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The Butcher and the Chef

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If for any strange reason I ever wrote a book called ‘The Butcher and the Chef”, this would be the cover shot!

I’ll admit that this is highly unlikely to happen, but I do like this image, mainly because I remember the circumstances that it was taken. For me it’s got an emotional attachment to it, which all good images should have.

The chef is Michelin Star culinary genius Gareth Ward of Ynyshir Hall in Wales, and the butcher is the award winning Johnny Pusztai of JT Beedham & Sons. Johnny is the ‘go to’ butcher of all the top chefs in the area. Although he’s based in Nottingham he provides products to chefs all over the country, because he’s the best around.

This shot was taken in the aftermath of a summer garden party at Ynyshir Hall back in August. Johnny had just finished preparing, cooking and serving one of his speciality hog roasts for a couple of hundred people, and Gareth and the team had been busy in the kitchens all day providing other delicacies for the event.

I remember from my days in hotels and catering how it feels when the last meal is dished up and sent out, and you’ve finally got the opportunity to take a five minute break before it all kicks off again. These moments are precious, and are often a relief and an opportunity to relax and let off a bit of steam.

Gareth and Johnny have known each other for years and years, so there’s already a relationship and friendly bond between them. The shot above was as simple as asking them both to sit down on a pile of logs, then just wait to see what they did. 30 seconds later it was in the bag. It was processed very, very simply in Lightroom with just a basic, contrasty black and white treatment.

Welsh Heat

white-heatWhenever I do a food photoshoot it’s also nice to fit in a session photographing ‘behind the scenes’ in the kitchens. It’s quite a contrast. On the one hand you have the calm, sophisticated and elegant ‘front of house’ angle that the customer sees, and on the other the busy, hot, sometimes tense and frequently pressurised atmosphere of the kitchens.

I like to base these shoots on the beautiful ‘White Heat’ book from the mid 1990’s, featuring a young Marco Pierre White at his prime, and superbly captured on film by Bob Carlos Clarke. The book was photographed on Polapan, which is a high speed monochrome instant slide film giving plenty of grain, lots of contrast and a unique tone. I’ve loosely replicated this style in my post processing.

Here are a selection of some of the images from an evening’s service at the beautiful Ynyshir Hall in Wales, in the kitchens of their incredibly talented Head Chef, Gareth Ward.

A Piece of Paper

Photography can be a very informal arrangement. A photographer and a model communicate, agree to do a photoshoot together, decide on the terms, organise a location, turn up, do the shoot, and then that’s it! But where are the images taken really allowed to be used? Who has full control over them? The photographer? The model? Neither?

PenThere are a couple of misconceptions in this broad subject. The first is that you must have a model release signed, the second is that the photographer owns the copyright of the image and can therefore do whatever he likes with them. These are both incorrect.

A model release (or a consent form) is not a requirement in the UK, but it does make sense to have some kind of signed written agreement. This is to protect the photographer, the model and the customer. It’s an agreement between all parties which confirms where the image can ultimately be used, and the conditions applied to that usage. Quite often it’s as simple as receiving a signature where the model basically releases all interest in the final images and gives the photographer the all clear to use them wherever he sees fit (within reason, but more on this later).

Again, there’s no legal requirement for this, but if nothing else it clarifies to everyone what is expected. In other instances this document may be specific to the commercial job, and conditions of use may apply which only allow the work to be used in certain situations.

So, what of this concept that the copyright belongs to the photographer and he can do whatever he likes with it? Well, it’s half true, the copyright does belong to the photographer, but there are limitations to where an image can be used, especially if a model release or consent form has not been signed.

Firstly, an individual who commissions a photograph for private or domestic use has a right to privacy. If I take a booking for a family photoshoot for example then the copyright of the images belongs to me, but this doesn’t give me the right to publish them in the public domain, unless I have express permission from my customer.

In commercial photography imagine an image of a model with a product. Because of the image the model now becomes connected with the product. There could be many reasons why in the future this connection could be deemed as inappropriate, and without evidence of the models signed permission for you to take the image this could infringe on their legal rights, leaving you open to legal action. The last thing you need is a court order to withdraw an image after your customer has paid for the photoshoot – and included the shot in their print run of 20,000 brochures!

Individuals have a right to identity, and this is where words such as ‘defamation’ and ‘recognisable’ crop up. Imagine somebody takes an image of me walking past a football stadium, and it appears in a newspaper article about the stadium. I can’t really argue with that, because by being there in public I’ve waived my right to privacy. If however the newspaper article spoke about Nazi football hooligans then I would have grounds to sue, because I’m actually not a Nazi football hooligan! That’s defamation. The copyright of the image belongs to the photographer, he doesn’t need a model release, but there are restrictions of use within English law.

Putting it into a model / photographer context, I’ve been booked to take an image for a luxury spa of two ladies in a jacuzzi by a swimming pool wearing bikinis. I don’t legally need a model release to take this shot, and the copyright remains mine, but if my image then appeared in a lads mag or on a dubious website alongside other more explicit images then I could be sued, because the models may object to their images being used in that way – that’s defamation of character.

So it’s not as clear cut as you might think! A photographer actually can’t do what he likes with his images. There’s not a green light to use them anywhere, the photographer must be careful to stay within the law or risk facing the consequences. To sum it all up, what’s the easiest way to make sure everyone is happy? Simple – draw up a mutually beneficial agreement, put it all in writing, then find a pen!

If you can’t stand the heat

Now this is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. A grainy black and white documentary style shoot capturing the raw energy of a fine dining kitchen in full flow.

i-jscGtKw-X2It can’t be staged, it has to be real, and it has to be on a busy night. If it’s not then it simply won’t work, as me being there will be a distraction and I won’t get the genuine shots that I want. If it’s just on the verge of going out of control though then my camera will be the last thing on the minds of the chefs working that night. I’ll be practically invisible.

My inspiration for this is the book ‘White Heat’ by Marco Pierre White, with stunning images by the late Bob Carlos Clarke. First published in 1990, this has been compulsory reading for any chef with aspirations of greatness. The imagery used in the book though is just as inspirational as the recipes, and whether you have an interest in photography or not it can’t be denied that it all makes for an extremely visually compelling book.

So this project will be my nod to Bob. And where better to do it than Seaham Hall’s “White Room” restaurant. This is possibly the finest restaurant in the region, with an exciting and innovative team of young chefs all under the watchful eye of Head Chef Ian Swainson.

Fortunately, Ian is also a big fan of the book, so he was with me on the idea straight away. I received a call one Saturday morning telling me that the restaurant was full that night, and the shoot was on!

Shooting in a kitchen presents the photographer with a unique challenge, as the lighting is awful. What little there is tends to be in the wrong place, and it is inconsistent across the room. Some areas are lit from fluorescent tubes in the ceiling, and in other parts the head height ‘heat lamps’ knock out light at such an intensity that there is as much as a five stop difference in exposure within the space of a couple of feet. To further complicate things, chefs tend to spend a lot of their time hunched over looking down. This isn’t going to be easy!

An option is to use an electronic flashgun, but this isn’t ideal for two reasons. The first is because there is so much highly reflective stainless steel in commercial kitchens, so there will be hot spots all over the place in the final images. The second reason is that we want to capture the ambience and intense atmosphere of a working kitchen. We need to capture it as it is, not as we want it to be.

i-PSwFPgv-X2The answer is high ISO with a fast prime lens. There’s no time to be messing around with zoom lenses so an f1.4 prime standard lens gives me one less thing to worry about. The ISO is to be fixed at 1600 – even though in the brighter parts of the kitchen ISO 400 is adequate. I’ll need this higher rating for the darker corners, and I don’t want to have to worry about changing it back and forward during the shoot. The camera used (a Fuji S5 Pro) was built specifically to mimic the characteristics produced by film, so it’s perfect for this assignment. The original images in the ‘White Heat’ book were shot on film back in 1990, so it makes sense to go for a ‘film’ feel.

Now to set the exposure. The way to do this is to turn off all the automatic metering modes and put the camera in manual. I used a light meter and took a reading from the darkest part of the kitchen through to the lightest part, based on a shutter speed of 1/60th second (the lowest I can reasonably use hand held). This means that all I need to worry about is the aperture. In extreme lighting conditions even the most advanced metering system can get it wrong – in this instance I’m happier taking care of it myself.

The final, most important thing is to get in there and take lots of photographs. Whilst I don’t want to get in the way of the chefs, I do need to get in close if I’m going to capture any compelling images. Kitchens can be dangerous places, so its important to be aware of what’s going on around you as well as what’s happening through the lens.

At 7pm the first order came on, and from then until the last dessert went out at around 10.15pm it was non stop action. At the end of an intense but superbly controlled food service by the kitchen and restaurant team I headed home with plenty of images to choose from. A quick conversion to black and white followed by some ‘ageing’ techniques (such as adding grain, dust and scratches) gave me a feel as close to old black and white film as I could get.

I can’t close this article though without mentioning how impressed I was with the utter professionalism of the team at Seaham Hall. Organised, efficient, committed, focussed and extremely talented, it was a privilege to photograph them.

There is one last thing left to do. Photographs always look better printed, so I think the best place for these images is in a book. Fancy a copy? Click here!

Nine Minutes

Humour me on this one. If you have a watch with a timer on it then start it now. If you don’t then glance up to your clock and make a note of the time. The reason will become clear!

This post is all about working under pressure, and a good example of this is photographing a pop concert. Obviously this depends a lot on the artist you are photographing. If you are down at the local pub then you don’t have a problem, you’ve got all night. You could even pop down to the venue the night before just to suss the lighting out.

DSC0154It’s very different though if you are photographing a much more well known celebrity, and they don’t get much more well known that Ronan Keating. I was fortunate to be commissioned to photograph him at a charity concert. This isn’t the kind of thing you want to mess up!

How it works is like this. Around five minutes before the concert starts you and your fellow photographers who have the necessary accreditation and passes are taken through security to an area at the very front of the audience, right in front of the stage. You are then ushered through into an area called ‘the pit’, and this is where you’ll be photographing from. The lights dim, the band come out and you’re straight into track one.

You’re allowed the first three tracks to get your shot. As the average length of an up tempo pop song is three minutes then that gives you around nine minutes. The lighting is constantly changing, so realistically you’ve got the first minute to fine tune your exposure and settings, then the following eight to fill your cards with images. If all of a sudden the stage is bathed in perfect, clear light then you’ve got to make sure you’re ready for it. It may only last ten seconds – this isn’t a good time to be changing a card.

A relatively high ISO and spot metering is the order of the day, along with a fast prime lens and a monopod – flash is forbidden and is the quickest way to get thrown out. It’s all about anticipation. A singer can be difficult to photograph as his face is more often than not partly hidden behind a microphone, so you have to watch for those moments when he moves his head away. Depth of field isn’t important, but shutter speed is – if the images aren’t sharp they simply won’t sell!

You need to know how to operate the camera in complete darkness. You need to know how to flip the focus into manual mode without even thinking (for the times when the camera can’t quite nail it and you need to do it yourself). You need to be able to change a card within a few seconds without dropping the one that contains your previously shot images. You should know exactly where your ISO controls are incase you need to change it during unexpected changes in lighting, and you need to be able to do all of this without moving the camera away from your eye.

Once the first three songs are over then the security guys quickly and efficiently escort you out of ‘the pit’ and you’re gone! That’s it! If you haven’t got the shot then it’s too late, and there’s no way that you’ll be allowed back in. You’re done.

So, take a look at your stopwatch. By my reckoning you’ll be on around three minutes by now, so back at the gig you’ve only got six left to get the job done. And things are always more difficult when you’re under a bit of pressure aren’t they!