I recently had the privilege to attend Narroway Studio’s 2-day food photography and styling workshop. It would be an understatement to say I had the best time. So I thought I’d share my thoughts and the highlights from the weekend. Enjoy!
Intro to the workshop
I was nervous on the way to the studio, this being my first in-person food photography workshop.
Upon stepping into the studio I was in awe. Seeing it in photos was so different to experiencing in real life – and yes – I was fangirling over Emily, Issy and apparently the studio as well.
One of the most exciting bits was the prop area which was full of gorgeous plates, bowls, platters, cutlery, flowers, literally everything you could have asked for. I was in heaven.
The day started with Issy giving an overview of camera basics. She also lovingly calls her Nikon camera Nick. The usual aperture, ISO, shutter speed as well as Capture One and setting up your tripod.
At this point my concern grew that I had made a mistake enrolling an all-abilities workshop. But I remained hopeful.
Issy talked about the different prime lenses she uses. Like many food photographers, Issy uses mostly her prime lenses and nowadays rarely uses her zoom lens. It surprises me that this is the case but since getting my 50mm for my Fuji XT-4, I am rather used to not having the ability to zoom now.
Next we went onto food styling – yay! My favourite part of the workshop for sure.
Emily went on to discuss why bircher was a good choice for beginners because it’s able to sit out for longer without dying, which makes sense. Along with the bircher was a spread of slivered almonds, chopped pistachios and gorgeous roast apricots. There was also a bottle of maple syrup for good measure.
Some of Emily’s other tips included:
- Bring the food and garnishes to the shooting area and style there. This means you capture all the beautiful drips, spills and crumbs that naturally result from styling
- Fill bowls to varying amounts to add interest and create a more realistic sense of story
- Add the cutlery last
- Dip the bottom of a coffee cup into a plate of coffee to create the marks on the table – my favourite tip!
We worked in pairs to style and shoot our own bircher mueslis. I have complained in the past that styling demos often use naturally photogenic foods, and are therefore easier to make look good. But the muesli itself was pretty standard, porridgy looking and it was the fruit and garnishes that brought it to life. In particular the vibrant orange from the apricots.
I had a lot of fun composing the scenes and telling a story with the different props. Though I noticed that I was defaulting to a lot of my usual compositions.
Emily gave a useful tip on thinking about composition as ‘leading the eye into the frame, then out of the frame’. With this in mind I experimented with other layouts and resulted in one of my favourite images from the weekend [image].
After a delicious (and I mean, DELICIOUS) lunch, we moved onto shooting fresh produce. Ingredient shots are something I lack in my portfolio so I knew I needed to get the most I could out of this session.
The first set up included beautiful produce from Natoora – fresh green peas in their pods, pink borlotti beans and cavlo nero. With produce this stunning naturally it was hard to go wrong, right? Sure…
Emily and Issy noted quite accurately that ingredients was something students often struggled with and I can understand why. The irregular shapes of produce is trickier than the round bowls and plates, so composition-wise they are trickier.
I wanted to play with the beautiful greens and pink of the vegetables. Pink and green being contrasting colours lent beautifully to having all the produce together. I also wanted to try a monochromatic colour palette with the pink borlotti beans. I couldn’t help it, I love pink! And these borlotti beans were just something else!
Girl’s taco night – tablescape demo
Today’s first shoot was veggie tacos with a vast selection fillings and toppings. And when I say vast, I mean vast!
Issy and Emily demonstrated how to style and compose a large tablescape, while regularly checking the tethered screen. They created the scene in the following order:
- Choose and place the backdrop – in this case they used a light pink linen
- Compose the crockery (plates, bowls etc.) but not the cutlery
- Add the ingredients in different plates, bowls, trays
- Style each plate from where that person would eat (i.e. sit at the table setting and style from there)
- Add cutlery
- Pour beverages
- Shoot and adjust where needed
For capturing human interaction, Anishka and I volunteered to be the people in the scene. We were directed to interact with the food the way you would normally at a dinner party. Actually serve yourself, drink, and eat! I have to say it surprised me that these interactions weren’t staged for the camera, but it did make sense to do it this way. It also ensured that everything looked and felt natural on camera.
Individual meringues with cherries
The last setup of the day (boo) was individual meringues with a cornucopia of complementary components:
- Meringue/pavlova nests
- Sesame brittle
- Roasted cherries
- Chopped pistachios
- Pink champagne
The swirl is something that Emily gets hired to do, it’s that much of a signature. So you can imagine how excited I was to see this demo.
She demonstrates how she uses plain yogurt to ripple a delicate ribbon of cherry juice by first swirling the yogurt, then adding the juice bit by bit. It’s hard to describe in words, but essentially it’s an ‘S’ shape (if just keeping yogurt) with lots of little ocean-wave-type ripples once you’ve added the cherry juice.
I love playing with things like this. This, frosting, hummus, anything that can be smoothed and unsmoothed I love. I love it so much that I lost the ripples entirely and ended up making cherry yogurt, oops!
Afterwards we had a demo of an angled camera setup and a meringue styling, which I enjoyed a lot. It was a nice change from the overhead shots we’d done for all the other setups. Watching Issy and Emily work together swiftly and seamlessly was like watching a choreographed dance. It compounded for me how much I love food photography and inspired me to want to continue to learn and improve.
What a weekend! As my first food photography workshop I couldn’t have asked for a better experience. Meeting my heroes, amazing food, making new friends and photos for my portfolio all in a span of two days.
Saying goodbye was a bit emotional for me.
For anyone considering attending a food photography workshop, I would highly recommend Narroway Studio. One caveat would be that in my opinion, the workshop would benefit photographers that are slightly more experienced than a complete beginner. The workshop has a good balance between the food photography side as well as the food styling side and it gives you the opportunity to try both if you’re unsure of which path you want to take. Issy and Emily are absolute masters in their craft and were always open to any questions or concerns.
Want to find out more about food styling?
Here are some of my other food styling resources:
Sunday Styling School – a monthly newsletter focusing on a stying a specific dish