National Geographic Food UK: Behind the scenes, The first ever cover.

Well I’ve had some pretty lovely shoots in the past, but to be trusted with shooting the very first ever cover for National Geographic Food was a huge responsibility. The theme for the first ever cover was to be chocolate. Denise Smart, my friend and trusty food stylist was up to the challenge. We had shot a whole campaign of chocolate for an Israeli food company and this was a development of the look of these shots plus an earlier composition we had shot about 5 years ago. It was to be much more complex however as we wanted the chocolate to radiate enormous energy through the movement of the chocolate. It is always difficult to define a look creatively when you have a completely blank canvas style wise, but this compounded with the context of National Geographic meant it was all or nothing. APL media are the publishers and we had had several chats naturally, taking additional and important inspiration from tear sheets and Pintrest boards the team had put together.

 

So the date was  set, chocolate ordered (20 kilos!) and we starting breaking the chocolate and creating these monstrous towers.  By the time we had lit the chocolate and set the first tower up, 4 hours had passed and we were ready to the pour the chocolate. Gravity, however got the better of us as we made a total hash of the first one.

We were shooting on a Nikon D5, shooting with Profoto flash, at 9 frames per seconds to freeze the action…. amazing shapes but not quite the iconic look we were trying to achieve!!! Back to the blocks. As the lighting is so critical in creating these textures we went back to the drawing board and started working out a methodology which would mean we couldn’t fail.

So we started pouring in stages and then went for it with an upside down squeezy bottle and lovely warm chocolate. It obviously went all over the place but patience and persistence meant we got to create what we hope is a nice shot for the first cover.

 

A little bit of comp-ing, here and there and we had got it…

Thanks to the team, Francesca for assisting, Danny for re-touching, Denise for the food and Chris and Lauren from APL steering the way… These shoots are always collaborative so big thanks to everyone involved.

And here of course is the finished shot.

 

The wonderful after effects!It’s enough to put anyone off chocolate for life!… well maybe for a week….

 

New Studio is finally getting there.

Well after a sometimes frustrating initial build, the main structure should be finished within the next 4-6 weeks. (Big fingers crossed). The roof is almost up and thankfully the weather hasn’t slowed down the build too much. We are now looking to hopefully complete the entire build before Christmas and open our doors again by January 2018. Thanks for all your patience.

New Studio Layout

 

 

 

Well the building work has been going well for the last few weeks and I now have the internal layouts of what the new studio will look like.

 

Ground Floor

St Paul's Crescent- Ground floor

First Floor

St Paul's Crescent- First floor

Studio 1 will be my space, whilst Studio 2 is the brand new food stills hire studio. Studio 3 has the addition of a prep kitchen, make up room and a wider studio for social and digital filming. Effectively it will be a mini TV studio.

Builders showing a little more integrity than I’d bargained for!

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That’s all for now,

 

Hxx

 

 

 

Aldeburgh 2017 with the Leica M10

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Well I’ve been a slightly obsessive Leicaphile since the Leica M9 rangefinder. The M9 was cranky and slow but the picture quality was undeniably beautiful. The M240 was a brick of a camera and I struggled to fall in love with the colour and subtlety of the imagery… and now we have the M10. It is getting rave reviews already as it’s as svelt as the M film cameras, and paired down to only the most basic operations which I much prefer…. I never took video with the M240 for example. Well I believe the M10 is the real deal…. the sensor, which has been specifically made for this camera and this camera only is somewhere in the middle of the M9 and M240 in looks. It is subtle and has huge dynamic range but the colours seem more punchy from the get go. Things are looking good.

So here we are once again in my favourite haunt, the beautiful fishing town of Aldeburgh, Suffolk, England. It’s about 7.00am and it’s pretty bloomin cold; I’m in five layers of clothing and nice and cosy, my Leica M10 on the other hand is feeling the freeze and the brass top and bottom plate after an hours use feels like a block of ice.

Boat

So I decided to shoot a few sunset boat shots as they might be cliche but they are irresistible…. and then I thought I’d walk back after the sun had risen to shoot some early morning light shots.

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and then it happened… after an hours use the camera, feeling as cold as I’ve known a camera, just packed up. The SD card became non readable, the thumb wheel became stiff and beautifully engineered camera from Germany became as useful as a brick.

 

I know it’s the cold and the camera is thawing out (not literally), but I am a little disappointed. My iPhone does this as well in the cold but I was a little surprised as my other two M’s didn’t suffer the same indignity….

 

Watch this space to see how Leica respond. Assuming this normal behaviour in sub zero temperatures, the camera is spectacular, but I’m left feeling a little frustrated to say the least: Update at the bottom of the article.

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Update to the article: Leica Mayfair have said that a new firmware is believed to fix the issue. They have been marvellous as usual so thanks to Yumi for looking after me. She also stated that if the problem remains she will swap it over immediately for a new one.

Studio Update No 1: 30-1-17

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My foreman on the build, the charming Ken, has let me know that weather permitting, the concrete foundations will be in within just five days of the first trial pit being dug. He has also let me know that I might not have to move out quite as quickly as I had anticipated… This was a great start to the build. So the timetable looks as follows:

Jan 2017  – Start of Build

March- April 2017 – Move out of Studio into my neighbours studio and stop studio hire

May 2017 – Main Structural Build finished and first fix starts

October 2017 – Move back into new studio

 

Fingers crossed!

 

New Studio is a GO!

owen stuart and me day 1

… and so, after 18 months of planning and discussions the new studio build has begun.

The new extension effectively doubles the size of my current studio setup and means that we will have created one L-shaped studio complex with a separate props room, a mini tv studio with separate prep kitchen, two brand new stills studios and parking for five cars. The filming studio will be for social media, and tv shoots all specialising in food and will have it’s own built in lighting rig with lights.

So it was January 20th 2017 when Stuart, my Nat West Bank relationship manager (never quite sure what his official title is) and Owen, my Quantity Surveyor and general project manager convened at my studio to finally sign the fixed price building contract and also the mortgage. Whatever way you look at it this decision will have a huge impact on my life over the next 10 years.

The impact will be reasonably painless I hope. I’ll be moving into my neighbours property at No 10, just next door to my studio, on March 6th 2017 and we hope we’ll be back to business as usual in October 2017. What a year this should be.

I’ll be updating this blog more regularly with news of the progress. The hire studio is still open for the next 6 weeks but there’s no parking at all and it might be a little noisy. Temporary reduced rates have been applied to compensate for this inconvenience.

Thanks to all the team including Greg, who’s running the show with his team and Owen architects who have been so thorough throughout.

As you might say… watch this space!

New Food Studio complex and filming studio coming soon… ish

food studio

 

This year is going to be exciting, chaotic, no doubt frustrating but hopefully hugely successful with Howard Shooter Studios new venture of a new hire studio designed just for filming food. Work will start (fingers crossed), in July 2016 and it will see complete changes to the existing two studios with the interiors being completely re-structured to allow for the lovely Camden daylight to still be retained. So we will have one hire studio designed predominantly for stills, one studio for predominantly filming, and of course I’ll still be shooting downstairs. Ordering 4 new kitchens is just one of a thousand and one new tasks which I’ve been getting my teeth into. The new main filming studio will have a full lighting rig, remotely controlled with a cook up kitchen adjacent to it. The room will be sound proofed and air-conditioned with a dedicated props room on the ground floor. This hopefully will be the place to go for all your food filming and still photography needs. We will inevitably have to close for 6-8 months (not yet!!!!) while the work is going on and I will be also relocating during this time, but the potential is exciting and yes… I’m very nervous as I want the spaces to be as successful and friendly as the current hire studio is…. At the moment we are business as usual and I’ll be putting more updates on as they happen…. So apologies if I bore you with my excitement if you happen to hire the upstairs… but I hope Howard Shooter Studios becomes a hub for creative food professionals, whether they be stills or filming, in London and the UK.

The Leica Q in Camden, London 2015

The first Test Drive

Test Driving the Leica Q… the first shots from a potentially long and happy relationship.

So I have been waiting for a Sony RX1 replacement for about 2 years now, sold my Fuji X100s (which I really enjoyed), and waited quietly for the rumor mill of the RX whatever to start gaining momentum. As a proper user of the Leica M240 rangefinder with various lenses, I wanted a point and shoot version to complement the system. There have been occasions when I might have missed shots or, quite frankly wanted a more instant snapper instead of the M240, which is a commitment. As a full time food photographer I want to state now that I use my Leica, I don’t put it in a glass cabinet, I don’t look at the beautiful brass German engineering before I go to bed lovingly (maybe once or twice!), but I drag the M240 around with me and really appreciate the quality and user experience, which for me is second to none. Sometimes I just want to pick up a camera and snap away. I am in a position where, as a professional I can afford and justify (at least to my wife), the extraordinary cost, but I haven’t found anything that suits my style or work flow better out of the studio than the Leica M240.

And then came the Q.

I saw the various rumors and was initially tuned off by the 28mm fixed lens, but then I thought, what better compliment to my wonderful 35mm and 50mm primes than a 28mm fixed lens camera. The initial reviews were excellent and last week I phone up the Leica Store in Mayfair and put myself on the waiting list. I was told I was one of the first and two days later, I received the Leica Q, which without question, has the potential to be one of the best cameras I have owned.

My advice if you buy a new camera is to test drive it…. don’t wait for the special trip, the holiday, the wedding or whatever… go out and shoot the camera in a variety of conditions because there is always a steep initial learning curve. Understanding lens characteristics, sensor anomalies, the feel of the camera in the digital age is something which is organically learnt through enjoyed practice and repetitive use. It’s easy to get a correct exposure nowadays but less straightforward to get the best out of a camera until you understand it’s signature. For example the move from the Leica M9 to the M240 was a steep learning curve as the colour signature was completely different but, once understood it was a camera which is more adaptable than it’s predecessor.

I decided to forgo breakfast this morning, waved goodbye to my children and wife and jumped into the car. My studio is in Camden, London… so I know the market and local pretty well. I wanted to get there before the lovely tourists got in the way of a good chat with the traders and an intimate shot. I arrived at 9.00am on a Saturday morning….

Amy's Ghost

Amy’s Ghost

It was unnervingly quiet which is perfect shooting conditions for what I wanted, but the light was directionless, muggy, cloudy, flat and miserable so I started shooting indoors to test the ISO performance. I shoot in Aperture Priority mode using exposure compensation and this time kept the ISO on auto. The autofocus is exceptionally quick, the EVF viewfinder is as good as I’ve seen (still not as good as a rangefinder), and the camera is built and responded beautifully. After shooting for a couple of hours I’ve processed them in Adobe Lightroom and added a little here and there but not much. I always shoot and use RAW and they’ve been a pleasure to convert. That’s as much technical detail as I want to go into.

The Leica Q is a wonderful camera and will change the direction and perception of Leica as a business as it surpasses or equals most Japanese rivals. Here is the future of Leica. I must say that it isn’t an M240 replacement, it still doesn’t have the same simplistic user experience but the image quality is exceptional. The camera isn’t perfect and the EVF viewfinder has a quirky way of hiding the top and bottom parts of the image which may be a setting I have failed to see as nobody else seems to have picked up on this. But it’s such an enjoyable camera to use and displays pop and the Leica signature which is filmic and creamy and old school loveliness in a modern camera which works for me. What more could you ask for…… As incredible coincidences go I saw a Japanese man using a Fuji X100T  eyeing up my camera and so I said hello and asked him what he did and if he was enjoying photographing Camden. It turned out to be the Global Marketing manager of Fuji cameras, just having a break after a European conference on the future of Fuji. He was obviously very pleased to see the Leica Q and seemed very impressed with the EVF. Thanks you to the traders in Camden for being so accommodating. I’ve shot both colour and black and white to demonstrate how they render and also because some of the artificial tungsten was so dreadful that converting them to black and white seemed like the only option! Feel free to download the files from the images if you want to see the quality. These are Jpegs from the Tiffs, converted from the Raw files…. the originals look even better.

as always, thanks for reading
Howard Shooter

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Cherry, "as in the fruit" she told me, helping out a friend and a part time model.

Cherry, “as in the fruit” she told me, helping out a friend and a part time model.

My friend was amazed at the Leica Q… especially when he enquired about the price!

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Plenty of Colour Pop on such a miserable day.

Plenty of Colour Pop on such a miserable day.

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Early Morning Traders

Early Morning Traders

Tea anyone... not quite open for business

Tea anyone… not quite open for business

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Real world review of the Zeiss 35mm Distagon f1.4 ZM used on a Leica M240

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I must confess to being a bit of a Leica fan. I love Leica and the purity of the rangefinders’ back to basics approach to photography. Up until three days ago I have veered towards only Leica glass and my thoughts have been mostly positive. I was niggled and irritated by the slight softness of the 50mm summilux on the M240mm compared to the M9 and the ever so slight lack of contrast which means I sometimes have to give the files a bit of the proverbial kick in Lightroom. The shift from M9 to M240 was another learning curve in appreciating subtlety and nuance for me and took longer than I expected to really love the new signature of the much debated cmos sensor.

I always loved the 35mm focal length as it’s such a versatile lens for so many situations from landscape to portrait. I wanted the Leica 35mm summilux but the price is too steep for me to justify the outlay.

Zeiss have always had their avid and similarly loyal followers and the Leica fit Zeiss lenses have generally reviewed well and been passionately spoken for.

I ordered the Zeiss 35mm Distagon f1.4 ZM a week before they came in and the initial online reviews were scarce and very favorable. At approximately one third of the price of the Leica equivalent I was looking forward to testing out the lens and deciding if my long and loyal following to owning only Leica glass was now dwindling.

Physically the lens is a little heavy for my liking; bulky and substantial, not balanced perfectly with the body. This isn’t a deal breaker for me as the optics far outweighs the extra size but it is a consideration and a minor irritation. The focus ring is a little tighter than I’m used to but the aperture is wonderfully smooth in third stop increments. The lens blocks the viewfinder a little but not enough for me to care. For all of it’s differences it is a beautifully well made lens in the true tradition of Zeiss and feels and looks better than in the Zeiss promotional shots.

Incidentally I am not going to post shots of my camera with the lens as you can see other reviewers do this. I am not a “professional” reviewer so I’d rather share my hopefully interesting opinions and see if this helps you decide on whether this lens might be of interest to you.

I’m in my favorite photographic haunt again of Aldeburgh, Suffolk, a fishing town with a wonderful English appeal and atmosphere.

The following shots were all taken with the Leica M240 with the Zeiss 35mm lens at various apertures. All were processed minimally in Lightroom with a little post processing but the essence of the lens’s signature is preserved. After you’ve looked at the shots I’ll let you know my personal opinion.

Shot 1 Oyster Fisherman

Shot 1 Oyster Fisherman

Shot 2 Lobster Nets

Shot 2 Lobster Nets

Shot 3 Boat's Windows

Shot 3 Boat’s Windows

Shot 4 Gone Fishing

Shot 4 Gone Fishing

Shot 6 Boats at dawn

Shot 6 Boats at dawn

Shot 7 Fisherman sorting his catch

Shot 7 Fisherman sorting his catch

Shot 8 Woman on beach

Shot 8 Woman on beach

Shot 9 Boats at dawn 2

Shot 9 Boats at dawn 2

Shot 10 Man by house

Shot 10 Man by house

I hope you like these shots because in some ways they really surprised me. Now this may seem starnge but the lens seems to give more pop and contrast than most Leica lenses I have used on my M240. The signature almost reminds me of the look I used to get with my M9. In other words if you are missing the M9 pop from your M240 and are looking for a 35mm lens I think you can do no better than with ths Zeiss.

Just to re-iterate, when used with the M240 this lens gives you the subtetly of the M240 cmos sensor with the pop of the M9… a perfect combination.

This leads me to wonder if the colour and contrast of this lens on an M9 might be a little too saturated and contrasty but I am merely speculating. I love this lens and think that actually it feels very old school Leica rather than modern day Zeiss. It isn’t overly clinical in my opinion but is very sharp, handles flare extremely well, is very adaptable with various subjects and in the right light gives plenty of  pop but at a third of the price. The bokeh isn’t distracting but isn’t class leading either as subjective as this always is. I think reds do come out a little too red and saturated on the M240 which means they need toning down a little but the black and white conversions are wonderfully filmic. The M240 has always been very good for black and white conversions and I think with this lens you get a real sense of depth and dynamic range.

I can strongly recommend this lens and given the choice of this or the Summilux, irrespective of price would still choose the Zeiss.

Shot 11 Staircase

Shot 11 Staircase

Shot 12 Town

Shot 12 Town

I hope you like this mini review,

many thanks for reading

Howard

Doughnuts with high speed flash

​Is it possible for a whole to pass without the proclamation of a special week….? Probably not as doughnut week was celebrated a few days ago.

Purely by coincidence I thought I’d have a go at a very cliché and nerdy aspect of photography… high-speed flash. You know the shots, balloons frozen in mid air, bursting with water, or light bulb being shot at, exploding everywhere.

Well I wanted to try something, hopefully a little bit more relevant and classy….
Here we have the flying doughnut hitting its sugary bed of loveliness.

I set the shot up with Denise Smart, who, apart from being a very close friend, is one of the best food stylists in the business.

We played with salad in the morning and it sort of worked…ish…. But really we both wanted to get onto the main event, beautiful yummy doughnuts. Denise made the dough and piped the jam and then a sort of sticky baseball ensued. Denise would throw and I would shoot and then we swapped around. We got through twenty doughnuts and a lot of sugar and we both felt marginally sweetly sick by the end but I think we got there… What do you think?

Technical bits and bobs:
We hired (from Calumet Photo) a Profoto B4 1000 Air pack and shot two heads on their lowest setting. The images were taken in relative darkness and I used a Nikon D4 on continuous high mode. Here’s my favourite; it’s been re-touched just a little.

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Carmel Market, Tel Aviv with the Leica M240

Camel Market, Tel Aviv is a wonderfully raw, authentic experience. In a strange way it feels non-touristy in spite of the ubiquitous fake t-shirts, hats, watches etc, and of course tourists of which my family and I were very much part.

I’ve been photographing the people there over the last 20 odd years and the people haven’t physically changed but the atmosphere feels a little more synical and less welcoming. Angry stares and raised hands used to be the exception but very few seem to have little to hide in this darkened shelter from the harsh Israeli heat.

There are political reasons for this, and one lovely lady who has been photographing the market for 45 years told me that a certain amount of illegal immigration has led to this change of spirit… Watch you camera she said… and using my beloved Leica M240 with 35mm and 50mm lens certainly meant that I was a little more careful than I may have ordinarily been.

Here are some black and white conversions from the Leica M240 which I felt inspired to take, especially in light of the excitement surrounding the Leica Monochrome M246. I have to say the more I convert the Leica raw files to black and white using lightroom, the more I feel totally satisfied with the result, giving what feels like a very filmic response, with grain, wonderful dynamic range and flexible files. I asked permission 99% of the time before I took these shots and a lot of the time I had to conceed defeat and accept that no was definite. We walked just for about 25 minutes through the market but it’s enough to give me my market fix.

Here are eleven shots from the market and surrounding area…..I’ll post some colour shots too, soon… I hope you like,bd0eua1snxrkxsmcwowm hzjefw4c2vdkys39hoz6 cmfzehzu3vlfangihbuj dsj0k2qz4oanijqvws2g lf4gkxqqrnanug0qqgnn jrjjiyvr6a2ai4cyj0re cjrnl6xiedo5twruzj7k cjcyyjbkiduz6v419qlh d9zqglnjuhrwr5gu77ll lpyfipbhwdue3qo8jhpf tzjmqikkyoux58dvce77

Photography Lighting for food: From Zero to Cool in the twist of a table.

180 degrees of food lighting

I was doing a workshop for wonderful journalists and bloggers with the brilliant Smug Mug recently and demonstrated this simple technique to get the best out of lighting for food photography. The workshop I hope went really well but the most useful part of the afternoon according to the feedback was my 180 degreess of lighting.

Lighting for food is often an enigma. For the keen blogger the palpable excitement of taking a picture of the hot home baked crumble or just picked Braeburns in the perfect trug can sometimes lead to disappointment. More often than not a quick instagram shot can make the most miserable of lighting look funky and cool but stick any other camera onto it and it just doesn’t look the same.

In my opinion most food shots by bloggers that don’t look yummy are mainly due to dull lighting. All you actually need is a window, a piece of tracing paper some card and the knowledge of my 180 degrees of lighting. For once photography doesn’t have to be expensive. This should work even with a reasonable camera phone.

By moving the camera and table top around in a clock movement the light dramatically alters the way the food looks. It actually alters the yumminess of the food.

So I’ve constructed these 1970’s looking diagrams (as I’m hopeless with drawing programs) but what you can see is a table with the apples on, a camera, a window and some some tracing paper diffusing the light. The exposure will change as you change the angle of the camera and you’ll have to experiment with the various cameras you have.
I’m not trying to take amazing food shots when demonstarting this lighting which is why I’ve simply arranged some apples, but I’ve used these same princliples when shooting for major supermarkets and food manufacturers. So here are my four main setups.

 

0 degrees, front lighting. Not very cool!

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Here you can see the food looks flat and unappealing. The apples have no modelling or shadow and as a result the look is purely of a shot that records the apples rather than adds to the taste appeal.

 

90 degrees side lighting: most food shots are taken with this method…

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This lighting is safe. The food is well lit, has a little modelling and has good food appeal. There isn’t too much energy in the shot but this lighting is used for 90% of food editorial shots. By using either white or black card on the opposite side of the window you can change the look from clean to shadowy rustic quite drastically and this is where the artistic element is key.

 

130 degrees ¾ backlight: my favourite

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This is my personal favourite as you get beautiful highlights and great energy but it’s still controllable and the food looks fantastic. This lighting is great for all types of food but is especially good lighting for liquids and soup in particular as the highlights reflect the liquids beautifully.

 

180 degrees backlighting

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Backlighting is dramatic and beautiful and tricky to control. You need a lot of reflectors to push the light back into the food but the overall effect can be stunning. This lighting tends to blow the backgrounds out and often you need to compensate with the exposure to make the foreground look balanced. This is mood lighting which can produce some lovely flare and shadows but can be overdone so be careful.

So there you have it…. from the turn of a table you can produce a whole range of moods and lighting for food and still-life. It was a great workshop and it was a pleasure to meet the teams from Cherish PR and Smug Mug, all the journalists and bloggers. If you’re looking for a DIY website company that backs up your shots and lets you photo-share I was so impressed with SmugMug… you should check them out… www.SmugMug.com

thanks for reading

Howard