Food Photography Workshop with Not Without Salt

Aran Goyoaga's photography studio in Seattle

You couldn't pick a better location for a food photography workshop - Aran Goyoaga's new Seattle studio. Isn't it gorgeous? Throw in two inspiring workshop leaders - Ashley Rodriguez (Not Without Salt) and her spouse, wedding photographer Gabe Rodriguez - and you have the perfect weekend.

I mentioned in my newsletter a week ago that I go to food photography workshops with three expectations: 1st, to learn something new; 2nd, to meet other artists; and 3rd, to be immersed for a few days. I should have added a fourth one - to be challenged & inspired.

With only THIS much time available, I'm choosy about where I go. But we all are, right?

My expectations were more than met.

It was an international crowd - Canada, Brazil and Finland in addition to California, Louisiana and the Seattle area. And can I be brutally honest here - sometimes when you go to a photography workshop, some of the attendees can be more about the gear than the art & creativity. And sometimes the discussions deteriorate quickly into detailed discussions about lenses. Not this time.

The art & creative process drove the gear choices, not the other way around. Yay for that!

Ashley, Gabe and Aran created an environment where everyone felt comfortable asking questions, no matter what their ability. I know - that should be commonplace in a workshop but it isn't. Whether it was the alchemy of the attendees or the skill of the workshop leaders, we all felt comfortable.

Ashley and Aran would bring out the ingredients, and we'd gather around shooting while the dishes were prepared. Then we chose our own props and styled our own photographs of the final dish.

I found this workshop to be a great mix of art and technical. With a fine art background, Ashley comes at food photography from an artsy point-of-view. Lots of gut feel and intuition as to what works and what doesn't. I loved the insight into her creative process and the evolution of her aesthetic over the past few years.

Not to say that Gabe isn't creative - take a look at his wedding portfolio! But he provided the more technical camera and lightroom knowledge as required. When I got  home I sorted out my Lightroom catalogue.

They're a great team.

Like any creative medium, food photography has a huge range of styles and aesthetics. When you are planning to take a workshop, make sure that the workshop leaders' aesthetic and creative process matches your own. If there's a disconnect, you'll at best leave less inspired and at worst, confused about your own next steps.

I love the casual, in process food photographs. I love the feeling that there's a before and an after to the image. Not too styled. Not fussy. I know that "authentic" is SUCH an overused word, but I like an authentic feel. A sense of honesty about the photo - that a particular person prepared this food and then someone sat down and ate it afterwords. Those are the ingredients that were actually used to make that particular dish.

Ashley and Gabe had a few exercises for us to try and as we worked our way through the various stations that had been set up, they were available to answer questions or make suggestions. Considering the fact that there were 12 people in the workshop, I never felt that I went without feedback when I wanted it.

We each picked our top four photographs for a critique on Sunday. Ack. 

They handled it so well - an anonymous random slide show. You could say if it was your photo and we each offered insight. A side benefit to seeing everyone's top photos was again being reminded that despite the same setting, 12 people produced 12 different creative interpretations.

winter fruit tart - Sandra Harris

I'll do another post about day 2 when we went to Pike Place Market for a lifestyle shoot.

You can tell that I enjoyed it, right? Yup. And I'd love to hear what workshops you've been on (no matter the medium - doesn't have to be photography). What works and doesn't work for you when you go away to learn?