Cheshire Food Photography Event (Chester Zoo)

Chester Zoo Foodie Event blog post picture

Friday’s Popup At Chester Zoo

Rustic tables are set for a special event and laid with glasses and cutlerty. There are orange fairy lights and the sun is streaming in from the right. 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

Top down view into a glass showing the menu it is sitting on underneath. Chester 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.

Small blue dishes are lined up with red and green food in an outdoor dining venue at Chester Zoo

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.

Guests waiting to be seated at an outdoor dining event at Chester Zoo. The table is set for dinner with glasses and candles

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.

Young female server smiles as she serves diners in an outdoor setting at Chester Zoo

Blonde lady holds out her wine glass so the man next to her can smell it, in an outdoor dining scene at Chester Zoo

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.

Pouring red wine into glasses which are lined up for an event at Chester Zoo

Male chefs are carfully plating up a salad in white bowls in an outdoor venue at Chester Zoo

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.

Blonde haired lady turns to her waitress with a big smile. In an outdoor dining event. Chester Zoo

Fancy salad in white bowls lined up on a rustic table with a waitress collecting plates to serve in an outdoor dining location. Chester Zoo

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.

Low angle view of king prawns laying side by side on a bbq grill with diners sitting at tables in the background. Chester Zoo

Top down view of a colourful dessert with sponge and dark icecream in a white bowl. Chester Zoo

Diners eating and talking as they sit at a rustic outdoor table, foliage obscures some of the camera view. Chester Zoo

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Top down view of a piece of cooked monk fish in a white bowl which the smoke from dry ice surrounding it. Chester Zoo

Chefs plating up rows of white plates in an outdoor setting while wait staff pick up finished dishes to serve. Chester Zoo

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.

Dark evening scene looking under a foliage arch with fairy lights. A short distance away there are a group of people sitting at tables. Chester Zoo

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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.

If you enjoy my articles please share them on your favourite social media so we can build our tribe, I’ll be very much appreciated.

More soon, JT

2 Comments on “Cheshire Food Photography Event (Chester Zoo)”

  1. Hi Jonathan,
    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?

    Thank you

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