Friday’s Popup At Chester Zoo
The sun had been master of our skies all week, baking the ground, turning Brits lobster pink and dogs walk around with lolling tongues. This has been a summer to remember. As Friday arrived there was a change coming. Heavy showers were set to dampen the ground and any outdoor plans.
It was late in the afternoon before the showers tired and drifted off. A shaft of warm sunlight suddenly pierced the clouds, momentarily making me squint as I packed my camera bag. Turning to warm my face in this early evening sun, I knew I was going to have a great night.
Going to the zoo
Tonight was day three of a delicious collaboration between Cheshire Dining Experience and The Chefs Table. I was going to capture the story of the night. Chester Zoo was to be the diners destination, just behind the lion enclosure in the Botanists Lab. Surrounded by edible flowers and fragrant herbs a magical dining room was created. Rustic tables and twinkling lights doing their part to enhance everyone’s experience.
As the golden light streamed in from the setting sun, lighting up eager faces of hungry anticipated diners, I began telling the story. Juggling highlights and shadows, giving my camera a fighting chance to see all it could, in this photographically changing and challenging light. Pressed against the camera my face is focused and alert, inside I’m smiling like a nine-year-old living his best day.
Let the games begin
With one eye on service and the other searching for happy conversations striking up, filled with gesture and character. My eyes tune to the scene, peripheral vision becoming heightened, raising in stature of importance. The ambient sound softens as you slip into the zone. Dialled into the light, continuous focus picking out moments, the sound of the shutter confirming their capture. No time to chimp, there’s another and another. Expressions, fleeting gestures introduce themselves, before darting away so something new can take their place.
A gentle and almost imperceptible hum rises as service begins. Precision and speed merge into an effortless creation, formed by experienced hands plating up dish after dish. Wait staff, poised, ready to pluck each course from the pass, whilst tall stemmed glasses are filled with well-chosen wines. Aromas waft, like traces of smoke, as the first course arrives, gently placed in front of hungry eyes. Click, clickety-click.
Moving in for tight shots of trembling fingers placing delicate micro herbs. Now wide and low for a foods eye view of the evening. Balancing exposure, keeping detail and atmosphere. A couple of top-down captures, food photography basics before the plate vanishes from your viewfinder. Glancing up from a rare check of the screen to see the joy, beaming across a guest’s face as she turns to her server. Switch cameras. Going long and tight. Did you get it? Can’t be sure, kinda looks like it, only in the digital darkroom can we say for sure.
The inner child
This is how it goes when you’re 9 years old, behind a camera with opportunities to tell stories. The energy flows from the youth of your passion. Nothing else matters in those moments, those moments we live for. Carrying us through dark and troubled times, along rough roads to scary places. Places that we would never go to if it wasn’t for the deep knowing. Knowing that when you dial in the settings of unmatched excitement, the light of burning passion and a desperate need to tell a story, it’s like nothing else and you’ll do whatever is needed to be there.
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It was getting late and I needed to leave for an early start next morning. As the last morsels of the final dish were being relished, I packed up my gear, gave the teams my thanks and headed into the night. Just when you think the magic is over, it taps you on the shoulder for one last sip of nectar. As I locked my lens onto the camera I was reminded of the great Joe McNally and he said, never put your camera away until you leave the location. He’s so right, you never know when a picture will gift itself to you. It’s not about it being a life-changing photo, it’s about you listening to the voice, deep inside you that says stop. Turn around. There’s a picture to take.
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I’ll be sharing more from this shoot in tips and how to’s, so if you have a question please leave them in the comments below. And if you have a foodie event which needs the story capturing please contact me, I’d love to talk to you.
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More soon, JT
My name is Ula Maria and I am the designer of the Botanist’s LAB at Chester Zoo. I saw the amazing photos you have taken of it and would love to have some on my website. I wondered if that’s possible / or how much do you charge for the use of the pictures etc?
Hi Ula, absolutely, I’ll get in touch and we’ll chat.