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Soup bowl success

Soup bowl success - Food photographer Tim Hill talks to ePHOTOzine about Rolls Royces, taking pictures, meat and mopping floors.

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Christmas biscuits by Tim Hill
 Photograph by Tim Hill.

At the age of six Tim Hill was talked out of becoming a cowboy and eventually he turned his attention to other things and caught the photography bug studying graphic design at college. His final year diploma was mostly made up of photographs which caused a dilemma. Should the diploma be in photography or graphics? Well once he left college the answer to the question didn't seem to matter as Tim went off track for a while and went into spraying Rolls Royces for a friend who had worked and trained at Rolls Royce. Eventually Tim left his friend and landed a job as an assistant at a photography studio who specialised in shooting catalogue work.

"On one occasion I was down to shoot crockery and hired in a home economist to prepare food for some soup bowls," explained Tim.

The studio managers were horrified at what the home economist charged but luckily for Tim the client was extremely happy with the results and increased sales so from then on anything food related went to Tim.

"I then went freelance in 1985 and I haven't had a proper job since!"

These days Tim shoots digitally so the only help he needs is from his food stylist who happens to be his wife Zoë Hill. He doesn't have any other assistants something he regrets occasionally when he's left mopping the floor and cleaning the kitchen after a shoot.

The role of a food stylist is really how it sounds on the tin, they prepare and set-up the dishes to be photographed.

Crab avocado by Tim Hill
 Photograph by Tim Hill.

"My wife Zoe my food stylist is really the unsung heroine in my studio, she is very creative having trained as a fine artist and being a very good cook she has an ability to make food look good. Of course being able to recognise and obtain the best ingredients is a corner stone to a good food shot."

The food stylist prepares a stand in dish which is placed on the set and Tim positions his camera and lights around it.

"When I am happy with the lighting on the computer monitor screen the plate gets blocked up with kid's toy wooden blocks and removed. The food is thrown away, the plate washed and dried. The food stylist plates up the hero food and puts the plate back in the set between the blocks which she then removes. I shoot it as fast as I can allowing for minor adjustments by the food stylist that's why the food looks fresh, because it is."

Tim always shoots with flash as the colour temperature is more stable and is available at any time during the day. Simple lighting and the idea that less is more when it comes to props and clutter is another piece of advice Tim always follows.

These days he uses a Sinar 54 digital back usually on a Fuji GX680 roll film camera. He gets a 63.5Mb file or A3 at 300dpi. He can put the back on a Sinar 5x4 or a Hasselblad but the Fuji has movements on the lens standard so placing the plane of focus in a shot is more precise than other roll film camera platform.

Curry by Tim Hill
 Photograph by Tim Hill.

"I like to be able to look through the camera as I am positioning it on the subject. Because I was trained and used 10x8 and 5x4 plate cameras for around 20 years this arrangement suits me and the way I shoot."

When he starts a shoot Tim usually fires the Mac up with all the necessary software, cleans the back so there's less touching-up to do later, checks the layout and then if there's a client in the studio he will talk to them and the food stylist about the shoot. He then assembles the props, background and foreground, takes a look at it, adds light and then with his camera, he starts to react to what he sees.

"I use a ISO50 setting but would prefer to use ISO25 if my software allowed me to. It's that search for maximum sharpness and quality comes of 10x8 and f64 training. I have a range of lenses for the Fuji from 50mm to 250mm. It's flexible and you can choose the lens which will give you the result you want. If you want to flatten perspective in a shot use a long lens. But you can have a lot of fun using a wide angle lens very tight in on a food shot. I can quite often look through the camera and reach around and move things around on the set its that close."

As Tim hates sitting at a computer he tries to fix things before he shoots them but he does do the occasional re-touch to remove any imperfections he doesn't want in his shots such as hairs, dust and cracks on plates. "Sadly digital photography has turned me into a bit of a Mac monkey!"

His computer is essential for getting him onto the internet though as it's the place where he gets all of his work from. Requests often come to him through his image library which he's been creating for the last six years.

"Most of my work comes in through the internet and emails, art directors no longer hang around the studio. In fact while I am talking to you one of my computers is uploading today's packaging

Beef joint photographed by Tim Hill
 Photograph by Tim Hill.

shoot images to my ftp box so my art director down in Bath can download the images tomorrow."

Tim has too many clients nad magazines on his wish list to mention but he does love working with his wife Zoe, who also happens to be an excellent cook.

"My favourite food to photograph is the same as to eat, meat. Zoe likes to cook Italian as she grew up in Rome her mother was French so that's another cuisine we like to do. I like all kinds to shoot, traditional English is part of my background."

He also has a rather long list of "old school" photographers which includes Cartier Bresson, Capa, Avedon and Clive Arrowsmith who he admires for teaching him honesty, composition, courage, empathy, clarity of vision - all sorts of reasons really.

"I still look at them for inspiration, I'm still trying to shoot better pictures. When you shoot something try and think how you could improve it, shoot it again then wonder how you could improve it again. That's the holy grail that you never find but is always worth searching for."

Visit fabfoodpix to see more of Tim's work.

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27 Nov 2008 1:02PM
these are excellent images Tim.
I have a question. It appears to me that there are trends in food photography, for example, close focus, shallow D of F and high key lighting. What would you say is the current trend and is their an emerging style?

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