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…
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.