I keep my cookbooks in the cupboard above my fridge. It’s a place overflowing with printouts and binders and cookbooks with notched and folded pages. All my favourites have notes and jotted remarks all over the margins, too. My cooking is for pleasure and sustenance, in that order.
I do have a few food brands on my client roster, though, and I know good food photography when I see it.
When the Food Bloggers of Canada advertised they were doing a road trip this year, travelling across the country with stops in major centres, it gave me an opportunity to combine the pleasure with the business of eating.
Dennis the Prescott would be coming to Moncton to speak on Food Photography.
I did have secret hopes that Dennis would cook, too. I have his cookbook, “Eat Delicious,” and it’s so darn good. The photos are vibrant and luscious and a little bit messy – like real food is. It makes my mouth water just to flip through the pages. And every recipe I’ve made has turned out phenomenal.
My friend, Kelsey, joined me on a road trip to Moncton on the Sunday afternoon of the event. It was held at The Tide & Boar Gastropub, so even though Dennis didn’t cook, this restaurant, which has been featured as one of Canada’s Top 50 restaurants by Mclean’s Magazine, one of Canada’s Favorite Bars by Air Canada’s Enroute and on The Food Networks “You Gotta Eat Here,” more than delivered on fantastic food.
Kelsey and I scooted along the bench of a long table set family style as the FBC team finished setting up. It was only as everyone was introduced that I realized:
(a) I was sitting directly across from Dennis (excited me was thrilled to be so close but introvert me gasped at having to make eye contact for the entire event), and
(b) The woman two seats over was my other Canadian food blogger crush, Aimée Wimburn-Bourque of Simple Bites.
And as a bonus, the woman beside me, Michelle, was the food photographer for one of my favourite restaurants in Saint John, NB: the Saint John Ale House.
There I was at a Food Photography workshop, in a small intimate group of those I admired with a delicious meal ahead of me. We hadn’t even started yet and I was already winning.
Dennis spent almost two hours talking about Food Photography from both sides of the camera.
He talked about The Struggle of the Creative (I feel like it was capitalized when he said it); how as artists we often feel like islands, alone. He said that as creatives, we tend to run towards perfection and that we compare ourselves to others. Dennis said that art can be war, but social media like Instagram can show us we don’t have to be alone in our kitchens or studios.
Yet, Dennis began his food photography from an “imperfect” place. He grew up in Moncton, NB, and left to pursue a career in music. It was in Nashville that he taught himself how to cook and where he began to feed anyone who would sit still long enough to eat. He was discovered from his Instagram profile when a prominent food magazine offered to pay him for his photographs.
Dennis has since cooked all over the world and photographed almost everything he’s made.
He cautioned us not to allow outside sources to control our creativity. Although social media can make us feel included, we can’t let the likes, comments and shares stress us out. It’s imperative to creativity that we keep having fun.
Dennis gave us tips for photographing our meals in restaurants: be enthusiastic, take your time, ask for a seat by the window. He said, “If you don’t learn light from shadow, it doesn’t matter what you use for gear.” He mentioned odd numbers look better in photos. And he talked about making something in your image the hero of the picture’s story, and that we read the story from top left to bottom right, just like a book.
Dennis reminded us not to be inauthentic to our situation in our food photography.
We shouldn’t use props or settings that don’t suit us or our food. Along the same line, Dennis’ goal is to create a sense of attainability in his photographs. He does this by creating meals that his viewer could see themselves eating. Dennis sets up the meal and the camera from a point of view that someone who was eating would see it. Sometimes, he adds a hand, always including the wrist, for relatability.
We ordered our suppers as Dennis wrapped up speaking. And he remained just where he was to eat with us. We were joined by the crew, too, and had the opportunity to quietly ask questions of everyone who was there. Dennis even spent a full twenty minutes brainstorming with Kelsey on how she could create a New Brunswick foodie blog that would indulge both her love of food and her love of her home province.
We were all old friends by the time our meal ended. Though, I did have few gushy fangirl moments where I talked about Dennis’ Dan Dan noodle recipe and Aimée’s tourtiere, in her own cookbook “Brown Eggs and Jam Jars”.
I returned home, mind abuzz and belly full, ready to turn a critical eye to my client’s brand photography. I’ve got all these ideas on how we can kick their brand storytelling up a notch with our food photography. Moreover, I’ve begun to apply the concepts of having a hero and attainability and storytelling to all of my client’s brand photography.
Thank you to Dennis, the team at Food Bloggers of Canada, and everyone else who made this event so fantastic!
Food photographer or not, if you have an Instagram account, share it in the comments. I’d love to check out your brand photography, too. Inspiration is everywhere!