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Tuesday, February 9, 2010

learning from the best

remember a couple of weeks ago, when i mentioned that photoblogging workshop that a friend told me about? well, i did indeed manage to work things out so that i could attend. and boy, am i glad i went!

first of all, that friend? none other than the monkey herself, who was actually one of the three instructors for the afternoon. along with her fellow local food bloggers daily gluttony and sinosoul, they'd decided to pool their talents and help, uh, wannabe foodie paparazzi and bloggers like me improve their own shooting skills.

i set out on a rainy saturday morning in the hub's tahoe (leaving him and the bean with my carseat-equipped pri-YES) and found myself downtown with a good 20 minutes to spare. sweet! until i continued to follow the directions on my iPhone and realized that google maps had failed me for the first time. it directed me to a location just across the street from staples center - and i knew i wasn't anywhere near the hilton checkers hotel, which is where the phototasting session was to take place.

after driving around in circles and confirming that i was, indeed, lost beyond belief (it doesn't matter how many times i drive downtown to meet up with various SFAMily members, i always, always get lost at some point), i finally gave up and sent up the batsignal for the monkey's help. and after a little effort and keeping her on the phone as i drove, i finally found myself here:

of course, i wandered through the hotel, up the stairs and into several different meeting rooms before a member of the hotel staff took pity on me and asked where i was headed. after i explained that no, i wasn't there for the USC theater auditions (as if), he directed me back downstairs and into the restaurant, where i found several other attendees waiting. i even got to meet kelley, who subjects herself to the inanity of my blog on a regular basis and had signed up after i posted about it. haha! i didn't get to hang out with her much, but she seemed super sweet and friendly.

we chatted amongst ourselves, exchanging calling cards and generally shooting the shit, when the monkey appeared and led us into the back of the hotel restaurant. it was set up with several rows of chairs and a couple of linen-covered tables in the back, right in front of the large windows offering lots of lovely natural light.

i'd been told that there were only twelve spaces available in the class, but after links to the workshop were posted prominently on sites such as the local nbc news channel and the los angeles times' food blog, the organizers found themselves overbooked, with a waiting list! that's pretty fantastic, if you ask me.

sinosoul kicked things off with an easy-to-follow, highly informative discussion about point-and-shoot and DSLR cameras (i brought both - such a kiss ass teacher's pet). he's a cool guy, and i enjoyed listening to his speech (despite the fact that he's a die-hard canon fan and my equipment was all nikon, all the time). the monkey took her turn in the spotlight next, and i wasn't surprised to see that she'd come fully prepared with a powerpoint slideshow and coordinating printed hand-outs for everyone. she went through the very basics, explaining how a camera works, white balance adjustments, ISO sensitivity, and other super geeky-tech stuff in a way that even my dumb ass could understand. i really appreciated the education and felt much more knowledgeable about my camera and the different technical aspects of how it all works.

i was left desperately coveting the lens she uses for her food shots - a 35 mm, f/1.8 that runs a couple hundred bucks. i was supremely, uh, enlightened (pun intended) in regards to using the right lens, maximizing the available light, and shutter speed.

and then daily gluttony, looking super stylish in her tights and knee-high boots (can you tell i was an instant fan of this woman?) got up and on the screen appeared an incredibly gorgeous photograph of a sandwich topped with a fried egg. never knew something as simple as an egg could be so pretty, did ya?

obviously, her portion of the discussion was all about the artistic side of food photography. she showed us how to frame the shots, use different angles to capture various views of the plated dishes, explained how to implement the "rule of 3" in our food porn. and as she talked us through these topics, the food appeared on the tables. each dish was presented two different ways so that we could take full advantage of the chef's presentation techniques and the awesome light that poured in through the windows.
daily gluttony's talk also touched a little on post-processing using free sites like picasa and picnik, and i've got photoshop at home too. although i have easy access to it, i don't really get much into the post-processing - but i should. a little touching up would help my photos drastically. that's just my laziness kicking in. heh.

we were being treated to executive chef todd allison's valentine's day menu:

first up - lobster bisque. on one table, it was brought out already in the bowl.

and on the other, the bowl arrived empty with that liquid gold in a separate container. as it was poured out slowly, we gathered around and snap, snap, snapped away. i let my shutter go off repeatedly in the hopes that i'd get a decent shot. having taken a seat in the very front row, i was shit outta luck in snagging a spot with the best view. but i think i did okay:

after we'd gotten our fill of photos, we grabbed spoons for a sample. that's probably the best lobster bisque i've ever tasted - smooth, creamy, flavorful. and i wasn't shy - i scooped up one of those chunks of lobster meat and shoved it in my piehole before anyone noticed. ha!
see what i was up against? after the first few courses, i finally gave up on my up-front seat and hung around near the tables. i got to take some of the first shots of the subsequent dishes this way. heh.

oh, and look at how cute the chefs are! they're single, ladies - go get you some.

the next course was an ahi tuna salad, served with pomegranate, blood oranges, and a bed of lettuce.

grilled calamari with kalamata olives, cipiollini onions, haricots verts and roasted garlic aioli:

daily gluttony had just gone through a section discussing full-frontal food porn when the braised kurobuta pork belly was brought out. i decided to try my hand at this technique and was super proud of myself when i showed her my shots and she offered up lots of praise for this one:

i'm typically not a huge brussels sprouts fan, but oh mah gah, these were good. i think i helped myself to about four.

by the way, yes - i tried almost all of the food (except the calamari - i hate squid) and it was super delicious. i kind of wished i could come back for the full-on meal, but i'm gonna cook our valentine's day dinner with my own two hands. each course was brought out with a bowl full of clean forks - no double dippin' in this joint.

grilled alaskan salmon, with asparagus, quinoa, and a scrumptious roasted tomatillo and chili relish.

myers ranch beef tenderloin with spinach, fingerling potatoes and bearnaise sauce.

finally, the desserts: coconut bread pudding with tahitian vanilla ice cream and thai banana, and shortcake with farmers market berries.

i was ever-so-slightly embarrassed to be singled out by sinosoul to view my photos on the big ass monitor at the front of the room - i still wasn't totally confident about my abilities and wasn't so sure about having my efforts displayed in front of the whole group. there was some serious equipment in there, and i knew there were some capable, skilled shutterbugs in the class. yikes. but i was pleased to see that i'd managed to snap a few halfway decent shots, and basked in the praise of my instructors. heh. i'm such an attention whore.
by this time, we'd gone over our originally scheduled end time of 3:00. a few people had already taken off, but i stayed till the very end. i chatted with all three instructors for a while, drooled over daily gluttony's awesome black patent hello kitty tote, and was stoked when she shared the info on where i could get one of my very own. whee!

with this phototasting workshop being the first of its kind in the l.a. area, i'm fairly sure that there'll be a repeat, or several. now that they've gotten over the hurdle of the first session, they'll be able to figure out what worked and what didn't, tweak their presentations, and fine-tune the timing of the various courses. i had a great time, and even though i'm admittedly biased because my BFF por vida is one of the event organizers, i really would recommend it to anyone who's interested in learning how to create their own version of food porn. now, i'm still nowhere near their level, but i'm feeling a lot more optimistic about getting there some day. practice makes perfect, right? i guess that only means i need to eat more. muahahahahahaha.

not to mention, i really enjoyed meeting a couple of the monkey's food blogger friends. they're super cool, and if i'm lucky, i'll get to hang out with them again sometime soon.

i'm such a groupie.


  1. Ah! A photography lesson while getting the opportunity to taste scrumptious food. Sounds like a perfect afternoon to me!

  2. It was so great to meet you. :) I wish we could have chatted a bit more. We need to get the kiddies together.

    Your pictures are AWESOME! Color me impressed. And those brussel sprouts were ah-mazing. :)

    PS. I looove your blog. All I'm subjecting myself to is bean & teen stories, bacon and cookies. I'll take it!

  3. I don't even like my camera anymore but I would have rekindled the relationship to be able to go to that, how awesome!

  4. I think I must be experiencing a hormonal imbalance because I'm a little verklempt.

    My fave shots of yours: (1) Second shot of the cutting of the ahi tuna and (2) both pork belly shots. Good job!

    Thank you SO much for coming. Love you to pieces.

  5. I yam so sorry for kidnapping your SD card and molesting it for all to see on TV. It didn't seem to mind tho. And really, Tahoe?!? I can't imagine this.

    Thanks for joining us!

  6. Is it sad that my favorite pic is of the awesome patent leather Hello Kitty tote?

  7. What a great event! Your pictures are fabulous. I hope this event makes its way to OC (nudge nudge wink wink)

  8. The monkey is verklempt! The monkey is verklempt!

  9. Wow wan - those are your best food pics yet! :)

    I'll totally go to the next one.

  10. Judging my the pictures you posted, the session was a success.

    Thanks for the tip on Picasa. I played around with it this afternoon and am really liking the features that it offers and the ease of using it for quick little edits.

  11. How fun! I love that you take pictures of unexpected things (like the basket of forks and the hottie chef) as well as the food to tell your story.

  12. I am really late commenting, but just wanted to say I was SO glad you came to our workshop! It was so cool to have finally met you!

    Your photos look fab--DG is proud.

  13. You take gorgeous photos! It was nice to meet you. =D


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