By Meg Jones Wall
As a full-time graduate student, it’s always tempting to spend as much free time as possible slacking off. Classes are tough, research papers are grueling, and for these brief three weeks between the second summer session and the fall semester, Gastronomy students finally get to breathe a sigh of relief and relax, at least until our reading lists show up for fall classes. But one thing that I personally want to spend this short break doing is practicing my writing and photography skills, working on my blog as much as possible and hopefully developing stronger abilities with my camera, both in and out of the kitchen. I know I’m not the only aspiring photographer/writer/stylist/food blogger in the Gastronomy program, but I have gathered a number of solid, incredibly helpful resources that I’d love to share with my fellow Gastronomy students who are pursuing the communication concentration.
As a beginning photographer, I was very intimidated by the fancy equipment, expensive editing software and years of experience that the photographers I’ve met seem to possess. And while nothing can replace a lot of practice, I’ve found a few wonderful (and free) guides that can help get you started with a bit more confidence. There are hundreds of photography blogs and websites out there, but PhotoTuts tutorials offer helpful tips on everything from lighting to ISOs, giving information on all types of photography without too much technical language. The blog on Food Pixels gives more specific advice on food photography, often featuring reader photos, and Learn Food Photography provides articles on equipment and techniques, as well as interviews with successful photographers, stylists, and food writers. And if you’re not checking Lara Ferroni’s blog regularly, you’re missing tons of great insights on photography, styling, and food writing.
In addition to websites and blogs, I’ve collected quite a few books on each of these subjects. While every author offers unique tips and an individual perspective, much of the basic information gets repeated between texts, particularly those on photography and styling. Finding a few authors that you really trust is much more valuable than having stacks of books that you hardly use, and for me, Helene Dujardin’s book Plate to Pixel has been an invaluable resource that I can’t recommend enough. Dujardin is a beautiful writer and a very talented photographer, and her simple explanations and encouragement are extremely helpful. Dianne Jacob’s Will Write for Food is another great resource for food writers, giving information and advice that applies to blogs, newspaper articles, books, reviews, and memoirs. Jacob offers tips on how to break out of a writing rut, how to get published, ways to increase traffic to a blog, and what to look for when writing restaurant reviews. She provides information that’s helpful to both beginning and experienced writers.
Armed with all of these resources, you can feel a lot more confident entering these fields. But the most important advice I’ve been given as I struggled to grow as a writer and photographer is this: practice. Don’t make excuses, don’t apologize for your work, and don’t just sit at home and pray you’ll magically get better. Make time to write, cook, take pictures, style food every day, and you will improve. Get connected with people in the field who will push you and look at your work, offering their opinions on what looks good and what needs improving. And don’t worry about your equipment, software, ingredients or notebooks–good photographers can take a beautiful photo with a cell phone, and a great writer doesn’t need more than a piece of paper and a pencil. Enjoy your time away from classes, but don’t forget to keep on doing what you love.