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 enthusiasm is contagious! :-) Thanks for sharing the details of your workshop. It looks like it was an amazing experience.

  2. oh my goodness! i just found your blog today, but it looks like i came on a good day. the workshop sounds like an amazing learning experience! your photos are beautiful.

    congrats on the foodgawker acceptance too! :)

  3. Wow! This was such a great post. What a freaking amazing time you must have had. I have seriously been loving photography. There’s so much to learn, but everytime I have an ‘ah-hah’ moment I fall more in love with it.

    I’m also now obsessed with foodgawker! :D I have really learned a lot from other people who post on there. Such a gem.

  4. Okay, now THAT is a cool way to spend your weekend!!!!!!!! I would LOVE to go to a workshop like that!!!!! How fun, and what a great learning experience!

  5. What a fun day. Dude, seriously, those guys look like they’d be instantly my best friends! Have you seen this?

    I haven’t had a day like that in ages, but I definitely remember having them. LIke the day I relaized what I wanted to do and got accepted to school. And the day I got my new job! So much work, both of them, but I have the passion for it, so I’m going with it. :)

    • I had not seen that. Thanks for the link!

      Ironically I remember you telling me about 2 weeks ago some non food blogs you were loving and CB2 was one of them. Some kind of psychic foreshadowing I think :)

      And yes, you would have been bff’s with them immediately!

  6. This is really neat- your photos turned out great, it looks like you picked up on the tips pretty quickly! I especially like all of the tomatoes, it’s a sort of tribute to tomatoes hehe! I don’t eat one a day, but I eat them quite frequently and love pretty much every incarnation they can be eaten in…

  7. how cool I am so jealous you got to attend that workshop I need some help with food styling!

  8. So interesting how certain angles make food look more appetizing. If I ever have the time/money, I’d love to take a food photography class.
    Your pictures look great, per usual!

  9. The workshop looks so so awesome! You’re really lucky to be able to have that experience! Your food designs were lovely!

  10. Wow Averie, I never knew how much went into food styling! It sounds like such a fun workshop. I have noticed your pictures looking more mouthwatering by the day :)

  11. This is such an awesome post!! :D I’m so happy for you! Your photos are fantastic! Very professional looking. :) Thanks for the tips, I can use all I can get. It sounds like the workshop was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. So glad you went to it and that you enjoyed it!

    That shiny surface tip is so helpful — thanks! I have a lot of homework to do and practice, practice, practice. It’s a process, but it’s fun! I need a tripod, too. This is going to be a costly hobby, LOL.

  12. Awesome post, thanks for sharing everything with us. It sounds so interesting. If I had fun reading this, I can imagine you had loads of fun actually being there!

  13. So jealous right now! That sounds like an amazing workshop and your photos look truly fantastic!

    I think the best part of my weekend was volunteering with my company for the annual MS Walk downtown. A friend of mine was diagnosed last year, so it meant a lot to help a cause that’s somewhat close to me! =)

  14. The workshop looks amazing!!! The pictures are fabulous!

  15. What an awesome experience! A camera shop down the street from me offers photography classes but I don’t think they are nearly as cool as the one you went to.

  16. This is amazing! I need to learn how to take good photos like you did.

  17. What about actually eating the food? Isn’t that what it’s for?

  18. Wow amazing photos. Seems to be a lot of work

  19. Wow Averie, thanks for sharing this! It’s funny because I just posted pictures and commented on how ugly my spaghetti dish was, now I know a few tricks to make it better next time. I hope my husband won’t mind me using my fingers to style his pasta before he gets to eat it haha!

    I am also super impressed with how professional your pictures look! Keep it up!

  20. That sounds like a very detailed and amazing workshop. Wow!

    Dollops: my cousin actually did a test at home with real whipped great, and cool whip to see which would last longer. She took a photo in the AM and PM (before bed) over 4 days. Cool Whip was still the same 4 days later. Great for photos, but not for eating. The real whipped cream was a mess at the end of the first day, and then a science experiment for the other 3 days ;)

    Tripods: my husband has 2 for his cameras, and 1 for the video camera. We don’t take them with us when we travel large distances, but he does use them for photos of his paintball gear, employee photos, and any stuff he sells online. When possible he only does photos on sunny days so he doesn’t have to worry about lighting.

    Best thing I ate on the weekend: my husband’s BBQ ribs with sweet potato fries. Followed by the gluten-free chocolate cupcakes I made. Yum!

  21. What a great workshop! Thanks for sharing the tips you learned. Now I want to want to go to one of these classes. Looks like a lot of fun!

  22. This workshop looks really interesting! I look forward to viewing your new and improved photos! lol

    I also like how you personalized your own photos by emphasizing the ‘tallness’. cool!

  23. Good for you, Averie! My gosh, I wish there was a place like that where I live. It sounds like you learned SO much! I love their setup with the plates + napkins etc. I need my creativity room to look like that. There’s crap all over the place in mine. I love the pictures you took and can’t wait to see some of the images you take this week!

  24. Sounds like a super fun day!!!

  25. Fantastic post and images. Presentation is such a huge part of food and pictures like this can make a huge difference. I have too often seen menus or advertising brochures from restaurants/cafe’s where they have terrible photos of their food. It may be the best tasting food in the country but if it looks terrible then you’ll probably decide not to dine there and never get the chance to taste it.

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