A Natural Approach to Food Photography

By December 6, 2018


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.

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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!

Leanne Vogel in kitchen learning about food photography

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.

Leanne Vogel in class learning about food photography

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.

Leanne Vogel taking pictures of food in NewYork

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.

Plate of fruit

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.

DSCN0085 (ZF-9229-66191-1-004)-2

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.

Natural Photo

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.

Natural Photo

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.

Food photography in NYC

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!

Leanne Vogel taking pictures in the snow

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!

Carrots with snow

Are you interested in photography, of any kind?

This entry was tagged: photography

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Hi! I'm Leanne (RHN FBCS)

a Functional Medicine Practitioner, host of the Healthful Pursuit Podcast, and best-selling author of The Keto Diet & Keto for Women. I want to live in a world where every woman has access to knowledge to better her health.

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