Returning from the International Food Styling and Photography Conference

I returned from Boston Monday night. The conference left me overwhelmed, exhausted, but most importantly, inspired. It has taken me a couple of days to gather my thoughts and organize in my head what it is I saw, heard and learned. I was trying to think about what I should share with you and the essence of it all and believe me, it has not been easy. So much…

I arrived in Boston early Friday morning. I wanted a full day to explore the city and meet up with my good friends Nadia and Ainara (who came up from NYC for the day… she is the lovely girl in the photo). Time flew that day and I didn’t manage to get much done, but we did make time to visit Tatte Bakery, which is one of the places I wanted to visit before leaving Boston. Charming little place with the largest biscotti I have ever seen and delicious cinnamon rolls.

The conference opened early Saturday morning with one of my favorite sessions from the entire weekend. Award-winning photographer Christopher Hirsheimer and stylist Melissa Hamilton, who run The Canal House studio, won me over with their presentation called “Unplugged – Creating your own world”. They spoke of their special partnership, which reminded me how important finding the right team is and how eventually I would like to work in an environment of trust like theirs.

They had a very independent attitude, putting emphasis on how important it is for a photographer or stylist to create and set their own language. One thing they said and I really related to was “please your eye and aesthetics and the rest will follow”. It resonates with me as it’s the only way I can work.

Soon after that, Mel Mooney of Saveur and stylist John Carafoli spoke about the fine, often times blurred line that divides editorial and commercial food styling and photography and touched upon real cases in which commercial advertising campaigns were approached with an editorial point of view.

Saturday afternoon, stylists Marcela Sorondo from Argentina and Claire Ferguson from the UK spoke about Global Style and the role culture and cultural subtleties play in food styling.

And the final session of the day was lead by stylist and organic farmer Stef Culberson and photographer Mette Nielsen who approached the subject of sustainable styling and tips on how to eliminate waste, increase efficiency and apply green practices such as taking into account seasonality, placing emphasis on local farms and artisans, ordering the minimal amount of food needed for a shoot, etc. They also shared a slideshow of their beautiful work.

I have to say that one of the highlights of the day for me was to be able to meet Lara Ferroni, one of my favorite food bloggers and food photographers that I have been following from the beginning. Her blog “Cook and Eat” is full of beautiful images, recipes and always fun. And who doesn’t know “Still Life With” right? It has definitely been one of my number one resources when learning about food photography.

Lara and I had dinner that night and talked about food, how it has brought us where we are today, how we approach blogging and life in general. This was the first time in probably three years that I was able to go out to dinner with a friend and enjoy the conversation without being interrupted or having to rush through it so it was delightful to say the least.

I was really looking forward to the first session on Sunday because super talented stylist and photographer Bea Peltre of “La Tartine Gourmande” would be one of the speakers. She had a beautiful, brief but effective presentation about her work and her approach to food blogging. One of the things that I’ve known all along, but she reminded me of again was that food blogging must have somewhat of a personal touch, it must be authentic and it must create a bond of trust with the reader. So true.

Right after that, stylist Delores Custer, Lorna Rhodes and photographer Steve Adams discussed the importance of keeping once visual awareness and great resources for continuous inspiration.

After lunch, Harold McGee spoke about what is new in the molecular gastronomy world and I was happy to see him feature several Basque chefs whose restaurants I have visited.

By this point, I have to admit my head was about to explode with so much information. I wanted to run home right away and start implementing all the ideas that kept bombarding my head, but we still had two more sessions to go. Maxine Kaplan made us all very jealous with her one of a kind prop house in New York. I have never seen anything like it in my life. And finally, photographers Mette Nielsen, Pornchai Mittongtare and James Tse shared their work and inspiration with us.

I was ready for dinner and some fresh air after that, so Lara, Bea, Pascale (who I met at the conference for the first time… sweet as can be) and I headed off to dinner at “Rendez-vous” in Cambridge. Great place.

Finally on Monday, we headed to Francine Zaslow’s studio for the workshop we had been waiting for. What a beautiful space this was! It left us all dreaming. Full of props, movable walls, equipment that I wouldn’t even know how to use and a full kitchen.

Another one of the food photographers I truly admire, Deborah Jones came from San Francisco for the workshop. Her work includes many (or at least the best) Thomas Keller’s cookbooks like “French Laundry”, “Bouchon” and “Under Pressure”.

The premise of the workshop was to be able to see the entire work flow of a photo shoot, from the cooking, to the styling, to the shooting and the post production. Francine who has a very artistic and even sculptural style would shoot using strobes and Deborah would use natural light exclusively. They had three stylists cooking for them and it was amazing watching them work.

I had to leave the workshop a bit early to catch my flight back home and I probably missed one of the most important parts, the Q&A. It was an exceptional day though and I hope I get to participate in something like that again.

I think as days go by, new thoughts will re-emerge in my head and I will be able to share them with you as I go. Also, read Lara’s review of the conference. She has great insight as well.

More to come soon!

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79 Responses to “Returning from the International Food Styling and Photography Conference”

  1. Peter G says:

    Aran, all I can say is “I wish I was there!”…what a tremendous amount of information to take in! Glad to see you enjoyed it all. Now, I look forward to seeing some of it in practice!

  2. What an amazing experience! I also wanted to say congrats on getting featured on Style Me Pretty!

  3. Juliana says:

    It sounds like you had a wonderful time and I too, “wish I was there”. Can’t wait to see what you learned.

  4. Hi Aran! Wow, I am so envious of such an experience. This, and so much of your own work, have inspired me to take up food styling and photography :)

  5. Bea says:

    Je suis sûre que c’était un incroyable weekend, je t’envie (dans le sens positif du mot ;) ).
    Merci de partager tout cela avec nous :)

  6. Helene says:

    Que j’aurais aimé être à cette conférence. C’est de l’information incroyable.

  7. beautiful photos !
    Ciao A presto !:-)

  8. su says:

    Haces unas fotos preciosísimas! Me encanta tu blog! zorionak!!

  9. this is fun!! I’m happy you went there so you could share with us your experience!!

  10. tan!a says:


    I discoverd your blog recently and love the photo’s and styling of you!
    Thanks for sharing your experience at this International Food Syling & Phtotgraphy Conference! What an experience it is to see how others do their job!

  11. morgana says:

    Madre del amor hermoso, qué concentración de información y de todo. Estoy segura de que lo has disfrutado muchísimo.

    Yo me he quedado alucinada viendo la parafernalia que se necesita para hacer las maravillosas fotos que todos admiramos. Al lado de todo esto, con mi mini cámara compacta color chocolate me siento como una mujer de las cavernas prehistórica y absolutamente desfasada. :$

    ¡¡ Cuántas cosas por aprender !!

    Un abrazo y gracias de nuevo por cmpartir.

  12. It looks like you had an amazing time. But what really caught my attention was the food – those photos look amazing and the food looks great!

  13. Botacook says:

    Waooooh your photos are really amazing. I’m sure this was a great experience to live.

  14. I really wish I could sharpen my skills in this area. I would have loved to visit my old residence of Boston for this conference. Maybe for the next one, in 2 more years. In the meantime, thanks for your summary. Looking forward to seeing your future photographs.

  15. Barbara says:

    I LOVED this post! Your information and photographs made me wish I could have been there to share. Thank you!

  16. Thanks for sharing your trip! What fun and how interesting to read.

    Very informative post on the conference.
    I love the shot of the photographer on the step ladder too!!!
    Bravo and Merci
    I hope they do it again sooon!

  18. veron says:

    Wonderful conference it seems. I might go next year…lord knows I need it. Those orange bulldog clips remind me of when I attended the photoshoot of my cupcake wedding cake at a commercial photography studio. The guy had awesome natural light and hubby and I were taking note of all his gear.

  19. zoe says:

    What an amazing opportunity. Can’t wait to see more!

  20. Stacey says:

    Found your blog through Lara’s site and am entranced. Gorgeous, gorgeous work! Great write up of and photos from the conference as well. I was there and had the same feelings….overwhelmed but so inspired!

  21. corine says:

    Your post also reminded me that a whole lot of technique comes with those appetizing shots.

  22. Carolyn says:

    Aran, thanks for sharing all this. I can’t imagine your photos could get much better — but then, I’m sure you’ll find a way! Seeing all those amazing setups sure makes me feel like a fly-by-night operation!

  23. For those of us who want to learn more, did anyone at the conference recommend any good books on styling/photography to you?

    Thank you for sharing! I will definitely be indulging in both a biscotti and cinnamon roll when I return to Boston in January!

  24. Marta says:

    Gracias por este maravilloso recuento de la conferencia! De verdad suena como que aprendieron mucho y me encanta que hayas disfrutado al maximo la experiencia. Que suerte que hayas podido participar en este maravilloso simposium!
    Bella imagenes como siempre! No puedo esperar a ver que otras cositas nos muestras de tu nuevo aprendizaje!
    Gracias :)

  25. all i can say is wow…it sounds and looks amazing and you seem to have taken so much home with you…i am so happy for you aran that you got to be there and connect with all the people you wanted to meet…how inspiring–of course i think you could teach one of the workshops but i am biased :)…oxo, deb

  26. You were there too! I am sad I didn’t get to meet you, but now I’ve found your blog and hopefully we’ll meet next time around.

    Laura Flowers

  27. Roma says:

    First time to your blog and I am so inspired by your work. Great snaps and details on how to achieve them. Thanks for sharing!

  28. Aran says:

    Michelle- personally I have not found any book that is specific to food styling and food photography that is really useful. that’s just my experience. I believe that looking through magazines and books is a better way to learn and then also check out Lara’s blog “Still Life With” for more technical tips on photography. And then, shoot, shoot, shoot!!!

    Thanks everyone!

  29. Bea says:

    It was lovely to meet you Aran, but you know this already! I hope the flight home was smooth — as it seems. Now time to get back into your kitchen, if it’s not too hot. Cool here with a little rain, perfect baking weather!

  30. Sylvia says:

    Muy interesante todo lo que has escrito, la verdad me hicistes recordar lo años que trabaje con propaganda.Conoci a muchas food stylers y fotografas , una vez que hice la direccion de arte de muchas salsas de tomates, mantecas, corn flaes y algunos pocos, editoriales. Leyendo me hubiera gustado estar ahi,y asi pode poner me mas al par de las nuevas tendencias.
    Espectacular todo.

  31. Kim Gray says:

    WOW, being a stylist myself, this was such an inspiring and interesting post! Thanks for sharing!

  32. El says:

    You put a lot of thought into this post and it’s great. Thanks for the recap and the gorgeous photos!

  33. You are so lucky to have gotten to go to this but very deserving too. Thanks for sharing it all.

  34. Eralda LT says:

    What an interesting and talented group of people. I am a complete novice but I love food photography and styling. I wish I had been there. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

  35. cindy* says:

    wow! how fun aran! i am sure you have a ton of info in your head right now, what a great experience…plus you got to meet up w/ nadia, what a treat!

    glad to see you back, of course you’ve been missed and eager to see how you could improve (if it’s even possible ;) upon your work.

  36. heidileon says:

    hermoso Aran, mil gracias por compartirnos tus inquietudes y tus pasiones, que tambien son las nuestras.

    Tiene razon Bea (La tartine g) en la autenticidad y la reciprocidad del blogger con sus lectores. Algo que tu logras a las mil maravillas.

    Como siempre un encanto, un placer, leerte.


  37. Wow, that sounds like an amazing conference. I would love to take workshops of food photography…it truly is an artform in itself. Hope you are doing well. I have been crazy busy at work, but starting in July I am working only four days a week.

  38. Elizabeth says:

    What an inspiring weekend! Thank you for sharing a little bit of it with us!

  39. Thorsten says:

    Wonderful reading on that conference. Wished I could have been there too.


  40. Aran, que programa usas para enmarcar 4 fotos en una?
    Tus fotos son excelentes.

  41. ibb says:

    It seems to be so intense. You enjoyed. And we have a lot of beautiful pictures.

  42. marnee says:

    Hi Aran,

    I’m very envious! That conference sounds amazing. Maybe I could sweet talk Alison into sending me next year! hahaha I can only wish.

  43. sinnlighet says:

    Yes yes yes…..I enjoy your blogg!!!

    Agneta from Sweden

  44. ChichaJo says:

    I always enjoy reading the blog posts of the ones who attend this conference! Thank you for such a detailed post — maybe one day I wil lget to go! :)

  45. Dajda says:

    Thank you so much for this report, I’m glad you had a good time!

  46. I am so glad that the conference was strong an dthat you where able to connect with people who had a lot to share about the industry. it was very nice meeting you aran.

  47. simplesong says:

    thanks for sharing! sounds amazing … and look at all the work that goes into getting such lovely shots.

  48. ah muito obrigada for posting this-i love getting that feeling, of reassurance that i love this stuff. because reading what you wrote, i get that little butterfly feeling in my stomach, like being really excited or getting a kiss you know-the whole world of this, this styling food photo deal, i want to be part of it so bad!! but getting butterflies is a sign then that i know its really what i want to do. ahhhh i hope someday i’ll go to an international conference, and get to head off to lunch with the big shots in the biz like you and Bea and everyone else. someday someday someday!

  49. MERCI for sharing all this, it’s absolutely wonderful to feel as if I had been a little mouse with all of you, so talented, during those days. Its a great material for daydreaming, but also for inspiration.
    THANK YOU and I love your pictures. Please don’t stop sharing!

  50. Aran says:

    Fiamma Culinaria- Lo hago con photoshop pero supongo que se puede hacer de otra manera tambien. Creas un archivo blanco y anades las fotos que quieras.

    Espero q te ayude.

    Thanks everyone!

  51. Seanna Lea says:

    Wow! It sounds amazing (and it’s funny that I’ve never been to Rendez-vous, given that I’ve passed it a ton of times on my way home after rehearsal). I wish I knew more about photography, because I’m still at the stage where just getting pictures that aren’t blurry is a major feat, much less intentionally blurry in some areas with a pleasing composition.

  52. Karin says:

    Fantastic!, take your time, we’ll appreciate reading about your impressions and tips :o)

  53. I am completely overwhelmed by your inspiration & experience Aran. What a totally awesome experience. WOW!!

  54. Alicia says:

    Aran you most definitely had a weekend filled with non stop festiviries of the foodie variety. Heck my head is spinning in delight merely from reading. Person after person I was giddy & a bit jealous & humbled especailly after the camers, filters, etc. My Canon seems so small.
    Have a lovely weekend & thank you so much for sharing your amazing moments!!!

  55. Bronwen says:

    I just started my own little baking blog, and have found Cannelle et Vanille to be supremely inspiring and educational. Thank you so much for sharing your Boston experiences and allowing the uninitiated a glimpse into the intricate world of glamorous food. I have to start trying for better photographs!

  56. g. says:

    The photos are too pretty!!

  57. Christelle says:

    Thanks for sharing !
    What a amazing amount of informations and inspiration !
    Wish I was here…. :-)

  58. Catherine says:

    How great and fascinating. I don’t cook so much … But as for photography, your summary and pictures are so interesting ! Thanks for taking the time to share all this ;o)

  59. What a fabulous experience for you. It makes your head spin to see these studios and hear from such wonderful artists. Your photos are a dream!

  60. Sounds like such a fun experience. Thanks for the behind-the-scene pictures!

  61. Beautiful blog. Thanks for your great review of the event. Wish I had picked your brain about blogger basics. Keep on cooking/shooting/styling/writing.

    best wishes,
    Alice Hart,Food For Film Stylists®
    “Styling Trailblazers” speaker

  62. I can tell I’m not the only one with conference envy! For the most part, I just am not nearly inspired enough to do the type of styling I see you do, but this just emphasized to me – I’m just not that sort of photographer, and that’s really okay. So thank you, thank you, for reminding me that being me is just as important as anything else in blogging.

  63. lory says:

    Quel domage que je ne comprends pas l’anglais!
    Tes photos sont superbes!

  64. Eileen says:

    Wow, what an experience. Makes me think, the least I can do is get my tripod out of the storage closet in the basement!

  65. Courtney says:

    Great photo of Deborah–she is such an awesome person. I miss interacting with her. Thanks for sharing your experience!

  66. la rechula says:

    Qué lugar tan estupendo!!! bonita foto!

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  68. Thanks for your review of the event. I was also at the conference and I wish I would have met you because I enjoy your blog and visit it frequently for inspiration.

  69. I used to bake at Tatte’s and when I saw the pictures I was so excited! Tzurit is really a great baker with a clear vision of what she wants her pastries to taste and look like. I always thought that when you went to Tatte’s your eyes had a feast too. Hope you enjoyed it!

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  77. […] I visited Tatte the first time I ever met Nadia. We walked into the Brookline shop with the beautiful tall biscotti, the rectangle nut tarts and the welcoming aroma of freshly brewed espresso. We were smitten by its charm and instantly became a favorite. In 2012, Tatte Cambridge opened with a full service restaurant and an even larger pastry shop. […]

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