Two weeks ago today (but it feels like far longer), I had the opportunity to take a trip that already seems as though it may have been a dream.  A four night, three day food photography workshop…in Charleston, SC….taught by Helene Dujardin and Clare Barboza.  So yeah – a nice long weekend spent doing my favorite hobby in one of my very favorite places in the world, taught by one of my favorite photographers ever (and another who I have come to love just as much), bunked up with one of my best friends.  That’s a whole lot of my favorites all in one.  And did I mention we were in a huge house right on the beach?  Yeah.  The whole experience was so packed full of wonderfulness that it’s hard to fit it into a coherent blog post that isn’t a novel, but I’ll do my best to pare it down.

I have to start by saying how well planned and organized the entire workshop was.  Though there were plenty of very informative teaching sessions and hands-on shoots, there was also ample time for us to regroup, relax, and enjoy our trip as well.  I know we all appreciated the opportunity to have a bit of down time amidst the overall busy schedule.  Since there were only 11 attendees, everyone was able to get to know each other.  And given that 100% of us were women, it was sort of like a giant bonding session the whole time.  Soooo much fun.  The first evening we arrived at the house to an array of delectable appetizers and perfectly styled sangria while we mingled and got to know each other.  Helene’s good friend and assistant Laura also happens to be a trained chef, and we had the privilege of enjoying her cooking all weekend long.  The appetizers were followed by a traditional southern low country boil for dinner, followed by the world’s most adorable ice cream sundae station ever.  It was a lovely evening and per my usual when I’m really really enjoying myself, I didn’t take any pictures because I was too busy soaking it all in.

Friday morning after breakfast we started in with the first teaching session reviewing a lot of the basics of camera usage – shooting in manual versus aperture priority, focus, depth of field, shutter speed, ISO and exposure.  There was a wide range of previous knowledge in the attendees and while this was not new information for me, it certainly doesn’t hurt to review the basics now and then.  Afterward we broke for our first practice session shooting desserts, since they generally make easy subjects.  I decided to shoot chocolate chip cookies because they were store bought (so less than attractive) and brown (typically challenging).  I was positively giddy with excitement over the array of surfaces and props we had to choose from, and just at the prospect of using some of Helene’s props that I have loved from afar for so long.  It was amazing.  These were the final shots I ended up with.  Dessert shoot complete!

We had lunch and then began the second and final teaching session reviewing additional topics such as lighting, styling, color palettes, composition, and telling a story with a photo.  Again not many of these concepts were new to me but I love the topic so much, I always enjoy learning and thinking about anything related to food photography.  Afterward we had a second practice session with what Helene and Clare called “ugly food” – antipasto items such as crackers, dips, meats, etc.  None of it particularly pretty to begin with but everyone really worked their stuff and I think these shots from other participants were some of my favorites!  I did two different set ups during this session, one with an unattractive (but very tasty!) seafood dip and another with crackers, hummus, olives, etc.  I really loved this shoot because I always enjoy taking a really challenging subject and working it until it looks delish.  These were my final shots.

That was it for teaching and shooting that day.  For dinner that evening we enjoyed a truly incredible meal of gourmet ravioli courtesy of Rio Bertolini’s and fresh pasta and sauces from Cucina Fresca.  This meal was seriously amazing.  I know, I know, it’s just pasta – but it’s not just pasta.  It made me want to never eat dried pasta again.  I’m not even kidding.  Though it was a blow to discover they do not ship their products, it definitely provided inspiration for many, many varieties of pasta I can make at home.  Get ready, dudes.  Lots of pasta recipes coming your way.

Saturday morning we were up bright and early to shoot the Charleston Farmer’s Market.  For me, this was the highlight of the weekend and so I will be dedicating an entire post to that topic in the coming weeks.  After we returned home from the market, we had a lovely brunch – but first we had to shoot it!  This shoot was challenging for me because I was waiting on specific surfaces and props in use by other participants, and I was tired and hungry.  Thankfully I was able to power through to get the shot I wanted, and finally enjoy this lovely meal.

Saturday afternoon we relaxed and rested after our busy early morning.  Saturday evening we were treated to an incredible meal at Lana, a truly wonderful restaurant in Charleston.  Like the Farmer’s Market, this was an experience in itself and deserves a separate post so stay tuned!  Sunday morning we did our final shoot of the workshop, which was supposed to be a picnic lunch at the beach.  This was another really fun shoot.  I think sandwiches are another subject that can be quite challenging, but with some forethought can turn out really well in a photo.  I ended up liking my photos a lot, though I do wish there had been some Coke available for the soda bottle I used.  Oh well!  These were my shots.

Sunday afternoon all the participants uploaded 15 of our favorite images from the entire workshop so that we were able to see each others work.  It was very cool to see the vastly different perspectives on similar subjects, and to see everyone’s progress throughout the workshop.  This was a truly talented bunch of women and we were helped tremendously by the brilliant yet completely down to earth instructors.   And then suddenly, the whole thing was done!  We capped off the weekend with a farewell pizza dinner with several mouth-watering topping combinations prepped with the help of Helene and Clare’s kind, funny and just all-around-wonderful husbands Bill and Joe.  It was the perfect end to a really, really perfect weekend.  More to come next week!


  • RikiTikiTembo

    What an amazing trip – Helene is also one of my favs, shes incredible! Your photography is beautiful – must have been soo much fun to have props like that to work with!

  • lisa

    your pictures are beautiful! i grew up in charleston and miss it terribly. i go visit as often as i can, and always try to make a stop at their farmer’s market.

  • What an amazing trip, Annie! Looking forward to seeing the future posts.

  • Bulldogbaton

    I live very close to IOP! Would love to have met you while you were here! It sounds like a very busy and wonderful weekend!

  • Stephanie Ko

    Wow, sounds like an amazing experience. Your photos looks great!

  • Anna Maria

    love this – thanks for sharing!

  • Sarah

    Just as I can identify a Helene picture from a mile away, I can now do the same with yours:) I happened upon a recipe on your blog from the very beginning and can’t believe how your photography skills have evolved!

  • annieseats

    Aww, I love that! Thanks for being a loyal reader. I appreciate it!

  • Liz N

    I have always loved your food photography and it’s been fun as a loyal follower to see the ev0lution and transformation. I would love for you to share tidbits of some of the things you learned from Helene with us (maybe a tutorial on composition, lighting, maximizing the light you have, etc). I am so envious that you got to meet THE Helene! Can’t wait to see your next post about this trip! Have you added any new gear to your photography repertoire (camera body, new lenses, props, lighting equipment)?

  • annieseats

    Aw, thanks Liz! I doubt I’ll do tutorial posts on that topic because I want to keep my blog about the food and not the mechanics of photography. However, I have started toying with the idea of teaching some workshops myself. We’ll see what happens. I have upgraded a lot of equipment in the last year – new camera body, several new lenses. I don’t use much artificial lighting because I prefer natural whenever possible. Helene is a total gem. She is so humble, so real, and obviously SO incredibly talented. It is always a joy to be around her! Clare is equally awesome :)

  • mmm! those pictures look good enough to eat! I would love to visit Charleston some day!

  • rachelsmiles

    I love charleston! Your photos are beautiful! My parents have a home down there and I’m headed in two weeks! I can’t wait, the food is the best :)

  • That sounds like so much fun! Your shots turned out great! I’m just getting started with food photography and I can’t help but constantly feel frustrated. I haven’t been able to really get a perfect shot of anything yet. I’m not giving up, though! I hope to someday capture food as beautifully as you. Where all of your pictures shot with natural light?

  • annieseats

    Yes, I use natural light about 95% of the time (and 100% in the spring/summer. To me, light is the most important part of getting a good photo. Keep experimenting and keep practicing – that’s the best way to learn!

  • Rio Bertolini’s travels every Saturday morning to our Farmer’s Market in Greenville and it is the NUMBER ONE thing I look forward to! I literally center my entire farmer’s market sweep around their booth because they sell of stuff so quickly! When the market ends in October, I go into a depression….and eat all the ravioli’s that I have stored up in the freezer ;)
    This photography session sounds fun! How do you hear about these things? Is this something they do every year in Charleston??

  • Lauralynn8

    I’m going to a wedding in downtown Charleston in a week! I’ve never been, I am so excited, and your photography has me even MORE excited. It looks so beautiful!

  • Lynna Huynh

    your photos are beautiful! :D

  • annieseats

    I am Facebook friends with Helene, so I saw when she posted an announcement about the workshop.

  • Oh my goodness a workshop by you would be so awesome!

  • Liz N

    I would be first in line to take one of your workshops!!

  • So incredibly jealous!! Looks like so much fun! And great photos!!

  • Sarah

    You definitely succeeded in making me want to be there and eat that food. I wish I could tap my heels together and be at the beach! Well done:).

  • Kristin

    I live in Charleston! Beautiful place; we’ve been here 2 years. I enjoy Helene’s blog. Have a wonderful trip!!

  • Karenstorvick

    It looks like you had a GREAT weekend. Looking forward to seeing more posts about you trip. Did you take any pictures of the sundae bar from the first night of the workshop? I am looking forward to some new ideas for an ice cream party setting. thanks

  • Your photos are beautiful! Slightly jealous (okay, really jealous) of your workshop and your mentors. How cool!

  • Katie

    glad you enjoyed our beautiful city! been a resident for the last 11yrs and there are very few places in the world that i’d rather be than here in the Holy City :) the food scene here is amazing and the local farmers are awesome.

    love your blog and visit daily! always recognize your pictures on pinterest. your pizza dough is a staple at our house now and just made the spicy bean burritos last night. thanks for all you do.

  • annieseats

    No, I was too busy having fun :)

  • June g.

    Thoroughly envious!

  • Gorgeous photos and looks like so much fun! I actually met up with Josie on Tuesday for dinner and she told me all about this! So jealous of you two :) I hope one day I can make it to one of these photography workshops, I love to learn new tips and tricks.

  • Amandabowyer

    I have been there! :) My aunt lives in SC and we took a carriage ride through the older part of the city. We loved it there! Oh and we also went to Fort Sumter where the Civil war began! Beautiful city!

  • Andrea Kruse

    Your photos turned out beautifully! I was actually drooling over your first shots… not for the photos, but all the fabulous dishes and props. I am building up my stash but some of those are too cute.

    As everyone else has already mentioned, I would LOVE to attend a workshop like this. You lucky lady! ;)

  • What an absolute dream to be part of one of Helene’s workshops! I’m living vicariously through your experience :)

  • I love your photos as always, Annie! Helene is amazing, you are one fortunate lady to have learned from her. :) Charleston is one of the most beautiful U.S. cities, I hear! Looks like you had a great time, and I can’t wait for part 2!

  • I loved reading about this. I wish we had such food photography workshops here in New Zealand but I haven’t found any so I am deeply jealous of your experience. I look forward to seeing your other posts about the weekend.

  • Rachel Willen@FoodFix

    Oh…so jealous….!! I wanted to attend this workshop myself but had scheduling conflicts. Thanks for sharing about it so I can live it vicariously through you!

  • I’d love to go to a seminar like this regardless, but being so close to home I ache to go back just from hearing your stories and seeing the picture of the walk to the beach. I miss it!

  • pat1645

    We vacation in South Carolina a lot and we always say THIS time we are going to Charleston and we haven’t been there yet, sigh. I can’t wait to hear what you thought of the Market. I have heard varying opinions on it. Sounds like you had a fabulous weekend. Yes, I am jealous.

  • I love your part 1 recap from Helene’s workshop! I had the opportunity to attend a half day session last year after Food Blog Forum and I learned so much! I can’t imagine how much I would learn during a weekend with her!

  • Karen

    Thanks for bringing us along on your long weekend. Your photos are beautiful and I can’t wait to see some more! (I live in Alberta and it snowed yesterday. I could look at your beaches and palm trees all day long.)

  • You? Hosting a workshop? I’m on the first flight to Indy, betch! :)

  • annieseats

    Haha! Love it! (But you don’t need it.)

  • marie martelli

    especially love the first three photos, they have such a lovely retro-feeling to them

  • I love your blog, Annie. I’ve been a faithful follower since 2009. It’s been pretty amazing to see how you continue to improve. I would love to go to one of your photography workshops! Just curious- do you ever consider transitioning your blog to more of your full time career after you finish your residency?

  • Gwyn Moseley

    I used to live in Charleston…thank you for transporting me back through food!

  • Pingback: Visiting Charleston, SC: Part 2 – Dinner at Lana | Annie's Eats()

  • sweetsugarbelle

    Annie, this is so exciting! I hope to be able to attend something like this one day! It’s a dream. I really really struggle with food photography and have to dumb it down as much as possible! I barely know how to work my camera!!! Hopefully an a few years I’ll be here also! Thanks for sharing!

  • Susan Atkins


    Where did you stay while you were in Charleston? I am thinking of taking a trip within the next few weeks and have been scoping out some B&Bs, but I’m just not sure.

    Thanks a bunch,


  • annieseats

    We stayed in a private rental home on Isle of Palms. I don’t know many more details than that. All the arrangements were made by the workshop coordinators. Have fun!