A Crash Course in Food Photography - and a Girls' Weekend in Wellington

It’s been some time since I’ve had a weekend away with a girlfriend. I was happily reminded recently just what a great time is to be had.

A few months ago I came across a short weekend course offered at Le Cordon Bleu on Food Photography. Immediately I was interested – until I read the equipment required.

Enter my friend Svea. As an enthusiastic amateur photographer I was certain she’d be able to assist. Sure enough, she had all the equipment on the list, was more than happy to loan me what I needed and even decided she’d like to come along.

And so a girls’ weekend in Wellington was organised. By the end of the day we had a place on the course, flights booked, and rooms at a fabulous hotel. What more could you ask for?

The plan was simple and it went like this – yes, we were going to Wellington to attend a course. But when we weren’t there we wanted to shop and eat. Mission accomplished.

So here goes. Day 1 started with lunch in the airport lounge. Do we look excited? Perhaps just a little? Whenever you embark on a getaway, a trip to the airport always raises the excitement level. Driving somewhere in a car is never quite as glamorous.

First stop once in Wellington was the hotel. Let me recommend to you the InterContinental as a very civilised place to stay when in Wellington. We loved everything about this hotel, not least its fantastic central location in Grey Street. The only taxis we caught all weekend were to and from the airport.

Having said that, I should probably point out Wellington as a city lends itself very nicely to everything being within walking distance. It is a compact city, but buzzing with food, culture and great shopping. Dare I call it our mini Melbourne?

As the foodie of this friendship it was my job to book the restaurants. For our first night – after a shopping excursion where Svea had a lot more success than I – my choice was Shed 5. Seafood is a specialty there and we both ordered fish for our mains. I chose the groper and Svea the tuna. As for accompaniments, the menu offered three choices. I went with the Mediterranean flavours of pappardelle and Romesco. Svea chose baby vegetables and horseradish mash – a beautiful pairing with tuna. The fish was cooked perfectly.

We were going to skip dessert until we saw they had crème brûlée on the menu. Yes, please!

Delicious. Shed 5 is definitely recommended.

Saturday morning heralded the first day of our course. But let’s not forget breakfast. Who doesn’t think that one of the best things about staying at a hotel is the breakfast? The InterContinental’s breakfast rocked.

I’ll confess that I was nervous embarking on the first day of the course. I have no real experience as a photographer and was unfamiliar with the equipment. Svea did give me the manual to read but I never got past page 1. Please.

But despite the nerves I was excited. We both were.

As it turned out there was no reason to be nervous. Le Cordon Bleu made us feel so welcome, as did Nicola and Adrian, our instructors.

The morning was spent for the most part getting to know our camera and understanding the benefits of working in manual mode.

Here’s me looking very serious as I contemplate my next shot (Svea was always in the right place at the right time and took fantastic photos throughout the weekend).

After a morning of intensive learning we were hungry and ready for lunch. With a decent break given to us Svea and I ventured out and found ourselves at Whairepo Lagoon. It’s a lovely spot in the centre of Wellington. The lagoon is filled with seawater and connected to Wellington Harbour.

Svea was primed after the morning’s lesson and took her camera. We had great fun as we wandered around the lagoon and looked out somewhere for lunch.

For lunch we chose Karaka Cafe. It sits right on the lagoon and would be lovely during the summertime. But it was a cold day and we chose to sit inside. We had a delicious lunch and were refuelled, ready for the next session.

A food scene had been set up for us to photograph that afternoon. It was time to start learning about composition and practise more with controlling light. Along with the benefit of shooting from up a ladder.

The day finished a little early and that meant we had time for a second shopping excursion. Fortunately I had better success – because I was starting to get seriously concerned that I would walk away from Wellington empty handed. That would not do.

Now we come to dinner Saturday night. And this I’m particularly excited to talk about because my second restaurant choice was absolutely spot on. Let me introduce Boulcott Street Bistro. It is a longstanding restaurant in Wellington and extremely popular. Also beautifully set in an old villa.

The restaurant doesn’t take bookings but no need to fret. They’re very efficient at managing tables and ensuring you don’t wait too long. We deposited ourselves at the bar until our table was ready. After the excellent day we were in high spirits and thought a bottle of Tattinger would go down very nicely.

When I chose the restaurants for our trip I had it in my mind that we would go to Shed 5 on the first night for fish and the Bistro on our second night for steak. That’s exactly how it panned out. We had an excellent steak with divine Béarnaise sauce at the Bistro. The cauliflower and cheese was a particular surprise. A hint of turmeric and spice really elevated it. Seriously delicious. We left happy.

The second day of our photography course was even better than the first. We got to visit the Cordon Bleu kitchen and photograph the chefs at work. As it happened they were busy preparing our lunch. The best part was we had the opportunity to photograph the food before we sat down to eat. An excellent way to put into practice everything we’d learned.

But I’d have to say it was the desserts that we had the most fun with.

I have only praise for this photography course. Nicola and Adrian, our instructors, were brilliant and made the two days so enjoyable. I learned an immense amount and have such a better understanding of how to photograph food and what I’ve been doing wrong.

The final exercise of the course was for everyone to share the best photos they’d taken that day. Below is my favourite and small moment of brilliance.

Quite simply the most perfect weekend.

A big thank you to Svea for making it so special and such great fun. And also a massive credit to her as most of the photos above were taken by her. Grazie mille, my brilliant friend.


Published by Tracey O'Brien


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