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Food photography and styling workshop with Aran Goyoaga

That picture up there? It’s the quick pic I took with my phone on the way down from Blackcomb mountain in beautiful British Columbia. Pretty huh? Oh, and SO high up. Some of you might remember I had a bad time with vertigo in 2011. Well whilst it’s way better than it was last year, I still suffer occasionally. Like, you know, when you are 2436 metres above sea level. I was SO out of my comfort zone that day but tried to just, you know, go with it. And in the end it was ok you know. Scary, but ok.

What on earth was I doing at the top of a mountain, you might well ask?  Well coming down from a picnic at the top. You know, as you do. Actually it was part of a three day food photography and styling workshop with Aran Goyoaga of the beautiful blog Cannelle et Vanille, organised by Ritchie Ace Camps.  I was lucky enough to snag one of the tickets that sold out in two minutes (!) – actually I am lucky Neil is fast on a keyboard, I was on a field trip the day the tickets went on sale and he managed to get me one in those precious minutes – back in February and, whilst I had been looking forward to it since then, I had been a little hesitant to head off to a mountain resort (high up!) to spend an intensive few days with people I don’t know (I am actually quite shy until I get to know people) and who are all very talented (I get intimidated easily), not to mention work with the über talented Aran (what would she think of my photo attempts?).  Seriously. I tried to put all these fears out of my mind until I got there.

Honestly, I needn’t have worried.  It probably helped that I had already done a similar workshop, albeit with way less people, at The Kitchen at Camont in July when I was in France. That definitely helped my confidence around my camera though it’s still scary heading off into the unknown. As soon as I met the group though, I knew it was going to be ok. Well better than ok, actually.  A fabulous group of talented, interesting and genuine ladies, all with their own stories to tell, I can’t imagine a better group to have lived this adventure with.

And the workshop? Well, a little like the chairlift (and the not one but TWO gondola rides before it), the weekend pushed me a little out of my comfort zone. Just like the workshop with Tim Clinch did. Which, as a photographer, is a good place to be.

I’m acutely aware as I take pictures for my blog that sometimes it’s easy to get the “quick shot” – you know, the angle you always use, the one you know will work. The same background, the same linens, the same cutlery. Because often I am pressed for time, or shooting a number of dishes in quick succession, I don’t always put the thought and time into my pictures that I know I should. Well who says so? Me. I know my photography has improved quite a bit since I started this blog (please don’t take that as a cue to look at my posts from 2009, they are NOT pretty, some of them!) but like anything creative, it’s something that continues to evolve over time.  And one thing is for certain -  there will always be room for improvement.

Often going on a conference or a workshop can be overwhelming and you leave with the sense that you have more questions than you did before you started.  I was determined that this weekend would not be like that for me, so I set myself a couple of smaller goals, that I considered do-able.  I mean there’s no way you can drastically improve your photography in three days, right?  Photography requires practice. And more practice.  But three days does go a long way to giving food for thought that you can store up and use when you are ready.  I know in France I learned a lot from Tim (and Kate) that I haven’t even begun to process, much less work on, yet.  In Whistler, I was determined  to not get overwhelmed with information, working on my smaller goals in the time I was there, and storing other  information for later use.  That weekend, we spent time shooting on location around Whistler and its surrounding area.  On Day 1, we shot in a gorgeous house with natural light we all wished we could bottle up and take home. Aran talked us through her process for preparing, styling and photographing a dish, then we all prepared a dish ourselves and spent time photographing that, and others’ dishes in various locations both in and outside the house.

What did I learn from this exercise? Well I learned that I have an exceedingly hard time photographing food prepared and styled by others. It sounds silly but I struggled so much with getting shots I was happy with that day and couldn’t figure it out until quite late in the proceedings. I didn’t realise how powerful a connection you have with the food you prepare yourself until I was trying to tell a story with food that I had nothing to do with preparing or styling.  Making a dish then setting it up for a photo definitely gives you an understanding of the ingredients and an overall idea of where you might want to go with a photo.  Even with these gorgeous dishes, for me, that connection was lacking a little. This was interesting for me because I have always thought that the reason my pictures aren’t up to par is because I am hopeless at styling and plating. But no, even with the most gorgeous dish, I had a tough time getting “the shot”.

Yes, it’s a “hands shot”. Not my usual style but I wanted to have a go at some different styles of pictures and angles. I absolutely love this picture (in fact it appeared in The National Post this past Saturday) but I don’t know if it’s “me”…..  Well maybe it’s the evolving me… In any case, this proved what we all know already – that taking great pictures is hard work. Even with gorgeous food, a beautiful setting, a decent lens and an expert on hand, it was really hard work. Lots of thinking (perhaps overthinking?) and processing of ideas…

What I came away with that day was the fact that I feel I don’t really have my own “style”.  Aran’s style is very much her own.  Noone would look at a picture of mine and say definitely “Oh that’s Mardi’s photo”. My pictures don’t have a defined “look”.  But I guess I haven’t been at this for very long. Maybe a “look” will come someday. But in the meantime, I guess I just need to enjoy the journey.

The next day we headed out to North Arm Farm where we spent the morning photographing the farm, the people, the animals, the produce. It was a blissfully peaceful morning in a stunning setting.

Here, I felt a little better about “getting the shot”.  I feel food in its natural state is way easier to photograph.  My goal for myself that morning was to try to get some shots other than the food, though. The farm, the people, the animals.  So that’s what I focussed on.  I’ll be sharing some other pictures later in the week of the food on the farm but for now, here’s what *I* saw that morning…




Yes, it’s another “hands shot”. Don’t worry, I’m not turning into the blog where every post has a shot like this. But the beets were so beautiful against Anna’s blue apron that I couldn’t resist.

None of these are the types of pictures I would normally focus on taking in a food setting but I am pretty happy with the way they came out. My first “farm pictures”!

After the farm we headed off up the mountain, with a ton of fresh produce and food in tow for our picnic in the clouds.  We were given free reign with all the food to style a complete picnic or just a single dish and I made a concerted effort to make sure I took many pictures of food others had styled to practice what gives me so much difficulty. This is “my” tomato tart…

And here’s Aran’s “panna cotta in the woods”. Even though it’s totally Aran’s styling here, I was happy I managed to capture the casual, picnic mood in this photo.

On the final morning of the workshop, we were let loose in the Whistler Farmers’ Market for an hour. My goal here was to try to take some shots of people (I nearly succeeded, I got some hands!) and I am pretty happy with the shots I took, given it was blazing sun and very difficult to take any pictures given the amount of people in the market.







After the market, we headed off to Alta Lake Station House for one last session watching Aran styling a few dishes then taking turns photographing various dishes, fruits and vegetables, both in the house and down by the dock.

The ever calm Angela shells peas for lunch as she takes in the proceedings…



Look – a “person shot”. Thanks Eva for being such a good sport as our “melon model” ;)

I’ll be sharing some more pictures from the workshop later on this week. I’ll also be working on incorporating some of what I learned in my own photography over the next little while. Watch this space. It’s constantly evolving.

A huge thank you to Aran and Nadia. I couldn’t have hoped for a sweeter, more generous team.  Thanks Angela for the organisational aspect of the workshop – I know it must have been challenging but hey, now you know that you just have to tell the gondola people that you are “on a photo shoot” and you get preferential treatment, right? ;)

And to Marnie, Laura, Jessica, Eva, Melissa, Jodi, Megan, Leslie, Julie, Anna, and Megan you all made me feel “super brave” ;) And turned what was in my mind, a scary endeavour, into a fun adventure. Thank you.

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40 Responses to Food photography and styling workshop with Aran Goyoaga

  1. David @ Frenchie and the Yankee September 3, 2012 at 08:09 #

    Looks like you had a great time. The photos are fantastic.
    Maybe next time I will have time to come.
    Thanks for sharing.

  2. Brian @ A Thought For Food September 3, 2012 at 08:40 #

    Such a lovely recap. Looks like you got a lot out of this experience.

  3. Lindsey September 3, 2012 at 09:28 #

    I really like seeing different styles from you Mardi and I think you walked away with some seriously useful photo tips. More of this! (also, I could never be a food blogger because it would take me forever to perfect the photos to my liking)

    • Mardi (eat. live. travel. write.) September 22, 2012 at 19:24 #

      Thanks Lindsey, many people don’t like seeing tons of different pictures and styles on the one blog but I find many blogs these days with picture after picture the exact same angle and “look”. I need variety chez moi and whilst I don’t always achieve that, I try!

  4. Kelly @ The Gouda Life September 3, 2012 at 09:36 #

    Beautiful post, Mardi! The photos are stunning and it sounds like you truly enjoy yourself!

  5. Monica September 3, 2012 at 10:27 #

    I think my favourite pictures are the farm shots and the market shots. In fact, that photo at the market with the beetroot hands exchange – that to me screams “you”. Of course, they’re all beautiful, but I could tell in those pics you were in your element. And what a fantastic point about photographing food that has been styled for you. I think this would bore me! For me taking pictures is so much capturing something >I< created. You know, the "moment". Also, third favourite pic: the tomato tart. But perhaps only because it brings back fond memories of other tarts I've had this summer. ;)

  6. Melissa September 3, 2012 at 11:05 #

    Lovely post Mardi. Look forward to seeing more photos from the workshop.

  7. kate hill September 3, 2012 at 13:18 #

    Mardi! hurrah for you! I think it’s funny you talk about trying to find your ‘look’- when I hear your voice trying to tell your story as I look at what you shot. We all struggle with that- but I bet if you put all the people who shared your experience together, each one’s photographs would stand alone. I especially like your people shots! nice ‘moments’ of happiness captured… Brava!

  8. Kate@Diethood September 3, 2012 at 15:05 #

    Mardi, I love these photos. I’m stuck staring at the figs and the tomatoes and the sheep! I wish I could find one of these workshops around here… darn corn fields! :)

    • Mardi (eat. live. travel. write.) September 22, 2012 at 19:21 #

      Well I was lucky to attend for sure but I wish there was something closer to me – 5 hours’ flight time is not that convenient!

  9. yummychunklet September 3, 2012 at 22:35 #

    Very impressive photos!

  10. Marina@Picnic at Marina September 4, 2012 at 00:02 #

    What a fantastic workshop! I love all your photos… :)

  11. Barbara N. September 4, 2012 at 11:25 #

    Hi:
    The photography is superb. Too bad all photos from styling workshops tend to look like carbons.

    Nice that you included a couple originals ,,,,especially….sucking peas & ski lift…

    • Mardi (eat. live. travel. write.) September 4, 2012 at 12:20 #

      Thank you! And re: posts looking similar, since generally people are taking photos of the same thing, many of the posts from the same workshops will look similar ;)

  12. Paula September 4, 2012 at 11:33 #

    I think it was very appropriate to start this post with the gondola shot (even though it is of the descent from the mountain) as you are obviously achieving new heights in your photography. These are all fabulous shots Mardi. Not only are you learning a lot about photography but you are definitely putting your knowledge into practice.

  13. Ilan (IronWhisk Blog) September 4, 2012 at 22:39 #

    Awesome review, I wish I was there. I also really like all the “hands shots” haha.

  14. Winnie September 4, 2012 at 22:55 #

    I just love this, Mardi! And I look forward to seeing more of your photos from the workshop soon…

  15. Anastasia September 9, 2012 at 06:03 #

    Do you feel that your photography improved/changed since you came back from e workshop? What do you do differently now, if anything?

    • Mardi (eat. live. travel. write.) September 9, 2012 at 10:47 #

      It’s only been two weeks so it’s hard to tell. A lot of information to digest but I would like to think that I am THINKING differently as a result of both Tim Clinch’s workshop and this one.

  16. Alan spedding ( cumbriafoodie ) September 10, 2012 at 15:55 #

    Having fun looking at all the ladies results tonight and im in awe….youre all so bloody talented.

  17. Pamela September 10, 2012 at 18:28 #

    Such a fantastic learning experience. Great photos Mardi of the food, the farm, amd the people. You are expert photographer already! :)

  18. Jamie September 14, 2012 at 00:15 #

    The location is beautiful! Wow! How was that for inspiration? I would love to immerse myself in styling and photgraphy for a long weekend, only thinking of, focusing on that. Looks like you had a wonderful time!

  19. Rose September 21, 2012 at 12:54 #

    Wow, sounds like fun. Hope you were able to pick up some good tips. My photography is definitely on the low end of the FFwD group and I too would like to learn how to take better shots. But I also feel that such a big part of it has to do with time; what time of day (I’m usually making our recipes at night when there is no natural light) and how much time I spend setting up and taking multiple shots. So often, by the time the recipe is done, I’m just ready to eat.

    But your post has inspired me, such beautiful shots. I too need to make more of an effort.

    • Mardi (eat. live. travel. write.) September 22, 2012 at 19:19 #

      Rose, I never shoot what I am eating on the same day. I used to but dinner is not the best time for light so I always save some for the next day. Mostly though I cook everything in advance on the weekends when there is ample light and then I am set up for meals for the week!

  20. Jen @ My Kitchen Addiction September 30, 2012 at 21:44 #

    These photos are absolutely stunning! I’m in quite the photography rut lately (somewhat due to limited mobility when attempting to maneuver my giant pregnant self around to take photos), so I am bookmarking this to come back to it in a month or two! :)

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