10 Things I learned from Photography Workshop NY 2017

Earlier this month I traveled to New York to attend a two-day food photography workshop hosted by Rachel Korinek from Two Loves Studio, Aysegul Sanford from Foolproof Living, and Bea Lubas. The workshop took place at Neighborhood Studio, a beautiful space located in Brooklyn and run by Hetty McKinnon and Jodi Moreno.

10 Things I learned from Photography Workshop NY 2017

During the workshop, we talked about composition and the food photography process, mingled with many talented photographers from all over the place, worked on food styling as a team, and enjoyed great food prepared by our hosts. Different from previous workshops I’ve been to, this time we dug deep into the mindset of an artist and discussed goal setting, business best practices, and our hopes and fears.

The schedule was intensive and the time went by in a blink. We shared so many great ideas and resources that I couldn’t even write fast enough to jot down all the notes. I left New York inspired, recharged, and ready for my next project.

I rarely talk about photography on my blog because I don’t think I’m qualified enough on the topic. However, today I do want to share a few things I learned during this workshop that I found extremely helpful.

10 Things I learned from Photography Workshop NY 2017

10 Things I learned from Photography Workshop NY 2017

10 Things I learned from New York Photography Workshop

#1 Everyone experiences burnout.

I was so surprised to find out that I’m not the only one who experiences periodic depression and a lack of motivation to even get out of bed. I heard similar stories from people I admire. People who are so sunny and outgoing that you’d never imagine that they come across those dark moments, too.

You’re not alone. Try to relax and do something fun. Or just lie in bed and watch TV all day without feeling guilty. You’ll come back and feel strong again.

#2 Your work is better than you think.

Great artists are struggling to improve their craft every day. If you feel that your work does not live up to your expectations, you’re on the right track.

I have serious confidence issues (I blame my Asian-style education and strict parenting). Most of the time I hate my work, namely my photos and writing. Or maybe I love them for a couple days before I think they suck. I used to believe it was a good thing to have doubt in myself, so it would push me to learn and grow. But my friend Rachel told me that I need to give myself credit. At the end of the day, I need to be proud of myself and talk to my clients with confidence in order to get paid.

I’m still working on it.

#3 Distinguish goals from actions.

Goals are abstract. You have no control over the outcome. What you can do is to make measurable, actionable plans and follow them through, which might lead you to achieve your goals. I found it super helpful to list short term goals (less than 3 months), and break them down into baby-step actions you can accomplish on a daily basis.

Next time you’re depressed, or not happy with where you’re at right now, or are overwhelmed with work, think about what you really want to achieve or accomplish. You’d be surprised to find out it is not always about the money or moving into a bigger house.

10 Things I learned from Photography Workshop NY 2017

10 Things I learned from Photography Workshop NY 2017

#4 Finding a personal style is a journey, not a destination.

I almost cried when I heard this sentence.

I’ve been struggling with finding my style (photography, writing, and recipe development) for a long time, and I still don’t see the answer. I love all types of things, from many different artists. But sometimes I get lost in the sea of great work and cannot find my own path. This statement gives me permission to keep searching and evolving. Now I’m not troubled by the thought that I haven’t found my style anymore.

#5 More on how to find your style.

When you learn from your favorite photos next time, try to look beyond the surface.

For example, there might be more to a photo, beyond the fact that it’s dark and moody, or bright and airy. Or lit by soft natural light or bold artificial light.

Think deeper. Look at single elements and details. What moves you? Why do you like about the picture? Maybe, in a dark photo, it is the bright colorful fruit that makes you smile. Maybe what triggers you in a bright photo is the shadow that brings out the dimensions of the food. Maybe what you like in a commercial piece is the minimalist style that draws your eyes to the food. Write down all the details and try to recreate those details in your next photo shoot.

#6 Learn and practice your craft like a student, but run your service like a savvy business person.

“Maybe I should invest more to grow my Pinterest?”

“Should I post more frequently on Facebook?”

“Should I take this job knowing I’m underpaid?”

It’s time to stop letting these things to distract you from achieving your greater goals. Write down your sources of income and the time and money you spend on them. Follow the 80/20 rule. Cut off things that require resources but do not deliver results. And invest more in projects that generate the bulk of your income, and more importantly, projects that bring you joy.

Stop guessing. Next time you’re thinking about Pinterest, look at how much clients, traffic, and ad income it has brought or will bring you. And look at the money and time required. Make a decision based on that.

10 Things I learned from Photography Workshop NY 2017

10 Things I learned from Photography Workshop NY 2017

#7 Do reach out.

People are generally nice and they don’t bite.

I told Rachel that I was too intimidated to reach out to her before the workshop. She laughed and replied, “I’m a normal human being and a nice person!” Suddenly my fear and worry sounded ridiculous.

Blogging is a lonely business. It does not have an environment that lets you mingle with people, share your thoughts, and ask questions. So you need to create the opportunities yourself. Most of the time you might think “How can I bother someone I don’t know?” Or “She must be super busy and won’t reply to my email.” But, more often than not, you discover that people do reply and they are very friendly.

I’m writing this point down for myself because I’m still having trouble reaching out to people that I admire.

#8 Identify false fears and crush them.

We talked at great length about this during the workshop, and I could write two thousand words about this one. So I skipped it to save you some time… Just kidding. Please take fifteen high-quality minutes to watch this TED Talk called 100 days of rejection. (The beginning part cracks me up because it’s so Asian and totally resonates with me!)

#9 On travel and workshops.

If time and budget allow, travel somewhere else, attend workshops and conferences, and connect with people you admire. Heck, if you do not have the time or budget, find a way to make it happen. I’ve been to numerous events related to writing, photography, and blogging. And I always learn something new that will potentially grow my business and connect me with new friends. If you need to change up your daily routine and get inspired, look for events that interest you and participate in them without hesitation.

#10 On craft.

Always pursue what excites you the most, strive to grow, share your work with the rest of the world, and be patient. Good things will happen eventually.

For years I thought I’d been working so hard and I still hadn’t seen any results. I’m glad that I didn’t give up. It turned out that the me-two-years-ago was not prepared to do much of the work I’m doing now.  “Fake it until you make it” is absolutely true, but only to a degree. Sometimes you need a bit of luck. But you’ll find that you get lucky more frequently when you spend more time working on your craft.

10 Things I learned from Photography Workshop NY 2017


I hope you enjoyed reading this and take a few things away from this post. The truth is, I’m also writing these down to remind myself.

I want to thank our amazing teachers and hosts again, who made this workshop an excellent experience. Below are their Instagram handles. Follow them, learn from their work, and keep updated on future events.

  • Rachel @twolovesstudio (minimalist, photography teacher, and lightroom guru who teaches a great online course that will transform your editing process)
  • Aysegul @aysegul.sanford (modern style photographer, videographer, and storyteller who brings people together with her great food and charming character)
  • Bea @bealubas (she makes the most beautiful photos that put a big smile on your face and brighten your day)
  • Hetty at @arthurstreetkitchen (she creates the most gorgeous and delicious plant-based salads that you can actually cook in your own kitchen)
  • Jody at @whatscookingoodlooking_ (shares natural and wholesome recipes with an elegant style that shine through in her work)

You could read more about this photography workshop in Rachel’s post.

Did I cover some points that you found useful in this post? Leave a comment below to share your thoughts. I believe others can learn from your experience, as well 🙂


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Hi I'm Maggie Zhu! Welcome to my site about modern Chinese cooking - including street food, family recipes, and restaurant dishes. I take a less labor-intensive approach while maintaining the taste and look of the dish. I am originally from Beijing, and now cook from my New York kitchen.

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33 thoughts on “10 Things I learned from Photography Workshop NY 2017

  1. Liren | Kitchen Confidante

    Maggie, what an incredible experience! I love how you came away with such insightful lessons — really introspective and much more than just styling and photography, though, clearly, that was amazing, too! I hear ya on the burn out…and so many items you listed here.

  2. Richa

    Such a good read Maggie! We’ve talked about so many of these things and it’s nice to see them put on paper like this – makes them less intimidating to admit. You go girl!

  3. Nandita Gupta

    What a lovely article Maggie! And thanks for sharing the “100 days of rejection” ted talk. I watched it with utter silence. Awe inspiring. Thanks once again.

  4. Sarah & Laura

    Love this Maggie! You captured so many amazing moments from the workshop, we almost felt like we were there.

    Love all of your points – we too have to remind ourselves of the journey instead of the destination. Sometimes when we look at photos I (Sarah) took a year or two years ago – that’s when you see how far you’ve come on your journey and know that you’re making improvements every single day. 🙂 🙂

  5. Aysegul Sanford

    Oh Maggie.. Such a beautiful write-up. So many great points here.
    Like I mentioned during the workshop, your photography is beautiful but I do understand how you feel. People tell me that they like my photos, but sometimes I cannot help but feel less of myself and my talent. We all go through that..
    It was so nice meeting you. Wishing you continued success.
    Keep in touch. Cheers!

  6. Marissa

    I’ve long admired you, Maggie, for your graceful and courageous transition to a new country, for your diligence in making Omnivores Cookbook a special place that stands out among food blogs and for the fact that my husband and I often comment that we want to eat EVERYTHING you post. Thank you for this honest post that touched on so many struggles that I share. Keep it up, you’re amazing!

  7. Joanne/Wine Lady Cooks

    Thank you so much for sharing your experience and thoughts on this workshop. I’m a fan of Two Loves Studio and have picked up several tips. Again, thank you for your terrific post and I’ll be following you as well, your recipes and photos are absolutely amazing and it’s been a pleasure to meet you.

  8. Christine | Mid-Life Croissant

    #2 I feel ya. Still working on that, too. #7 I’m doing a little bit of this. Reaching out to local photogs whose work I admire and asking to meet to talk about how they run their business. I’ve found people to be very responsive. I’ve been sending emails or messaging through Insta.

    These photos are gorgeous and I love the way you edited them, too.

  9. Christine

    Hi Maggie! This is an awesome post! I was wondering what were your favorite conferences/workshops you have been to and would recommend?

  10. Vicky @ Avocado Pesto

    Loved reading all your thoughts and reflections! I too am absolutely terrible at reaching out to other bloggers or anyone I admire in the online sphere, always thinking that they must be too busy or not knowing what to say and how to start up an “online” friendship! Definitely lots to think about after reading your post : ))

  11. Jennifer A Stewart

    Maggie thank you for sharing this! I know that I get bogged down in the day to day with busy work and forget to look at the big picture. Many times I compare myself to those who have started much later than me and are beyond where I am and that gets me down. I started to read this thinking there would be technical info about photos and turns out the words you wrote here are what I really needed to hear, not how to set my aperture. The journey does get me down a lot of times but I do need to remember to celebrate just how far I have come so that I can continue. Thanks again!

  12. peter @Feed Your Soul Too

    Thx for opening up. Very interesting to hear the thoughts going through your mind. We are all different yet share so many of the same challenges in our blogging. I think you are so totally brave to write this post. Best of luck and a new found supporter and follower.

  13. Sophie

    Beautiful and informative post! It’s true that sometimes we bloggers face severe burn out and doubt ourselves and our work. But life is always about the next step. Very inspiring post. Thank you ?

  14. Deb @ Cooking on the Front Burner

    Loved reading this… I can relate to having those feelings. Thanks for sharing! It was just the motivation I needed! I especially love that is it a journey….. I need to remind myself of that.

  15. Trang

    Maggie, so many points hit home for me, especially being Asian… Sometimes I just tell myself to put on a blinder and keep on going. There are so many amazing blogs out there, the more I look at them the more I think mine sucks, and how my writing sounds so stupid. Come to think about it, I’m probably the meanest person to myself than anyone. Thank you for sharing and it’s good to know that even as a successful blogger, you still face the same issues! And dude, your photos are freaken beautiful.

  16. Jennifer @ Because Food Is Love

    Beautiful post Maggie! I really enjoyed reading it and took a lot a way from it. I only started my blog last fall and I learn something new everyday. When I first decided to become a blogger I really had no idea what it would take. I’ve always loved writing, food 🙂 and art but I didn’t quite understand all the job entails. I’ve felt a lot of the things you referenced in your post. It’s nice to know that I’m not alone and bloggers big and small feel the same way. Thank you so much for sharing! 🙂

  17. Nandita - Saffron Trail

    Dear Maggie, thanks for sharing this! Being an Indian, I totally get #2. Plagued by self doubt about my work be it writing or photos is so second nature to me. It does spiral into dark moments.
    I loved your post and bookmarking to read it again soon 🙂

  18. Therese

    Hi Maggie,
    I’m Rachel’s sometime assistant back in Melbourne. I’ve felt the same as you about all the things you mention. I reached out to Rachel when I stumbled across her on Instagram, and booked one of her image appraisal packages. I was intimidated too, but I got lucky, found out she lives just around the corner from me, and we met up for the appraisal in person. She is just so kind and friendly and she really cares about her tutees (is that even a word?) She invited me to assist on shoots – I know, so lucky ,right? She has taught me so much about both photography and personal development, and I’m 2 decades older than her! I so envy you your time on the work shop – in the nicest possible way. So you see, I’m proving your point – if you reach out, you have no idea what might happen. I’m a firm believer in making your own luck by recognizing opportunities and grabbing them. I think your work and writing are great by the way. Best of luck with it all, Therese

  19. Jo || The Luminous Kitchen

    Maggie these are so insightful and beautifully written. I especially love the point on reaching out. Rach is a good friend of mine now because I wrote her an email one day and it went back and forth from there. She ended up coming to stay with me and we ran a workshop together on the Gold Coast in Australia. Her blog was one I totally looked up to for inspiration when I started food blogging and I couldn’t believe a few short years later I was teacher by her side. Its so easy to feel alone when blogging and working on your photography skills especially working from home, but we are all connected by a common passion that to be honest not many people actually ‘get’ so heres to reaching out and connecting. What a joy to have found your blog. xx

  20. Healthy World Cuisine

    Thank you dearly for summarizing your thoughts and learned experiences from this great workshop. It is helpful to put things in perspective to really find out what our goals our and outlining baby steps to get there.

  21. shobee

    I would love to attend workshops too, but do not have a time for now. I love these thoughts. My struggle is connecting with bloggers because they are too intimidating to reach out to. So I am kind of in my own bubble.

  22. Shibani

    Hi Maggie This is the first time I am in your space although we are connected in Instagram. Really love your work and this post…. Is simply amazing.. Thank you for sharing these wonderful tips…totally love them and can relate to them.
    Wish you all the best.

  23. elaine

    You are doing a great job, Maggie! I love reading this articles. It is just like my own experience. Attending a workshop is really happy memories as you are with a group of foodies and photographers. They share similar interests and usually are quite inspiring.

  24. Suzannah Kolbeck

    This is a great post. I find many (most? all?) of these things to be true, and I would add one more: Persist. The value of keeping going can never be underestimated. I have no idea if anyone is reading what I am writing or making any of my food, but I do it because writing is part of who I am.

    Thanks for sharing. 🙂

    1. Maggie Post author

      Hi Sui, I highly recommend the 50mm 1.8, and second best is 35mm 1.8. The 50mm is the one that I use the most frequently. The 35mm is good for shooting larger setup, like multi dishes.

  25. Cindy Feingold

    Great post Maggie,
    Thanks for taking the time to write it. I have been blogging for over 9 years now and and only recently have I reached out and started to connect with others. I ‘m not sure what I was waiting for. I have found a generous and giving food blogger community.
    I have taken 2 online courses from Rachel (Lightroom Magic and Composition Essentials) and I will be travelling to London at the end of April to attend her and Bea’s workshop “The Art of Food Stories.” I am very excited to meet them and learn from them.
    Sometimes, when I am especially hard on myself, I try to remind myself that as food bloggers we are essentially doing the job of 4 people (writer, stylist, cook and photographer).

  26. Chen

    I’m reading this a year on and every lesson rang true for me right now! Thank you so much for writing and sharing such a great post!