by Janet Davies
In March 2018, Ruth Gangbar and Christopher Gentile delivered their fourth Foodography workshop – food styling and food photography – as part of the Winter Survival Workshops offered by The Community Development Department, PELA CFDC, the Small Business Centre and PEC Chamber of Commerce. “We’re like the dynamic duo,” laughs Ruth, but she knows how seriously helpful their workshops can be. “You know the saying, a picture is worth a thousand words? It’s a cliché because it’s so true. A good photograph is worth a fortune in marketing,” she says. In their workshops they share practical advice, professional techniques and hands-on experience. She is a food stylist, he’s a commercial photographer specializing in food, hence the name Foodography, but they don’t just attract food businesses.
“About 20 people came this time, bringing product samples and props and visuals. We kick off with a demonstration, then break into small working groups and get right down to it. It’s mostly food-based products, but the workshops are good for improving any product photography – whether they plan to shoot it themselves or want to know how to prepare for a photographer. We cover basics and more advanced techniques depending who’s here. This one was two parts: a beginner class in natural light, how to compose stuff and work with daylight from windows; then a basic understanding of artificial lighting, so you can push the boundaries a little and have more control of lighting the product. We show them practical tips and tricks.
“Foodography is unique because they see a stylist and photographer working together, and see exactly what it takes to get that end result. It doesn’t just happen. A lousy photo can be bad for business, but one that’s balanced, well lit and composed reflects the integrity and hard work you put into your business. People have short attention spans, they want instant gratification, you have to grab them right away. A good image sends a powerful message,” she laughs. “It’s kept me employed for decades! I work on pictures in magazines and on packaging. With good marketing there’s no reason why local products can’t have the same shelf presence and compete with big brands.”
Past participants include Sarah Harrison of Cressy Mustard who uses the shots she created with Ruth and Chris a lot in her marketing. “We think that’s great when people can take home good photos to use, but at the very least we show them how powerful good food photography can be. Not everybody will take it further and say “Hey, I’m going to be a food stylist!” But so many use Instagram these days, or post photos on a website and what they learn here will drastically improve those pictures.
Chris agrees. “What you learn at these workshops can give “more legs” to your image. If it’s a really good one, it won’t be just a one-off. You can use it for print or website or social media. If you take it to that higher level it gives you a lot more mileage – even as far as big banners for shows. Emerson Pringle and his beautiful cutting boards, Carol Anne Ross from Portland Bridge Pickling Society, they both use images they created with us and they get great feedback on them. People say how well their images work and ask where they got it. That’s satisfying. But it’s not all food photography? “Oh no. We’ve had woodworkers and people who make cosmetics, because the same skills apply to shooting and styling any product. They’re important thing to know because it’s a fact that a story or post with a good image attached gets much more attention and engagement.
“At this workshop, Chef Sebastien from The Mill was working on new menu items. Emerson came again with cutting boards and brought along extras for the others to use. It’s a good group dynamic. Natalie Ann Comeau brought her honey products, and we had an artist this time, Susan Wallis who does encaustic painting. She didn’t bring her art, she brought brushes and tools and materials she uses to create the art. She wanted to shoot an artistic still life using the same principles of good food photography. It worked well and promotes and sort of romanticizes her creative process. It’s another way of getting her name out there. Tim Noxon brought dried chili products. A community fundraising group brought fudge! It’s fun to take stuff like that to a whole new level. The White Rabbit Guest House owner brought homemade bath bombs and toiletries to shoot, which is a fun way to promote her B&B.
Chris says “It’s great to see the light bulb go off when people see how little tips and tricks can change their styling and photos. We talk about file size, handling files, storing them, different software. No point having a great image if you don’t know what to do with it. It’s fantastic that The County provides this so affordably. It’s rare to have art direction and styling and photography available on a small business budget. The whole Winter Survival Workshop thing gives people access to professional advice and teaching, and lets us meet local business people too. Ruth agrees. “Working together is so much a part of doing business in The County. In my own work, I’ve called on Natalie Piper from Cloven Farms to use her sprouts. She’s so generous and it’s nice to give back and help her with photography. For Lori from Thyme Again Gardens this was her second workshop, and we tackled bottle shots. Chris laughs out loud. “Bottle shots are tricky! People definitely improve their own photography with us, but they also go away understanding it’s not easy to get professional results. To go to the next level they might well see the wisdom in hiring a professional – because they’ve seen the difference really good images make.”
Ruth wraps it up. “I want to thank Sandy and Grace and The County and the Small Business Centre for having the vision to include us in a pretty amazing roster of workshop presenters. We love it and we know how much people get out of it. Chris and I have a ton of experience between us, we like to work together and demystify some of these processes for people. It’s enjoyable. Plus we get to eat some pretty amazing stuff at the end of the workshops!” Sounds like another win-win initiative in The County.
About The County’s Winter Survival Workshops
The County’s Winter Survival Workshops deliver important and relevant training and education to small businesses in Prince Edward County to help them stay competitive. Business operators can find workshops that provide valuable information, such as the adopting the use technology, opportunities to remain competitive, maximizing the tourist season or ensuring a financially sustainable transition into retirement or the sale of a business.
The Winter Survival Workshops are administered by The Community Development Department in partnership with The Small Business Centre, Prince Edward/Lennox & Addington Community Futures Development Corporation (PELA CFDC) and the Prince Edward County Chamber of Tourism and Commerce. These partnering organizations identify relevant topics through data compiled by partners as well as agency meetings and client feedback. Workshops are then created to contribute to business knowledge, transformation, performance and growth.