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!