Gaggle of Bloggers

What else might you call a gathering of bloggers? A pack? A flock? No, I definitely think that this sort of group would be described as a gaggle, and that’s just what I was lucky enough to be a part of yesterday afternoon. Led by Matt Armendariz of Matt Bites, how could I have resisted joining in on a class about the finer points of photographing and writing about food, especially when it was being held right under my nose at a Whole Foods Market in NYC! Now, I’m not exactly in my element at public events, and my fear was only augmented upon sight of the cozy classroom- Planning to hide in the back and quietly take notes while soaking in the talent surrounding me, this threw quite wrench into the gears. In this classroom that would hold no more than two dozen bodies, this strategy went right out the window, and I quite nearly turned tail and fled the scene. With my stomach tangled up in my throat, I picked a less prominent seat and held my breath.

Awestruck by the creators of the brilliant, insightful, funny, and gorgeous blogs that I frequent, my tongue abandoned me, and I simply couldn’t find the words with which to convey what a pleasure it was to meet them. A deer in the headlights, I’m embarrassed to say that my greatest contribution to the gaggle was an occasional nod of agreement. The only peep that managed to escape my lips was an awkward introduction, although I probably looked like I was about to burst into tears by the time I squeaked out my name. Anxiety took hold the minute I stepped through the door, but the panic attack was well worth it, considering all of the invaluable pointers I picked up. For an abbreviated version of some of the photography techniques mentioned, here’s my spin on a couple tips.

Since I’m always trying to improve the quality of my photos (And ironically, I took my point-and-shoot so the quality of the pictures included in this post leave quite a bit to be desired. I truly apologize for that, but I still wanted to share this outing with you!), I was eager to hear what someone as skilled as Matt might say. Much of it was fairly basic but important reminders of what to take into consideration, such as lighting. My approach is natural light all the way, and using the built-in flash is perhaps the worst crime you can commit. Matt, however, surprised me by suggesting that flash can indeed produce decent pictures when used properly. Instead of blasting the subject away with that harsh flare, try diffusing the flash by holding something in front of it- A simple paper towel will work just fine!

In terms of composition, there are no set rules or principles as to what will look good, but trust your eye. Try looking at the subject from different angles, move things around to different positions, and just think of all the possibilities suggested by the particular dish in question. Think of the basic shapes involved, patterns, and colors. Choosing props depends on what you want to feature about the food, but I personally like to make everything match, in a sense. For example, if I’ve made an apple cake, I would want to show off how full of apple-goodness it was, and therefore have a big bowl overflowing with the fruit. On the other hand, if it’s something easy and basic like a salad, extolling the virtues of simplicity, I wouldn’t want any extra clutter around, and would lean towards nothing but a solid colored (bright!) background.

Finally, when it comes to food styling, there are two camps of thought: Food looks best ready to eat, as you would serve it at home, or pristine and perfect, like shots out of magazines or dreams perhaps. Both approaches work depending on the circumstances, so don’t be afraid to venture on both sides of the street- Just remember the context. I personally wouldn’t spend hours hiding the ends of spaghetti, or using tweezers to individually place cereal flakes in a bowl… But I will admit I’m guilty of cleaning off plates with q-tips and sometimes strategically placing crumbs. Everything in moderation, right? As for the tricks using inedible components, I think you’ve already heard it all, from fake ice cream made of confectioner’s sugar and frosting (Won’t melt!) to placing marbles in a bowl of soup (Makes all the noodles rise to the top and fill the bowl!), but Matt showed us one trick that I didn’t yet know…

Looks like an artfully arranged bowl of chips, no? Well I don’t know about you, but I’ve never poured chips out of a bag and had them look like that. Ever stop to think about how they’re arranged to stay straight up and beautiful like that?

A layer of mashed potatoes holds them vertical, of course! I wouldn’t recommend trying this for an everyday shot of your snack, because the unique support system renders them rather unpalatable. Still, pretty cool, and completely unexpected.

There was just so much to learn from these amazing bloggers, I’m sorry I can’t do them better justice by giving a more complete lesson. Hopefully those interested in photography could get something useful out of all of this- I know I sure did!

Many thanks to Matt and everyone who helped make the lecture so much fun!