Canon EOS Rebel SL1. Bring it!


When you are a photographer, people ask questions. Who do you photograph? What do you photograph? What camera do you use? What camera should I buy?  My answers are usually always the same: Chefs, Authors, Celebs, Everyday People. Food. Phase One, Canon, Sigma. And lastly, anything Canon.

The conversation then goes like this: But I don’t need anything fancy, I don’t even know how to use it and I just want something simple to photograph my family/kids/friends/vacations.

And still I say Canon.

Having been a Canon user for so long, I always feel confident pointing them in that direction, telling them to start with a dSLR from the starter’s section. It’ll do what you want, you’ll be able to learn and grow, and you’ll love the images. But when my colleague Christopher emailed and asked if I’d give the Canon EOS Rebel SL1 a spin, I thought why not? I’m always telling people to use it, shouldn’t I get my hands on it and try it, too?

So I did!

Never one to be mired down with deep technical facts (although I really should!), I look for quality, ease-of-use, resolution, image quality, and how it suits the user. These are the factors I always consider. But would this little tiny camera work for me? I decided to take it for a spin!

First things first: I’m not one to read manuals. I know, SORRY SORRY SORRY! I just don’t have the patience, which explains why I’m the guy with all those extra Ikea parts laying around after assembly. Oops! I wanted to see how similar the menus and operation of the SL1 are to other Canon models so I hit the ground running!  But first I removed the 18-55 kit lens that ships with the camera. I am not a fan of that lens at all. Granted, putting a Canon 5omm f/1.2L lens on this little body made it look funny (see above), but this way I knew I could remove any lens issues from the equation and really evaluate the camera’s sensor on its own. Well, at least that’s what I think I’m doing :)

My verdict? I love this little thing! It’s small, accessible, and makes me feel like I’m using a Canon. The touch screen is nice, and I’m rather happy with the images. I did not try out the video feature, maybe next time. But I’m happy to confidently recommend this camera to anyone starting out who wants something small with great quality. It’s just lovely.

Let’s look at some images, shall we?


This Kalanchoe beharensis in our backyard strikes an imposing stance, and I wanted to see how the blue ceramic planter would look against the corten steel fence.


I have a thing for 6pm, lens flare, my backyard. As usual, the SL1  didn’t disappoint me with this it-could-sorta-be-difficult-to-expose-for-shot.


Caesalpinia pulcherrima from the front yard. Also known as Mexican Bird Of Paradise, it’s from the pea family. Makes the most beautiful arrangements, too! Shooting this wide open let me blur out the background and make it all prettypretty.



Fountain in the yard, side light. I was thrilled that the SL1 managed to hold detail in the lights and the darks simultaneously.


I took it to Las Vegas, and it was nice to not have a a big giant camera to lug around!


It does well in low light, like most Canons do. In post I had to open up the shadows just a wee bit. I took this photo before cocktail time at Mandarin Oriental, which is good because drunk.


MOZen Bistro, Mandarin Oriental for breakfast.


Congee at Mandarin Oriental. Let me get this off my chest, please: IT IS MY FAVORITE HOTEL IN LAS VEGAS. It’s the only way I can bribe Adam to go to Las Vegas. It’s truly an amazing property with phenomenal service and I get to have congree every single morning. Win win all around.


Beautiful delicate touches in the rooms like petals in a bowl. Lovely.


You might not know it, but this was photographed in their rather dark spa, shot at ISO 800 and still manageable.


Don’t want none unless you got buns, hun. I took the camera to the studio for some fun!

(notice how I truncated the above sentence to remove anaconda? MY MOTHER READS THIS BLOG, Y’ALL)



Those famous hands adjust avocados.


Behind the scenes of a taco shoot for Gaby. I was happy how the SL1 handles color, but of course I wasn’t surprised!



Pasta! Color!


Happy to have detail in the shadows, and nice punchy highlights everywhere else.


The prop table! Thank you, Alicia!


And the final shot for Gaby, a big dip situation! The Rebel really performs well!

And don’t forget to BringIt! Upload your shots and share your Canon images with the world. I’m having a great time viewing the galleries, so much fantastic stuff there!


Thanks to Canon and Christopher! Disclosure: Canon provided the EOS Rebel SL1 on loan, I was not compensated for this post. All images adjusted for color, contrast, and resized for web. Photographed in manual mode, various settings, always raw. Edited in Photoshop. #Canon #BringIt

Huckleberry: Stories, Secrets, And Recipes From Our Kitchen



Oh goodness, IT HAS BEEN FOREVER AND A MOTHERFLIPPIN DAY that I have waited for this. Zoe Nathan’s first cookbook, Huckleberry: Stories, Secrets and Recipes From Our Kitchen, Chronicle Books, 2014.  I had such an unbelievable and obscene amount of fun working on this, I cannot even tell you. And true to form I did indeed taste every single thing I photographed. Yep. EVERY. SINGLE. THING.

If you know Huckleberry in Santa Monica, then you know Zoe. And if you know Zoe and Josh then you know they are filled with so much spirit, joy, humor, care, and kindness that it’s difficult to not fall in love. Being in Zoe’s presence (and her bakery and her home) is to be surrounded by love. And most oftentimes that love is handed to you on a plate, in a cup, or a pastry bag.  She has one of the biggest hearts I’ve ever seen, and this book captures her spirit and humor so perfectly. And the recipes? THEY ARE EVERYTHING.





The cookbook is out this Tuesday, September 9th, and I am a̶s̶k̶i̶n̶g̶ telling you to immediately pre-order it now. NOW. You’ll want this book and I can pretty much guarantee that it will stay on your bookshelf for years to come, if not forever.  Congratulations to Zoe, Josh, Laurel and the entire Huckleberry Team, and to Chronicle for making such a beautiful book. It was an honor to photograph it.

And to Heidi Swanson! :)

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Patrons were given plenty of notice over the 2 weeks we worked on the book.


Next time someone says to me “Oh, you’re lucky.  I don’t have a studio to work in so I don’t have the luxury of all that” blah blah blah (because yes, people do say that all the time) I am going to show them these pictures. You see, shooting on location in a busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy busy bakery during business hours can be a challenge. Frenetic, wild, hyper, loud, and at times super intense, you must make things work. You must always make things work. Luckily the customers at the bakery were so delightful and didn’t mind cables and cords as we played Twister to reach our shot.

(Confidential to one of my most favorite actors on the planet who came over to say hello and see what we were doing: I love you even more now. Really).


Propping was minimal, only a few cutting boards and trays were needed. I take this small tablecloth that I bought in Paris with me everywhere, and I loved seeing how the light hit it. Speaking of, there’s such great light in that bakery!


One is never hungry for long when you are with Zoe. Every day involved eggs and bread and I will never ever ever say no. Ever.


We tried not to leave a huge mess, we really did.  This was our set, all 3 1/2 feet of it.


Tripod moments were scarce, there simply wasn’t enough room which meant high ISO, lots of handheld, and the world’s best digitech and friend.


Working in a bakery meant early morning call times, which meant Zoe’s breakfasts. No way to resist, really. Thank goodness. Here we are at Milo & Olive for a quick pick up shot.

Make sure and get your copy of Huckleberry or else we can’t be friends. I’m serious. I’m off to my kitchen now to make page 187!


Behind the Scenes of a Personal Food Photography Shoot

Pie Intro

It was a pie safe that we purchased years ago. Rustic, beat up, full of character. I could never walk by it without thinking of what it would look like filled with pies. Over the years it’s housed prop glasses, plates, beautiful ceramics, but never pies.

Eight years later I decided to do something about that.

Whenever I have some free time I love to schedule personal shoots. I get to work with friends and lovely models, create a story of my own, and shoot it the way I see fit. One doesn’t always get that luxury when working for clients as there are a variety of requirements to meet. Not that I object! It’s just nice to do something for yourself now and then, right?

The idea for this story involved a couple making pies one late afternoon. I called my dear friend Ellen at Neat Productions to handle the casting, and before long we were looking at a dozen models. I must admit I really love this part!


“Hold this. Turn this way. Use the rolling pin. Got it.”



With the casting underway, I turned to my folder of sketches and drawings I stored just in case I ever got around to shooting this story. Swatches, colors, fabrics, and inspirational images go into it, and I soon started the task of turning ideas into actions. One thing I knew I wanted to use was an old stove. Luckily there’s a shop with a wonderful collection of vintage stoves right around the corner from our studio, so after asking if I could rent one I found a mover to drop it by. Those suckers are heavy!


Once it was delivered, it met the pie safe and a lovely old farm table. I think they all got along perfectly and all I needed to do was build a shelf over the stove and start dressing the set. I pulled from our prop collection and went to town. So much fun!


The lighting for this story would be a balance of very bright directional light and dark, contrasty shadows. I wanted to feel like you were in a kitchen one late afternoon when the sun has just peaked and is on its way down, high up in the sky. Not flooded with light, but still keeping the intensity. This was done by blocking quite a bit for shadows (all the black foamcore) and keeping the light high. The two wall flats were also painted a very dark shade of brown, a departure from the dark greys I prefer. It helped to cut down reflection and light. Shadows can be your best friends.



The set was extremely minimal and only took 45 minutes to put together.




I didn’t need a wardrobe stylist for this shoot, I wanted the models in their own clothes to keep it casual. However, I did have to hunt down aprons, and eventually decided on a beautiful blue apron from Madison And Muse for her as well as a few others for him.


Shot over 2 days, we started with the skeleton crew for the food. Pies were baked (thanks, Adam!) while I photographed ingredients and process shots. Unfortunately they weren’t baked in the vintage stove, which is probably a good thing now that I think about it.



On day 2 our models and crew arrived in the afternoon. Thanks to old Xscape, 702, Inoj, Blackstreet, Brownstone and Zhane for keeping the mood just right. After a quick visit to the hair and makeup department (a/k/a Candy Corner), the models were ready to hit the set and start making pies.



Cal crimps and primps! Also, a few touch ups between takes with the amazing Aunny De La Rosa!



After a few process shots it came time for the best part of the day: TO EAT PIES. Like everything we shoot, it’s completely edible and considering Adam made these pies, well, enough said. They are legendary.

I wanted to get some action shots with hands so I crawled up a ladder and made the models eat VERY slowly. Awkward yes, but it made for a great shot!


Photographing the models went very quickly (they are professionals after all) so once we were done it came time for the editing process. I use Capture One to shoot tethered and to process my images, but I usually wait until I’m back at my home office with my calibrated monitors before working on edits or colors.  Most things can be done with Capture One so it was easy to finalize the shoot. If I have to use photoshop it’s for things like cloning or removing items within the frame (like a seam)



With the shoot done, I can now add it to my portfolio and use it in promotional materials. Now let’s eat pie! Come back tomorrow where I’ll share the final images with ya! Thank you so much for reading!

Thanks to Adam for humoring me and making beautiful pies! To Ellen, Aunny, Byron, Aubrey and Calvin… a million thanks!


Jordan Vineyard & Winery

There’s nothing I look forward to more than my annual trips to Jordan Vineyard & Winery in Healdsburg, Sonoma, California. I’ve been traveling there and photographing all sorts of beautiful things for many years, and I get downright giddy when I get the email from my colleague and friend, Lisa Mattson, asking about dates.

Why do I love it so? Let me count the ways.

  • A beautiful property with exquisite food and wine
  • The Jordan team couldn’t be more talented and friendly if they tried
  • There’s wine
  • And more wine

I could go on, but I’m sure you get the picture at this point, right? I said wine, right?

This year I actually went back and forth over a few weekends, capturing magical moments at sunset and also quiet times as the sun rises in the garden. As a photographer we live for these beautiful moments, and you find it extremely difficult to put your camera down for even just a second lest you miss something.

Being at Jordan also works my photographic chops — I’m shooting people, food, vistas, details, drinks, wine, interiors, you name it. It keeps me busy but it’s a dream job, I ain’t gonna lie.

But enough about that, let’s look at some photos!

Jordan Winery, Sunset Supper Photo Shoot, Sunset Supper Jordan Winery, Sunset Supper Photo Shoot, Sunset Supper Jordan Winery, Sunset Supper Photo Shoot, Sunset Supper

Can you believe this view? I mean, really. Look at it. As far as the eye can see it’s beautiful. And apparently you can see three separate counties from the highest point in Jordan Winery.



Chef Todd Knoll prepares exquisite and creative dishes, always a delight to visit with him. And the abundance of fresh ingredients makes for some fun photos.

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I could photograph Nitsa’s flowers all day long. Also, need some moss for some arrangements? Just step outside. Lucky!

MattArmendarizJordanBlog_0039 Jordan Winery, Sunset Supper Photo Shoot, Sunset Supper Jordan Winery, Sunset Supper Photo Shoot, Sunset Supper Jordan Winery, Sunset Supper Photo Shoot, Sunset Supper Jordan Winery, Sunset Supper Photo Shoot, Sunset Supper

Jordan Winery, Sunset Supper Photo Shoot, Sunset SupperIt’s not Sonoma unless I leave with tons of grape shots!

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So many wonderful moments around the property and gardens. FIGS FOR DAYS!


All hands on deck when it comes to blocking down some overly-dappled light. Shooting midday outdoors can be difficult, luckily the trees provide lots of coverage.


Great food and wine, what more do you need?


Oh yes, olive oil. Jordan olive oil, which is outstanding. Here’s a product shot I wanted to try on a beautiful piece of wood, and luckily leaves and fruit are only a hop skip and a jump away.


A Star Wars selfie. I’ll have to tell you about this later. Thank you for helping me, Erin.


I photographed a tour group before the lunch scene and my assistant played model. He always dresses well.

MattArmendarizJordanBlog_0048Me and Byron! I told you he’s sharp.


Also, romantic fires burning during summer midday can leave you a bit spritzy. Can I get a glass of chilly wine?

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For a story we headed to another vineyard one morning, the light was fantastic!

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Also, THESE MOMENTS.  Can you believe that table? And that little sitting area? So beautiful.

MattArmendarizJordanBlog_0052There I am!


Thanks to all my friends at Jordan! Thank you Byron! See you soon!

Behind The Scenes Of A Shoot (a/k/a It Takes A Village)

If there’s one topic on this blog that generates the most interest and comments (all of which I am thankful for!) it’s behind the scenes of photo shoots and my day job. Quite often I can’t really instafacetweetpin a darn thing from photoshoots for my clients because, well, it’s their shoot and we all do our best to wait for whatever it is we are shooting to hit the streets first. I actually have several cookbooks in the queue that won’t come out until 2014, and they are some titles I am super duper thrilled about, too! But this shoot? It’s all mine.


In an effort to add some variety to my portfolio, I self-assigned a party scene at home. The story? Some friends get together for pizza, some wine, some treats, with lots of laughing and maybe some more wine, keeping it all very So-Cal in spirit. Assigning a story for yourself, producing it and paying for it isn’t easy, but as a photographer I find it imperative to keep working and trying new things. So let me take you through the process of a photoshoot!

The Producer

On some of my larger shoots I’ve learned to appreciate the role of a producer. They are the glue that holds the entire shoot together, acting as the keeper of the job. They bring art buyers, art directors, clients, prop stylists, make-up and wardrobe stylists, set designers, caterers, models and talent, photographers, photo assistants, studio folks, digital techs and vendors together, all the while managing the shoot’s location and shot list. An important position, don’t ya think? For this job I turned to my friend and wonderful producer Ellen Herbert of Neat Productions who helped me pull it off. She is a dream, an angel. Literally.


After an initial casting notice, we narrowed our list down to around 30 to 40 models we’d see at my studio (a huge advantage of living in LA is that there’s SO! MUCH! TALENT!) Casting is a blast, as you get to see the models in person and see how you vibe with each other. Since I was shooting this at my house, it was important that we got along. And get along we did! Such great smiles and talent.
The Stylists

Now that I had my selection of models I wanted to work this, they also needed to be styled. Since I had a very specific idea of how I wanted people to look, Ellen put me in touch with stylist Elwira Miezal. There were emails, phone calls, pre-production sessions and lots of images sent over with ideas of how I wanted the models to look. Of course, when you work with professionals you give them space to do their jobs and perform their magic, and Elwira had everyone looking amazing from head to toe. Plus she’s gorgeous and stylish, which always helps :)  My driveway became the wardrobe closet as tons of beautiful fall items appeared. Oh how I wanted to go shopping so badly!

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And how to keep the models looking gorgeous and fresh as I MADE them eat pizza and drink wine? With make-up artist Aunny De La Rosa, of course! Can I just tell you how much I love this woman? LOVE.  LOVE.

As the models arrived and got dressed, we started with food beauty shots that would eventually become food props for the models. Of course when it came time for them to eat and drink we gave everyone fresh pizzas, and I managed to sneak in a few bites as well. But it was a race against time, as I only had 2 solid good hours of sunlight to get it all done.

So how about some photos?


Our kitchen became the prep space for the food stylists. There’s really nothing happening in this photo, but I’m running it because a) Alexis looks gorgeous and b) I know it will irritate her to include it. SCORE!



Adam, Food Stylist Extraordinaire, became the impromptu pizzaiolo.  But I must say that ever since we installed a wood-burning pizza oven in the backyard we really are practicing our pizza chops, ya know. And you already know how crazy I am about making pizzas, right? Also, Alexis you better not be Grindring in those photos.



We kept the styling to a minimum. After all, backyard pizza party shouldn’t be overly fussy, right? Here I am contemplating the shot while trying not to fall over.


My assistant Crystal checks out some shots while I try to peak over. Also, when I stand on apple boxes I’m almost as tall as a normal man.


Speaking of tall, here I am on a ladder trying to get an overhead-ish table shot. I’m also apparently really confused about something. I have no idea what it was.


Part of the story I created involved the hosts getting things ready for the partay. Bring on the beautiful people!





I could have photographed her smile for another 8479273898 hours if I had the time.


I just let them do their thang while I moved around photographing them.


Adam made more pizzas…


…while we review the images on the computer in the midst of very dramatic smoke


The lovely stylist between scenes



Oh Lord Jesus It’s A Fire!


Time for another set-up, you can see some of the crew behind the models. For realism I wanted everyone to stay put, after all this was a party! Except for the big computer cart, which has no place at a party.


Even while working 10 feet in the air I still have time to Instagram. I have priorities, damnit.


Quick touch-ups before moving to the next shot.




Speaking of Aunny, what a smile! ALSO:  Stretch-Tite has a way of sneaking itself into photos and you cannot blur it enough! UGH THAT YELLOW!


More models in different areas, and please, avert your eyes from that bit of sneaky flesh I’m showing if you know what’s good for you and your ocular health.


Another shot of food for a close up.


Because I had the models, I also wanted to get quick portraits. I love working with professionals! And there’s that magic smile again!


Many thanks to the crew, and big giant hugs and kisses to Ellen! Please visit their links!

Ellen Herbert of Neat Production

Elwira Meizal, Stylist

Aunny De La Rosa, Make Up Stylist

Adam C. Pearson, Food Stylist

Leslie Armendariz of Pixies Petals for the gorgeous flowers

A special thanks to Niko Misafiris for the behind-the-scenes photography!

September Food & Wine Magazine

food--wine-magazine-september-128957l3  Well whattdayaknow, there’s me in this month’s Food & Wine magazine and I couldn’t be more thrilled to be included in such great company! A huge thanks to Sara and Food & Wine for the inclusion, I now have something to send to my parents to show them I am actually home every now and again (Thanksgiving is calling you, mom & dad, please come!). Also, such giant happy thanks to Christian May for the interior design of our home( you can see his talent in the breakfast nook shot). More about our home soon, I promise! And about the backyard, just as soon as I stop making pizzas in the wood fired oven EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.


Working At Jordan Vineyard & Winery

I love traditions. And I especially love traditions when they involve sunshine, expansive views, the wine country and my friends at Jordan Winery. Once again I traveled back up this past week to photograph the many exciting stories and events they’ve been working on that will be featured in their newsletter, Estate Tales. Because I’m not one to spoil any surprises, you’ll have to check the website over the next few months and if you’re in the area you’ll definitely want to take a tour, too.

Over four days I captured over 100 gigs-worth of images (YIKES), ate straight from their garden, shot beautiful food thanks to Chef Todd Knoll, visited with the Jordan team and had my lost-in-the-jungle story outdone by their own resident videographer named Erin.

As I traversed Jordan’s 1,400 acres of property with a laptop and three cameras in tow, it was my iphone that remained nearby the entire time, ready to snap anything and everything. And while I usually do use my iphone for off-the-cuff shooting, I was so happy with the images I was making with my phone that I decided to create this collage for you. Then again, it’s hard to take a bad picture at Jordan, something about those views just make it oh so difficult to do so.

Enjoy the photos, and yes, you are allowed to make a donkey joke at my expense, even though for the first time there’s actually one in the photos. Quit looking at me.






Many thanks to Lisa, Lori, Erin, Todd, Nitsa, John and the entire team at Jordan. A special thanks to Lisa, Damon and Dante! Photos of me standing on top of things like ladders and counters were taken by Lisa and I can hear my mother yelling at me to get down.

(Erin, if you are reading this, please know how bad-ass you are and that my next tattoo will be your portrait)

Follow Jordan Winery on Twitter and on Facebook!


More Prop Goodness

I just came across this story in the latest issue of Donna Hay Magazine. It’s their first Black & White issue and this section details the mag staff’s efforts to create their own set of black and white props (black cinefoil as surface=brilliant). It’s gorgeous! Thought it’d be fun to share, but make sure to pick up your copy as it’s on newsstands now and OH THAT LIGHT! And I do spy a few Elephant Ceramics on that table.  Thanks to DH and her team for continually inspiring us!