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If you’re a regular here, you know I’ve been shooting food lately in preparation for my wife’s upcoming cookbook, and after looking at many of the leading food photographers, my wife and I both decided that the one guy whose work really stood out was New-York based photographer Lou Manna.

I was thinking how much I’d love to get a chance to learn from this guy, and so I took a chance; went to Google and typed in “Lou Manna” + Workshop. 10 seconds later I’m looking at a description of his next Digital Food Photography workshop, and about five minutes after that, I had signed up for his upcoming May 4th class, and was making flight arrangements to New York.

Well, yesterday I took his workshop and I was just blown away at what I learned. So much so, that after about the first 90-minutes I sent a text message to my wife that I had already gotten more than my money’s worth. Shooting food is just plain tough; making that food look really appetizing is even tougher, and lighting for food is just, well…it’s WAY harder than it looks, and that was what I was most interested in.

Luckily, the focus of the day was on lighting, and the insights he gave in just the first hour or so more than covered the class tuition. In fact, I’ve rarely been to a workshop that was such a value that I thought it was actually under-priced, but this truly was an $800 workshop for only $250.

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(Above: Chef Dennis styling the dessert I’m going to shoot).

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(Above: You don’t have to go out for lunch when you’re shooting food!)

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When you take a shot, it immediately displays on the HDTV so the class, and Lou, can see the work in process.

Here’s some brief highlights:

  • The workshop was held in his 5th Ave studio, and it was very warm and inviting, with a large kitchen right in the studio.
  • He had a wonderful chef and food stylist on hand, Chef Dennis Williford, who’s also a kick butt food photographer in his own right.
  • At lunchtime, Chef Dennis made the whole class just a wonderful meal, and it was great to sit down with the other students (10 altogether) and Lou and get to know each other and share stories
  • Lou had each student show some of their photography portfolio, and then their food photography, and his critiques really helped you to understand what makes a successful food shot, and included invaluable insights on both lighting and composition. This was a really worthwhile and eye-opening segment, and Lou really handled these portfolio reviews with grace, courtesy, humor, and wonderful insights.
  • The morning was spent going over the basics, looking at some of Lou’s own amazing work, and he showed us a number of tricks, behind the scene’s photos of his main lighting set-up (amazingly simple, but I would have never figured it out on my own), and lots on backgrounds, props, styling, and more.
  • After lunch we dug in deeper, and saw how complex some really tricky shoots can get, and he gave us ideas how to handle the shooting tough objects like liquids (beer, cocktails, liquor bottles, etc.).
  • We ended the day by either styling our own food, or having Chef Dennis style it for us (I used Chef Dennis—I’m not a food stylist by any means), and then Lou left it up to take the techniques we learned in the class and put them to work (which is where my shot posted yesterday came from).

Lou was such a gracious host, Chef Dennis was just amazing, the students were just ecstatic, and we all left wanting more (which is the sign of a truly great workshop). Lou is such a giving teacher, who doesn’t hold anything back, and you really felt like he wanted to see you be a success in shooting food, and his energy and enthusiasm kept everybody excited and engaged the entire day.
If you’re into food photography, you’ve got to take Lou’s workshop. It’s an insane value, and you’ll learn things, gain insights, and pick up tricks that you just can’t learn anywhere else. If you can’t get to one of his workshops (they sell out in advance, and his next one is Sunday, June 22nd—here’s the link to his blog for more info), then at very least, get his great top-rated book on digital food photography (link).

Even if you’re not into shooting food, and you just appreciate great photography, take a moment to check out some of Lou’s wonderful work (click right here).