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Interview with Ethan Stowell

Lesson 28 from: Story on a Plate: Food Photography & Styling

Todd Porter and Diane Cu

Interview with Ethan Stowell

Lesson 28 from: Story on a Plate: Food Photography & Styling

Todd Porter and Diane Cu

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Lesson Info

28. Interview with Ethan Stowell


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Lesson Info

Interview with Ethan Stowell

So I'm chase I'm the co founder of creative live I find it super super exciting to always be able to stick my nose into the classes whenever I can I've been paying attention what you guys have been doing congratulations on a great class so far I have the very good fortune of knowing ethan stole ethan is a legend in the restaurant world here nationally and specifically in seattle ways got ten restaurants in seattle and I happened to be a very, very small partner with him in one that's a block from my house which was no accident that zach called market where you guys and I wanted to be able to connect ethan with the creative live audience I know you guys are planning on a little bit of q and a about working with ethan and I found a lot of gratitude toward ethan and his contributions to the communities also he runs the stadium, the food at the stadium the uses I think they've licensed your name toe because he's such a celebrity here in seattle for the mariners who wanted to come and have ...

a little bit more local and sustainable foods in the stadiums we help with that you sense a sense of humble eso is a man about town he was in my saddle one hundred project I don't have enough good things to say about him you should pay attention on the internet if you will he's also been recognized by the james beard foundation and number from ways and ways just super lucky to have you here created live and in seattle so take it away thanks thanks for coming instead of girl here and you know with steffy thing we were lucky to have a little bit of conversation with him in the hallway before we came in here we found that he is an awesome food stylist credit there chef I mean don't don't don't don't underestimate what you can do but he has a cookbook out amazing cookbook and he was talking about it and it's called the italian kitchen and he food styled every single dish way over website something like that and the west side so it's fun I mean I enjoy that's a nice it's a nice process is different than different cooking you know in in the kitchen and you know serving food when it's really fast paced thing you got to slow down a little bit more about attention to detail and you fear at shadows you know, plate quality and all kinds of different lighting scenarios since I mean it's a lot of fun to actually work on it you know? I mean we've done it with a donor with the same photographer probably literally probably two hundred times and he's fun to work with we get along really well and it's it just ends up being a really enjoyable experience to do tell us a little bit more about the great cookbook that I get my hands on way so it was a book we we did and it was never it was never really meant oh, you know, to be a source of revenue and like that it was really something so you have is a market material something you can easily give away for donations and something that's you know, every young cooks goal at some point is the publisher cookbook, so we have the opportunity to do that with ten speed press and they were great to work with and it was it was a fun project and lesley miller, the co author of myself we became good friends and I drank way too many o tio particularly everybody here we're all food photographers and just probably want to know more about the food photography in the book. But how long did it take you to shoot that we did it over? Probably about we did way did probably two hundred fifty dishes of which probably about one hundred fifty of murder in the book. So we did different locations. We did some up from the islands like so would the island we did some it into his knowledge as we did some house would use some of my parent's house where we're going to find good light, you know, you got it like overcast s so we did that we did that and it was probably turn pretty shots and each day you probably get six or eight in if you're if you're doing but you know, if you're going pretty fast eso whatever the math is on that ah there's a lot of people who aspire to shoot cookbooks and complex and it's great for them to know like it's not an overnight thing, it just takes so much time and planning it takes a lot of time for sure it's just like that it's all about the light. So you said that it's so light and having it even, you know the thing I think I've found that I like I like about the process is that is that you wanted to look really natural I mean, there's a lot of food stylist books out there that, uh, that try to glaze things and kind of, you know, set them in a certain way so that they're not going to reflect anything. I like the natural approach to it, you know, I like my food actually looked like food, you know? And I like, you know, like the you know, the freshness of the fish, you know, it would come through it's like for us it's not like, you know, if we're cooking halibut for a photo shoot we want to get the freshest halibut is going to come across as being the best is that you know everything this looks different when it's the freshest you know and and it's just been this makes the experience better you work with nice product, you know, sometimes it was a shoot those really quick you got to eat the food ah see you say that cause we've been kind of talking about over the last day and a half but we keep, like, pounding it in light light great ingredients and shooting fresh because that's our style tio it's just like that's what? Just feel so really and I think that's why we love you and your work and your food so much is it just feels really well, I think that's where you know you're so drawn and I like how you said that you become friends with the people that you work with. Yeah, the same photographer something we talked about you build that relationship photography is like so much about relationships. I mean, it's a menace is like anything else. I mean, if you're like in a kitchen and you know five cooks and they're working, if they all get along really well, the whole night's gonna go better and the whole experience for the customers me better all that energy is gonna translate and the same thing with the photo shoot you know, if you're if you and the few and the photographer are in sync and enjoying the day if you're not going to be american I have a tendency that you know the hurry through it you're gonna you're gonna take more time and you just like when you're cooking so much of how much you know how positive your mood is that day translates into things you know you want to go that extra step we're just like a little e just moving in you know, in english pea a quarter of an inch to the left could make a difference you know in all honesty is true I mean so through that way had internet and two people here were making us like change the way we talked about you like with food photography in particular is so much about those details it's like the details make the difference between being there or it's like that's it that's it like foods are vietnamese kind like bedhead don't you get a morning sometimes you like what I want but you get up in your hair's like ok, that looks pretty good too bad I gotta washington food the same thing that you wanted to look you wanted to look uh like you even though your every action was you know had purpose behind it you want to have it look like it was just kind of like laid out there, you know, not thrown out there kind of gently laid out there and it's this felt natural were so in sync right now you heard it from me and two we're not just talking crazies so it's awesome and we always want to know because you have an amazing family restaurants in their own neighbourhood restaurants and that's what we love to and I think that's what people resonate too because we're going to your your restaurants they feel so real and your photographs to feel so real they'd feel unique bates have their own personality their own lives, dates of their own identity at the same time there's an underlying continue it between them you know it's they you know it's again go in so I get how you're going to get a great experience will be a different experience but will be great so in terms of that how important is food photography to get to make it consistent across all your restaurants? Do you allow each rest straw to kind of have their own voice and the photography yeah, you know what's that write the will obviously think it's using because we, you know, have you used the same person and work with the same person for the last seven, seven, seven years now a little bit more than seventy years um um s o I obviously final to be hugely important because it's just like when you go out to dinner in the end you and you have ah here entree or your appetizer placed in front of the first interaction you have is visual so it's the same thing on the website in your hair and your photography in your book or you are on the website uh your first interaction is visual does it has to be that's just the first thing that happens you know visual happens and smells happened when you taste it touch it things like that but with site is the first thing you see um s o the answer the answer teo letting other people have their own voice yes, I do the people that are the chefs of the reference I think they should be in charge of it I go over in depth conversations with them but how did you do it and what you're looking for things like hey don't use too much salt and that in fact on vegetables you invest with values any soul you know you know you know accepting the initial blanching process of like peas or asparagus that kind of set the color we don't use a lot of acid because if you're using acid so you're doing a you know, an aqi tuna dish and you cut it it's got that really bright I like a naughty tuna has and it's really deeply assumes you squeeze lemon on it is going to start cooking it's going to come round so it's little things like that I kind of explain to him and if they haven't done it before, I tend to go with them and do it but I do want their food you know to come through you know I mean as far as faras guiding it you know I mean honestly there are role is is significant but it's less significant than a photographer because the photographers the one who's actually has the voice of how they handle things and you know what kind of backdrops they use where they you know what kind of lightning they prefer, how they commute things? S o you know, having having our star jeff who we work with his jeff smith live it loud dot com he's he's great, so he keeps our everything on the same level for us. So there's there's certainly different variations of things because obviously the food market is certainly differently through the stable in fancy and have a lot of different than anchovies olives so but all these things are different, but they know that you know, it has a common thread message through the work that jeff does and we know you're on twitter because we've been twittering out to you the last way twitter because everybody's so excited that you're here but you know social media so huge now and burning and marketing and we know photography at least with us working with clients like they use a huge part of photography and social media so how important it is to you guys and your family and it's huge it's huge because they think it's you know I mean you know I'm a big believer in positive impressions you wanna have some sort of an impact or or or or message to somebody you just want to remind them the year there so if you're talking about sending out you know on instagram picture or something like that it's it's it's something that's you know that's their they open it up they look at it they see it and so that's the you know he goes back to what I said the first time you know photography's of is the is the first sense you use when you're eating I went after the site is the first thing you see s o you know whether it's you know in a cookbook on our website you know on a facebook post or whatever it may be sight huge you know people that knows nothing better than people of knowing what they're gonna get you know hey that looks really good I want to go get that so yeah it's it's the it's the last one to see you know social media you can't you know maybe one day we will but of scratches stiffs moans can t o meet you there in that for me maybe maybe you can tap into like the cool one day one of the questions so many students have and everybody online is is they ask is is the food real and obviously you've already established that everything is really everything is fresh the question is once you see the photo do you ever make changes? Do you ever decide that because the photo didn't look good that you might wanna work on the rescue a little bit more water plating we've done we've done um I guess the simple answer is is is you see where you make me might make some changes next time you know I'm a believer in letting letting letting it be natural so what once we've done it we've done it you know? So you know I mean you're not coming tonight we don't do a lot of you know there's obviously some editing it's like there's too much broth pulling up in one area or the soup kind of slosh this way you know race that a little bit but uh you know you see it and you and you learn what works I mean you know I mean, you know that's how that's how I learned to do my own personal food stein was looking at the photographs and fair what I did wrong you know so far is for my own education you know, you go back and look at the work you've done, and I think if you look if there was some way that there probably is, but if you could figure out all the food styling I did along the way, I would guess that that it's progress, you know, I would maxim sure had but, you know, it definitely progresses over time and you understand how things work a little bit better each time you do it, so yeah, I mean, it might be changing dishes on the menu based upon photographs, right? Not a lot, you know? Probably not a lot, but I am I'm changing how how I personally style food, so for your cookbook, when you're developing your recipes because it cookbook is so visual we're selling based on the photo, they can't really taste it right away like they go in the restaurant, so when you're developing those recipes, are you thinking about photography and foot styling to became about how it could photograph? No, I think I think I think are you know, I don't think this isn't this isn't to say that we do he thinks anything, anything extraordinary special I think our style of food uh, is a very food, photography friendly stab of food there's a lot of fresh things, not a lot of like spice rubs or you know you know big you know big pure azour foams and things like that that are doing it's just natural looking food and it's so I think that's I think that's what that's where you know where are our style it is you know comes through you know like things and things like you know instead of instead of pay attention to a bunch of really heavily involved sauces are hugely involved dishes way want to make sure that we're slicing radishes it's a perfect slice or if we're cutting asparagus it's a perfect cut so that you know that that's kind of where I think that we where where where where? It's where it's it's very friendly to photography but you make a great point it's not just friendly because it's fresh and like food photography becomes so much easier when it's fresh you know when you want to focus on shooting fake food or complicated things it makes photography more complicated so that's really great times those visually interesting ingredients they're delicious there's a reason why the visual interesting that that color those pops they bring flavor into the dishes too so it's like you're sorry to give it's like the two were working together even though they don't even know if that's right? Yeah, I mean and like things like, you know when ain't everybody's head english peas and eat him and they're super sweet and fresh uh this been simply blanche a little bit of salty water those are delicious and translates to you know, you know, to a photograph really well, when it's late in the season and the and the and the peas are a little bit tough, they're kind of woody there a little bit overgrown that's when it looks rough place so if you're doing things you know, it's and it's a very natural things were very much in tune with nature, we're doing things at their peak then you're just gonna you're gonna be you and me in a good spot and you know, you haven't seen any of the images yet you have just won hee yeah, I guess I get a little bit I said don't use a lot of acid and a lot of soul, okay, yeah, you weren't there. So what do you want to share some images with you? And we have them in print for you to share and also this is an opportunity for you to critique chef joe's food styling skills. I will I did not touch anything. Okay, well, I'll critique it was joe and monica, they're great sports about doing them, they're really excited about that actually, and before you know if you can see his socks, it has like that that was awesome socks, he's rock, so yeah I show you again seen has not seen anybody not be sure I just saw a little bit so remember food styling is not me but if I don't they're really nice people like them like them that's when did better who did better monica they're both great you had to pick one no e fire one super cute one superhot okay so you got good looking chefs so part of what we do with clients is once we photograph a lot of images we put them in what's cuddle storyboard so that way kind of helps the agency of their client be able to see the images in a different way based on our perspective so it's not just something that's so literal on a plate it's everything else within the environment to help boost the story of the plate so we put a little storyboard for this crispy skin fish dish uh was a skin crispy enough? Yeah, sorry jail because it does the uh I think they look great. I think that there's a couple of things that I probably would have done a little bit differently but but nothing big by any means I mean, you know, it certainly looks like like that's my favorite picture which is the hand holding a plate yep. Handling the plate I like that picture because it's down and it's got a very clear vision and every every kind of color picked you know kind of pops and it's and I love action shots really? Okay, I'm biting and thus I think it's great you know and and and this one's an awesome picture to love that we have a lot for you to to see later but these are just some of the ones that we picked up because he felt this was kind of the story of the crispy what is the actual name of the dish we just call it crispy fish people it's stable fish abel abel fish and you know the truth I mean there's radishes meant pete jeez, I don't know what the puree is. I'm guessing it's some sort of like a mentally or something along those lines that's what looks like it looks like right so that joe's not fired yet e monica's chop gentlemen to do with two way to keep them out of the conversation we're gonna have trouble up there. That picture looks great in that format. Yeah, yeah, the way we like to do this story board in the mood board because it helps convey the story it's nice to be a few feet back. Yeah, great. So you can look I'll give you the print version you could look at that that's actually a great point was like different picked or different pictures will like better in different continents lighting like the lighting right years totally different planet that's why? You know we could always try to show a different format so I can give you the print or you can look around the next one but this is the thie ceviche dish I think of how much of it and actually here it is up here with a little cilantro wise that's a delicious dish but I have it so good how's the plating is the ice to milty no no no I think it looks good I think it looks good it's not it's, not it's, not nothing at all of them then the bomb we had to shoot that like place I'm sure thiss monica's this is monica's dish this is monica says she did great. Did you decide to make a really hard thing? This mean here where you got food coming up? I'm gonna do some ice no I'm way love heart stuff but that's the story of the machi especially with their plating in the bottom left hand corner to you we like a little a lot of that activity shot definitely love hands and there I love wood and things you know you have the floor there say that your floor yeah, you know, if you saw the video clip that we were doing yoga that's joe's hand corner do in dog pose going like this we'll get that I was over there with a minute trying do not cramp up you know, trying to get that because we do we love that activity because adding a little bit of that movement or attention within a frame really makes it so real so much more interesting you know, I mean just background things at least a little little thing about having a knife there you know? I mean that's awesome, you know, and just little things like monica's tattoo you see down here so good a little bit of personalities as monica and then that was joe marking up with the menu because we want to give that little bit of show the menu without making it feel so literal like boom here's a menu so we had a market out make it feel like chef was kind of working and changing or whatever it is he's doing the menu for the day so good thing did good they did good, so we did some portraiture some pretty shots of your people here this's a lesson for everybody else to kind of show different ways to capture portraiture its not just in like pretty smiley faces like we have in the bottom right hand quarter but they're a little more intimate it a little more still life little more natural smile and wave good these two pictures here you know what we did to get a smile? I know it wasn't don't you said do you like your job she was just like you are a great no but I mean they were just really great and part of it too is to show the people that work with you know, the restaurant both and like really formal what we call a safe shot you know kind of the formal thing but also that kind of very natural state because we know because your restaurant and your people they're just so real and so natural so we felt that you know you got to get to safe shot for clients and that's what we teach but also getting them in their four men I feel like the top right hand corner of monica that's her just kind of kind of an artist and quiet kind of like does her thing and her is that she has such a nice smile she does hair super cute yeah she's having long hair because booth bottle left one feels like a like a jean commercial or something like that you have that look you know but it's still a great a different interpretation of portraiture is what we show and you know you had great people to start with so you hired good looking people thank you and go home but if you wear those socks will get a job right away and then this is another one of just still life um restaurant detail because that restaurant is small it's only twenty eight if person tiny so we tried the best I could six hundred square feet I almost never including the kitchen it's, including kitchen and the bathroom way. We're really up against the wall. I almost broke three glasses, but he didn't chase owns a piece of me. Oh, yeah, here it is on screen capturing those different still life, you know, including movement to having monica move back and forth. She was a sport I'm trying to give her as many props as possible. She was a robot for, like, five minutes back trying to get that shot shooting on the floor again capturing the ever popular wall that you have there but shooting a top down with light coming down. So that's your that's as much as we could catch in that eight hundred square feet, I mean it's so tiny it is it's just incredible is amazing how you fight there is there is, though it's amazing how you rent us a successful restaurant. We have to always do a black the white interpretation of images because sometimes people think food photography can't happen in black and white, it should always be in color. So this is a mock up to kind of give clients an idea or others an idea of how some images can work it's so cruel of the apron saying, yeah what's going on you like that it's like it's like they were done years that's what you like the aprons to you like wait oh my god I've just been talking about aprons like diane get over the apron talk okay let's teach me something different she's gonna move on his shoes next so yeah that's created and you have you ever used black and whites here we haven't we haven't um uh not for any particular reason you know I mean we just haven't done it wave when there's been kind of in color the restaurant is just so visual for black and white especially with the light coming in and the cars they graze in the black shadowing it has a clean lines to everything it just really give it up give it a few years banged up a little bit it actually looks better so you paid big money to get banged up stuff way and this is just one of the hero shots that we point out that probably what everyone's favorite the floor called the wiggle wiggle ingredient wiggle wiggle you get e have a craft beer from it but yeah just a highlight your fresh ingredients to the goals ok they use so many fresh ingredients colorful ingredients how can we highlight them toward it doesn't look like the typical farmer's market basket so being at being showing like less is more there's not a lot of ingredients is just a little bit the little bits and pieces of everything and injecting that little bit of motion tip it broken off there. I don't know I didn't do it. I can tell right on this, I think that's a really good photo shop it like you pick up a tip of the knife you're like this's very depressing. Maybe it looks like maybe maybe just used because he's busy he's worked so hard to make good food. So our team, jos this's. Probably my favorite shot because it's, just something that really I feel exemplifies the story of marketing. Kind of the personality and the branding and the simplicity and the wonderful vision. You guys. Hey, prints wear on the same page, you it's an awesome picture. Little scooter. Got check, presenter, lets get this is the sharpie pen in a kitchen. Apron is like super awesome it's red. There are, like killers rented, but it's a good job. And that was monica right down there. Because if you caught in the cell in the video, we were trying to put as many different things that had market, innit? Some of them work. Some didn't. But this was just this one's awesome. This because it's, this feels real because, like the pen, is a nice detail in an apron, because every chef has a pen right there because they're labeling things dating things they want things to be fresh of you know the more you know about what day they came in, you know, so that's good that's awesome and this has got it feels good but it has a little bit of a weather it's like it's been presented a few times it wasn't intentional it just felt real and that's part of it, everything was so real none of the aprons were stage two step they just set it up we needed a third one so they just put it up we didn't bust with it or mess with it some people if they looked at they would say, well, can you fix this and that and and we don't want to do that because it feel like that was no it's great it's great. You guys glad you like that? Because I was talking about a different e no, I yeah sometimes but but if you like a princess right picture budget like it well, gosh, you know, thank you so much for allowing us to take over your restaurant for four hours. Thanks. Thanks a ton. Experience on a place yeah, we've got some questions over here way sure do always questions I would love to start with you guys you guys have any questions for ethan? And when you think about it, we got one from the internet enters day. When we just announced that that you were going to be here, this crowd, they're like a way to get through it. You have done a lot for the city, and I am pleased to live here way I, you're up here, and I feel very committed to seattle on. We want to make sure the city's head to the right direction, and, you know, every little part we could do to, you know, to get involved, we do. Simple is that way. Don't we don't think of ourselves as a cz, huge members of the community, but we feel like we're you know, we're one of the worker bees that's down there, trying to make this city great.

Class Materials

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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!!!!

Student Work