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Documenting Food Stories

Lesson 8 from: Story on a Plate: Food Photography & Styling

Todd Porter and Diane Cu

Documenting Food Stories

Lesson 8 from: Story on a Plate: Food Photography & Styling

Todd Porter and Diane Cu

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Lesson Info

8. Documenting Food Stories

Next Lesson: Food Lighting Clock


Class Trailer

Day 1


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Lesson Info

Documenting Food Stories

Thank you for coming I'm diane and I'm a god and we also write a block called white on rice couple and um I am white okay? I just think that every time we talk about this I am the white he is the rice in so many ways because he eats his scrambled eggs of chopsticks I don't know any white people that eat there breakfast of chopsticks and I'm not one of them hits him so it's always something that we always liked established in the beginning who is the white who's the rice so it is white on rice and way want to welcome you to our table um I think part of what you're gonna learn today is food photography but we need a starting point and the starting point is for you to understand why we're here today and how we got to this point and getting to this this point was never about waking up one day and saying we want to call herself white on rice we wantto put geeky pictures of dogs and the garden on the block it started with food and we love food so much it's so bad that we almost need like an ...

intervention because I do feel like we need therapy sometimes and what we do and how we approach food and that's the starting point for why we're here today and that is a reflection of what we photographed and how we photograph and people always say, do you guys like you guys live food? Twenty four seven I guess sleeping with dream of the food, I mean, how many of you are eating a meal and thinking about the next meal already? Right ways are people wear thinking about next week's weigh and how we're going to grow it for next season? So this is our table, and we want to share with you a little bit about what we do I'm still working without a little bit a little bit about us and about a little bit about our childhood and how we get got to this point and how crazy we got to be. So this is me about knee high. I grew up on a cattle ranch in northeastern oregon, so catty corner on the st opposite st um for me, it's like growing up, but actually I didn't really grow up in a food environment, so, uh, you know, we produced well becomes food, but, uh, my mom wasn't really enjoying cooking, you know, she was the hamburger helper tight mom, we always had a ton of beef in the fridge and freezer, and that was what was easy and I got the family fed, but I did have a grandma that was a great cook chin considered herself a great cook, but everyone who enjoyed a meal with her knew that she was a great cook is linda's very humble just can throw audition it's just amazing and even just as a five year old like to remember, I hate to cook carrots hated cares are they're disgusting and then graham was like, just have to try you don't have to get the whole thing just have to try it and say okay, okay and so you try it that's good grandma yeah that's good and it just changed my perspective on everything it a biscuit and still to me from that point that there's some there's nothing that I don't like. I just haven't found a way that I like it and I think that is kind of gone through almost everything that I approach, whether it's food and even for photography just like with photography, there is really no bad light, there is no bad angles, just something that you haven't found that you like yourself yet and you have to keep seeking it. Yeah, and that's what we're going to hopefully teach you today and this is me don't ask where I got the short I'm going to kill my mother, but it is really the only picture that I could find I was not born here is born in vietnam and came here when I was two and a half, so growing up in an immigrant family, I was always hungry, and when I say always hungry, it wasn't that I was never fed or never had enough food. In fact, it was quite the opposite. My mother is a voracious cook. She is so absolutely crazy she needs intervention and I think in about five years I'm going to send her to therapy because even till today she can't stop cooking and we grew up with things that I disliked. I always grew up with fresh fish, fresh home cooked meals. My parents tore out the front and the back yard to grow food, which I disliked and now we're doing it so that's another story later life just kind of bite you in the butt but I have his group hungry because I hated fresh food like mom do I have to eat stir fry again? So I have to pick the peas do I have to pick the chili's again? I hate this. All he wanted to eat was pizza. I love you already, mac and cheese the box kind you know the box kind where you can just boil and I wanted to eat hamburgers, that's all they wanted it so I always felt like I was always hungry and I always felt like my mom never fed me enough because I always had pounds and pounds of everything fresh possible or it was just like it was terrible so from adam because I felt like I grew angry, you know, going to school and seeing my friends eating pizza and these cool things called fruit roll ups you know, theo and he's really cool drink packages where they stick a straw and they're called capri suns or something like that I'd have had that I had a can of soy milk or like grass jelly drink you know, it's it's a black thing that was you can't explain to a fourth grader why your lunch looked so un cool now like it's quite the opposite, but I think for me that food memory is something that I always have to share because my life now is dramatically different. I really tap back into every single thing about my mom ever cooked and if you were to tell me when I was in third grade there going to be just like your mother being like you're crazy, but that can't happen I won't let it happen because I don't don't want to be that type of mad woman and I feel like I am now she is so that's my food story and because of that I always grew up obsessed with food I always grew up hungry um never being satisfied um and so is always that yearning toe I understand more about food from the american perspective you know I wanted more fried chicken I wanted the hamburger I didn't want stir fry noodles or a noodle soup anymore I was really tired of that so from that how we photograph and how we're going to teach you today on food photography is based on our experiences and how we shoot there are so many different types of food photography and there are so many talented people in the food photography and food styling world it is so incredible and it's so inspiring I think in three days what we're going to try to accomplish in three days here is to show you how we photograph on our perspective on food photography and again that always starts with food and how it means to us and to us we always tap into the intimacy of food because that's how we started and that's how we met we just sat and talked about food talked about coffee talked about fruit trees to grow and all these things so we always tap into that and people always ask us what is your inspiration guys? How is it that you've got to this point and your work in your career? We always say well has nothing to do with technical and has nothing to do with gear has everything to do with our memories as a kid, what we loved and what we hated like his carrots first and my noodle soup. Um, and now you also always see tons of noodle soup on my r block. So from that we tap into that, we want you guys all to be able to start from that starting point to, you know, some kind of release yourself from all the questions of gear. All the technical stuff. Think about that food memory that really resonates with you. Uh, like, with you. I mean, your story about reuben sandwiches is so wonderful. Because of that, I would try to get reuben sandwich questions. I'm gonna get a pizza. I'm gonna styling just because that those those memories are so amazing. And then that's, where we start from and food to us is always intimate. You know, food is a experience that can be for one. It could be for two. Or can be for a whole feast, you know, and food to us always also mean sharing. You know, that sharing experience because for us, food is always about a ton of people, sometimes too much, you know, and sometimes it's not a good thing, tio have. But then over a long time ago, we thought it was not a good thing to have so many people over, but when we tapped into photography, we started photographing big scenes and big table tops of our food and our dishes and that's kind of become a little bit of our branding and what we do is like we really specialize in big tip autumn scenes for brands and for us to it also means imperfection, you know, in process we're not slobs in the kitchen but we are a little messy, you know? So we always want to keep it real and part of that when we started blogging and the pictures that we put up were just in process shots and that's what worked? Because that's what was important was what was important for us and I mean is, you know, I think someone's photographer should reflect who they are and this is, you know, part of who we are and I think that's each of us has our own individual stories which have our own memories. We have our own fantasies, we have every all these different influences that affect who we are and who we want to be and that's what makes each of us individually special and why everyone's photography can be unique and its own identity and you don't have to be someone else's photography you can be your own and for us and this is where it starts yeah, it really does and the number one question people always ask us about how we get to the point of deciding what we're going to shoot, how we get to the point of creatively executing images that we execute and it all starts from here everything we're talking about because we love food so much and hopefully in the three days we can teach you not just our style because it's not going to be all dark and moody like creative life was wonderful maybe printed three of our prints and we filmed these three really represent our personal brand, but we're going to show you this style, but we're going to teach you other styles too, because it's your voice, everybody has a different voice, so if you're playful and bright or if your dark and moody you know we won't be able to you to be able to accomplish that, but in the same respect we want you to be able to accomplish the opposite if you ever want teo because let me tell you you're not always in winter, you know you're not always would. Sometimes you want to just release yourself and say, I want to be pink today, you know, or blue or red and we want to be able t do that and again we'll talk about your story tap into your story tap into a story happened to somebody else's story happened to your moms, your neighbors, your kid's store and start from that starting point and that is the easiest source of inspiration for us and so for us to come up with ideas and people always say how did you come up with this and we think that it's actually so easy we just open up the cupboard look in our backyard go at our friend's house and it's like obama's right there let's photograph that or we're shooting someone else it's talking to them same way that a journalist will get someone else's story out and captured on paper we're doing the same thing as photographers were trying to understand who they are what's driving them what they're just what emotions were feeling you get from them and then finding in a way to capture that within an image and then defining your photographic voice and hopefully for a lot of you in this first day or the first thirty minutes that we're talking you don't know what your photo photographic voice is a lot of people say what does that mean? I don't even know what my voice is so what is my photographic voice mean I'm so new to photography I don't even know photography but that's ok we're going to teach you in layers over the next three days we're going to give you a starting point and build on that so that the style of food photography or this type of food photography is it going to be overwhelming because I can tell you, when we started a couple years ago it was just chaos to try to learn everything at once so we've structured this class over the next three days to help you learn in layers and then from that point at the end of the workshop you'll be able to take everything that we've taught and combined it into an experience or tie everything that you've been ableto no in bits and pieces into one scene and that's very important but the photographic voice is very important we're going to develop that idea or later but the photographic voices basically your personal style and I think that all starts from there because if you shoot what you love that's where it's the easiest point when people start shooting that's what not who they are they start shooting other things and what they see other people do and they start shooting what they think other people are gonna like that's when they hit a creative wall and they had a technical wall so we always want to encourage youto let that I'll go and start from within I think about what you love what makes you so crazy that gets you up at four in the morning like we did to get here you know tio prepare and these things like that so part of what we want to start here is to describe the photographic voice to you so we're going to take, for example, a subject, and just because there are a gazillion photog food photographers out there, and there is one lemon, it doesn't mean the lemon khun b shot one way. There are so many different ways to photograph a woman, because why? Because each of you has a different experience with that lemon, each of you growing up has a different food memory with that lemon, each of you has a different relationship with that lemon, so that's going to come out so don't feel like you have to see everybody is lemon picture and say, I can't shoot lemons anymore, you know, because it's been overdone, we do not believe that we truly do not believe something is overshot because I can guarantee you there's, somebody that's going to come in and do something amazing and it's going to blow your mind because it's blown our mind like, wow, that's! So awesome! I never thought a lemon could be shot that way, so we're going to start with the chocolate chip cookie because I think everyone has a member with the chocolate you could because I did, you know, because my mother never baked, I never had chocolate chip cookies and was only in school, and it was twenty five cents that I had it, so I'm starting from this that so we shot this a while ago and again we thought what can we shoot that that is maybe overused but we can show you in four different ways for different voices and of course we're starting with the chocolate chip cookie so let's start from here photograph a photographic voice for this cookie for us when we look at it it's somebody who was super playful but you know a party using the blues and the textures you know? So if so if we see this voice this cookie voice this cookie photo we think of the person who shot it and designed it and style that is someone who is playful who wants to have a good time who might have kids in their family who might be a mom who might be a grandma so that's one voice when I see in this picture when we take the picture again the cookie and style in a different voice you can come up with this cease exact same cookie exact same hasn't changed. The only thing that's changed in the cookie is obviously the styling and the propping which we're going to teach you over the next three days and the voice because when I see this I see kind of a donna hey style claim minimalist design person artist very simple maybe a single person who is trying to kind of you know who is like an artist in some way this compared to the back one which is ah different voice you know it's a very very very different type of perspective here's another one so this one when we see this someone who is personality you know pink and yellow this is the life of the party first like a party you know that at the party you see that this is someone who has just this fun outgoing persona when I see this and if someone shot the cooking this way that's how I would see it I think what the voice of this person who shot this has got to be someone who's just but I want to be around them you know I can see that they're happy person they like to make people happy and I want to be around that is another voice for cookie this one I see as someone who was it just a poet an artist the very still life serene image you know, not depressing just very calming and relaxing when I see this cookie so when I see this on a blob a magazine or website the story for this cookie to me is someone who is probably very home made very organic very hands on this is kind of our personal style just because I dig in the trash a lot props but I'm going to talk about that you know on saturday right talk about that on saturday so we're gonna tune in for that and this last one is the same way but this is someone who is about in the process the story of this when I look at this I see someone who has so much to say in a different way who's very thoughtful maybe methodic just very again another poet and artist who feels like the cookie isn't the hero they want you to know the process and the story from beginning to end so it's not about the final and then she says like think of how because those who loved to cook it's like some of us are cooking for the person that we're cooking for other others of us were cooking it's about that process that journey that we're going through and tapping into that and finding ways to capture that and so you know now you decide which one is your voice which one of these pictures maybe like only I like all of them I know you're confused but or you have a lot of clients that you need to shoot or because you know that's that's totally okay actually because it's like we don't all have we individual we don't have the same voice all the time you know, some days it's like I'm all bright and cheery other days on well mr moody you know it's like way I feel something different every day and sometimes we want someone to feel something different when they're looking at the image maybe I want like what I'm shooting this one something to feel like it's ah, late faller or winter time and it's your kind of the ovens on the oven is was warming up the kitchen you know in that cold morning and you're getting that sense of when of that through the lighting and through the propping versus some of the earlier ones where it feels more like a springtime it's summertime is bright eyes teary there's going to be no afternoon picnics and parties and and they give that different different feel to them so sometimes it's lending a different experience sometimes just reflecting how we're feeling inside but it's each of them is just conveying something different to the viewer and is easy to capture we're gonna show you and that's what we mean by your voice and hope that helps because we're going to get one simple subject and trying to shoot a gazillion ways and let you know that you could never over overshoot a cherry or lemon whatever you guys decide we have a big problem table there we can decide so second thing that we always addressed right away and our talks because people always ask us is what do you shoot with ewan icon and your cannon? You know so are you I found what is it what lenses you have a tripod area and that all is very important but that's later we tell you right now that we truly believe the best cameras when you have because photography is about what you see and what you feel, because for you to be able to develop great technical images is great, but what really makes you stand out and to find your voice is the emotion behind it. And so for us, when we photograph, we don't think about the proper we don't think about the texture, yet we think about the dish we think about how we see it and how it makes us feel, you know, is it gonna get us excited? Is is is it going to get us? You know, is it going to be boring? You know, we think about all these emotions that go along with it, and then we have that starting point. So I tell you, the best lens you have is the eyes it's what you see every day, you can leave your iphone at home if you even if you need to and give yourself a challenge and walk around for twenty minutes and challenge yourself to see everything around you, I can get into. You're going to see things differently when you have a camera next to you, your phone, and you're intentionally going out to photograph. You see a lot of things differently because sometimes that tool of that camera becomes a crutch so we sometimes walk around and leave everything a home and we use our eyes to see and what gives the emotional aspect of an image is how we feel so we're always emotionally tapped into all of our experiences around us the people what we eat, what we drink I mean everything where I'm sometimes a cry baby no, I take that back I'm always a cry baby cry at the craziest things you know so when I get around that's how weii do but and and that's what we always want to let you know that if you leave your phone at home or you don't have your camera that's totally okay use that as an exercise to train yourself to see and feel because there are some really great technical photographers out there too, but sometimes they get trapping like how can I tap into this creative world? Because you're just not feeling it? And sometimes that something that it's hard to explain sometimes can't go any further it's just something that you have to way remind ourselves that the camera is just a tool doesn't matter what the tool is you are the photographer it's your heart, your soul, your eyes which are capturing images and two sometimes it's also changing from just walking around and going through life to being that photographer as you're walking around teo seeing the details you know, being noticing the way the light's falling crossed something and just savoring it appreciate it's like to smell the roses type thing but it's not true it's it's crazy how you start to change how your viewing the world sometimes when you just become the photographer and not someone who's just clicking button I just wanted to thank you so much for that statement because I have been struggling for years of what to photograph and I would just sensitive something's not right and then all of a sudden it was food so I believe to be a really good photographer again it's about what you love to shoot and because I've been developing recipes throughout the year and one I have to go on vacations I gota little hole in the wall restaurants and you know, not chains and I said, oh my gosh, it's food so thank you for saying that because that was a big struggle of what to decide to choose to photograph and that's you know, like you don't take out your, uh what's your favorite flavor of pepperoni what is that? Oh no, no no it's like a smorgasbord of color in your way e I mean that's like with diane she she started as a portrait photographer I was in the restaurant business for fifteen years and it's when those worlds collided and we began to shoot food that our lives changed and it be you know it's like not like our lives were bad before but we're going through life and then after it became the two merging together where we did we began to photograph food and it's like our lives just like I just so we're like the like these people on the face we just don't even know but that's later yeah you could basically because anything it's just yeah you can yeah we can talk about our life later ok I did just really clicked and thank you for that statement because that's how we started we don't wake up one day and saying I want to be food photographer that never happened at all trust me nowadays that's like even my mom like you guys photograph food she says to get it because she doesn't understand what you do what you people pay with that so the next starting point is light you know I think this is a resonating theme and a resonating topic in all aspects of photography and it is so true light in so many ways but we're goingto just narrow it down to talk about light in terms of food because for a lot of people who do photograph portrait's and people in special events when the transition over to food particularly tabletop food or styled food they have a tendency to struggle and the next session, we're going over them with. You were really excited about the demo.

Class Materials

bonus materials with purchase

Gear Guide
Places to shop for Food Styling Props

Ratings and Reviews

a Creativelive Student

First, thank you to Diane, Todd and the CreativeLIVE team for a wonderful exploration of "shooting" food with artistry. This course offers the beginner and professional photographer many incites into the world of natural food photography. With some business and lifestyle tips the majority of this course showcases an effective natural shoot style that allows anyone to deliver wonderful images. The strongest point I found useful is to “find a voice” for the story, your images or your client. While I understand “finding the voice” when writing copy it is the realisation that any activity can have its own voice. Your voice can be the style of image you like, the shoes you wear, the books you read, etc. it is not limited to how loud you (or anyone else) shouts. Using general principles and building good habits through practise will allow you (and me) to achieve, not just find, success. The “lighting clock” is a useful shorthand helping communication with clients, producers and peers. The strong emphasis on practise, speed and taking advantage of any appropriate situation both improves productivity and reduces the impact on a client. Last but not the only other gem in this course is the bald (not a joke Todd) fact that any photography business was, is and will always be based on the relationship between the photographer and the client. Building a relationship is the best marketing device any photographer, food stylist, entrepreneur or creative mind can develop. Other courses offered by CreativeLIVE also stress the relationship aspect of good businesses as their best marketing asset. I highly recommend this particular course for lovers of (in no preferred order) food, photography and life. Thank you for reading and I hope you find your voice in all things. FJH...


Diane and Todd are amazing! They've held nothing back when giving the rest of us an honest, detailed look into what it means to be a food photographer. I've seen many seminars on the topic from different companies and photographers and this one is my favourite. I love their no fuss approach to food photography. It leaves me feeling like food photography is manageable without having to fuss with cameras and lighting gear that are outside of my budget. I love that Diane often mentions how there's more to food photography than the plated dish. And Todd is just adorable and has the cutest laugh! They're a fantastic team that are engaging and make it easy to learn from them. Highly recommend purchasing this course!

MAlisa NIcolau

I loved this class and how Todd and Diane taught it. It was very personal and inspiring, with lots of insight and tips. This is not a camera technical class, but more an artistic, motivational and visual food photography learning environment. Their examples on how to set up scenes and stories behind the food and people involved are very enlightening. They gave me a lot of great ideas and hope that I, one day, will become as good of a photographer as they both are. Great team!!!!

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