Happy New Year…Happy 2012 to everybody. I am super excited to bring you my first 2012 feature. Stuart Ovenden of Appledrane is the Deputy Art Editor at BBC Good Food and a fantastic food photographer. It’s quite wonderful to meet someone that deals with another aspect of this exciting world of food photography and get his take on it.
Q. Can you tell me what you’re trying to capture when you take your food photos?
A. It’s a well-worn answer, but creating a sense of place that engages the viewer is one of the primary concerns for any food photographer. Often I’m in a stripped back, plain white studio building a mock environment – it’s all about the little details. The fold of a napkin, careful choice of props, subtle lighting tricks; many of these things are often only acknowledged on a subconscious level when flicking through a magazine, but if you spend a bit of extra time getting them right, a big part of the job is done. It goes without saying that an equal partner in the success of a shot is the quality of the recipe, ingredients and the way that they are styled.
Q. What does photography mean to you?
A. I worked primarily in design and illustration before I got heavily into photography; I don’t really see them as wildly differing creative processes. For me, strength of an idea always has to come first; I’m happy for them to overlap or be drawn from unusual sources. I’m a child of the digital age; if I’ve shot a picture of a box of apples and I want it to look like it’s been torn from an old sketchbook, I’ll just scan in a few bits of worn brown paper and bring the image together in Photoshop. I’m equally passionate about spontaneity and a capturing a beautiful moment through the lens; but using photography as a tool – it’s often just as exciting.
Q. From a Deputy Art Editor perspective, how has food photography changed over the years?
A. I’ve been at BBC Good Food for 5 years now; during that time the way in which we shoot and compose features has changed greatly. There was barely an overhead shot in the mag when I started, these days roughly about 50% of our photography is taken from above. I also think that the way food is styled has loosened up in recent years; it now looks far more relaxed and natural.
Q. Sometimes do you find your Deputy Art Editor self disagreeing or agreeing with your freelance photographer self?
A. I find that it’s less about a conflict between the two different roles, more a case of how understanding both sides can help develop both. As an art editor I have style guidelines and paginations that need adhering to; knowing how certain colours and foods photograph really helps when briefing stylists and sketching out features. On the flip-side, if I’m behind the camera I’ll take a shot, but then pull back/change the crop/drop background focus so that a designer has the option to run copy over the picture if needed. You learn pretty quickly that the success of a feature not all about the photographs, it’s the balance of many different elements arranged on a page as a whole.
Q. Any food photography heroes? If not any photography heroes?
A. One of my favourite photographers is Jason Evans. He’s not a food photographer, but I love the way he uses colour, texture and repetition in his work. These are certainly aspects that I’m keen to explore in my own photography – sometimes a more conceptual, graphic approach makes a nice change from creating kitchen-esque sets in the studio.
Q. Name one thing you want to achieve in 2012 with your food photography.
A. I just want to push myself creatively and hopefully keep taking photographs that people enjoy. I’m working on a book based on my Appledrane blog; I’ve three years’ worth of recipes, written pieces and photographs to gather together but it’s starting to take shape.
Q. Best meal in 2011?
A. I was fortunate to be asked to photograph a wild mushroom foray in a remote part of Scotland a couple of months ago. the chef made a mushroom curry one night – without using a single spice. Each of the seven mushrooms used had a slightly different natural flavour; one peppery, one with a subtle curry flavour, another with a hint of coconut and so on – they were gently sauted together in a little butter and served with a mini naan – it tasted amazing.
All photos courtesy of Stuart Ovenden from Appledrane.