January's Self-Assessment

January doesn't have the same effect on me that it does to some others; it doesn't inspire me to turn vegan, paint everything a different colour, buy a plant, learn Mandarin or adopt a new 'skin regime'...whatever one of those is. Nor do I blanket ban all alcohol (though I usually consume less after the excesses of, to be frank, the whole of December!) - the month feels long enough as it is!

The start of the year, for me, is a time for SELF-ASSESSMENT.  Financially (obviously, in the form of a painful and tedious few days of tax submission), but also in terms of my goals, my health and happiness, my career and my relationships.

Part of looking back on my year of work as an assistant and my personal development as a photographer includes taking a few hours and going through everything I've shot that I considered 'finished shots', or 'FINALS', as the folder is named.  It's interesting isn't it, when you go back? What you still like and what you've changed your mind on? What you'd do differently and what you missed the first time round? Does anyone enjoy this process?

Last week I submitted some of the final shots that made the cut to the Pink Lady Food Photographer of the Year Awards. I’ve done it for a couple of years now, and as a personal rule I only ever enter images I’ve shot in the past year.  It’s a nice way to look back on my tests and how my style progresses, how the seasons affect my lighting as well as the food we shoot and how much I go through phases of inspiration! The submission itself fills me with drive and ideas for 2018's collaborations as I'm pleased to say I've had a lot more to enter this year than previous years - a trend I hope continues!

Empty Plate

The empty plate above is a happy full stop on 2017 and a symbol of the possible shoots, potential jobs and new ideas that 2018 may bring. For now, I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed an entry makes the shortlist, looking forward to actually getting to see the exhibition this year! and getting the next test organised...

...oh, and starting February with a nice glass of wine.

H x

Lemon Squeezy.

After the success of the previous 'Modern Rustic' test, Toni Musgrave and I agreed to get together for a test to make full use of the 'zero bookings period' that occurs between the last toffee penny being consumed and the tree being taken down.

She had the idea of doing something bright and light with lemons, having a list of citrussy recipes freshly-squeezed and ready to go. "I'm in - let's do this!"

Keeping things simple and food-focussed this time, with colours inspired by last years work trip to the Amalfi coast, I took to the prop house myself to pick up a few key items.

I do enjoy prop styling, but I'd be the first to admit...I mostly feel like I'm winging it every time I go in to pull things together!  I can do it for my own shoots but to take someone else's brief, and prop it creatively with so many considerations: serving size, type of recipe, overall feel of the story, size and proportion, the look of the publication, how the photographer works with props, not to mention budgets and availability and logistics and personal style...its an artform, it really is.

We sailed through test day, with help on the day from one of Toni's friends, and I had a bit of fun with the lighting, harnessing the few rays of sunshine we have during the short, grey days we have so often in January and making the studio feel like a summery lemon grove in Sorrento. 

My favourite shot of the day: this magnificent Lemon Meringue Pie, a particular family favourite of mine and a dessert that holds dear memories of my mum and I crouched over a pan, stirring the lemon curd-like filling (admittedly shop bought, on occasion!) and waiting patiently for the squidgy capsule of citrussy essence to dissolve and pop, before both inhaling deeply that sweetness and sharpness all at once. So satisfying!

Fun to prop, fun to shoot and fun to eat.  Tests SHOULD be fun, shouldn't they?

H x

Modern Rustic.

In December I was very lucky to have been passed the details of an interiors stylist that wanted to do a test. Having assisted a few interiors photographers and having an interest in trying something familiar-yet-new I jumped at the chance and I'm very glad I did.

Antonia McKenzie worked very hard, taking my vague idea of contemporary place settings and hand-thrown crockery and combining it with what I was assured was going to be the colour of the coming year...beige. Now, I was willing to admit that my work thus far has been punchy shadows and bright colours but I loved the idea of challenging myself and doing something quieter. Calmer. I had to overcome my past experiences of growing up in RAF-base houses, painted a safe 'magnolia' colour as standard (YUK) and look at the colour, or lack of, as an opportunity to explore tone and texture instead.  Antonia put me at ease by henceforth calling it 'soft, warm neutrals' instead...which sounded much less frightful.

Bowls

When it came to the food, I knew the theme needed something classic: rustic and full of texture but not too 'comfort food', flavoursome and interesting without too much overwhelming colour. I was suggested (by long-time collaborator Amy Stephenson - Thanks Amy!) to get in touch with Toni Musgrave, a food stylist also looking to grow her portfolio, who took my ramblings and our collective pins on Pinterest and gave Antonia and I lots of elegant dishes to work towards in terms of props and composition.

With all the pieces of the puzzle lining up, test day came round quickly. To my team's credit, we ended up shooting VERY close to Christmas and so were somewhat against the clock as I'd hoped to shoot both aspects of the shoot in daylight.  I had a blast; both Toni and Antonia are brilliant fun and I got the chance to shoot a little further away from the food than I normally do, include a bit of the studio's charm and even snuck in an extra ravioli 'prep shot'.  

I've been enjoying furthering my photoshop skills recently, particularly the various techniques there are to manipulate colour. Shooting daylight (particularly in winter!) has its drawbacks, one of which is the colour temperature varying throughout the day depending on time, cloud cover and occasionally reflections of your surroundings.  I feel like with softer pastel colours you notice these differences more and I took my time with this set of images, looking at them as a group and balancing the colours accordingly so that the series had consistency.

Editing

I must admit I had fun with the process on this one, as it was so different to how I usually shoot and feel as though the team worked really well together! By the time we all sat down for a debrief, cuppa and slice of that delicious cake at the end of the day, floor mopped and hard drive backed up, we'd already dreamed up our next one.  Thanks again to 'The Two Antonias' for being marvellous and making what could have been a challenging brief a joy to shoot as the last day of 2017!

H x

Merry Christmas!

I LOVE Christmas. Christmas is a time for family, for sharing, giving (and eating!) and, for me at least...testing!  I can usually expect the assisting work to tail off a week or so before the festive break so I take the opportunity to shoot as much as I can whilst I have the time off. 

I avoid shooting anything Christmassy in mid-December as the industry (and I!) have normally moved on to Easter feasts or January health food recipes by that point, but this year I couldn't resist.  

The beginning of December meant that a few new bits were added to my kit: a gorgeous new KinoFlo and a whole load of (second hand) flash heads for me to play with - shooting past six is now not just a summer thing! I'm loving them so far, as you can probably tell!

Inspired by a shift towards the GIFs presented in portrait format, for phones and social media etc, I also shot a little how-to of my go-to...cheat's puff pastry mince pies. They are so quick, and so absurdly easy you can make them half hour before anyone 'pops round with a card'. 

I'm really grateful to anyone I worked with this year; photographers, clients, food stylists & their assistants, stylists, art directors and designers...I'm learning more every year. I would also like to thank my family, friends and my brilliant other half for making this year so memorable. I wish everyone a totally fabulous Christmas and a very happy 2018!

H x

Instagram Roundup 4.

Another quarter, another roundup; more insights into my day-to-day! Since July, I've loved grilling in the rain, early mornings by the river, spending time with family in Cornwall, getting creative with my tests, week-long shoots in Rye, eating curry for five consecutive days and feeling motivated by the people I meet and places I see.  

Apart from the (regrettably numerous) hours a week I (waste)/spend staring at my feed, I do find Instagram helpful, inspiring and a pretty honest, if a little abstract and rose-tinted, representation of how I spend my life. I'm aware that it's public but I enjoy sharing my personal stuff alongside the more work-orientated posts so for now, I'll keep doing so. You can obviously follow me, if you don't already, at @hhughes_photo.

H x

Sandwiches.

Sandwiches are great, aren't they? Seriously. The practicality of carrying anything messy by stuffing it between some carbs (presumably so that you can get it to your face with a higher percentage of success) has led to some beautiful creations: the classic ploughmans, the salt beef on rye, the 'Club', the humble chip butty, the PB&J, the late night kebab, the cheese toastie, the lobster roll, even the Sausage & Egg McMuffin....the BLT: needs no more explanation than three simple letters.

Seems like a good enough reason to pick some cool ones, make 'em, shoot 'em and eat 'em!  Along with me for the ride was the highly travelled and highly trained Livia Abraham, whom I met on a very big advertising shoot and got talking about testing together.

I'm very glad we kept in touch and got to shoot together; the results are (as usual) a little different to how I usually shoot  - I wanted to try my hand at something cleaner for one of the shots, and it was a recipe I didn't imagine at first would work for such a set up...but I'm glad I pushed to try it and am pleased to still be picking up tricks and tips from everyone I work with, from all disciplines. 

These were fun to eat, by the way. All of them. That drippy basil oil on our baguette shot was PERFECT amongst the goat's cheese and squidgy roasted tomatoes and parma ham. In fact, I chomped into that so enthusiastically I nearly skewered myself on a stray toothpick.  #noregrets

H x