I already told you it was wonderful, but it was wonderful. I learned so much. We were hosted in this amazing bookshop, the Heirloom Book Company. I highly, highly encourage you to go and check it out. You won't be sorry. Their website is delightful. Not quite as delightful as the shop itself, but close.
I wish we had one here.
In some ways, it's hard for me to write about the workshop itself. The day was such a mix of impressions and sensations. I always, always wish I'd taken more pictures to share with you here. I'm sure I was a little intimidated (!), but I also just wanted to experience the day. Soak it in, you know? But the space itself was lovely. They closed the shop for us. Along with Helene, there were about eight or nine of us taking the class, a complete mix of skill and varied interests. We spent the first half of the day going over a wonderful presentation that Helene had prepared. Everyone staring into their laptops, taking notes. I learned so much in that small space of time. Important, technical stuff. Stuff I had a sense about generally, but that I could start to apply specifically to my work. I'll try to explain a bit more in a moment.
After one, we stopped for lunch. And lunch! I was too busy embarrassing myself by diving face-first in the food to take pictures of lunch. But we had the quinoa salad that Helene had recently featured on her blog, three different quiches and a gorgeous antipasti plate from a local restaurant called Lana. The food was simply another amazing component of this already thrilling day.
My mom had said that I would meet all sorts of interesting people, and I did. I was, as you could probably imagine, thrilled to meet Helene. And you know that kind of worry that you have when meeting someone that you've long admired? That, almost afraid to say it out loud kind of worry: what if I don't like her? Well, sure, that was there a little. Because how sad if I didn't? I needn't have fretted one bit. She's delightful. Warm and vivacious. A wonderful storyteller. All the life you see in her photos, well, it's right there in her personality. The camera, even though she's behind it, brings that out, I think. There were college students there, and another food blogger from A Scrumptious Life. A woman from Le Creuset (Hello? Are those harps I hear? Only my favorite cookware!), and a photographer (our lone male representative!) who photographs interiors in Charleston. A woman from Turkey who blogs about Turkish food and another young woman who is a photographer and works for the Historical Preservation Society of Charleston...she had on some awesome flats that I pretty much coveted the whole time, but that's a story for another day. The recent winner of Food Network's Cupcake Wars and owner of Cupcrazed Bakery was there so she could take better photos of her cupcakes (and lo and behold, I discovered that her runner-up was Norfolk's own Carolina Cupcakery!), and I nearly fell out of my seat (you laugh, but it's true) when Helene introduced one of our classmates, Sara Foster of Foster's Market, gourmet food markets in the Durham/Chapel Hill area and author of some of our family's all time favorite cookbooks. She was so classy and reserved, that I tried really hard to pick myself up off the floor and not gush, but when we were sitting together at lunch, how could I not thank her for feeding my family for years and years and years. I tried to keep it cool, though. But you know what my mom says? The south has it going on. And she's right.
After lunch, Helene demonstrated some food styling for us, using baba ganoush and a hamburger. Tricky things those. The goal is to see how to build a story and learn how to style both the pretty food and the ugly food.
And then we were let loose. This part was really, really hard for me actually. I got a little frozen. All those props to choose from, not to mention surfaces like table tops and cutting boards and things like silverware...lordy, I could go on and on and on. And then you pick the food you want to work with! Berries and beets and bread and olives and herbs and salads. Too! Many! Options! I was stymied with indecision. I know I just walked around for a little bit, looking and feeling dazed.
So we spent the afternoon like this. Grabbing food from one table, grabbing props from another. Checking in on each other's work. Helene would spend time with each of us (And when she came to check on me, I had only props - no food. Figures!) and offer suggestions. I wish I could have chatted with her longer, but even so, I learned a lot.
Here's Helene holding a bounce (reflector) for Sara and (I think) checking the results.
When I told my dad the story about this weekend and how wonderful and supportive the whole community and especially Helene was, he noted how remarkable it was to find someone so willing to not only share her talent with the other photographers but how special it was that she was so committed to teaching and encouraging us. And she was. She offered criticism and construction in its truest form, the kind that moves you forward and builds you up instead of bringing you down. And even though I was dazed by the end of the day (!), I was completely fulfilled and encouraged too. What a gift. I truly believe that what you put out to the world comes back to you, and that Helene's whole spirit will bring her much. It already has.
By the end of the day, the prop table was a mess and we were all chatting like old friends. Everyone was exchanging business cards (although I don't actually HAVE any yet) and chatting happily. That was nice. Helene encouraged everyone to keep asking questions and wouldn't let anyone help clean up.Here, specifically, is what I learned. I need to decrease my ISO; I rely on the high numbers too much, I'm afraid. And I need not fear decreasing my shutter speed, BUT! I have to stop being lazy and use the wonderful tripod that Neel and Callum got me for Mother's Day. If I'm in the studio for crying out loud, why not get it out? I learned how to change the focus point on my camera and what apertures to use for a lot of food photography. I learned that I want to try shooting in AP, not just manual, and I'm going to experiment with how to shoot to get the steam rising out of a hot cup of coffee. It's a lot. Make any sense? It feels particular to me, so it may not be your cup of tea. I focused SO much on the light that my mind got fuzzy on the rest of the stuff (thank goodness for her wonderful PDF!). I should probably do this workshop again.
Here's what else I learned. This feels very, very right for me. I have this sense that there is a path in front of me, and this weekend I took a big step on that path. Helene said, "food is humanity." She's right. I think the reason I end up photographing my food so much is because it's such a big part of caring for myself and my family. I know the time is coming for me to fine tune my goals as a photographer. Is it food photography? I don't know, yet. All I know is that I'm going to keep doing what I'm doing and the rest will figure itself out.