think that might be the major differences between what traditional media does and what we do on this end of the business. And I think we need both of them, you know? I think what's wonderful about the internet, and awful too, is the pan of play voices. You know the fact that there is ... You can look up any obscure fact or strange little hobby, and there's going to be a forum where people are discussing. A community, right. I'm sure Danny won't mind, but he's on a lawn mower forum online. (Andrew laughs) 'Cause we have an acre in our place and a huge lawn, and nothing makes him more happy. It's his meditation. His meditations are butchering meat and mowing the lawn, and so he's on this lawn mower forum, and he's constantly checking out like, "Ooh, what is this with a gas cap." You know, there's just a place for everybody. Is he pimping his lawn mower? No, no. He's just making sure that it's as good as it could possibly be. Oh okay, okay. (audience laughs) Which really is about the experience. And he loves when people come over. Tomorrow is Lucy's birthday party, and he's going to get up at six in the morning and mow the lawn. And mow the lawn. Yeah, you know? All right. So the internet is a wonderful thing. You could take pictures of him mowing the lawn. I've taken pictures of him mowing the lawn. Trust me. In fact, actually in April we had the anniversary of us meeting, and there was a picture of him mowing the lawn because here is this thing he does because he loves his family. He wants to make our home feel beautiful that he's obsessed with mowing the lawn. And I tease him about it constantly, but I think that it's a great democratization. Sure. And a true democracy is a lot of yelling in the agro. Sure. There's a lot of incense, and sense, and beauty, and passion, and you got to take all of it. And I think that the traditional media sometimes felt like it was a lockdown gate instead of this open market. Sure. So we have any more questions? How're we doing? Paula? Actually this is a question for you. You said that as a photographer you have your blog to give shout outs and to talk about personal things that you don't get to do in your job, but does it work the other way around as well? That people come to your blog and then end up being clients, so you get work through that. And why? You know it's hard to quantify like how they find me, but I think that because like all of the things that I have as far as my presence on the internet are all kind of intertwined in a lot of ways. I mean, if you go to the New York Times, and you see one of my pictures, and you look at the blog world, and you go there, and you find me, and then you got my blog, and then you go to my website, or you see me on Twitter or something I post on Instagram. I really think at some point it's like this big spider web, and we're all kind of ... All of those things are connected, so it's really, really hard to quantify, but I do think it's important, as a photographer especially, to participate in social media, to participate. And I don't think every photographer needs to have a blog, but I do think that it's important to be an internet presence on some point and be accessible. 'Cause this is what people want from you, and I think that if they understand your voice, not just through the photographs, but also through the other things like when you're making comments on Twitter or the kind of pictures you post outside of the realm of your work, they get a better picture of who you are. And I think a lot of clients relationships have to do with whether or not they're going to feel comfortable with you. I think it's not just about your style anymore. I think it's about who you are, and I think if you're unwilling to share yourself with your clientele, you're losing out. You may be losing out because you may seem inaccessible, and I think that the fact that I'm attached to the newspaper in particular, that could be intimidating. And I think one of the things ... And I learned that being on workshops, and that people see you in a certain light, and I never saw myself that way. So you have to work at breaking down that barrier to make people understand that you're still vulnerable, you're still accessible, and you're still human. And I think once people understand that about you, and they admire your work, they really want to work with you. Yeah. Well I think you said the word. It's relationship. Sure. And that is where all the multiplicity of social media gets a little dazzling, but it's really interesting too, you know? You do follow people on Twitter where they'll say one thing, and you look at their photographs on Instagram, and you feel like you have a more complete sense of that person. Definitely. And I'm actually really fascinated by Instagram. It's my favorite right now because, again, it's a place without words. Twitter has become a lot of boasting. People like, "Look at me, look at me." It didn't start of that way, but ... And Instagram can too, but it's hard to boast in a photograph. I mean even if you were just taking a photograph of your family dinner table, there's something of you in that dinner table. Absolutely. There's a very interesting psychological component to all of it for sure. Oh yeah, oh yeah. For sure. I'm fascinated by that part. So we have any more from the internet that they want to talk to us about? Yes. Andrew and Shauna, I think people could listen to you guys talk to each other for hours. I think maybe you need your own television show, workshop. Oh hey, no problem at all. Think about it. (high five slapping) Book deal. Who knows? All right, this is another question, which I asked you earlier, Andrew, about this question. And this is from Adventuresome Kitchen, who is our 11 year old photographer that has been watching today. Oh, adorable. Not sure if this question is from his mom or him, but, "Shauna, would you consider yourself more passionate about the photography or the cooking?" Oh, that's a really good question. The 11 year olds as the best questions don't they? [Female Panel Member] They do! Cut right to the bone. I think they're all a piece for me. For me, photography, writing, and cooking are all creating, and I think that when I was in my 20's, the problem was that I thought my path to becoming successful as an artist was writing. And I thought that, as everyone does ... It's impossible with some of these pitfalls we're talking about are impossible to avoid. You have to go through them as an artist. And it's funny the path that you took is very similar to the one I took. I mean I was on the pat of becoming an English professor, and I end up a profession photographer. I'm not one bit surprised by the way. But it's on that road where you feel that hole that you need to fill creatively, and how that gets filled. That's it. Exactly. It's the same thing for me. The styling, the propping, the shooting-- All creating. The post production. It's all about creating, and it all fills that need to be creative. And what the 11 year old doesn't know is that a lot of times in adulthood we sort of like stratify and think, "I don't want to just create all day." Like I watch my daughter. She dances. She draws. She tells stories. It's like all one big, long flow, and when we get older and we think, "No, I have to choose this narrow path." And I think we're lucky, and a little bit like kids, in that we've remembered that, no, it's all the same thing. We get to create in multiple formats, and that's cool. Totally. I love it. It's really interesting to hear you talk about your process as well, Andrew. And a question did come up to ask you about your blog, and how it started, and how it's different today. That's interesting because I started the blog, and there's a little title page on my blog that talks about my great grandmother who taught me how to play poker. (laughing) And I named it "Making Sunday Salsa" because that was really the whole family ... Kind of the nucleus of our family surrounded that pot on a Sunday, you know? And everybody came from everywhere to be at my grandmother's house to have that particular meal. And that was the thing that pulled everyone together, and she was the catalyst. She was the matriarch, and she was tough, and she was fair, and she was interesting. So great. And she was the person that pulled the whole family together. She was the glue, and when I decided to start the blog, I named it that with that in mind. I posted a picture of her, which is hysterical because she looks ... (laughing) Are you going to get a picture made? And it was the thing, the catalyst, for me to be creative in this particular arena. In that she taught me how to cook, and she taught me about passion and about the things that were important. And then all of the other women in my life too that taught me how to cook and taught me a lot of other things. There was this also kind of sense of expressing that part of myself, where a good part of my early life was about being a jock, and about being a guy, and about being all these kind of things that were a real expression of the masculine part of myself. And I had a lot of this other stuff in me that needed to get expressed, and that's where the creativity came from. Yeah. So that's what the motivation was, and the beginning of the blog was really more about food because it was more toward the middle of my career as a food photographer. And as my career kind of went on this journey back to being ... I mean I look through ... Like if I see the whole world through this pretty much on any given week. That's, you know ... I get to see nothing else, so that's the expression of it, where before it was more about a little bit more food, a little bit more lifestyle, a little bit more about me and the things I'm doing. And now it's about I shoot all day, I shoot everyday, and this is what I do, so that has been the progression. It's just a reflection of who I am. [Male Panel Member] Cool. [Female Panel Member] Thanks for sharing. Thank you. Okay, a question for both you guys, and both Snapshots and Nickster asked the same question. How do you deal with criticism? And especially as a beginner when you're putting your work out there to the world, how did you guys personally deal with it? Or from art directors or whomever? Well I think it's important to say that there's a big difference between criticism and vitriol. Definitely, certainly. And that there's a lot of vitriol on the internet. Criticism I welcome. Absolutely. I think if it comes from a place of kindness, as again I keep going back to parenting. Excuse me, I can't talk. From my daughter's perspective it looks like I'm always saying, "No, no, no. Let's go this way. Let's try that." So there's criticism inherent in love and inherent in the wish for someone to do more and do better. And so kind criticism is vital. If you write in a vacuum and you think, "Tell me how pretty everything is." What's the point? And then there's internet stuff, but we don't even need to talk about that. No, because I really agree with you. There's this very thick, broad line between hate and criticism, and I think that anybody in a creative field feels the criticism personally. Now, not like a personal attack, but that because we create so much through ourselves, that criticism hurts. Hits hard, but it's motivating. It is the thing that drives you to do better especially when it comes from people who care about you. You know, and living with an editor, I live with a photo editor. (laughs) I live with a chef who's like, "Why are you chopping that that way?" Right, exactly, exactly. But that's the beauty of the partnership there too. Right. The criticism is harsh sometimes. Right, right, right. But it comes from that place. Absolutely. It comes from that place of wanting you to do well and wanting you to do the things that you're really good at and showing you the way because that extra set of eyes, and whether it's the person who's next to you or the person that you're friends with. I know we've had this experience with other photographers where we sit down and have a portfolio intervention. It's time. It's time to change it up. Yep, absolutely. And you do it from a place of love, but you feel it. But the reason you feel it is because it's the thing that's going to light the fire underneath you. Absolutely. You cannot grow as an artist, or whatever you call yourself, until either you have looked at your old work, or especially if you have somebody else look at your work, and say, "Eh, not so sure about that one." You know, I always liken it to the, "Best friends are the ones who'll tell you you have a piece of spinach in between your teeth." Quite. And that's true for your work as well. And if we can't kind of remove ourselves a little bit and say to put them on that level. Maybe a part of you feel embarrassed that you have spinach between your teeth, or you could just say, "Hey, thanks friend." And take it out, you know? What's interesting about the way we sat down to do this, and we left this pretty free form because of our relationship, but the reality was that originally I was supposed to critic your photos. Oh, right. Of course, yes. But in the process of what we've talked about, knowing that critiquing your photos from my perspective, and the perspective of what we've talked about in this particular workshop, doesn't apply because it's different. 'Cause the place you're coming from, and the reason you're creating those photographs, and the motivation for creating them is outside the realm of what we're talking about. Absolutely. But looking at them through that lens gives us an opportunity to appreciate it for what it is. Yeah, I mean if I were coming to you and saying I'd like to take some photographs, or make photographs for The New York Times, then you're going to look at them very differently. Absolutely, but that's not. Not going to happen. But it became clear at the beginning of our conversation that that wasn't what was going to happen here because for me to start to dissect those photographs based on a preconceived idea of what it's supposed to be is wrong. Right, yeah. The idea is to look at it through your eyes and why you created that image. Very different. These are very different perspectives. Well I was an English teacher as well. I also thought about becoming an English professor, and I know that if ... And I would say this to my students all the time. I taught high school, so they would look at me like, "What are you talking about?" But I'd say here's my voice. Here's my opinion on this piece. Take it for what you want. Just because I am the teacher doesn't mean I'm right, and I think that opened them the chance-- [Andrew} Don't, don't, don't. Oh, sorry. Don't, no that's not true. (laughing) I think that that allowed them the chance to really hear what I was saying rather than just like, "Oh!" And I learned never to write in red pen. I thew all my red pens away when I was a high school teacher because kids were so acculturated to the idea of, "There's red pen!" Even if I had written, "Yes, I love this sentence." In red pen, they thought of it as a criticism. That's really interesting. So it was all in blue or green, and if I was feeling good, I wrote in purple. But, just being aware as someone who is criticizing someone or critiquing someone else, to be kind of aware of little niceties like that always turn out with something nice. But I think that's where the background we both share as educators, we are creatively and constructively criticizing people to make. And you always soften the blow with what they did right first. Right, absolutely. Absolutely. You know? Absolutely. Somebody else is like, "Nah!" So that's where we'll be tomorrow. (laughing) Sometimes when I was reading high school English papers it was, "Good first sentence." That was about all I could come up, so at least I came up with that. So while I'm tearing you to shreds, you'll know that I love you. But it's about trust. It really is. Yeah, sure. I mean if you trust the person you're with, even if it's a hard message and you go home and cry later because you're 22, it's still going to resonate. You're going to have those words in your head, and they're not going to leave you until you start shooting and writing differently because of it. Without a doubt.

Class Description


  • Understand the business aspects of food photography, including food styling, pricing, negotiation, marketing, and copyrights
  • Shoot on a budget with a point-and-shoot camera or a smartphone
  • Prepare for your shoot and organize your materials
  • Learn food styling for various types of food, from soup to pastry
  • Write about food and create a blog


The food on your plate looks absolutely scrumptious. But somehow, when you take a picture of it, the result is less than appetizing. Great food photography isn’t just about taking a shot of a delicious dish, it’s about carefully selecting and styling your food, appropriately using natural light or studio light, and editing your images to leave viewers hungry.

World-renowned commercial photographer, food stylist, and New York Times columnist Andrew Scrivani will teach you the essentials of preparing your food before the shoot, using the right camera and lighting gear, and performing touch-ups in post-production. He’ll also give you expert advice regarding the business of food photography, so you can turn your hobby into your dream job. Special guest Shauna Ahern of the Gluten Free Girl blog and book fame will talk about food blogging, recipe writing, and growing your online audience.

This class will help you:

  • Select, prepare, and style your food so it looks professional and enticing.
  • Find and use the best gear for a food photo shoot.
  • Choose the right camera settings.
  • Create an optimal workflow and post-production process.
  • Deal with low indoor light by using inexpensive lighting equipment.

Whether you’re a seasoned professional looking for food photography tips to expand your skillset or a novice using nothing more than a smartphone, this mouth-watering workshop will provide you with the strategies, tips, and techniques needed to captivate your viewers and reach your food photography goals.


  • Anyone who wants to become a professional food photographer or a photographer who wants to add additional revenue to their business by venturing into food photography.
  • Those who love taking pictures of food, but aren’t sure how to turn a hobby into a career or business.
  • Those who want to know how to choose the right food and style it appropriately for great food photography.
  • Bloggers who write about food but need high-quality images to go with their written content.
  • People who like to photograph food for their own pleasure, but want to take better, more professional-looking images.


  1. Introduction to Food Photography Class

    Andrew Scrivani introduces his food photography class and outlines the topics he’ll be addressing.

  2. What Is Food Porn?

    Andrew explains how to evoke these sensations and make your pictures so real you can almost taste them.

  3. Food Photography Lighting

    Learn the secrets to making your food pop with light.

  4. Food Photography Props

    Using the right food photography props and positioning will go a long way toward making your food look its best.

  5. Food Styling Props

    Andrew demonstrates food styling props so you can optimize your food shots.

  6. Food Styling Tips

    Get food styling tips and tricks so you can achieve a truly gorgeous photo.

  7. Food Styling Tools of the Trade

    Andrew shows you the food styling tools and techniques he uses.

  8. Camera for Food Photography

    Choosing the right camera for food photography and creating a complete kit with all the right gear is an essential step to becoming a successful food photographer.

  9. Food Styling Tutorial: Spaghetti and Pudding

    Watch an intensive food styling tutorial on how to style and prep pasta and pudding.

  10. Food Styling Q&A

    Andrew takes questions on food styling.

  11. Gear Q&A

    Andrew takes questions on food photography gear.

  12. Food Photography Camera Settings: Do The Math

    Get the basics on food photography camera settings, including ISO, aperture, shutter speed, and white balance.

  13. Understanding Light Meters and Settings

    Learn more about understanding light meters and camera settings.

  14. Shooting Demo: Dessert Photography

    Watch a detailed demonstration of a dessert photography shoot.

  15. Student Shoot: Bread Photography

    Students learn about bread photography and get the chance to do an overhead shot of bread and cheese.

  16. Student Shoot: Soup Photography

    Students learn about soup photography and how to do a soup shot using a tripod.

  17. Student Shoot: Pastry Photography

    Students learn about pastry photography and try a handheld shot of pastry.

  18. Student Shoot: Sandwich and Soup Handheld

    Students attempt a handheld shot of a sandwich and soup.

  19. Workflow Prep to Post

    Andrew explains how to shop, cook, and organize everything you need to get a successful outcome.

  20. Post Demo

    Learn how to organize, fix, and perfect your shots in the post-processing stage using Adobe Lightroom.

  21. Food Blogging Tips with Shauna Ahern

    Get a new perspective on food photography from food blogger Shauna Ahern.

  22. Q&A With Shauna Ahern

    Shauna Ahern and Andrew answer questions from the audience.

  23. The Top 10 Questions for Every Food Photographer

    Get answers to the top 10 questions most commonly asked about food photography.

  24. Food Photography Business Q&A

    Andrew answers questions from the audience about the food photography business.

  25. Photo Copyright

    Learn the dos and don’ts of the photo copyright.

  26. Advertising Your Photography Business

    Andrew offers expert advice about breaking into and advertising your photography business, including how to use the internet to get clients.

  27. The Artist vs. the Business Person

    Andrew discusses how to separate the emotional aspects of your art from the financial aspects and how to value your work so you get what you deserve.

  28. Tips and Tricks for a Budget Shoot

    Learn how to conduct a great food shoot on a budget.

  29. Tips for Food Photography with Phone

    Get advice on food photography with phone.

  30. Student Critique

    Andrew critiques students’ photography and gives them advice on how to improve.

  31. Facebook Contest Winner Critique

    Andrew critiques photos from the winners of the Facebook food photography contest.

  32. Q&A and Parting Wisdom

    Andrew offers a final course wrap-up and provides some parting advice to the students.


Brendan McGuigan

This was one of the best workshops I've ever taken in my life – in person or digital. Andrew is a fantastic teacher – if I hadn't known his first career was as a professor, I would have guessed it based on the quality of teaching. He had a casual attitude, sense of fun, and easy-going manner of speech that made him immediately accessible, and a joy to watch for the entire sixteen hours (which I completed in just under three days). For me, the main value of the workshop was to be found in the first day. Andrew went through his artistic process, dropped tips along the way, and gave a real sense of how his brain works when thinking about a scene – everything from creating the food, to styling, to composing the shot. I happen to love his use of light, and getting an insight into how he crafts his backlighting and bounce was very useful. Day two had some nuggets of wisdom – and some great hands-on – but much of the tool tutorials and post-production workflow aspects will be less useful to those who are already professional photographers looking to branch out into a new discipline. Still, one of the standouts to me was seeing just how little he does in technical post – a good reminder that incredible shots can be captured 90% in camera. The segment with a food blogger, although not relevant to me, was captivating and insightful, and the rapport between Andrew and Shauna James Ahern was delightful. Day three was great for anyone needing a refresher on the business aspects, and some of specifics of the food photography business were good to hear in detail. For those already selling their work, who are familiar with licensing agreements, copyright, stock, etc., this may be redundant, but it's always good to be reminded of these things by an expert at the top of their game. Andrew's conclusion nearly had me in tears. He is obviously an incredibly passionate, giving, and humble artist, who not only feels blessed in his own life, but feels compelled to pass on some of his good fortune. That's a wonderful thing to see, and honestly gave me a nice boost of motivation to up my personal game. Throughout the workshop I found Andrew's lesson plan spot on. His in-studio students asked great questions, and the questions selected from the online audience filled in a lot of the blanks. While I may have liked to have seen a bit more hands-on from Andrew – just to get more of a feel for his process – all in all I felt like this covered everything I was hoping to gain from it. I would highly recommend this to anyone looking to get into food photography – whether you're a complete novice or a seasoned professional photographer who wants to explore food. Whether it's for advertising, editorial, stock, or blogging, he really covers it all, exploring both broad concepts and very specific practical applications. I can't rave enough about this. If you're at all on the fence, buy it. You'll be glad you did.

a Creativelive Student

Day one was a good investment for me. After that... not so much. Not sure this is really about photography. For sure, Andrew is an artist, he's great at communicating the art of the food, the art of proping, but explanations about how to make images is very simplistic. For instance he makes a pretty big blunder explaining the "math" of photography. He says his favorite setting is f4/125th, at iso 100. His grasp of lighting beyond window light and reflectors left me a little flat. He does a good job of explaining his style -- which in spite of it all -- I like. And to be fair, Andrew is an editorial food photographer. If you're interested in opening a food photography studio and doing product work -- this may not be the class for you. I think this is a good class for cooks and bloggers who want to make images of their food. If you're a beginning food shooter, you will find the information about styling and proping useful. Having watched some of Pennhy de Los Santos and Andrew, the editorial people seem to over simplify lighting and camera and lens work. At the same time, there seems to be a theme emerging in photography and that is that it's really almost better to be highly versed in another discipline and come to photography through the back door... (e.g. a rock climber who picks up a camera, a conservationist who decides to document the changing landscape and wildlife, a cook who just so happens to like taking images). Photography, for its own sake, seems to be a thing of the past. At the end of the day the class is $129 -- so... not like you have to take out student loans to get something out of it. This guy is likable, and sincere, and makes a huge effort o be helpful to anyone interested in shooting food -- and it's hard to ignore his personal success.

Ben Adams

Andrew's class is excellent, through-and-through. The mere handful of negative reviews focus on the underwhelming results of his test shots in the class -- they're kind of missing the point. The instructor's test shots aren't about the final product, they're used to tell about the process, and boy does he do that. This course is comprehensive and concise. Scrivani talks about the ins-and-outs of the job itself (how much is styling, how much is buying the food or preparing it yourself, how much is just pure photography) and furthermore gives insight as to the nature of the business and pricing. He is clearly a strong teacher with an ear for student input, and it shows. He explains things in stages so that he doesn't 'lose' a novice student, but doesn't dumb it down so much that he's wasting the time of veteran photographers. Within each lesson (let's say he's describing the function of aperture, something most photogs already know) he's keen to pepper in little details about equipment, styling, or lighting so that there's useful information for a broad scope of the audience. The other courses, taught by Penny De Los Santos, are a joke compared to this one. De Los Santos I'm sure is a nice person, and she produces wonderful work, but her course provides little practical information and she effectively ignores her audience saying only "yeah this isn't good", making some unnamed adjustment, then "yeah okay this works" while the audience just sits there wondering what's even going on. Andrew Scrivani is very different. In one student-photographed shot, he recognizes that a more experienced pupil can easily snap his 'handheld' photo challenge, and so he throws them a curveball -- take an additional shot with a different background or styling -- and communicates clearly to the audience why he's changing the task and what the significance is. For a novice pupil, he assists her with the camera and explains to the audience the importance of getting settings right. All told, I had been unimpressed with CreativeLive's tutorial offerings until I stumbled upon this fantastic instructor. Yes, some of the information is dates (iPhone photography has taken giant leaps forward since 2013) but the practical information (lighting, budget options, business advice) is all salient and relevant. Andrew, if you by chance read these reviews, I'll say once more what was true the moment I started watching -- this course is excellent.