Smile Politely

Styling food on the farm

Over the last year or so, Prairie Fruits Farm has beefed (or goated?) up its collaborations with local artisans in the form of classes, dinners, and other sorts of gatherings. Last week PFF hosted a Food Styling and Photography class, led by Cara Cummings. Cummings is the Executive Director of The Land Connection and an artist who makes lovely botanical paintings, carves elegant wooden serving utensils, and takes beautiful photos, among other things.

The class met last Wednesday, February 11th from 6-9 p.m. in the barn (registration was required ahead of time; the class was $35). I’m food motivated, obviously, so I was sold on registering for the class when I read that there would be food prepared by PFF chef Alisa DeMarco for eating in addition to photographing. Food is one of the most difficult subjects to photograph. A misguided or poorly executed photo of something delicious can easily look disgusting. (I’m thinking of you, Martha Stewart.) So I figured that I could have some tasty snacks and learn a thing or ten about taking better photos of food.

The spread of food available for snacking was quite amazing; those little cupcakes were divine. Sadly, there wasn’t much in the way of PFF goat cheese, since it’s not exactly goat milking/cheese making season. But there was some bubbly, and that paired quite nicely with the vegetable tart and mini cupcakes. Dustin Kelly, owner of Autumn Berry Inspired, was also a student in the class, and he graciously shared some autumn berry jams (regular, low sugar, spicy), which paired well with the crackers and cheese. I was also lucky to snag a piece of the chocolate covered autumn berry fruit leather — it was delicious.

Cummings didn’t waste much time with presentations and lecturing; she felt that the best use of our time was to learn by doing, and I was definitely on board with that. There were four different stations set up, each with a number of potential iterations. Cummings was on hand to help with whatever we needed (mostly technical questions), but we were otherwise left to explore and move around as we saw fit. She brought with her several books about food photography and some incredibly beautiful cookbooks, and these were helpful to look at. I learned a lot in a few hours, and I’d recommend the class not only to those who may want to learn a thing or two about taking better photos of the things they cook and eat, but also to those who are looking for something fun — and maybe a little quirky — to do around town. Additional classes will be scheduled, so sign up for the Prairie Fruits Farm mailing list.

I had a great time at this event. It was a lot of fun, and even though there wasn’t much traditional instruction, I was able to ask for help and feedback as needed. I took a bunch of photos with a Nikon D60 and my iPhone, so check them out. You’ll see that I learned a bit more about using my camera, and I’ve shared some imperfect photos (nothing gross, just bad lighting) to show you what I learned, and reveal some of the process.

Station one: vegetable tart, dried herbs.

Photography literally means “writing with light,” and I learned to improve my handwriting: 

Fourth time’s a charm?

Station two: cupcakes.

Play with different props for staging: decorative napkins, patterned craft paper, or paper lanterns (strange choice, in my opinion). Looks like the cupcake and the milk are on a nice picnic (also a little strange). 

And sometimes you drop the cupcake right on its frosting. 

Station three: breads, cheese plate.

Layer textures for a more dynamic photo. Or just put nice looking things together. Utensils were made by Cara Cummings. Aren’t they beautiful?

Station four: Renaissance-inspired velvet drop cloth, diffused lighting, round fruits.

All photos by Jessica Hammie. 

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