A word of warning before we start, this is a very photo-heavy post, mostly because the Violet And The Vicarage weekend course I went on recently is about photography….and cake. I’ve long been a fan of both the stylish photographer Kristin Perers and Claire Ptak from Violet bakery, so discovering the pair of them had set up a weekend workshop on photography, food styling and cake baking was a bit too good to be true.
Kristin shoots beautiful imagery, often using natural light (my fav) for (among many others) The White Company, The Great British Bake Off as well as Claire’s Guardian weekend baking column. Claire’s tiny bakery and coffee shop in East London grew out of her super-successful Broadway Market stall (I think she may have even initiated the cupcake craze of the last few years) and she used to work at Chez Panise, which is my fav restaurant evs. So they are a dream team for me. I want to improve my photographic skills for We Wear Perfume and I can eat cake all day long.
For photographers, the weekend course promised to show us how to better handle our SLRs, work with natural light, improve our composition and style a food shoot. We also had post production analysis of our images at the end of each day and lots of useful talk on best lens/photo softwear/ lighting/ tripod usage/ surface details and a whole lot more. For food bloggers, it offered a chance to see two professionals in action shooting and divulging lots of their tricks and tips to make food imagery as awesome as possible.
Day one started at Kristin’s house- The Vicarage, as her husband William is vicar of Saint Thomas’s Church on Clapton Common, where we ate delicious cakes for breakfast and learned about composition. I am rubbish at this, it turns out, but we all worked on how to improve.
We also learned to think about building a library of surfaces, how to work with props, and how to approach shooting on location. Claire made us lunch while explaining how she styled food, while Kristin took photos and encouraged us do the same. The food was spectacular, we ate like kings, but very healthy ones, until we got to the cake. And the cheese. Well, and the bread really, too. The salad was very healthy.
After lunch we met some very cool florists, sisters Jesse and Ally from Aesme Flowers (they have a lovely inspiring blog here. They talked to us about working with British and foraged flowers and foliage and how to take good images of flowers as they constructed a beautiful display in front of us.
Then we got to photograph it.
Then we were critiqued by Kristin, her fantastic assistant Sophie and Claire – who’d brought in a delicious apple cake to add into the mix. After this we went home, with goody bags full of photography clips, fabric samples, a beautiful ceramic spoon from Shop Momosan, lists of paper suppliers, pots of delicious jam by Newton & Pott and a head full of ideas.
Day two started at Violet Bakery and yes, more delicious cake for breakfast. Claire talked us through how she set up Violet, how she grew her business (which was really fascinating) and how she uses Instagram to build her brand. From Violet’s we had to be dragged away from the cakes move to Kristin’s studio above Columbia Road, in the old Flower Factory. To say I was envious of this space would be to seriously underplay things.
The idea was to learn how to work in a studio setting, and decorate, style and then shoot our own fancy cake, but it was hard to concentrate on the action when we were above the Columbia Road Market and in such a gorgeous studio. Kristin bought the space a while ago, before the area got super-trendy and lived here with her two boys. Now uses it as her studio and had set the space up with tables and plates for us to get arty with our own cakes.
We watched how the experts made it work….
We picked up a few secrets on food styling – like completely relaxing your hands when they are in shot, or you’ll look as if you have tense claws on the end of your arms.
Then did our own thing…
I didn’t do the course because I want to shoot food, I went because I wanted to improve my perfume bottle shooting for We Wear Perfume and raise my general standard of photography. So I shot a few practice bottles too….
Then it was time to eat again and Claire made the very best quiche I have ever eaten, made from her first book, The Violet Bakery. It was so good I went back to Violet’s and bought the book entirely for that one recipe.
The studio kitchen was the height of low-fi chic.
My cake – decorated and layered by moi – is below. it tasted pretty good, I have to say.
I really loved the course, in fact I could have happily done it all again the next weekend if anyone had suggested it. I came back each evening inspired and full of ideas, if totally knackered. Claire and Kristin are generous teachers; they are both good at what they do and worked seamlessly alongside each other, while being encouraging to all of us as we enthusiastically followed along in their wake. The setting, both at Violet’s and Kristin’s house and studio, felt magical. And then there was all that cake…
The course runs twice a year and I can’t recommend it highly enough. Everyone on the course was also interesting and very committed to making the most of the weekend. For more about the next one, see the Violet and The Vicarage Website.