Real Food Styling & Photography Workshop

I had the most amazing day on Saturday because I went to a photography workshop with photographer, blogger, and cookook author Matt Armendariz of Matt Bites

…and his partner, Adam Pearson, a food stylist.

Matt and Adam have credentials and a client list a mile long.  Some of Matt’s clients include the Cooking Channel, Coastal Living Magazine, Culture, The Wall Street Journal, Time Magazine.  Adam’s client list includes Crate & Barrel, Kohls, Food Network, Los Angeles Magazine, Chiquita, and Whole Foods Market.  I mention this so you can get a handle on just how amazing these two are!  Matt’s book is also coming out in May!


The careful handoff of food from food stylist’s built and styled food to photograhper’s hands

Adam and Matt are both wonderful!  They are both extremely patient, low key, funny, fun, down to earth, highly creative, intelligent, great teachers, and are just both amazing and I look forward to working with them in the future.  I know I will.  I simply must!

The day started off with a breakfast and coffee and then we learned how to build a burger.  Adam demonstrated what goes into building and styling a burger for the camera.

Those grill marks are pressed on with blow torch-heated soldering wire. “Swiss” Cheese is created by making holes in “regular” American cheese with a mini melon baller.  Necessity is the mother of invention.

The cheese is melted with a steam iron

Buns are toasted with a mini old-fashioned paint stripper

There is far too much to cover about how to build a burger but we were given patties, lettuce, cheese, tomatoes, onions, pickles, fries, chips, salt and pepper, buns, and various blow torches for toasting the buns and were left to create and build our own burgers for the camera.  They were thoughtful enough to include Boca Burgers and grilled portobella mushrooms for anyone who did not want to handle meat.  Very nice!

After I built and styled my burger, it was time to take pictures.  But first, Matt set up his shot.

They frequently shoot teathered, meaning the images are shot and directly visible on-screen.  Easy to do with Photoshop or Lighroom 3 as I’ve discussed.

I took 269 pictures on Saturday.

Here are some of my burger shots with a portabello mushroom burger.

Note the massive glare on the tomato.  Light bounce city. That’s why shooting soup is tricky, too.  One big reflective surface can be hard to photograph well.

After some twists and turns with the plate, and reflecting the light with foam core board and small mirrors, these images are better

It’s only fitting that tomatoes played such a starring role in my burger because I eat one per day.  And I hate onions so no onions on my burger.

Everyone’s burgers were built and styled differently.  Here’s a couple classmates’ burger shots that I quickly snapped.

After burger photography was over, we learned how to work with noodles and pasta and build a bowl or plate of pasta.

Making those perfect noodle swirls is all about just wrapping them in your fingers, getting messy and playing with your food, and experimentation.

Noodles in all kinds of shapes, red and white sauces, tomatoes, herbs, oil, and more were provided.

Here are some of my best shots.  (I edited them very slightly in Lightroom, just a little cropping and boosting the brightness in places.  Very gentle, tiny edits. Nothing major, at all.)

Matt setting up pasta and a shot.  My bowl and a classmate’s bowl off in the background. I was waiting to use the distressed wood plank for my shot.

Finally, after burgers and pasta (and a catered lunch from Whole Foods that Matt & Adam brought in) it was time to make dollops.

Those are the perfect whip cream mounds that are so beautiful to look at.  We did not pipe them with a pastry bag.  Rather they were made with spoons and containers of generic Cool Whip.

Here is the dessert with dollops that created and photographed.

I went for height with a mint garnish and lots of blueberries and raspberries scattered.  I’m tall, remember, so height was fitting.

Getting the movement in the actual dollop is tricky so that it doesn’t just look like one big blob


This image was shot off the tripod.  99% of my pictures I took on Saturday using a tripod.

Everyone was given angel food cake and whipped topping and what you did with it was your choice.  Here’s what some of my classmates did.

Adam and Matt were also cleaning out some of their props and we had a chance to grab a few of their cast-offs.  Score!

Pair of bowls from Anthropologie.  Nice castoffs!

Vintage little creamer/pitcher and bowl

Matt and Adam have a studio with props, dishes, linens, light bounce reflectors, boards, planks, gadgets, tools, you name it, it just goes on and on.   And they have a full kitchen and full photography studio, all in one.  On two levels! It’s an amazing space and they were gracious enough to let us use anything we wanted.   I wish I could move in.

My new friend and awesome girl, Gaby, stopped by the studio with some recent food she created and wanted to photograph in studio.  I snapped a quick shot of her whole wheat pretzel bites and monkey bread.  Yum!

I learned more in one day at the workshop than I can even put into words!

Take away messages, for me:

There are 4 things that you need to be able to do if you want to create great photographs (this is not from the workshop per se but crystallizes what I have always believed):

come up with and create recipes

cook the food

be able to plate or build the food artistically

photograph the food

If you fail at any of the steps, your finished images will suffer.  This is why being a truly successful food blogger is hard work!  There are 4 distinct, key, critical steps.  You fail at any?  You’re book deal is dead.  Kidding.  Well, kind of.

Take away messages specifically from the workshop:

This workshop focused on real food that you can eat (not fake, plastic, i.e. acrylic ice cubes, or heavily “doctored up” food.  Quite the opposite of the food in this food styling book, or this book, both of which I’ve recently reviewed).

The workshop also focused on using real light, not fake studio lights and all kinds of crazy setups.

Basically, real food, real light, things you can take with you back to your real life.

I loved being artistic and building and plating the food.  That part came pretty easy to me.  Although Adam may have another opinion.  Ha!

I loved learning the photography aspect and honing that skill.   Setting up my shot, playing with light, playing with camera angles, learning how to use a tripod, that is all new and wonderful!  For me, given the lighting challenges of my house, I need to get a tripod (as I suspected)

Recipe development and recipe creation is something I’ve done since the beginning of my blog, a couple years ago, so that part is not new.  It’s incorporating that with the other two aspects that really challenges me.  I think it challenges anyone!

Don’t use flash with food.  Not new but bears repeating.

Don’t front-light your food (back-lit or side-lit is much more flattering)

Make light bounces inexpensively with foam core board and mirrors

Walk around the food, look at it from all angles

Create movement and texture in the food

Tell a story with your food/image

Don’t be afraid to play with the food, get messy, try things, experiment

Have fun!

The workshop was one of the best things I’ve done in ages!

It was one of those days, a single day in time, that I will never forget because I learned so much.

From my last post about easy and fast homemade Rice Pudding with Raisins, I’m glad you liked the looks of the recipe and thanks for telling me if you’re a pudding fan or not.

I am happy to report that Foodgawker liked this recipe and photo and accepted it.  The funny thing is, I shot this about a week ago and after my workshop yesterday, I see so much room for improvement!


1.  Have you ever taken an amazing workshop?  What was it and why was it amazing?

2. Have you ever had a day in your life that you will always remember because it was so profound?  Or that you learned so much in that day?  What was it and why?

Not comparing my wedding day or Skylar’s birth with a food and photography workshop, but those are days that come to mind as being highly special, of course.

However, this workshop was such a lightbulb moment kind of day!  I am left questioning my life path.  I wonder if all that education and credentials I just posted about matters.  I know it matters, but art and creating things and being creative matters to me just as much!  I am going to find a way to really pursue this newfound passion and I can’t wait to see where it all takes me!

3. Best thing you’ve done or eaten this weekend?

Clearly for me, the workshop.  I know this was a long post, and if you made it this far, thanks for reading.  I wanted to document it thoroughly not only for you, but so I can go back and re-live this day, for myself, too.

P.S. If you’re just catching up on posts from the weekend, here are mine since Friday:

Have a great week, everyone!

98 comments on “Real Food Styling & Photography Workshop”

  1. Your photos look GREAT! Food photography is so fascinating… how lucky you were to be able to see the “pros” in action!

  2. This was such a fun post to read. That looks like my dreeeam Saturday! I love workshops like that where you get to learn one on one (or in a small group). I always learn the most that way!

  3. What a wonderful workshop! It looks like you had a great time learning from some a very talented duo. Thank you for sharing all your shots and tips. This post left me with a lot to contemplate for my own photographs.

  4. gosh that looks like an amazing learning experience!

    I definitely need to find one like it here in Chicago because I need to learn how to properly use my camera and how to find natural light in my garden apt!
    I don’t think I’ve ever been to an amazing workshop although going to a book talk given by Brendan Brazier (author of Thrive and creator of Vega) was pretty neat.
    Best thing I ate this weekend was our homemade BBQ cheddar and veggie pizza! :)

  5. thanks for sharing your experience and giving us some take-away tips!

  6. Averie that workshop sounds like so much fun! There seems to be so much to learn — yikes!

    I’ve had a few very special days, lightbulb days like you describe — the day when I kind of “realized” that Jason was the one for me and I can still remember just the flood of emotions that came upon me when that happened! Also, the Dave Ramsey debt seminars were definitely eye opening moments for me, and we’ve turned that passion into bettering our lives and hopefully helping out some others as well!

    Best thing over the weekend — the kettlecorn and rum/cokes at the Twins game on Friday!

  7. what a FUN workshop! I have never been to a photography workshop but I’d love to! and I can’t wait to get my copy of Matt’s new book! :D

    the best thing I ate this weekend… Jason and I went to our favorite Italian restaurant last night and I had the most amazing Caesar salad… Mmm… one of those dinners you think about and crave again for days after!

    Have a great week, Averie! congrats again on another foodgawker – always so exciting!

  8. How fun! So happy you had such an amazing experience.

  9. OMG!!!!! I am seriously BLOWN away by your photographs. I think this is one of the most beautiful pics I have seen you take ( and that says a lot coming from a vegan! bahaha. I’ve seen such a dramatic change in your photos and it is so inspiring to see you dive into this with such passion. One thing I have not done is ‘read up’ on food styling, but now you totally have me wanting to! I can’t wait to learn more.

    • Angela, thank you. So much. This means the world coming from you..that you can see drastic changes and that you love my burger pic. If it makes you feel better, it was a portabello mushroom burger :)

      Reading up on food styling…well….ok so I linked two books in my post that I have read and reviewed and they are fine…but…many of the books, even new ones, are very ‘old school’ and follow too many rules and arent really applicable. There is such a difference styling oatmeal for a blog than there is styling avocados for a huge print ad campaign so altho the books are helpful, I think you’re doing just fine and you dont need to go out of your way to buy books sort of thing :)

  10. averie, your enthusiasm just shines through in your recap of the course! thanks for taking the time to compose this post…it must have taken ages. i really enjoyed seeing your photos, but even moreso, it was helpful to read the tips you share. i am a REAL photo newbie…like the tip to not use a flash with food was news to me – haha!
    and i just give you a huge thumbs up about your desire/interest in how to pursue this newfound passion and interest in creative photography – go for it!
    SO GLAD you had a great time!

  11. Averie, your photos look beautiful! Wow, simply amazing to watch the progression you’ve made in a few short months. I’m so glad you had such a fabulous time at the workshop.

    Days as you described include the day I taught my first full Yoga class (the practical exam portion of my teacher training.) It was a profound day in many ways, and a definite turning point. I even said on that day, “I think this is the first day of the rest of my life.” This turned out to be so very true!

    I actually took a great Pilates mat workshop this weekend myself. It was awesome to learn so much, and I’m very much looking forward to applying the knowledge and learning lots more.

    Here’s to lifelong learning!

    Now excuse me while I got make some dinner, since your photos made me hungry ;-)

  12. YAy, this was so interesting AND your pictures are simply stunning!! :)
    I REALLY want to do a photography course, it was on my 31 things at 31!! :) Fingers crossed I can find a cool one like this!

  13. so so so great to meet you yesterday!!! xoxo

  14. Wow Averie, this workshop sounds INCREDIBLE! This is exactly what you were looking for with REAL food styling. Thank you so much for sharing what you learned. Your pictures from the event look amazing! I’m always admire the dedication, passion, and joy you have in whatever it is you do – food photography in this case. :)

  15. What an awesome workshop, but you only took 269 pictures? :-P So many great pics and info here, wow!

    1. The Foodbuzz session was okay with helpful hints and I’ve been to classes and workshops in college, probably nothing like this. :-)
    2. Sure, many days.Many through volunteering for animal shelters, house builds, hospitals, etc. Just meeting other people who care about strangers and are willing to spend so much time and resources to help them is very profound.
    3. Took my grandma out for the birthday and accomplished a lot in the garden.

  16. Incredible!
    I’m so happy that you had a great day more than anything! Your enthusiasm shines through.

    Those are 4 very hard steps. Because…it would become a full-time job?!!

    Are you striving for a book in your future by the way? Based on recipes, etc?

  17. Ohhhh I want to take this workshop!!!! looks like it was AMAZING! I knew the flash rule..and try to use natural light (even though I have like 2 windows in my condo) and at night, it’s hard, I just use the lighting that I have. Still so much to learn though….i am very interested in food photography though!!! So, how do you Make light bounces inexpensively with foam core board and mirrors??? Also, I forget, what SLR did you get? I have the Cannon Rebel XSi.

    Haven’t been around to a lot of blogs lately….miss you!

  18. That is AWESOME! What a cool experience – it looks like you learned SO much! I would love to do that! Have a great Sunday night girly!

  19. That’s SOOO cool!!! awesome photos too :D

  20. wow. pix look great! so much goes into photos…

  21. 1. What a wonderful workshop and opportunity!! Your photos are all stunning. I would love to go to a food workshop at some point in time. I’m comfortable with people…but I’m still very much…unoriginal, I suppose…with my food.
    2. Even more wonderful that they didn’t have crazy set-ups. Just great technique and beautiful styling!
    3. Thank you so much for the link love in your last post!
    4. Thank you so much for telling me what my logical mind was trying to convince myself of (on my post from tonight.) New shoes it is! I’ll be creeping your posts pretty soon for advice ;)
    5. I need that rice pudding. STAT.

  22. Averie….such a fun day learning from the pros. Matt and Adam are AMAZING in every way. So happy you had a chance to learn from them :) This will encourage you to keep taking those great snaps. xo

  23. This post was so much fun to read!!! The photos are beautiful, looks like an awesome day!

  24. Oh my! What a fantastic day :D I bet that workshop was awesome! I wish we had anything like that where I live. Or you know, even in a 100 mile radius would be cool too. Your shots look so great! I’m super excited to see how your photography improves from now on too because it’s already improved so much. Thanks for listing all those tips/highlights. I have a lot to think about :D

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