This time last week I had spent the day feeding my creative habit, combining two of my passions; food & photography. I am lucky enough to have a good friend who is studying at The School of Artisan Food and she invited me along to one of their short courses to indulge my photographic creativity. As you may have noticed from my blog I love taking pictures of food but I am the first to admit that they don’t always turn out as I envisage. Having taken general photography courses to familiarise myself with my DSLR I felt it was about time I sought some professional guidance on this area of photography which is fast becoming my passion. The School offers a one day introduction to food photography run by the very talented Joan Ransley.
Since booking the course I started following Joan on social media and her website. I felt an instant connection to her style; simple stunning food on rustic backgrounds. Each shot has a natural feel that makes you want to reach out and touch it, the textures and colours bringing the image to life. Everything looks so fresh and delicious I warn you not to peruse her website on an empty stomach!! In awe of her work and a hunger (not just metaphorically speaking) to produce images even half as good as hers I couldn’t wait to learn from a pro.
The School is situated on The Welbeck Estate, a historic site nestled within Sherwood Forest, North Nottinghamshire. The estate has been developed to support artists and traditional trades. Buildings and barns have been converted into workshops for talented folk who hand make jewellery and art work. Browsing the stunning hand made goods and seeing the artists at work was a really joy. Much of the site is open to the public including an art gallery and Farm shop which is supplied by the on site bakery and brewery. Amongst this thriving creative community is the School of Artisan food which nurtures traditional processes for bread making, Cheese making, brewing, charcuterie and confectionary.
As soon as I arrived the relaxed, creative atmosphere embraced me and I knew I was in for a good day. We were greeted with a selection of teas and pastries made by the amazing on site artisan bakers. I dowsed a buttery, flaky croissant with their home made jam and washed it down with a cup of earl grey to set me up for the day ahead. Joan welcomed us with her warm smile, putting us at ease no matter what level of photography experience we had. Starting with a short presentation we familiarised ourselves with the camera settings we would be using and Joan shared some of her exquisite shots to demonstrate how to set the scene.
It was then time to wrap up warm and head outside where we were working in a stunning old barn, it’s huge wooden doors propped open to let the dusky autumn light flood in. Benches brimmed with props sparking our inspiration, trigger fingers began to twitch as we were keen to start snapping. Joan set us on our way with a few hints and tips on how to get the “perfect shot” (does it exist?). She made it look so simple I feared it would take me a little longer to achieve something I was pleased with! Thankfully we had a small group so Joan and her colleague Alison were both on hand to assist us with queries and inspire us when our own creativity froze. Playing with light and colour we all soon got lost in our lenses.
Despite rumbling tummies we took some convincing to step away from our cameras to break for lunch; however, given our location it was clear we wouldn’t be faced with a dodgy buffet. Calling it a canteen would be an insult as the cozy lunch room was warm and welcoming. Chunky wooden tables and chairs were surrounded by shelving units displaying cook books and fresh produce. At the far end was a small open kitchen where our chef for the day had rustled up the most amazing lunch. The serving bench was laden with blushing roast loin of Welbeck venison, fresh seasonal veg and the crispiest of crispy roast potatoes. For those with room it was followed by a cheese board with homemade chutneys. This is not your average school dinner!
With thawed fingers and toes we headed back out to the barn to continue with our shoot. The food was so fresh and delicious inspiration kept flowing as we tried new angles and back drops. The light dimmed throughout the afternoon so we utilised the courtyard to capture the soft glow of the sun as it retired for the day. Later in the afternoon we were given the opportunity to visit the working bakery to try some actions shots. My senses were overloaded as the noise and warmth of the kitchen hit me. I watched as bakers prepared focaccia and uniform bread rolls, stacked and ready to be slotted into the industrial ovens. The smell of warm, fresh bread made my mouth water but I had to try and concentrate. Faced with new challenges I tried not to get in anyone’s way whilst also achieving the correct lighting, composition & exposure. It was exciting to be in the busy kitchen seeing the breads journey as hands worked the dough bringing the loaf to life.
Exhausted but proud of all of our hard work we reconvened in the warmth to share our best shots and receive feedback. Joan was constructive and supportive with no question unwelcome. She helped us understood why something’s had gone wrong and how to improve. Artists of any kind always see the worst in their work so we all supported each other and praised the fabulous shots we all achieved. It was a real thrill to have my work appraised by a professional.
Looking back at my shots now I can see how my technique improved throughout the day and I am very proud of what I achieved. The school is a creative world to get lost in whilst learning skills you can take home and share with friends and family. I cannot recommend this organisation enough, whether you fancy a wander around the estate with its art gallery and farm shop or you choose to expand your knowledge of artisan processes. In an age of over processed, industrially produced food it gives you a sense of wellbeing to understand where food comes from and how to get the best from natural ingredients. This weekend was good for my soul and I encourage you to seek out some soul food of your own to feed your creativity…….enjoy 🙂