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Ann Belden earned her BFA in Painting and Drawing at the University of Michigan and has lived in San Francisco since 1976. She was a chef/owner of Ironwood Cafe and 101 Cafe Bakery in the Cole Valley neighborhood for thirteen years, then switched careers and became a food stylist while continuing to create fine art. See more of her work at

My background in fine art and restaurant cooking has served me well in the food styling world. Every job is different, and the ability to problem-solve on the fly is essential. I’ve been lucky to have strong mentoring throughout my styling career, and to have worked with photographers, designers, other food stylists, prop stylists, and art directors who have strong visions.

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I’m highlighting portfolio shots today. I feel strongly that it is important for food stylists to do this kind of (unpaid!) work in order to push ourselves and to show what we can do with food styling, when the constraints of advertising or editorial concerns are not present. We get to show what is possible while exploring our collaborative power with a given photographer.

These are my top three tips to help you build your food styling portfolio, while strengthening your vision as a stylist: 

Photography by Holly Stewart |

Photography by Holly Stewart |

1. Look for inspiration everywhere: The photo above was inspired by a trip to a local farmer’s market. The produce was gorgeous, so we decided to create some moody, painterly still lifes before moving on to our planned shots. By breaking away from our original shot schedule, I was able to practice styling a new product while gaining a valuable image for my portfolio.

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Photo by Terry Heffernan |


Photo by Terry Heffernan |

chocolates (1)

Photo by Terry Heffernan |

Photographer and stylist work in this manner to learn how to effectively communicate with each other while bringing out the best in one another’s work. The three shots above were done with minimal propping on a white seamless background, in order to highlight the food with few or zero distractions.

Photo by Nader Khouri |

Photo by Nader Khouri |

Photo by Holly Stewart Props by Diane McGauley |

Photo by Holly Stewart | Props by Diane McGauley |

2. Learn your props (or consult a professional): A trip to a prop house together or a meeting with a great prop stylist can really help set the tone for your test shoot, and again, will tell you a lot about each other’s stylistic concerns and preferences. The two photos above were the result of collaborative propping choices, and are successful in communicating not just the delicious nature of the food, but also a kind of ease and elegance in the way its served.

Photo by Bill Baker |

Photo by Bill Baker |

Photo by Scott Peterson |

Photo by Scott Peterson |

3. Don’t be afraid of failure: Finally, I’d like to add that there will probably be some test shoots that don’t produce a lot of great shots for your portfolio. You may not find a groove with that photographer, or you may both be a little dissatisfied with your choice of subject matter, surface, props, etc. It is all a learning experience, and the good news is that you can always try again, or chalk it up to experience with no harm done. Most of the time, if you keep at it, you’ll get at least one wonderful new shot for your website, while forging a new relationship or strengthening an existing one. Both will help your styling career for years to come.

Happy testing!

Ann Belden
Ann Belden – Food Stylist

Tuesdays Tip

About me

We’ve all been there. You’re plugging away on your new site, your images are filling the space just as you imagined, your design is coming to life….and then you sit down to write your ‘About Me’ page, and suddenly your momentum stops. Summarizing (and more importantly selling) yourself as an artist and business owner in just a few short paragraphs is a daunting task. How do you let potential clients know just how amazing you are while convincing them to employ you over someone else in your industry?

Your about me page should give your audience a small glimpse into what it would be like to work with you. Take a moment to step back from selling your product and focus on selling yourself as an individual. To make things simple, we are going back to the old elementary school technique of identifying the 5W’s and an H. Now, you are going to be answering these questions yourself and will use the answers to guide the content on your about me page.

The who, what, where, when, why & how of your about me page:

Who am I trying to reach?

Decide who your target audience is. Research them, check out their social media, study their demographic, and use this to dictate the tone of your about me page. Are you a photographer trying to reach potential brides or families? Maybe try a more personable and casual tone. Are you trying to reach out to advertising companies or newspapers? Maybe a formal approach is the way to go. Whatever you decide, make sure that the feel of your about me page matches the feel of the rest of your brand experience in addition to where you want to see your image going in the future.

Pro-tip: Find someone in your target audience, whether it be a friend, sibling, coworker, fellow patron at a coffee shop, or a stranger on the street, and ask them to read your about me page. Ask them what their first impression is and if they would like to hire you as a result of what they read. Ask them if it is easy to read and holds their attention. This is key! If the above feedback is positive, your about me page is well on its way to grabbing the attention of your future clients.

What makes me special?

Regardless of what industry you are in, we know that you believe your services are the best, and we know that you want to share them with the world. However, what if we told you that no one cares about what you have to offer? It is your responsibility to make people care. It’s time to introduce the face behind the brand and services that you are selling throughout your site. Keeping your target audience in mind, what makes you stand out in the crowd? What makes you different and more desirable than the rest? Creatively let your audience know this as you sell yourself as an individual through your about me page.

Where do you see yourself in 6 months? 1 year? 5 years?

Have you made your business plan yet? Though it may not seem related to a simple about me page, it is absolutely vital to know and understand where you want to take your business in the future. As you create and publish content, you are creating an online brand and image for yourself that will stick with you for years to come. In todays day and age, most consumers are not only looking to buy a product, they are looking for an entire brand experience. Create goals and work to create a cohesive online image that will guide you towards your aspirations. Additionally, let your audience know what you would like to do. You never know who may be looking for the exact services that you are dreaming about offering!

When I am not working, I like to ______.

Don’t be afraid to let your audience know who you are as an individual. What do you do when you aren’t working? How do you enjoy spending your time? Is there anything about you that you think clients may relate to? This is a pretty important piece of the puzzle that will allow your web audience to connect with you on a personal level.

For example, maybe you absolutely love traveling and spend most of your free time dreaming about your next destination. Include this in your about me page! Odds are, there are plenty of people in your audience that feel the exact same way and would instantly be connected to you as an individual. While this could have the potential to turn certain clients off, it could also catch the eye of the exact person that you are trying to work with. We all want clients we mesh well with, right?

Why do I do what I do?

Take a moment to reflect on the days when you were just getting started in your specific industry. What was it that sparked your interest into getting into business? That kept you motivated and excited to create new content during the toughest times? What keeps you going now? Take a moment to think. Find something meaningful. Find something that will resonate with your target audience. Maybe include the story of the exact moment you knew you wanted to make something more out of your hobby, or tell your audience about your hopes and dreams for the future. The most important thing is to not only tell your viewers what you do but why you do it as well. Step back from selling your services for a moment (that’s what the rest of your site is for!) and share a little bit of the soul behind your business.

How can people reach me?

Now that you have people hooked on who you are as an artist, let your audience know how they can easily get into contact with you. Include links to your contact information and social media profiles on your about me page to ensure that interested customers understand the best ways to stay connected with you.

Pro-tip: Think about including a photo of yourself on your about me page (Bonus points if it is an image of you in action!). Though this is not directly related to getting into contact with you, this will allow your potential customers to connect with you on a personal level while identifying a face with the name on your brand.

While it is not necessary to include each and every aspect listed above in your about me page, it is important to put quite a bit of thought into crafting the language and content of your about me page in a strategic manner. Ready to get started?

Photographer and writer Jay Goodrich’s work focuses on architecture, nature and adventure. In addition to writing and creating imagery he leads workshops and photo tours. Those who attend the workshop come away with a better understanding of photography and mastery of images, and they have a greater appreciation for the locations and peoples they have visited. His upcoming workshop takes place in Hilo, Hawaii November 5-12. Jay tells us about his workshops and his experience teaching them as well as attending them.


Melissa Dubasik: I’d love to get a little background on why you host workshops and what you hope others will get out of them?

Jay Goodrich: Teaching workshops just grew out of my love for photography. I wanted to share my experiences, my passion for this creative medium with others. In addition to that I think what is most important about my workshops is the communal experience. Everyone who is there is completely into photography and learning about photography, so it becomes not only a learning experience for the participants, but for myself as well.

I truly hope that all the people who attend walk away with a better knowledge about how to create a stronger image. I am somewhat of a gear head, but I really want people to understand that you only need your iPhone to be a creative photographer. Idea, concept, and composition first, how you record it to show the rest of the world is secondary. I do teach a lot of equipment and software based techniques as well because the era of the digital capture has opened up the boundaries…actually removed them completely.

MD: Is this workshop geared more towards being creative or improving one’s technical skills? Or both?

JG: I would say more emphasis on creating, but there is a lot of technology that gets talked about. I even teach software specific workshops on programs like Lightroom.

MD: What are some of the unexpected benefits one might get from attending one of your workshops?

JG: Traveling to amazing destinations and at times getting access to special places and locations. In our up-coming Hawaii trip, I have a friend who owns property there and he suggested that we stop by to photograph the stars over the lake of lava in his back yard one evening. I also try to focus on including luxury accommodations when possible. One of our previous trips to the Altiplano of Chile had us staying at an all inclusive five star spa. I try to give my clients a little something extra whenever I can. Even if it’s just a ride to the airport or a private critique of what they created after the workshop. I want to build relationships with my clients and I get really excited to watch them progress as photographers during the course of a workshop.


MD: What are the most important things for the attendees to realize when they participate in a workshop, to help them get the most of of the experience?

JG: I think they really need to understand, that it isn’t amazing everyday. There are days when sunrises don’t materialize. Weather changes. Miscommunications happen. Cars break down. People have gear troubles. We do our best to help everyone and fix all of the issues, but sometimes, it will just rain for a week straight. We will make the best out of it though. This leads to: they should also come with an open mind. Be open to a new experience and new people because everyone has a different perspective to offer.

MD: What differentiates this workshop from others?

JG: With this Hawaii workshop we are taking a little bit of a different approach. We are showing participants how we look for everything and anything while traveling. How our eyes are focused on multiple disciplines, multiple subjects, and ever changing light. This allows us to create a large portfolio of images, which in turn gives us a stronger market base, better coverage for a location, and makes us better photographers overall. If I just focused on photographing birds, I think I would have given up on photography a long time ago. It is the experience of what resides around the bend that keeps me going day in and day out. Focus on a great composition and it doesn’t matter what your subject is, you will walk away with a great image.


MD: Was attending workshops instrumental to help you become the photographer that you are now? If so, how did they do that?

JG: I have only attended two workshops in my life. One was taught by John Shaw about selling your work and the other was taught by my really close friend Art Wolfe. One sent me off in the professional direction and the other sent me off in the creative direction. Although, as I have grown my business over the years, I have been lucky to work with some of the top level pros in the industry and this has helped me realize what works and what doesn’t along the lines of instructing. I also have a wife who is a teacher, so she beats the knowledge of two masters degrees in education into me on a regular basis.

This has made me focus on smaller group sizes and on more client one-on-one time in the field. Typically, I never teach more than six individuals by myself and never more than ten when there are two of us. I also want to spend less time lecturing to participants and more time in the field showing them what works and what doesn’t work.

by Jamie Rose, Director of Momenta Workshops

When I began my career as a photographer many years ago, I signed up for National Press Photographers Association and first learned about their seminar and convention programs. Being strapped for cash, as most graduate students are, I was informed NPPA gave free tuition to attend the Northern Short Course to students who volunteered for the program. As a volunteer, I attended my first ever NSC in Providence and was hooked.

With free portfolio reviews by some of the industry’s best editors, seminars ranging from lighting to business skills, keynote speakers like Bill Eppridge, Joe McNally and social gatherings until the wee hours of the morning with titans like Sam Abell, I left with my batteries recharged, new photo story ideas and a fresh perspective on the industry.

I’ve attended numerous workshops, seminars and conventions ever since and have always felt it was money well spent. The PDN PhotoPlus Expo in New York is a great place to see seminars, get inspired by amazing speakers and shop for the latest gadgets and gear. Likewise, the Look3: Festival of the Photograph is a wonderful 3 day event held in Charlottesville which celebrates photography from all over the world with three photography legends presenting each day.

This year, I am a guest presenter at the NSC in Providence and will be teaching seminars on The Business of Nonprofits Photography and Photo Mechanic: In the Field. My fellow presenters and speakers are awe inspiring: Matt Eich, David Gilkey, Karen Kasmauski, Amy O’Leary and so many more. The workshops cover audio and multimedia, Final Cut software training, business skills for freelancers, a student’s guide to presenting your work and much more.

As any photographer who has attended one of these seminars will tell you, professional development and networking in person cannot compare to being Facebook friends with photographers or hitting a happy hour every once in a while with other pros. The skills learned and the people you meet at these weekend-, week- or even day-long seminars is invaluable for your professional growth. I’ve made some of my best friends in the industry at these conventions, reconnected with colleagues I’ve not seen in years and seen presentations that reminded me why I became a photographer.

Every year, NPPA and other organizations offer scholarships for students and working professionals. For example, the NSC offers full tuition opportunities for working pros and volunteering in exchange for the attendance fees and there are slots left for 2011. Many other groups offer members a discounted rate and reduced tuition for students. With prices under $500 for many seminars, you simply can’t pass these opportunities up.

Trust me when I tell you: you won’t be disappointed when you invest in your career in this way!

PNY’s Marc Ziccardi, Momenta Workshops Director Jamie Rose and WHNPA President and business expert John Harrington post at PNY booth at the PDN Photo Plus Expo October 2010.


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