A Natural Approach to Food Photography


It’s a little late in the making, but I couldn’t go without sharing my New York food photography workshop experience with you!

The course was offered by International Center for Photography. It was a 4 day, intensive workshop that had us in the classroom for one day, in a shooting kitchen for 2 days, and then out and about in New York the forth day. I was so exhausted by the end of it, let me tell you.

The course was taught by the incredibly talented, approachable, kind, Susie Cushner. She also had Dana Bonagura, a food stylist, and Roland Pabst, her teaching assistant, helping us throughout the workshop. Roland took a bunch of photos of the class throughout the workshop and was kind enough to allow me to share them on the blog with you guys. Yay, Roland!

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Not only were Susie, Dana and Roland amazingly professional and helpful, but my fellow students were something else, wow. I was amazed by each of their diverse backgrounds. We all brought something different to the table and complimented each other really well. It was never a dull moment in class!

Day two and three were my favorite of the course. The group met at Shooting Kitchen; a daylight photo studio designed specifically for food photography, and began running through the lessons and techniques that Susie had introduced us to in the classroom on day one.

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A lot of what we learned was hands on experience. We weren’t so much taught the steps to a perfect photo, but rather the possibilities out there and the concepts we could merge with our own techniques to make our photos our own. I brought a heavy lined notebook and took 1 page of notes. Everything was hands on, which I loved.

The group partnered up into two man teams and my partner, Joyce, and I got to planning our first setup.

We wanted to do a very simple take on butternut squash. We worked on that squash all day. Moving the spoon, scooping out the insides, putting the insides back, I’ve never spent as much time on one photo as I did that day. I’m am the most impatient person I know, so spending hours playing around with a piece of squash on a roasting pan required a lot of determination. But it was so rewarding.


Joyce and I went into day three of the course with determination. We wanted to work with reflective surfaces, donuts, pasta, classic white, we made a list, came up with our concepts and rocked the day like no other.

First up was the reflective surface. Yes, the composition of the photo isn’t the best, but what we were trying to learn was how to manipulate the reflective surface without seeing ourselves in it or having to change out the horrible black background. You can see from the image below, no black, no Leanne and no camera in the reflective plate.

Mission accomplished.

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To do this, we used a series of 11×14 black and white “cards” made of matte board purchased at the craft store. These babies are magic. For real.

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Then we moved on to pasta. I was interested to see a food stylist approach a bowl of pasta, so we asked Dana for a hand with this one. She flipped and twirled the pasta, spending a fair bit of time making it look absolutely perfect. Out of all the food photography steps, food styling is definitely where my heart is. It was fascinating watching her at work.

I chose earth toned props for my pasta dish and grabbed the perfect shot using some cards and a diffusion panel to the right.

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The group took a break for lunch, but I stayed back to work on the composition of my donut photo.

I struggled with this one. I spent about an hour switching up props, changing my mind on things a hundred times… I wanted to do something simple, something I would never do on the blog, but that had my style. In the end, I went with this… and I’m super happy about it.

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Our last shot of the day, something we worked on together, was our milk shot. We wanted an iconic photograph that would challenge us to work with shadows, reflective surfaces and empty space.

We sat on the cold floor for a long while getting everything set up and ready to go.

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And after a bunch of bubble blowing, we got it!


Our last day of the course took us outside to translate what we’d learned in the studio to real life. It was fun to take a more serious approach to something I like to do just for fun on the weekends.

We headed to a farmers market in union square on what was definitely the prettiest days to shoot outside. The snow was falling in big heavy flakes, the air was crisp, and the snow covered produce looked so beautiful!

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All in all, it was a fabulous experience that fueled my passion for food photography even more, inspired me to take more time and care into the shoots I create for the blog, and introduced me to some fabulous people.

Although I was super nervous to go to New York by myself, I’m so happy that I busted through my fears and took myself on this crazy ride!

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Are you interested in photography, of any kind?

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Comments | Leave Your Comment

  1. Omg how amazing! I have been on a few food photography workshops, events, and trips and I always leave inspired and with new info and things to think about (almost too much sometimes…haha!) but a fabulous time you must have had. And that studio. It’s my dream to have access to a place like that. They exist here in SoCal but how I would love to re-create something like that…I can dream :)

    • You’re the Queen of photography classes! I loved all the ones you went on last year, so cool. You’re right, I’m back at home feeling mega inspired.

  2. What an incredible opportunity! I definitely need to take a photography class soon. I’ve learned a lot through self-teaching these last few months but it doesn’t compare to what you learned in just a few days!

    • I’m with you, Erica… everything I knew was self-taught up until last week’s course. It was life changing!

  3. I love your blog! Read it every day:) Thanks for all the inspiration! I have recently found out that I’m pregnant. Do you by any chance know of any good blogs with that focus on pregnancy and health?

  4. Sounds like a great workshop. I enjoy seeing the fantastic photography on so many of the blogs I read–some people are so talented!! If I had more time to devote to it, I might try to be a better photographer. But for now I stick to what draws me to blogging, and that is sharing recipes and talking about health and nutrition. :)

    • You’re right, it does take time. I can’t tell you how much time I just stand and stare at my props forEVER waiting for something to click. Also great to stay focused – delivering a healthy message to the world is pretty powerful. You’re doing great work, Michelle :)

  5. That is the most beautiful donut shot I’ve ever seen, ever! :) You’ve got me totally sold on this workshop. I’m totally going to look into doing one of their next ones. And the Shooting Kitchen?! What an awesome concept! I bet you were totally in your element!

    • Aw thank you! You would LOVE it. I could totally see you there!

  6. I love it but I don’t have your skills! I have a large day light PhotoSel light now which is in soft box but I can’t get to grips with shadowing and were to position the light.

    • Don’t say you can’t! You CAN! And the cool thing is that you can only get better from here ;)

  7. Hey, Leanne. It was really nice to meet you in Food Photography class. That is a great summary of the class. You and Joyce took great photos. Meeting you in class was one of the best things that I could take home with from class. I love your blog and am learning all the ingredients that I did not think of using, as I have no food allergy. You inspired me.

    My new juicer is on its way to my home. I will do the Juice Cleanse with my juicer.

    Thank you!

    • Hey Tomoko – Right back at you, it was so great to meet you and chat all things blog last weekend! So great that you’re going to start juicing, too. You’ll have to let me know how it goes :)

  8. What a wonderful learning adventure/experience! The donuts say it all – though I love the carrots with snow, too. :-) Thanks for sharing that with us!

  9. Thanks so much for sharing this–it sounds like so much fun, and is something I would have never been part of without this opportunity to share your experience! I love the donut picture so much.

    • Hey Patti – glad you could virtually coming along with me :)

  10. I absolutely loved the donut shot. And the squash shot is beautiful. I didn’t realize how involved food photography was. I also really love the simplicity of the milk shot with the white on white. Just beautiful!

    • It’s so involved! It’s crazy. They were telling us that there can be up to 12 people on one shoot… for one photo!

  11. What a fun post!! Sounds like such an awesome weekend. The butternut squash and the pasta photos are my favorites. When I first started blogging I didn’t know anything about photography at all. I have learned some along the way, and have found I love it. Half the fun for me now is learning and experimenting and seeing the outcomes. It can be frustrating at times, but I find it super rewarding. Congrats on all the gorgeous photos, and for facing your fear of going to NYC alone and doing it anyway. It sounds like a very growing experience!

    • You’re right, it can be super frustrating, right? I think patience is super key, wouldn’t you say? A couple of deep breaths always help!

      • Patience is definitely key.. and making enough food so you (and whoever you are cooking for) can eat while you shoot and not feel rushed. I am trying to learn more patience, but I bet you came back from this weekend you were all geared up to get shooting again with your new knowledge!!

  12. What a fun adventure Leanne! Your pics look fab, and I’ve always thought that :) I am not surprised that your passion lies in food styling. You ALWAYS do a great job, your recipes are incredible, but your pics are my favorite part!

  13. I ADORE your doughnut shot! Love the simplicity of it, but how everything is also positioned to the absolute perfection. Love how the light subtly kisses it, as if trying to get a little taste without anyone noticing. Gorgeous!

    And now, I want a doughnut. Bad. Hmpft. I am totally blaming you for this! ;)

    • Well, those multiple hours I spent setting this one up was totally worth it! Thanks for your kind words, Sonia. Sadly, this doughnut is by far the most unhealthy picture I’ve ever posted on the blog. These babies were deep fried to the MAX!

  14. great photos, I took a photography workshop, just a basic “know your camera” type and have been working on perfecting what I learned, but I feel I haven’t gotten anywhere with it. I want to take pictures for our website, but still feel my pictures are lacking. Yours are beautiful. I am hoping some day in Calgary someone puts on a food photography workshop.

    • Thanks, Sheri! Food photography instruction was challenging to find in Calgary, I never had any luck with it… but they have some great online classes on YouTube!

  15. Sounds like a great workshop! I would love to take a class like that sometime, but I really need to get a better camera first! Yup – I’m still using my iPhone. I find as long as I can get some natural light then the photos turn out OK. Of course, I can only take photos on the weekend when I am not working (because Vancouver has NO sun after 4pm in the winter) and when my little one is down for a nap – bit of a challenge. I try to pre-plan 3 or more recipes to make on Saturday and then photograph on Sunday. Seems to reduce a little stress!

  16. What an amazing opportunity! I love photography but I’m just in the VERY early stages of learning. I’d love to learn any tips that you care to share from your workshop. Your pictures are amazing!

  17. Loved this post. Everything is so beautiful. You are such an inspirational food photographer, Leanne! Can’t wait to see this class in action on your blog.

  18. THanks for sharing this Leanne! I am jealous of your experience. Looks like you had a blast in NY while I was being much less productive in Toronto. :)

    • Meh, Toronto is cool too! If you get a chance to do this course, it was so helpful!

  19. This sounds like such an amazing class! I love the photos you took and thanks for sharing this with us! I’m excited to see how this changes your photo style on the blog! :)

  20. What a fun and incredible experience! I have really been enjoying exploring food photography through my blog, but I have never had any kind of “training”. It would be great to spend hours and days just trying new things! Lucky you!

  21. Oh, if I had unlimited funds, I’d pretty much take food photography workshops endlessly. I adore learning about photography and it always inspires me to work on my own (albeit, sometimes I’m just lazy and want to take the freakin shot already!).

    Thanks for sharing this experience!!


    • Amen to that! Unlimited funds would be a dream come true :D

  22. Leanne! I love reading about all your adventures, whether in the kitchen or elsewhere! Thanks for sharing! Awesome photographs by the way! :)

  23. Thanks for the photography tips _ I enjoyed reading through them. The donut pic is REALLY nice! I want to get to a class on photography, like you, I am self taught.

  24. what a fun day to be out in the snow in New York City… ahh – my favorite place ever!

    I know I would have LOVED this class – your photos are beautiful! Photography is such a work in progress, isn’t it? I absolutely love it, and still feel there is SO much to learn!

    • Yes, it’s definitely one of those things that you could do forever and still feel like you have something to gain/learn from each experience. It’s quite magical!

  25. wow! This looked fabulous! What an experience. I’m still learning and finding the time for photography though really enjoy it. I mostly leave and get home when it’s dark so I need to learn how to best do lighting. There is nothing like real sunlight! Do you have any tips for lighting? Thanks! Love your blog

    • Hey Kristen – when I wasn’t able to take advantage of daylight, I used a construction light as my light source. It was SUPER cheap and did the trick!

  26. I LOVE that donut shop. It is different than any pictures I have seen on your blog before, looks like you have some natural talent girl!

  27. This looks like such an awesome workshop! The photos on your blog are already so well done, and I love that you’re still interested in improving. I think it speaks to your passion for what you are doing (in addition to talent/work ethic). Personally I love photography, but when it comes to food I’ve never had the patience to attempt more than a snapshot.
    Looking forward to seeing more of your photography!

    • Thanks Lindsay, wow… such kind words! I’m the exact way with anything other than food… I have no patience for it in the least bit. It was a great course, for sure!

  28. I love seeing a sneak peek into the nuts and bolts of good food photography – you did another post on this when you were setting up your office after your move and I learned a couple things from that one. Your photos always look so natural that it’s difficult to remember all the effort that goes into them. I’ve been sort of stuck lately with iPhone photography, but I got a new camera (not SLR, but a step up for me) for myself for Christmas, so it’s time to learn some *real* photo-taking skills.

  29. Now it is my turn to tell you the truth. As mentioned by Leanne I was the TA for the class.
    The truth is ……………….. Leanne wrote exactly what happened and how great the class was. It was amazing to watch her working on her pictures and she put a lot of effort and skill into the details. We had a good laugh when the light completely changed from the 1st set-up until the picture was finally taken.
    Thanks to the class, thanks to you I got to know your blog and “healthful pursuit”.

    • Aw thanks, Roland! You are too kind. Getting to work with you was a delight!

  30. Love your blog. Check in often. I especially enjoyed your donut shot. You made the sugar look so crunchy and delicious. I think I’d lick that up first then immediately dive into those lovely donuts!


    • Hey Candace! Thanks for stopping in and sharing your kind comments about my work, I really appreciate it. Yes, that sugar does look quite delicious, doesn’t it? Hope you’re having a great weekend!

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