I thought it might be interesting for our readers to get a sneak peek behind the scenes at the tasty shots for the ‘Slow Cooked’ book, and hear about the process directly from the perspective of the photographer. It’s been an exciting exercise to help bring these very personal recipes and vibrant flavours to life… and see them in print in the book, which is published this week (you have pre-ordered your copy I hope!)
After Miss South was commissioned to write ‘Slow Cooked’ there was a whirlwind of activity on her part. While she was trialling and testing, sharing tantalising recipe ideas, we were starting to think about what the photographs could look like. As she’s the writer and I’m the visual one, this played to both our strengths and presented plenty of food for thought.
People often think of stews and casseroles when it comes to slow cookers, so Miss South was determined that the food had to be anything but the browns which are synonymous with books about slow cooking. The other thing we had to bear in mind was that this is honest, fun cooking: there’s a brilliant range of varied recipes but they’re not intimidating to make, and anyone with a slow cooker can create them, so we wanted the photos to reflect that. Homely, healthy, delicious, and good looking!
Once the manuscript was written, Miss South and her editor Laura whittled down the 200+ recipes to a streamlined selection of dishes, and they met up with Joanna the prop stylist, and Olia Hercules the food stylist, to discuss ideas and themes. That provided the basis of a series of shot lists so we knew what we’d be tackling each day. This was, frankly, a mouth-watering roll call of dishes, and they were planned around prep times for each of the ingredients, which Miss South and Olia were co-ordinating in almost military detail.
So in March I had the pleasure of spending time in south London, during a gloriously warm spring, to actually shoot the photos in a lovely open studio, where we could take advantage of natural daylight. I drove down with a carload of photo gear and props: crockery, cutlery, boards, bits of wood, papers and some more esoteric bits and bobs.
Before going to the studio I called round to Miss South’s and we stocked up on slow cookers, as well as her frankly amazing personal selection of fabrics and crockery from her collection. That’s why keen-eyed readers may spot lots of little items which have previously cropped up in blog posts.
Jo delivered an Aladdin’s cave of beautiful surfaces, fabrics and other goodies, so together we had a brilliant selection to compliment and style each dish. At the start of the shoot we made some decisions about pairing patterns, colours and textures for each of the dishes; I asked questions about how everything would look, and Olia and I thought about the styling and configuration of each dish. I often sketched out ideas, and then as we plated everything up, everything was tweaked and rejigged until we all thought it looked the part. There were a few last-minute changes, some unexpected difficulties making some ingredients or props behave as we’d hoped, and a lots of laughs!
Unlike some food shoots I’ve done, all the food was prepared especially for each session, and was genuinely edible (as I can testify… I didn’t need to eat out once over those days). I’m pleased to say there were none of those dodgy tricks you read about, with fake food or anything else. Olia’s food preparation and styling skills were invaluable (she was a trooper, cooking multiple dishes in parallel, often overnight, to make sure everything was timed just so), while Miss South’s organisation skills and first-hand experience of each recipe, and Laura’s cool head ensured everything worked perfectly. Having the kitchen in the corner of the studio, and a bank of slow cookers wafting their aromas towards me for days was pretty tough though…
It was also great to be able to finally taste some of the dishes which Miss South had eagerly been telling me about as they were being developed and tested. I have so many favourites as a result of my time in London! When I packed up my props and photo gear into the car to drive back to the north, I was laden down with a medley of bags, jars, foil-wrapped goodies and other delights. I only finished off the last of the lemon curd last month, having rationed it until I got my copy of the book.
When, months later, I saw the final layout of the photos in the book itself I thought they been treated beautifully by the designer: they bring the diversity and vibrance of Miss South’s recipes to life, and show off just how good slow cooking can be. I’m hoping that when people pick the book up off the shelf and browse through, these photos will underline just how good the recipes are, and how great they can look.
Huge thanks again to Olia, Laura, Jo, Ken and of course my talented sister Miss South for giving me the chance to bring the dishes to life (and have such fun in the process!)