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!

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