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Michelin Star Chef John Campbell at the Orangery

Working again with Searcys and Blenheim Palace, I was asked to cover a special dinner event with John Campbell, a well-known British, Michelin star chef. John and his team put on two nights of food, wine and discussion at the Orangery Restaurant at the Palace and my brief was to cover everything I could about the event, from pictures of John and his team, to pictures of the food, the setup and also some candid pictures of guests enjoying themselves in the fabulous venue.

I've done a couple of shoots now at the Orangery, so I knew what to expect in terms of the lighting and the gear I might need. It was great this time to have my new 20mm wide-angle f1.8 lens in my bag, it really allowed me to capture some more of the scale of the venue, even performing well into the darker part of the evening as the natural light faded – all without flash. It was also a good opportunity to use the new macro lens again, I'm really loving having this lens available. The macro lens really allows for some great images and I'm also finding it quite handy as a mid-range telephoto lens as well, allowing me to stay back and not be as visible but still get great images. While the 2.8 aperture may not be as good as my 1.8 primes, it still gets the job done, particularly with the solid higher ISO performance of the Nikon D750 to compensate when needed.

Ok, so on to the images and I'll break these into four sets. The first order of business was to capture the set up before the guests arrived, this involved observing and looking for nice compositions as the staff set up tables, displays and generally got the restaurant ready. I was primarily looking for images which not only captured the subject – a place setting, person or flower arrangement etc. but to also capture the sense of ambience and setting in the palace. I found some great compositions in the long hallway near the entrance, where I remembered that when the sun lowers it fills the corridor with some really nice light, a couple of those images were picked up and published in the press following the event.

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The second part of the assignment was to capture some shots of John and his team, this ranged from standard portraits, which I again tried to capture some of the Blenheim character in, to shots of the team working in the kitchen. It was a really great experience to be a quiet observer while great chefs do their thing in the kitchen. John and his team were really nice and allowed me to move around them and I think after a few minutes they forgot I was there!

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The third part of the assignment was to shoot the food as each course came out. This started out really nicely because I had a little set up available where I had natural light coming in through the window. I was able to easily use the window to light the food from behind and then I used a diffused speedlight to provide a little kick. A quick note on that actually, I picked up a couple of packs of the MagMod system, which allow you to easily attach gels and other modifiers to your speedlights. I also picked the MagDome, which is a really cool but slightly strange looking modifier which is part of the MagMod system. The major challenge with shooting the food was twofold, one was balancing the light, particularly as it started to get darker and the light from the window reduced to nothing by the later parts of the meal and the second was that given I was shooting the food in the main restaurant, I couldn’t exactly be firing off the flash continuously, nor setting up an elaborate lighting system. By the time the last course came out, there was no natural light at all but I was able to compensate a little with some gelled flash to match the light from the chandeliers over-head. I do have to confess to one major benefit of shooting an event like this: it’s pretty much universally regarded as bad form to capture pictures of people eating, there are very few people who look good putting food in their mouth, so it left me with some time (in fact it was suggested) to eat each course, a little quickly I might add as I had to get back into the kitchen each time to capture the team making each course, but it was really, really good – you can tell John knows what he is doing!

The final part of the assignment was to capture some candid shots of the guests enjoying themselves and cover also the mini speeches John and the Sommelier gave before each course. It was really nice for me to hear the stories about and insight to how the courses were developed and the wine paired. I did run again into the challenge of the lighting in the Orangery, more so at the end of the evening when the lights are just pure orange, so using a bare flash creates a really bad colour imbalance but this time I was prepared and I only had to use a gelled flash for the last few shots and the Magmod system worked perfectly.

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So, all in all, a fantastic event and some great images for an important client and my portfolio. It was also great to see some of the images appearing in National media – the Daily Mail used them, as did a couple of other food and entertainment press.