Penelope Beveridge needs no introductions. Photographer. Stylist. Winner of numerous international photography awards, including the SMH Shoot the Chef competition in the pro division for the depiction of Chef Cyril Milletto and his Crew, DaVinci-style.
And now, she is back to headline the Head On photography festival with her Food Photography Workshop in May! I had the pleasure of attending the workshop last year and shared a few tips and tricks from up Penelope’s sleeve. Many of you were disappointed to have missed out. While this year’s first session has sold out, the organisers have put on an additional evening workshop – there are still tickets available to this hands on class, but be quick… or enter my ticket giveaway below!
I’m always super excited to see Penelope and hear what she’s been up to, but the part I’m always looking most forward to is watching her work her magic on set and sharing so many of her styling tips with those into their food. She is a natural, a fountain of knowledge and is not afraid to share it.
Recently, I had a unique opportunity to interview Penelope about her career, experiences, home cooking habits and, of course, about the upcoming workshop. Here is what she had to say.
1. You have shot many award-winning images outside the realm of food; portraiture, breathtaking landscapes, fine art. Why the focus on food for your upcoming workshop?
To me, photography is about stirring the emotions, whether it’s making you happy, sad or hungry. It does not matter whether it’s a portrait, landscape or a food, all images have their own unique challenge, as it has to draw the viewer to stay, look and admire. If this happens your image has succeeded. Food photography is the same on that level.
When I started shooting food it was an instant love affair. Food photography has a depth of challenges; it’s very creative and has to be designed well with props, texture, style and finally lighting, to achieve very emotional images. It’s rather complex although the final image should look effortless, beautifully lit and natural.
When you flick through the pages of a recipe book and stop to gaze, and think I want a piece of that beautiful chocolate cake dripping with icing, then that shot worked. When I shot my first food assignment my client was excited and sent her contacts to me. It was the greatest compliment and welcome into an industry and still continues. This was my invitation into a fascinating industry. I love the work and the people. Most of the chefs and restaurant owners I have met over the years are really down to earth and willing to collaborate on how we can get the best results. They just want their food to reflect how its tastes: delicious and appealing.
Now, the reason for the Food Photography and Styling workshop is to pass on knowledge and demonstrate how bloggers, chefs, stylists, photographers and anyone interested in food, can learn basic and advanced methods that will achieve successful food images. Whether you are using an iPhone at a restaurant, you’re a blogger writing about food, or a professional photographer, everyone can learn from this workshop. It will be a very informative session where you can learn the tricks and trade secrets. These workflow techniques have taken me many years to learn through hours of trial and error. I am sharing my knowledge on styling, lighting and working with food at the workshop which will fast track everyone in their career or journey. This workshop is hands on so I am encouraging all to bring their camera even if it’s an iPhone.
2. The trickiest food to photograph must be…
The trickiest foods are curries, well cooked meats, beetroot and working with very dark foods. Unfortunately, curry dishes are delicious but the curry can cover all the elements with the yellow colour which becomes very unattractive if you do not know how to dress this dish up for camera.
Again, beetroot is very dark and can be a black blob in a photo, lighting techniques are essential here and steak, if this is not prepared properly it will be a charred mess and not look very appetising in an image. There are ways to work with these foods and this is some of the trade secrets that I will pass on at the workshop.
3. Being a food stylist and photographer seems almost like second nature to you. What did it take to get where you are today?
The purpose of my food styling is to make a dish on the plate and in the environment that the dish is placed look “wow”. I am not a trained chef and food styling requires a very different technique of approach when designing food for the camera. Food on the plate has to look balanced, interesting, have texture and compliment in colour. The chef needs to make the food stir up our senses of taste. My job as a photographer and stylist is to make the dish look succulent, sweet, indulgent, scrumptious and mouth-watering. It’s a different approach and that is why I have a number of chefs attend my workshops.
When I started in food there was very few training materials on the subject. I had to shoot trial and error in my own time, test out methods of styling and take note from fabulous food stylists, who had been in the industry for years. But above all, being active, easy to work with and passionate will lead you to success.
4. What has been your most memorable food photography assignment and why?
I have many great moments although the most recent was shooting in the Hunter Valley. The property has a beautiful vineyard and an olive grove. All week it had been raining and when I arrived for the weekend shoot there was black clouds and showers. My brief was to capture the beautiful sunset, olive products and wines in the environment. My heart dropped – outside was flat uninteresting lighting and if I tried to connect my lights to power I can be fried from all the water on the ground, not a good idea. I could use off camera flash but it was not the desired effect that I wanted. The accommodation was beautiful; a stunning 4 bedroom home overlooking the vineyard with a fireplace and spa bath. My husband volunteered to be my assistant that weekend. So his task was to help set up the tables, keep the flies away and polish up the glassware.
The sun was no where to be seen, it would be a miracle to have a little shine in the sky. We decided to skip this shoot and drive through the long vineyards to check out our next location. The moment we drove off in the 4 wheel drive across a muddy creek, to our amazement, the sun started to appear. The heavens were opening up and it was a matter of racing back to the olive grove and catching this beautiful moment. Once I was back, quickly set up the my food shoot and through the olive trees the most amazing sunset appeared across the sky. It was one of those moments that everything fell into place and the universe was saying this is for you!
I have received beautiful emails of thank you from both the owner and the creative director about those images.
5. Your husband, Sean, is a passionate cook and you spend most of your time styling and shooting food. Who cooks at home, and do you fuss about presentation of your dinnertime meals? I’m an amateur and I sure do…
Sean loves cooking, for him, pouring a glass of red wine after a long days work and preparing a meal relaxes him. This is unwind chill out time and he is the cook and I am the kitchen-hand, at home. I only cook for special occasions so I photograph more than I cook. My work has involved a lot of travel away and if I go away on weekends, Sean will definitely come along as my assistant. Over the past 10 years he has learnt a lot and he also loves attending cooking classes too.
When it comes to food presentation, yes we are both fussy. We both enjoy our meals more if they look visually appealing not just thrown onto the plate. If I am at a restaurant and the table is not set right I will find myself straightening the cutlery and lining up the glassware, I just cannot help myself.
6. Where do you get your styling inspiration from? Is there such a thing as food styling trends?
It’s important to keep up to date with food styling. Foods trend and styles change constantly. What is appealing today will be out of date tomorrow. By checking out magazines, TV lifestyle shows, newspapers, blogs, social networking and cooking programs you will see what is happening in today’s marketplace.
If you read about food history you will be amazed at the many food trends that have existed throughout the centuries. I like to read historical books on food as well as watching the media. Each decade there is a definite change in styling for food photography. At the moment the rage is water splashes, if you look at the food products advertising there are drinks, wines, fruit juices, glassware all with something splashes out. So movement in advertising and, in editorial, it’s a messy homemade look. Let the crumbs, sauces etc drips, drop and stay on the plate.
7. Lastly, why should anyone even vaguely interested in food photography consider attending the workshop?
The Food Photography and Styling workshop has been designed to be “hands on”. In the past it was a demonstration only and all who attended loved the workshop and requested as follow up. The workshop includes the opportunity to set up, style and shoot a dish and I will be there to assist and guide. You will learn about techniques lighting techniques, styling, plating up a dish and also designing your food shoot. The workshop will cover all essential elements required to shoot a yummy dish. Anyone who has a passion for food and who would love to learn behind the scenes should come along!
Win a ticket to the workshop (closed)!
For your chance to win a ticket to the event, valued ar $125, share your own trade secrets, best food photography tip or trick, or simply leave a comment to win this awesome pass! Entries close midnight AEST, 29 April. Winner announced here on April 30. Thank you to everyone who entered the giveaway, there were some great tips, including some WD-40 on steak - I’ll leave that one to the professionals. Congratulations to Nicole Everett for her comment: “My tip is to use props that won’t date and take photos using natural light when possible”. I’ll be in touch with more details.
The workshop: when and where
Bring your camera, even if it’s just your iPhone – it will be a great opportunity to set up, style and shoot a dish. Oh and I’ve been told the canapes will be to die for and a perfect subject for more practice shots!
The workshop will include hints and tips on: • essential lighting techniques • how to build up your sets • using props • camera angles and lens selection
When: Tuesday 8 May, 2.00-5.00pm (sold out) // Tuesday 8 May, 6.00-9.00pm (still available)
Where: TAFE, Ultimo College, Harris Street, Ultimo
Cost: $125 ($115 members) including tuition and refreshments
More details and registration can be found on the Head On website.