Spotlight Interview … Food Photographer and Stylist Tim and Zoe Hill

JRP: This segment we welcome the team of Food Photographer and Stylist Tim and Zoe Hill to JRP Blog. Thank you for sharing time with our readers Tim and Zoe.

Tim Hill: Thank you for asking me to participate in your spotlight series. I was surprised that you were interested in food photography although I am aware that there are many food blogs these days.

Zoe Hill: Thank you  for your interest.

JRP: Where do you call home?

Tim Hill: We live in a house in Muswell Hill, a suburb in North London UK. Just before Christmas due to the economic downturn I shut my large rented studio and set up a food studio in my front rooms with a galley studio kitchen at the back.

Adjusting to the smaller size and down sizing the accumulated equipment and props of twenty or so years has been a challenging process. Although I mostly shoot table top food I find I have to plan where lights and reflectors are going to go before I set up the shot or getting from the front of the set to the back can be tricky.

JRP: How did you get your start in photography and styling? Is there any formal training in your backgrounds?

Tim Hill: I studied graphic design and used more and more photography until most of my diploma show was photographic. The photographic training was learned working as an assistant then junior photographer in a catalog studio in the seventies. I went freelance in 1985 with very little equipment other than two one thousand joules Strobe Equipment flash packs, a fish fryer light and a basic 4×5 Sinar camera with one lens. I still have the packs and the light and they still work.

Zoe Hill: I studied fine art which has made me acutely visually aware. I also developed  design, painting and 3D skills which are all useful in food styling which is often more about model making, landscape design, and color balance than cooking.

JRP: Name a stylist and photographer that have impacted your work and why.

Zoe Hill: The food photographer that influenced me greatly to begin with was Robert Fresson. And a food stylist that has been an inspiration is Donna Hay. Both very stylish in a very laid back way.

Tim Hill: During the sixties fashion photographers and portrait photographers were influential.

I once assisted Clive Arrowsmith whose lighting I admired, and met Duffy when I went for a job as an assistant. I took my portfolio but Duffy said show me your muscles, I take the photographs.

Dutch still life painters influenced me more than photographers as far as food images went. I still like Penn, Avedon, Cartier Bresson, and Robert Fresson.

I have worked with many designers and have been able to appreciate their concerns having studied Graphics myself. Because of my early photographic grounding in shooting to size and to a layout for catalogs I am aware of the end use of my images and make sure copy spaces and head line space is respected by using layout traces when shooting.

JRP: Do you have a support staff? What areas do they handle?

Zoe Hill: I rarely have any help unless it is a student on work experience.

Tim Hill: My wife Zoe Hill who does my props and food styling and also co-art directs when we shoot for my library or for overseas clients not present in the studio.

Adrian Swift, my ex-assistant, who sorts out my computer problems remotely but some times comes into the studio to effect major changes and sort problems.

JRP: What photo equipment would I find in your studio for a typical shoot? What lighting equipment do you favor and why?

Tim Hill: I mostly use a Fuji GX680 camera with a Sinar 4×5 digital back attached. I have seven lenses but mostly use the 80mm as it allows me to get close to the set and frequently can reach around the camera to adjust food or reflectors whilst looking through the viewfinder. I like the Fuji as it has movements on the lens panel allowing you to alter the plane of focus.

I also have a HD31 Hasselblad with a 100mm macro lens which is astonishing when you want to get in close to the food which is how I like to shoot.

My lighting equipment has evolved and accumulated ever since 1985. There is high voltage Strobe Equipment which is built to last but weighty and probably lethal if not used properly. I have Elinchrom and a lot of Broncolor packs, and heads. Various soft boxes, small box lights, spotlights, striplights, stands and a ceiling mounted track system.

There is not a lot of room for human beings in my studio. Clients tend to spend time in the conservatory or the garden until called in for an opinion of an image. Of course I use black net, white net, mirrors, silver card, Lightform diffusers and reflectors, grey card, black card, white card and black velvet to effect lighting. Climpex stands and fittings to hold stuff up but forgetting tweezers, blu tac and gaffer tape.

JRP: Could you describe your digital work-flow and the software you use?

Tim Hill: I shoot tethered to a 933 Mac on Captureshop software then do post production on a Raid server using CS5 Photoshop. The Hassleblad I shoot tethered to a G5 Mac using Phocus software then post production on the Raid using CS5.

JRP: In your opinion what is the biggest misconception regarding food photography?

Zoe Hill: That we cheat with tricks and fake food but the truth is less exciting in that there is a lot of painstaking work involved in selecting the best ingredients and presenting them  in an attractive way.

Tim Hill: That the food we shoot is not edible. My “secret” is to use stand in food to sort out the composition and lighting. When more or less satisfied I mark up the plate and other items with children’s wooden blocks. Remove the plate, throw away the stand in food, and replace with fresh just cooked food. Put the plate down in the blocks, remove the blocks and shoot as fast as possible. The food looks fresh because it is.

JRP: With today’s economic conditions tell us how you keep productive and retain your creative edge.

Tim Hill: Working with Zoe as she is very creative. She studied fine art while I studied graphics. She comes up with an idea and puts it in front of my camera and I do the nuts and bolts to make it work. Then having got her shot I move in and explore it closer for my kind of thing.

Zoe Hill: The most important thing for me is to keep working even when business is quiet. We shoot a lot of work  which we put in the library. You can be creative with very simple ingredients or use an elaborate setting. It is a great way to develop ideas.

JRP: Do you have a memorable shoot you could share with us? What made those images or the shoot special?

Tim Hill: Well shooting Haagen Dazs Ice Cream was memorable from a logistics point of view. Three different freezers set at different temperatures and a polystyrene box with dry ice to make a super cold environment so that the scoops were manageable to set up. Three assistants and a food stylist with straws gently blowing warm air to melt the frost on the surface of the ice cream and to wipe condensation from the glass if the ice cream touched it. Janice Murphitt was the food stylist, amazing with ice cream. Happily someone else shoots it now.

JRP: What has been some of the best advice given to you by another photographer or stylist?

Tim Hill: Keep it simple stupid. The kiss school of lighting and photography is what I aspire to but don’t always achieve.

Zoe Hill: In styling, to consider the scale of the props in relation to the food. If that is wrong nothing else will work.

JRP: What advice would you like to share with other creative teams?

Zoe Hill: It is all about making the food look delicious. Obvious, but sometimes forgotten in over elaborate concepts or color schemes.

Tim Hill: I agree with the above.

JRP: Thank you Tim and Zoe for sharing your thoughts and images with us. You have been most kind in doing so.

Tim and Zoe Hill: We hope photography amuses your readers as much as it does us.

JRP: To view more of Tim and Zoe Hill’s photography please follow this link:


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