Chocolate Cheesecake with Raspberry Topping

This is a really decedent desert that takes a little bit of time to make but the results are well worth it. I’ve always loved cheesecake and used to make them a lot before I turned vegan. Once I discovered that you could live on a plant-based diet and still have cheesecake… that was me sold! This recipe is easily made gluten-free, just swap the biscuit base for a gluten-free alternative. You may need to add some sugar as some gluten-free biscuits are not as sweet.


Prep time: 20 minutes. Cooking time: 15-20 minutes. Cooling time: 2-3 hours.

Makes 4

Ingredients:

For the base:

  • 150g (half packet) oat biscuits. Check ingredients as some are vegan and some are not.
  • 30g vegan margarine, melted.

For the Cheesecake Filling:

  • 350g silken tofu
  • 100g creamed coconut
  • 100ml vegan cream
  • 60g soft, white vegan cheese
  • 100g sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 100g dark chocolate

For the Topping:

  • 300g fresh raspberries
  • 200g sugar

 

First make your base. Crush the biscuits in a bowl. You can do this with a food processor if you like but I hate the extra washing up so I use a rolling pin. Once they are like rough breadcrumbs mix in your melted butter until thoroughly combined. Select four glass desert dishes and put a quarter of the base into each one, pressing down with your fingers or a spoon to compress them. Put the glasses in the fridge and chill for half an hour.

Next put all your filling ingredients, except for the chocolate, into a blender and puree until the mixture is smooth. Break the chocolate up into small pieces. Heat it in a bowl in the microwave for about a minute, or until it is partially melted. Stir the chocolate pieces for a few minutes while the rest of it melts. Allow to cool for 5 minutes and then pour into the cheesecake mixture. Puree once more. Pour this mixture into the glass bowls on top of your biscuit base, remembering to leave a small amount of space for the topping. Place the glasses back in the fridge for 2 hours.

In the meantime, put your raspberries and sugar into a pan and heat until it starts to bubble. Simmer gently for 15-20 minutes until a thick jam-like consistency is formed. Turn off the heat and leave to cool for a couple of minutes. Pass the raspberries through a strainer to remove the seeds. You can leave a few in if you like for aesthetics, but trust me, you don’t want to be spending your desert time picking seeds out of your teeth! Leave the jam to cool and then spoon on top of the cheesecake. Chill for one more hour and you are good to go.

Baby New Potatoes with Garlic and Chilli

I ordered something the other night from a Lebanese restaurant that gave me the idea to do these. These are very simple baby new potatoes, boiled until tender and then pan-fried. A non-stick wok is the best tool for this if you have one as there’s plenty of room for the potatoes to move around as they are cooking.

Serves 4 – 6

Ingredients:

  • 1kg baby new potatoes
  • 1 red chilli, deseeded and sliced
  • 3 cloves of garlic, peeled and thickly sliced (about 2mm)
  • Half a handful of fresh parsley
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • Salt and black pepper.

Put the new potatoes into a pan of cold water and bring to the boil. Simmer for about 15 minutes until the potatoes are tender when pierced with a sharp knife. Drain them off and allow to cool slightly.

Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan or wok then add the potatoes. Pan fry for 10 minutes until the potato skins are golden in colour. Add the garlic and chilli and fry for 4 more minutes. When the garlic is just starting to brown add the parsley and fry for another minute or two, season with the salt and pepper and serve straight away.


Poached Pears With Blueberry Compote

Let me say this right from the start: These babies are better if you eat them the day after you make them. There, now I’ve said it, you can feel free to ignore me. Nobody will judge you here.

At the very least you want to let it all go cold, so a couple of hours in the fridge is a must. Chilling time aside, poached pears are easy to cook and make you look like a diva in the kitchen. There is no bad side here. 


Prep time: 15 minutes. Cooking time: 25 minutes. Cooling time: 3 hours or overnight.

Makes 6 Pears.

Ingredients:

For the Poached Pears

  • 6 pears, peeled with stalks still on
  • 1 Litre apple juice
  • 500ml cold water
  • 250g sugar

For the blueberry compote

  • 350g frozen blueberries (fresh is also fine)
  • 150g sugar
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice.

Pour the apple juice and water into a deep saucepan big enough to fit your 6 pears. Bring the liquid to a gently simmer and then pour in the sugar. Stir and simmer for 5 minutes to allow the sugar to dissolve then gently place in your pears. Be very careful not to let the liquid splash as it will burn. Gently simmer the pears for 25 minutes or until you can put a sharp knife into one and it feels soft.

While the pears are simmering, place the blueberries, sugar and lemon juice into a smaller pan and bring these to a gentle simmer. Cook for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the compote easily coats the back of a spoon. Once done, remove from the heat and allow to cool in the pan.

As soon as the pears are cooked, turn off the heat and allow these also to cool, still in their syrup, in the pan. It will be about an hour before you can put them in the fridge. When everything is cool enough, transfer to suitable containers and store in the fridge for at least a couple of hours but preferably overnight. To serve, stand a pear upright on a small plate and spoon some compote over the side. You can also add a little vegan cream with these if you like.


Chickpea, Apple and Cashew Cutlets

This is a lightly spiced patty that can be served with a variety of side dishes. I go for a quite simple rice and salad, but you can also put it in some pitta bread or even a burger bun if that’s what you have lying around.

Preparation time 15 minutes plus cooling time. Cooking time 25 minutes.

Makes 10

Ingredients:

  • 1 can chickpeas
  • 1 can borlotti beans
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 60g cashew nuts
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped into large pieces
  • 1 small apple, cored and diced
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 red pepper, diced
  • 5-6 fresh sage leaves, thinly sliced
  • 1 tbsp ground paprika
  • 2 tbsp lime juice
  • 4 tbsp gram flour
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • more oil for frying.

 

First drain the chickpeas and borlotti beans. While they’re draining heat the olive oil in a pan and lightly fry the cumin seeds for 30 seconds. Add the cashew nuts and fry for a further minute, being careful not to let them go too dark. Add the garlic and fry for another minute, then add the apple, onion, pepper and sage leaves. Cook for about 10 minutes, or until the apple and vegetables have softened. Add the paprika and fry for another minute or so then turn off the heat. Leave to cool for about 15 minutes.

Preheat the oven to gas 5. Put the drained beans into a food processor, along with the apple and cashew mixture and pulse until blended but still quite chunky. Scrape the mixture into a bowl and add the lime juice, gram flour and salt and pepper. You’ll want a fair amount of seasoning for this size mixture, but don’t go crazy. Mix well and heat a clean pan with a little oil for frying.

Take two desert spoons and scoop a spoonful of the mixture into the hot pan, using the other spoon to help you. You should be able to fit four of these in at a time. Fry on one side for a few minutes and then flip over. At this point you can flatten the patties a little to make a burger shape. Cook for approximately 8 minutes, flipping them as they get brown. As you finish each batch place them on a baking tray and put them in the oven while the rest are frying. This will not only keep them warm but help seal the edges.

Vegan and Gluten-Free Oat and Raisin Cookies

These take minutes to make and taste awesome. You could do these on the way to work and still not miss the bus. Have a go.

Makes about 24 cookies.

Ingredients:

Dry

  • 100g porridge oats
  • 150g gluten-free flour
  • 100g unrefined sugar
  • ½ tsp sea salt
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp cinnamon powder
  • 80g raisins.

Wet

  • 150g vegan margarine
  • 2 tbsp golden syrup
  • 100g coconut yoghurt

 

Preheat the oven to gas mark 5 (190 degrees C)

Put all the dry ingredients apart from the raisins into a large mixing bowl and combine. Soften the margarine in the microwave (about 15 seconds) and blend this using a spoon with the golden syrup. Add the margarine mixture as well as the yoghurt and raisins to the dry ingredients and mix well.

Line a baking sheet with grease proof paper and put the cookie mixture, 1 tablespoon at a time onto the tray. Remember to leave a good bit of space in between them as they will expand out. You will probably have to do this in two batches of 12. Place in the middle of the oven and cook for 12 – 15 minutes until the cookies are golden brown and slightly crisp. Leave to cool on a cooling rack while you cook the next batch.

Learning From Failure


Years ago, my first ventures into portraiture were awkward and clumsy. As with most people just starting out they involved only daylight and some tin foil to bounce that light back onto my subject. I was lucky to have a lot of friends who were happy to step in front of the camera; this allowed me to make a lot of mistakes without having to worry about it too much. Film was still the prime foodstuff of cameras back then and I ran through a lot of it. My old Canon T70 (bought second hand) consumed roll after roll as I tried to figure the whole light and composition thing out. It was a process of trial and error often ending in disappointment. My pictures never looked like the ones I saw in the magazines. They were too dark or too light, they were out of focus or the composition was laughable. My early experimentation with artificial lighting involved actual lightbulbs, and it was some time before I could afford a proper flashgun. Even then, matters weren’t greatly improved at the beginning.

I read everything I could on the subject of photography, and I kept pressing the shutter button. Eventually I switched to the digital format and was able to see what I was doing as I went along. I also didn’t have to stop shooting after thirty-five pictures and spend another fiver. This to me was real progress and my photography came along in leaps and bounds. My first flirtations with studio lighting were with softboxes that I made from cardboard and tracing paper. I would stick them around my one flashgun and see what could be achieved. The results actually weren’t that bad, considering it was all homemade. From there I got the cheapest lighting set I could find from Jessops, and that really opened me up to studio photography. I shot countless pictures using those things and even began getting paid for shoots with them. They didn’t have a fraction of the control that I get from the Elinchroms I use today, but what they taught me was invaluable. I consider those times to be my real schooling in photography.


One step at a time determination put me in the right direction until I started taking pictures that did look like the ones in the magazines. Once I figured that out things started moving a lot faster. I was now able to concentrate on the elements within the picture and not on whether I was exposing it correctly. This gave me a voice from behind the lens, the very reason I picked up a camera in the first place.

What it all boils down to is patience, practice and learning from your mistakes. There is no secret formula here and no one way to get to where you’re going. Be honest with yourself, you’re going to take a lot of wrong turns along the way but eventually you will get there, as long as you keep moving forward and don’t give up.


Vegan and Gluten-Free Double Chocolate Muffins

Let’s face it: finding vegan and gluten-free double chocolate muffing is next to impossible unless you make them yourself, so why don’t we just do that then? Here’s my version.

Makes 12 Muffins

Ingredients:

  • 1 tbsp chia seeds
  • 3tbsp water
  • 300g gluten-free flour
  • 35g cocoa powder (make sure it’s vegan)
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 200g unrefined caster sugar
  • 2 tbsp golden syrup
  • 400ml almond milk
  • 60g vegan margarine
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 100g dark chocolate (make sure it’s vegan)

You will also need 12 muffin cases and a muffin baking tin.

 

Preheat the oven to gas mark 6 (200 degrees Celsius)

First you need to grind up your chia seeds to make a powder. You can do this in a grinder or blender if you like, but I use a pestle and mortar. Once they are ground mix the seeds and the water together and leave aside until needed. Sift the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, bicarb and salt into a large mixing bowl and then add the sugar. Stir these together to make a light brown powder and then make a well in the centre. Next pour the almond milk into the centre and combine using an electric whisk. When you have a smooth batter add the rest of your ingredients, including the chia seed mixture but not the dark chocolate and continue to whisk until the batter is silky smooth.

Chop your dark chocolate into small pieces using a sharp knife and then fold these into the muffin batter. Leave to stand for 10 minutes.

Place your 12 muffin cases into the holes in the muffin tray and then spoon in your batter so that it comes near to the top of the cases. Place in the oven and cook for 25 minutes, or until risen and crisp on top. You can put a cocktail stick into a muffin to check for doneness, but remember that there will be melted chocolate inside so the stick won’t always come out clean.

Leave the muffins on a cooling rack and dust with cocoa powder.

Summers Past

Summer, from the eyes of a child, seems to go on forever. From the first hints of warmer days to the endless break from school, a break so long that you forget you ever have to go back. These are the times you remember when reflecting on your school years; outdoor activities, fun with friends and endless amounts of daylight. I am fairly certain that a lot of my childhood memories didn’t even happen in the summertime, but to me it seems like all of them did. I know that’s my spectacles shaded with the subtlest hint of rose, but I feel I can live with that. I think we play good memories at 24 frames per second, with just the slightest surreal motion blur and more than a touch of soft diffusion.

A memory that sticks out strongly in my mind is picking blackberries with my sister and my grandparents, certainly a summer activity. We would walk from their house to an area of woodland that has since been built over. It seemed like we walked for miles before reaching dense crops of ripe blackberries, each of us with a container in hand and an excitement that was barely held in check. We would spend a long time picking the berries, avoiding the thorns as much as possible but never succeeding in total evasion. Later, with our vessels full and our hands stained purple we would head on the long hike back home where, in true idyllic fashion, the berries would be washed and my grandmother would set to making a pie while my grandfather took his afternoon nap, a nap as ritualistic as our weekend visits. I have no clear memory of eating the pie, though I am certain we would have done. They always had a lot of visitors at the weekend so undoubtedly it would have been a small piece.

Time has since taken both grandparents and neither their house or that walk are things I shall ever see again, but the memory stands out as one of the good ones, and I rarely see blackberries growing by the roadside without thinking of those long journeys.

There comes a time when you focus on making memories for others, rather than for yourself. My son, pictured here, has already started forming his and I now consider it my role to help him along as much as I can. His childhood journey is well underway and only time will tell what moments he takes with him into adulthood. I work hard to make sure that they are happy ones. Though he doesn’t have a regular visit to his grandparents as I did, he still does plenty of things that I hope he will be able to look fondly back on with that same film-like surreal motion with which I often see my summers past.

Mushroom and Mangetout Risotto

A delicious and light summer evening meal that’s all done in one pan and doesn’t take too long to cook. Risotto is a good option if you want something quick and healthy without too much fuss. This version has chestnut mushrooms and mangetout and utilises vegan cheese as a substitute for parmesan.

Prep time: 15 minutes. Cooking time: 30 minutes.

Serves 4.

Ingredients:

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, finely diced
  • 2 celery sticks, finely sliced
  • 250g punnet Chestnut mushrooms, quartered
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 300g Arborio (risotto) rice
  • 750ml vegetable stock (make sure it’s vegan)
  • 150g mangetout
  • 100g vegan cheese, chopped or grated (I used blue cheese style)
  • handful of rocket leaves.

Heat the oil in a non-stick pan and sauté the onions and celery together for 2 minutes. Add the quartered mushroom and cook on a medium heat for 5 minutes. Add the garlic, stir for 30 seconds and then add the uncooked rice. Fry for two more minutes and then add your vegetable stock one ladle at a time, allowing the rice to absorb each ladle of liquid before adding the next. Continue this, stirring occasionally, until there are two ladles of stock left and then add the mangetout. Add the last of the stock and cook until the rice is done. You may wish to add a small amount of water if it becomes too dry. Risotto is meant to be quite a moist dish. At the end of cooking turn off the heat and add a generous knob of vegan butter, then cover the pan with either a lid or some tin foil. Leave to stand for 5 minutes while the rice absorbs more liquid.

Serve with the vegan cheese and a small amount of rocket leaves.

Classic Griddled Polenta

Fed up with potatoes, pasta and rice? Try this classic dish as your carb substitute. You can have it either on its own or as an accompaniment to a variety of vegetable dishes.

Makes about 16-20 triangles.

Ingredients:

  • 150g course cornmeal (polenta)
  • 850 ml vegetable stock
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • bunch of fresh rosemary.

 

Bring the veg stock to a gentle simmer in a large saucepan. Start to whisk the water so that it creates a whirlpool and then slowly pour in the cornmeal, whisking the whole time to avoid lumps forming. Don’t stress if some lumps form anyway, you’ll be able to beat them out as the polenta cooks. The mixture will start to thicken straight away and will also start to spit. Turn the heat down to its lowest setting to minimise this and either put a lid on the pan or stand back a little. The spitting does subside after a little while. Gently simmer for 10 minutes, stirring frequently with the whisk so that it doesn’t stick too much to the bottom of the pan.

While that’s cooking lightly oil a baking tray at least 2 cm deep with a drizzle of olive oil and set aside. Just before then end of the cooking time pour the ¼ cup of olive oil into the polenta and season with black pepper. When the time is up and any lumps are gone pour the polenta into the baking tray until it is reasonably even. Leave to set for about 30 minutes.

Once you have a solid sheet of polenta, cut it into large squares and then cut the squares in half so that they form triangles. Brush with more olive oil and cook on a griddle pan for a few minutes each side until browned. You can also barbeque them to get a similar result. Use a sprig of rosemary to garnish.

BBQ Aubergine with Garlic and Cherry Tomatoes

With all the glorious sunshine we’ve been having lately it’s certainly tempting to pull the cover off the barbeque and fire it up. It can be hard sometimes as a vegan to know what to put on the grill that isn’t meat-free sausages or corn on the cob (although both are lovely). Next time you’re cooking outdoors try this simple recipe to add some flair to your table. Another useful thing about this is that you put it straight onto the coals so it doesn’t take up any extra space.

Makes 8.

Ingredients:

  • 4 aubergines
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 punnet cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 8 tbsp olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to season.

You will also need 8 sheets of tin foil, cut into 10 inch squares.

 

First off set up your barbeque and get it lit. Cut the aubergines in half lengthways. With a small sharp knife score deeply into the flesh of each aubergine but make sure you don’t go right through to the skin. Rub each aubergine half in a tablespoon of the olive oil and then season with the salt and pepper. Place each half flesh side up on a sheet of the tin foil, then sprinkle some garlic onto the flesh of each one. Put about six tomato halves on top of that and then carefully wrap each aubergine in the foil until tight. Make sure that the aubergines are completely sealed in the foil.

Once the coals are white and ready to cook on, using a pair of barbeque tongs place each aubergine parcel gently on top of them, underneath the grill you will be doing the rest of your cooking on. Cook for approximately 40 minutes, turning halfway through to ensure even cooking. Carefully remove using the tongs and place on a tray to cool slightly. The aubergines will be cooked when they are soft all the way through.

Kale – The Queen of Superfoods

Possibly one of the best vegetables you can eat, kale is abundant with vitamins A, K, C and B6. Other great nutritional A-listers include manganese, calcium, copper, potassium and magnesium and just one cup will give you 3 grams of protein. Kale is also an indispensable source of Omega 3 and has more iron per calorie than beef. Plenty of reasons to be consuming this versatile vegetable on a regular basis.

Part of the Brassica family (which also includes wild cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts), kale comes in a few forms. Curly kale is the most common seen in supermarkets and greengrocers, but other types include Lacianto (Black kale), Red Russian and Redbor. It can be eaten raw in a variety of salads, although its health benefits are improved slightly when steamed for 5 minutes. I add it to dishes a lot in the last five minutes of cooking, which softens it nicely without overcooking it. In the supermarkets you can buy it whole or ready-chopped in bags. The ready-chopped way does add a touch of convenience for the busy cook and I do often get it this way myself. Just remember ready-chopped doesn’t mean ready to eat, so wash it before use.

Kale is a great way of getting your belly full without consuming a high amount of calories – one cup is just 33 calories, as well as containing 10% of your recommended daily intake of Omega 3 fatty acids.

I have prepared two recipes below which contain the raw and steamed versions of this ‘Queen of Superfoods’. Both are perfect for the summer weather and both are incredibly easy to put together with, apart from steaming the kale, no cooking whatsoever. I hope you try these out and enjoy them.


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Kale and Spinach Tabbouleh Sandwich

Preparation time: 10 minutes. Chilling time: 1 hour.

Ingredients:

 

  • 65g fresh baby spinach
  • 50g chopped kale
  • 100g quinoa, cooked
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 8 cherry tomatoes, quartered (orange rapture are also good)
  • 1 medium carrot, grated
  • ½ cucumber, diced
  • Handful of coriander, chopped
  • 4 tbsp almond yoghurt
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • Salt and black pepper
  • 4 Pumpkin seed bread rolls (or rolls of your choosing)
  • 8 baby gem lettuce to serve

Simply put all the ingredients apart from the lettuce and the bread into a large mixing bowl and combine. Cover and leave in the fridge for one hour for the flavours to amalgamate. Cut the bread and put a small drizzle of olive oil on each side. Place two gem lettuce leaves on the bottom layer, then put a large spoonful of the tabbouleh onto the lettuce, put on the top layer of bread and enjoy.

 


Kale and Pineapple Smoothie

A delicious and healthy summer drink that will get kale into everyone. Steam the kale using a steamer for 5 minutes once the water has come to a gentle boil. Once the five minutes is up drop the kale straight into cold water to stop the cooking process.

Makes 1 Litre

Ingredients:

  • 1 pineapple, diced
  • 1 cup steamed kale
  • 1 cup almond yoghurt
  • 6-8 ice cubes.

Put all of the ingredients, including the ice cubes, into a blender and process until smooth. Simple as that. Enjoy!

It’s That Documentary Thing – Why I love what I do.

Moments captured in a fraction of a second.

Moments captured in a fraction of a second.

Formal portraits, posed shots and family pictures: the staple of any wedding photographer. These are all great, but what really gets me going is the other stuff. The running around, catching people when they’re not posing, when they’re just doing their thing throughout the day. What I love is capturing life!

Which is why I get a lot out of weddings. I can do just what I love all day long.

Life unfolds very quickly at a wedding. Every moment of the day there is something going on, someone is doing something worth taking a picture of, so you find yourself running around for most of it and sometimes it feels like you’re struggling to keep up. But then you press the shutter release at exactly the right moment and the work goes right out of it. An elated feeling of satisfaction fills you and you’re riding high, looking keenly through your photographer’s eye to repeat the magic. And it does repeat, over and over again because, like I said, there is always something going on.

It gets even better when the client shares your vision, when that moment you photographed (the one you knew was going to be the killer shot of the day) ends up in the final album. For a photographer that’s the ultimate sense of achievement.

I live for these natural moments. To me it’s like documentary photography, something I’ve been a fan of since childhood. It’s life unfolding before my eyes, and nothing makes me happier than to record it.

When I first started photography I would study artists like Joseph Koudelka, Robert Capa and Henri Cartier-Bresson, photojournalists I greatly admired. Though I knew I didn’t want to go into that field myself, it was an element I always wanted to include in my work, and weddings give me a great opportunity to accomplish that. This is particularly true of the morning preparations, where everything is far more informal, and that’s why it’s my favourite time of the wedding day.

Details in a Wedding Shoot

The small, seemingly inappreciable things in life. Those we sometime notice, but often don’t. These are the things a photographer pays particular attention to, and the wedding photographer is no exception. Weddings are full of people and that is what the wedding photographer is there to capture. Yet there are other things that must be considered for a more rounded record of the day: the setting, the atmosphere, and of course the details.

At each wedding, my 70-200mm lens is used for more than flattering portraits (though it is particularly adept at this), it is also used to zoom in on the smaller elements that complete the whole picture. Whether it’s a fork, a shoe, or a box of chocolates it is the wedding photographer’s job to make sure that these little items are all included in the final piece. Some of these pieces make it to the finished album and some do not, yet having them in your image selection (even if they are not used) will make you stand above photographers who ignore them entirely.

Bridal Mehndi worn at an Asian wedding. This with the jewellery makes for an intriguing close-up.

Bridal Mehndi worn at an Asian wedding. This with the jewellery makes for an intriguing close-up.

Invitation cards on a wooden table top can give a touch of colour and elegance to a wedding album.

Invitation cards on a wooden table top can give a touch of colour and elegance to a wedding album.

Details on the back of the bride's dress. A picture almost guaranteed to be featured in the wedding album.

Details on the back of the bride's dress. A picture almost guaranteed to be featured in the wedding album.

I go around at every opportunity getting close-up shots of various elements from table decorations to earrings, keeping my eyes peeled for any little object that will make a good photograph.

The trick, I think, is to not let this search detract from your main mission but rather to augment it. These are filler pictures, if you will, but to me (and to many brides) they are an integral element and a necessary narrative tool in telling the full wedding story.

Shooting Fashion Cinema Style

A fashion shoot is a long and very full day. On the day itself there’s lighting to set up, set designing, make-up to do and outfits to sort out. There’s plenty to do before shoot day too, with meeting after meeting over theme and style, casting and location etc. It helps to see a fashion photography shoot like a short film made with stills, and as with a film there is pre-production, production and post-production. This fashion shoot was for Jehan Couture, a dress designer from London. We met over a period of a few weeks to sort out the finer details. There was only one model required for the day and, after considering a few options we chose Lisa, a model I’d worked with a few times in the past. With the budget being small we made the location the designer’s own home and styled various areas as and when we used them.

Only a fraction of the time on a fashion shoot is spent taking photographs, the majority of time being used for preparing the clothes, model and set, but as the photographer there’s still plenty to do and there’s no real down time until the shoot is over. The Jehan Couture set lasted twelve hours and in that time we achieved six final images for publication. A fun but hard-working day. I used one light and a reflector for most of the shoot as I wanted minimal lighting and hard lines. I’m a big fan of muted colours, which to me give a very cinematic feel and I nearly always tone colours down in post production. The whole team worked hard and that shows through in the final results.

Capturing Pregnancy

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Personal work does not get much more personal than this: My wife, six weeks before giving birth to our son. This was something we had been talking about photographing for a while, but of course we had to wait for the time to be right, for the bump that was our child to be a good enough size to photograph. When my wife was seven and a half months we knew the time was now.

 

I set up at our home studio with the help of an assistant, opting for the stage backdrop (something I’m a big fan of but which doesn’t get used so much these days). We used two flash heads to light Sam: one, the key light, to camera right and above her, the other camera left and at eye level. My assistant held the reflector just to my right and in close to Sam to bring extra light onto her front.

We shot in quick bursts as, for obvious reasons, staying on her feet for too long was impossible, and put Sam through a variety of poses. Sam is great at bringing out the right facial expression for the camera, even if she’s in discomfort (two years ago I photographed her in the snow with barely anything to keep her warm, and she still kept smiling), and this day was no exception. As always, if I asked for something from her that was what I got.

 

We kept the session short and took plenty of breaks. Ideas flow if you just let them even if you don’t have much time, all you’ve got to do is have the camera ready to record them, and these were shots that we didn’t want to pass us by. I wasn't a social photographer back then, so capturing a pregnant woman was a new experience for me, but we got what we wanted: a keepsake of a time that, looking back, seemed to be over all too quickly.

And then, six weeks later...

Window Light Photography – Using Natural Illumination for Great Portraits

The sun: That great, flaming ball of hydrogen and helium, 4.5 billion years old and the source of all our heat, light and energy. The window: not quite as old (it didn’t come into popular use in homes until the early 17th century), formed most commonly of silicon dioxide and found most commonly kicking around under your feet at your local beach. To the photographer, these two ingredients blended together in just the right way form the underlying framework, the holy grail, in fact, of natural light photography.

Here the pages of the book bounced the window light nicely into the face

Here the pages of the book bounced the window light nicely into the face

Your subject turned toward a large window will light the face evenly. Bounced light can then be used to fill in any shadows.

Your subject turned toward a large window will light the face evenly. Bounced light can then be used to fill in any shadows.

For anyone getting into photography in any serious way artificial light is an integral and essential element of the process. It would be very difficult to embark on a long photographic journey without some form of fill-flash or softbox , or combination of both. I personally use two lights for almost everything. However, there are times when turning off the electricity not only saves your wallet but also produces something quite magical in front of the camera. If the light is right (as in not too harsh with direct sunlight streaming straight in) fill the space a few feet away from a large window with a person or object and you’ve got yourself a giant softbox that didn’t take a lot of time to put together.

But if you think that’s all you must do don’t be fooled, life isn’t that simple. The camera sensor and the human eye read light differently. The human eye adjusts to changes in colour and quality, the camera does not. You must make the adjustments for the camera to read correctly, and in this case that means bouncing back the light from the opposite side of the window to create an evenly lit scene for you to photograph. If you didn’t do this then one side of your subject would be in bright light and the other in shadow, with your camera’s meter doing its best to find a middle ground. You can employ a variety of tools to bounce back the light, companies like Lastolite and California Sunbounce make purpose-built reflectors that quite often fold up neatly and then spring into action when required. You don’t have to go to such an expense though. I use sheets of white polypropylene or silver card, depending on how much light I want to kick back. I also have A4 metal sheets for smaller objects like food and still life (N.B: watch your fingers on these, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stabbed myself on the corners while reaching for them).

Getting this right takes time and practice and it’s unlikely that you’ll get it the first time around. Study your subject under the light you’ve created. Move them closer and further away from your window and try your reflector in various positions. A word of warning: choose the colour of your reflector wisely. White produces a subtle, soft fill light, whereas silver and metallic are quite a bit harsher. The gold side of your purpose-built reflector can put a warming glow on your subject but can also make them look like Donald Trump – I never use them.

As always experiment, have fun and don’t be afraid to make mistakes.

The warmth of the surroundings in this picture reflects a subtle tint back onto the model.

The warmth of the surroundings in this picture reflects a subtle tint back onto the model.

Abstract Portraiture

I started thinking the other day about portraiture while doing some retouching, and how fluid the process is. You start with an idea but more develop while you are working. It’s often a collaboration between you and the person you are photographing. The creative process bounces between you in rapid fire the further you get into a session. It’s not always like this, but it happens often enough to take a lot of pictures you hadn’t previously considered. This is when I like to look outside the norm and get a little bit abstract with my photography.

This can be a bit hit and miss but it’s a great opportunity to experiment. After all, isn’t that how we learn? Over the years I’ve come up with a number of interesting shots this way (as well as a whole battalion that will never, and should never see the light of day), and they all tell their own story in their own unique way. The secret, I think, is to not be afraid to mess up. We’re not paying for film anymore and memory cards are cheaper than ever, so keep shooting and keep experimenting. Take pictures from behind, or from a lower or higher angle than you normally would. Get in closer than you’re used to, or just photograph parts of your subject. Photograph the hands, the hair, or a close-up of their tie, anything that defines your subject and tells the viewer a little about them. This is play time so anything goes. Experiment and have fun.

Putting something in front of your subject can have an unusual and often striking effect.

Putting something in front of your subject can have an unusual and often striking effect.

Try photographing from behind...

Try photographing from behind...

... or focus on a single detail. There are no rules here.

... or focus on a single detail. There are no rules here.