Food Photography | Charleston 2015 Workshop Recap with Helene Dujardin

About a month ago I discovered that a food photographer I have followed for quite some time & love & respect her work was hosting another food photography & styling workshop I had been eyeing in Charleston, SC alongside Chef John Ondo of Lana. However upon a bit more research, I also discovered it was sold out. Womp womp! With a slim chance of even receiving a response back, let alone a spot for the workshop, I reached out to see if they needed assistance in any way since I'm only a few hours away. When I sent the e-mail, I simply prayed that if I was meant to be there, the door would open. Within a few days, I received a reply from Helene Dujardin - while they didn't need any assistance, she was so kind to take the time to respond & to let me know what there would be more workshops coming in the near future. Great to know! While this may not be the exact right time to go, perhaps in the future I could. Sounds good to me - back to business, folks!

Fast forward to a couple weeks later... I get an e-mail at 6pm on a Thursday, the night before leaving for meetings in Atlanta Friday, a wedding in Dallas, GA Saturday, and an engagement session at Serenbe Sunday. This was also my final wedding of 6 weekends in a row of weddings, so the light at the end of the tunnel to relax at home was near!

But, plans quickly changed... a spot at opened up for the workshop that would begin... Monday! What are the chances! Could I make it happen? When would I edit my wedding & session before leaving for vacation in Virginia? Was I insane to even think it would be logical? Yes, I probably was insane, but I knew that my prayer of the door opening had been answered, and here I was, registering for a workshop that would begin in just a few days! After a busy season (and very little sleep from long hours of editing!), I was ready to devour (literally) the most amazing food & knowledge about something I am so passionate about and invest in a portion of my business I am so excited to grow!

This workshop was such a dream! I kind of told myself it was like a working vacation, because basically they fed us amazing meals and snacks prepared by Chef John Ondo & gave us tons of wine, I didn't have to do any of the clean-up, we totally geeked out about food photography & styling, and it was all by the beach. Yep, a dream. Not to mention, having the chance to learn from someone so talented in such an intimate setting and gain some great friends in the process. It's taken me a couple weeks to process just how amazing it was, but I'm so excited to share some of the images and experiences while there! More than anything, I'm just so grateful that the door opened for this amazing week! It was such fun and a great reminder to be around people who value food, photography & gathering around a table to share in life as much as I do!

Up first: our charcuterie board! First, Helene did a demo of her board and we all oohed and ahhed over her amazingly creative mind and captures. It was amazing to see how her mind works in styling & shooting - this lady knows her stuff for real. Then, we were set loose on her prop & surface stash to create our own. I immediately was drawn to these props & textures perfect for a late summer's evening on the patio. And I still can't get over that olive plate!

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Later for lunch, Chef prepared us the most delicious risotto (which I'm always, always a sucker for ever since our trip to the Amalfi Coast where we ate lemon risotto with shrimp fresh from the sea). With zucchini & gorgeous swiss chard, the risotto had a bit of a pinkish hue. I love the way the warm, cozy risotto complements the rustic wooden surface here, and the worn green spot on the top right of the surface fits with the flecks of green in the dish. Finally, just the tiniest spillage of salt from the pinch pot makes me ready to dive in.

Later, I spotted the pinch pots of salt & pepper sitting on the countertop and couldn't help but stop to style them on the salt & pepper granite for a little kitchen vignette.

Our next challenge was an arugula, red onion, fennel & granny smith apple salad. My favorite part about shooting this salad (aside from how pretty the ingredients were) was the promise of eating it in the end. It was right up my alley! And props to Helene for being my hand model after she created her salad. 

One of my favorite challenges of the week was the (in)famous "Canned Soup Challenge" - we each plucked a tiny slip of paper out of a bag with a prompt, which followed with blindly pulling out one can of soup from another bag. Mine read: "Bright and happy - multiples - patterns." My soup? New England Clam Chowder. I set to a little spot in my bedroom with lovely window light and began pulling props galore. Y'all, patterns can be way overwhelming - so when Helene came & challenged me to really go for it with the patterns, I wasn't so sure how it would turn out. After some tweaking & playing, I'm so thrilled with this image & ready to dive right into my bright, happy, patterned bowl with some friends and a slice of bread! Plus, this shot totally pushed me out of my comfort zone. Going to get geeky photographer on you for a moment here. For a girl who typically shoots at f/1.8-2.8 (for you non-photographers, this creates that nice, dreamy blurred background), Helene let me try her tripod, allowing me to shoot this at: 50mm / ISO 200 / f/16 / SS: 0.4 sec. Mind. blown. This week really challenged me to go a bit slower, not be afraid to keep my ISO low & shutter speed slow, and to analyze the best styling, shooting and angle to communicate my food story best. I'm so grateful for those lessons!

One of our final foodie adventures was to the Geechie Seafood Dock in Mt. Pleasant, SC where we picked up fresh Red Snapper & shrimp for meals.

 I absolutely love capturing lifestyle scenes and loved all of the birds in action swooping around & even fighting for their shrimp snack at the docks.

Being forever enthralled by the "behind the scenes" and the process that goes into all things, watching the guy at the docks prep the shrimp was so amazing! I love the action shots of the water dripping through the holes of the colander, and especially loved eating this shrimp on our final night in a low country boil!

On our last night, Helene & Chef's wife, Angela, styled the most gorgeous going-away dinner for us, and Chef prepared low country boil, paella & BBQ. The fabulously hilarious assistant, Libby, made sure everything went off without a hitch all week. And Heirloomed Collection gifted us with gorgeous linen napkins. It was the most delicious array of foods & flavors and a perfect way to end the workshop - even though really we all wished it would never end. Don't worry, we made sure to have an extra glass of wine into the late, late hours of the night.

I'm still digesting all of the great knowledge & tips I gained from this week, and just so beyond thankful I was able to be a part and for Helene, John & Libby for making it possible. Not only are these people crazy talented, but they are amazing people & invest so much in this workshop so that their attendees leave with full bellies, hearts & minds. Just this past Friday I had the chance to get dinner & catch up with Helene for a little girl's night at John's restaurant when I was in town for an engagement session, and I was thrilled to hear they just announced their next workshop! So, here are my recommendations:

If you're interested in a fabulous week of food photography & styling & dining on the most amazing dishes, join them for their next workshop - you won't regret it! If you know nothing about photography, but just entertain me by reading my blog and food gets you excited, then a. thank you!! and b. drive to Charleston right now to eat at Lana and while you're enjoying a charcuterie plate & a delicious glass of Rioja, be amazed by Helene's blog, Tartlette. Either way, you can't lose! And if you're driving through Augusta on your way to Charleston, be sure to stop by & say hello!