I received my BFA in photography about 20 years ago. I haven't taken a photo class since. When I was in school, we shot film and the closest thing to digital photography we had at that time was the Kodak Disk camera. I had one, and let's just say it never really came into its own on the camera market.
I work day in and day out with photographers, all of whom have been very helpful in getting me up-to-date on how to use my camera. (Umm, guess what? it works the same as the film 35mm, but there's no film). And they've all given me crash courses in Photoshop, editing software and general photo tech tricks of the trade.
I've been shooting and posting quite a bit lately, but to be honest, I've been feeling kind of stuck. It's not that I haven't been happy and proud of the work I've been posting. It's more that I feel like I've been moving too quickly and missing some of the grace I used to see in the food I was preparing and shooting. My dad said to me once that the photos are just as important as the story I write for each post, which is just as important as the recipe being accurate. I was beginning to worry that the photos were becoming formulaic.
When I heard that New York Times photographer, Andrew Scrivani was coming to town to hold a small workshop, I considered going, the hesitated. But when I found out it was being held at Contigo, a Spanish and Catalan restaurant just a block-and-a-half from my house, I signed up on the spot.
The day began with Andrew showing our little group (7 attendees in all) a slideshow of his work. Each piece he chose demonstrated a different kind of lighting, propping, perspective or technique that he felt would give us some ideas to think about when shooting our own work. There was plenty of conversation and lots of great questions. Andrew, a former high school teacher, really took the time to answer all the questions with thoughtful and detailed responses.
His style of teaching was just what I needed. I believe he took the time to look at each of our personal websites before coming to San Francisco. He was really good at recognizing the kind of feedback each of us needed when we moved into the hands-on working session. The lovely folks at Contigo not only provided us with a great paella for lunch, they also supplied a whole bunch of plated dishes, props and raw foods, and they gave the students free rein throughout their entire restaurant space.
I was ecstatic. Not only did I take pictures of the food, I also got a bunch of shots of the bottles and glassware. Over the years, I had forgotten that in college, the main topic of my photography was glass bottles. I used to spend countless hours finding ways to shoot glass. There was more than one trip out to Jones Beach (winter included) where I worked with sand and bottles for the better part of a day. All of my negatives were lost at some point, which I mentioned to Andrew. His response? "Well, it's a new beginning, make something new."
After our hands-on photo work, we had a critique. Andrew took the SD cards from each of our cameras and put them up on the screen. What a great exercise. Most of us had at least one or two subjects in common (the artichokes and the pie seemed to get a lot of attention). It was just like being back in college: looking at composition choices, lighting and overall look and feel. Andrew shared all of his skills with us. His take is that everyone has a different eye and there is plenty of room for all of us in the field. There's no way I'll create exactly the same photo he will. This realization allowed me to relax and really look at my work knowing that the images I create are unlike anyone else's.
My camera is much less sophisticated than those of the rest of the workshop participants, but it didn't matter. I got some good advice on a relatively inexpensive lens that might work better for the type of shooting I do. During the hands-on workshop, Andrew saw what I was trying to do and was able to give me some tips on how to shoot with my current equipment.
The biggest lesson which I'm still trying to incorporate into my work, was the idea of post-production work. Coming from a film background, I do try to get everything set in-camera: lighting, exposure, composition, etc. My inclination is to get the shot and not mess too much with it in Photoshop. I think there is some middle ground that I need to find, and not be so concerned with the fact that "in the old days, we did it all in-camera." Have to join the current digital times, you know?
If you have an opportunity to work with Andrew Scrivani, I highly encourage you to sign up. The workshop was good for all levels of photographers, and for any kind of equipment. He will inspire you.