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I can’t fully recall the moment I started following Meeta, but it’s been a long time, that is for sure. I was a big fan of her work right from the beginning and so when the opportunity presented itself to take place in the very first Plate to Page workshop back in 2011, I did not hesitate one minute and signed up straight away. And til this day that has been one of the best decisions ever. Not only did I meet some of my blogging heroes in real life; Meeta , Jamie from Life’s a Feast, Ilva from Lucullian Delights and Jeanne of Cooksister, but some of the people I met back than have become close friends. It was my first experience with meeting any bloggers in real life. I had the time of my life and ofcourse I had no idea that I would be giving workshops with Meeta not that much later. Our first one together was last year in Holland and this year we are hosting one in Helsinki first and Berlin after… There are still a few spots available so take your chance… It still makes me happy every day that I got to known Meeta.. and part of the reason you can see below for yourself in her story for the inspiration on Saturday series.
How long have you been blogging and did you start out with taking food photos straight away?
I have been blogging for a good 8 years now. I started in 2006 and had only my recipes and experiments in the kitchen on my mind. But soon I realized that I needed visuals to pair with the recipes I was creating.
So I began to focus more and more on photography. Little did I know at that time it would pave my path for the future!
What gear did you use in the beginning and has that changed?
In the very beginning I was shooting with a digital Sony cybershot. For the first few months it was perfect as I taught myself how to work with food photography. I then switched to an entry level DSLR from Nikon and this was my camera for several years. A little over 3 years ago I switched to Canon’s full frame 5D mark II and over the years have invested in several lenses for this camera. My favorite two for food photography are the 24-70mm f/2.8 and the 85mm f/1.8. The 85mm produces crisp and vibrant images and I totally love it. It’s probably an unusual lens to use for food photography but I really enjoy working with it. I think prime lenses are fantastic for food photography.
Did you teach yourself or did you follow workshops and such?
At the time I started learning about food photography there were not many places or possibilities to learn about this aspect of photography. There wasn’t a lot of reading material either. So I began teaching myself. Luckily I loved photography and so began the passion.
Back then there were probably only a handful of food bloggers around the world. There were Flickr groups, forums and just easy emails sent back and forth if one had a question or needed help. I studied magazines and cookbooks and dedicate months to a specific theme. For example I took a whole year to just practice and study light – thinking that in light is never the same and each time of day offers a different light AND each time of year has an effect on light this was not an overstated period to invest. Besides, light is really the one aspect that makes or breaks an image. It is the main tool used to create moods, atmospheres and that WOW! effect. I took another year to learn about artificial light and that is how I moved forward. Reading, practicing and experimenting, My blog provides a great insight to my learning scale over the year. If you look at the images from 2007 and continue over the months and years you will see the progress I have made.
As time went by food blogging and with it food photography and writing became a hot commodity and suddenly almost everybody was doing it. It’s a fantastic development as there are so many talented people out there and this platform provided that the talent was being paid attention to. For me, my own development has been totally fantastic. I focused on my style and on improving it. As I began getting jobs and offers for my work and got requested to speak at food conferences which were beginning to happen here in Europe I came to the realization that the process I went though over the years is probably the same many of the “newbie” and younger bloggers are going through.
The idea of holding small exclusive workshops was born. Small because I wanted to work with a limited number of people to ensure that each one got a special focus. Conferences are great but being so big it is difficult for the instructor to pay attention to each detail and address each question. The workshops I had in mind were to be more hands-on, one-on-one and intensive. I wanted the participant who pays money to improve his/her skill to get the complete benefits of an exclusive training.
The workshops I give are limited to 12-14 participants and I either teach on my own or team up with other talented partners and photographers whom I have come to know and admire over the years. I like the collaboration with my partners basically because I find it’s always good for the “student” to have more than one viewpoint on how to tackle an issue. We do not solve the problem for the student but offer a range of tools, ideas and processes on how each participant can help themselves. My aim is to polish their skills and talent in the 2 days we are together in such a way that when they go home they have the know-how to work with their photography and styling skills in a more efficient manner.
I have been giving photography workshops now since 2011 and they have been not only fun but when I hear and see how my participants are using what they learned and are producing good work – that is the best satisfaction and reward for me.
My workshop season for 2014 has just kicked off and there will be 3 workshops in Europe this year. The registrations for Venice and Helsinki are running and we just announced the one in Berlin recently. As a matter of fact the workshops in Helsinki and berlin I will be teaming up with Simone again! After our very successful workshop last year in Amsterdam we had to get together again:
In September last year I was asked to join the school of photography and multimedia – The Compelling Image (TCI) as the food photography instructor. Here I instruct and guide comprehensive food photography courses to students from around the world.There are a few open slots for our Helsinki workshop in June and of course Berlin is open for registrations too. My workshop and e-courses page offers all the details on how you can register and enroll.
Can you describe your current setup for taking photos?
I have a “studio” a room dedicated for my photography. The good thing about tabletop photography is that you do not need a lot of room – the main item would be a table! I have a table that is shorter and lighter than most regular tables as it allows me to move it around easily and take shots in all different angles without much hassle. I always use a tripod when shooting in the studio. I shoot in manual mode and admit that I do not have the steadiest of hands. Furthermore, the tripod allows me to fix a specific angle for the shot and keeps my hands free to make changes in the set up without having to put the camera down and trying to get the same angle I was trying to get. A wireless remote is always attached to the camera, once again as it keeps my hands free and reduces camera movement – especially important when I am shooting with very little light. I use diffusers, reflectors, scrims, screens as required, placing them in the necessary areas. My studio has big ceiling-to-floor windows and depending on which direction I want the light to come into my shot I place my set-up accordingly.
Do you have a process you go through when preparing for a shoot for your blog? Is it spur of the moment or do you plan meticulously? (or both)
When I am shooting for clients I do plan quite precisely with the art director I am working with. They usually allow me a lot of leeway with my styling as they trust my ideas, giving me guidelines to follow and telling me where text, titles etc. will be or what mood they are going for. So I make a moodboard, defining color schemes, ideas etc. for the series. I take shots of the props I would like to use and discuss this with the team. Once I get the go ahead I begin planning the shot in my head, on paper etc. I usually prepare, cook, style and shoot the dishes and images. Once they are in the bag then begins the final step of post-processing.
If I am shooting for the blog it is mostly fun and experimenting with certain colors, style etc. These shoots mostly serve the purpose of practice or to see if a color scheme, style, light experiment works. While they are not always on the spur of them moment I might decide that some detail is not working and simple decide to change the entire idea and plan and re-start again.
What is the type of light you work with? (daylight, artificial light. If daylight what kind of light?)
I use daylight 95% of the time. For me the best light for food always. I try to avoid artificial light whenever possible.
What was your aha moment when shooting food? assuming non of you started being as awesome as you are today..
The aha moment came quite early – when I realized that I needed to really learn to harness light properly for the really good shots in food photography. It is important is all aspects of photography but food does not express emotion or feelings like say a person would in an portrait – so the photographer shooting food has to find a means to do this for the viewers looking at the food image. Light is a powerful tool that dictates the mood, the settings on the camera and the atmosphere for example. If it is executed well the food image may evoke very strong feelings in the viewer.
What is the one thing you would like to improve on?
Well in my photography I am always learning – maybe not always new things but certainly on things like improving my style. Once you have learned to tackle the modes and techniques on and with your camera there is not much you can improve on there. But one can always improve on using light / lighting in other ways, work more on style, different moods etc. That is what I like doing: trying out different colors, working on different moods and atmospheres and so on.I am now having so much fun discovering the challenges of mobile phone photography. While a mobile phone will never replace my DSLR camera – I love the possibilities and aspects of what mobile phone photography offers. Instagram has become my favorite place to hangout now. I am now trying to improve myself with this tool and just like I did back then I am fine with my older blurry pictures – the point is to learn and discover new things. You will hardly see images taken with a digital camera and then posted to the timeline (there are a few) as I do not see the point for this on Instagram. IG is for quick snapshots taken with the mobile device and the challenge and fun is to capture the shot in the square format.
Do you have a few tips for beginning foodbloggers who want to improve their photos?
My tip … would be the same I gave (and still give) myself practice, practice, practice. Once you have learned how to use the camera properly invest as much time as you can on learning how to work with 1) light, 2) learn how to focus properly and 3) do not be afraid to leave your comfort zone to try something different.
Who are your role models (foodbloggers and/or foodphotographers you admire)
Well my all time favorites are Chris Court, William Meppem and Ben Dearnley –in my opinion they are masters with light so I always like to study their images very closely
I also love the work from Anna Williams, Thorsten Suedfels and Alison Miksh. Food bloggers whose work I appreciate are Ilva Beretta of Lucullian Delights, Peter Georgakopoulos from Souvlaki for the Soul, Tanya Zouev of the Cook who knew nothing and of course Simone’s of Simone’s Kitchen. But there are so many budding and new bloggers who have been creating some spectacular work. Platforms like Pinterest are great to discover these amazing talents.
Anything else you want to share?
Inspiration comes from many directions and mediums and one should always use it to improve on one’s own skills – not to copy. The work I do for clients keeps me on my toes and will inspire me on a different level than my own private projects. These give me plenty of room to try out new ideas and methods. I look at food magazines but also at lifestyle and travel images and fashion magazines to see what is the current theme, style mood and these all motivate me to express myself creatively in my images. I dislike being stagnant and want to keep moving – preferably forward but I have learnt that a step backwards can be very advantageous to reassess and get a new overview. Most importantly … one should always have fun and sometimes take a failure with a pinch of salt … get up, brush yourself off and move on.
If you have created a strong style for yourself you can be confident of your work. Make sure you build a good portfolio that represents your style and have a variety of your work. If you want to improve your photography for your blog then just let yourself go and have fun. Step out of the comfort zone and often visiting a workshop or attending an e-course will bring you together with like-minded people where you can share your ideas but also others to give feedback too.