9 Things I Learnt on a Pro Food Photography Shoot with Olive Magazine

Way back in the depths of winter I found myself curled up on the sofa with a glass of white in one hand and my freshly delivered copy of Olive magazine in the other.

Olive Magazine Photoshoot

Since studying photography I devour each copy, dissecting the images as much as reading the recipes. I really like the photographic style used by the magazine, and whilst they use different photographers, the style stays true throughout each edition.Pro Food Photoshoot for Olive Magazine

When flicking through I try and work out what exactly it is that I love about certain images. I wonder if they’ve used a soft studio flash, or daylight like most of us bloggers tend to use. Is it one person making and styling the food and one photographer or are there are a whole team of people working on each dish. And do they use the old school styling tricks of using inedible varnishes and motor oil to make the food look its best for the camera. Surely no one does that any more, right?Professional Photo Session

With so many questions and a now empty glass of wine I bravely emailed the editor, Christine Hayes, and rather cheekily asked if I could join an Olive photoshoot to see how the pro’s do it.

Well, if you don’t ask…Pro Food Photoshoot for Olive Magazine

Amazingly, she agreed and 4 months later I found myself in Camden, London hanging out with Team Olive. Ha!

9 Things I learnt on a Pro Food Photography Food Shoot with Olive Magazine


It takes 4 people to make a day of shooting go smoothly. From left to right we have Ant Duncan; Freelance Photographer, Janine Ratcliffe; Food Editor, Mike Cutting; Designer and Anna Glover; Cookery Writer.

Olive Magazine Photoshoot

Janine and Anna did all the cooking and styling (and washing up), Mike chose the props and backgrounds and made design decisions as the shoot went along and obviously Ant took the photos.


Food photographers need to be fit! Seriously, Ant was up and down his ladder more times than a window cleaner! To get the overhead shots his camera was clipped onto the boom arm which was on wheels so could be moved round as necessary.

Olive Magazine Photoshoot


That a variety of props are essential. See Jonny, I told you ;)

In London space is at such a premium that there isn’t storage space at Olive HQ to keep their own props, so they hire them in for each shoot. Apparently there are giant prop shops in London that rent out everything from a teaspoon to full dinner services and everything in between. I would love to have a nosey round one of them! 

These are the bits that Mike had picked for today’s shoot, plus a few different slabs of marble and coloured backboards.

Olive Magazine Photoshoot


That however big and fancy your studio is, you’re probably only going to use a teeny little portion of it for a food shoot. The rented studio we were in must have measured at least 15 x 30 foot and yet the shooting was all done in this (I’m guessing East facing) corner, snuggled up next to the window making use of that beautiful light.

Pro Food Photoshoot

Doesn’t that make you feel better about your teeny little corner of the dining room? Yep, me too!


That even the professionals make a mess in the kitchen! Sorry for busting you guys, but it was SO reassuring to see that it’s not just my kitchen that gets in a mess during a cookfest!

Olive Magazine Photoshoot


If a food photographer’s not climbing ladders, they’re sat at a computer. I hadn’t thought about this before but I spend way more time editing my photos than actually shooting them. I guess Ants time on the day was about 50/50 although he may have had more edits to do when he got home.

Olive Magazine Photoshoot


That workflow is so much easier and quicker if you have an idea before you start cooking of what you want your final dish to look like.

The Olive team create a moodboard for each image needed so that the right props and backgrounds can be sourced and delivered ahead of the shoot, and everyone knows from the minute they turn up what they’re working towards. Whilst you wouldn’t necessarily go to these lengths for a single blog post, if you ever work on your own cookbook or a series of posts it may be worth bearing in mind.

It’s also useful to think through the colours in your finished dish ahead of time to give you some idea of what colour plates, backgrounds and accessories will work well with them. If you have time, style the shoot before you start cooking so that you can get the picture quickly (and as a bonus you may get to enjoy your dinner whilst it’s still hot!)

Olive Magazine Photo Shoot


You don’t need fancy schmancy reflectors. A tatty old piece of cardboard will bounce light back or create shadows just as well as something you’ve paid hard earned pennies for.

Olive Magazine


And finally, plan and work ahead of time. Obviously the Olive team has to work months ahead of time because of the logistics of printing and delivering a magazine. However this is still a great tip to take on board for us bloggers.

The more posts you have in draft or even scheduled ready to publish, the less demands there are on your immediate time and the less under pressure you will feel to get something out. And in my experience, this has a direct impact on the quality of the content you put out.

I still struggle with this one as life is often crazy busy, and any reserve I have of draft posts tend to get used up quickly but it is a great idea to create perhaps one blog post a week more than you need so you always have a little back catalogue to draw on when things are hectic.

Pro Food Photoshoot

There, that’s my Top Tips courtesy of the Olive team!  Thank you all so much for letting me invade your day, it was great fun and I learnt loads. Do keep an eye out for a guest post by yours truly coming up on the Olive blog Lulu’s Notes in the not too distant future, if you have a copy of the August edition it’ll be great fun I promise!

And as I’m incapable of being around good food without taking photos myself, here’s some other shots I took on the day…
Pro Food Photoshoot

Pro Food Photoshoot
Pro Food Photoshoot

beefglwBeans and Feta

Melon and Pancetta Salad

Anyone else melting today? Just walking up from the pond this morning after feeding the ducks had me breaking out in a sweat. And it was only 7am.Sweet, light and fragrant melon and pancetta salad

For muggy or scorching days alike, this Melon and Pancetta Salad is just perfect. It’s light, juicy and fragrant and surprisingly filling without causing you to need an afternoon nap.

I had it as a simple lunch but it would make a great starter for a dinner party too.

Do make sure you ask the deli counter if their Pancetta is OK to eat uncooked, and ask them to slice it as thin as they can. If you can only find the cubes of Pancetta (which really need frying first) try a Prosciutto or Bavarian ham instead. Mm Mmmm.

Melon and Pancetta Salad

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Total Time: 10 minutes

Yield: 2 as a main course, 4 as a starter


  • 1 ripe melon. I prefer the fragrant orange fleshed cantaloupe, but I imagine any sweet, perfectly ripe melon would work.
  • 8 super thin slices of pancetta from the deli counter.
  • A sprinkling of fresh thyme leaves. Baby basil leaves would also taste great, or possibly finely chopped chives.


  1. Skin and de-seed the melon. Using a potato peeler, slice the melon into long ribbons.
  2. Layer them on a plate with the slices of pancetta, curling them a little.
  3. Sprinkle with the thyme leaves.
  4. Sit down and enjoy, preferably with a glass of something chilled!
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How’s Your Bingo Lingo?

Have you ever played bingo? If so, you’ll know that each number has its very own call such ‘Legs Eleven’ and ‘Sweet Sixteen’.

I was recently asked to make a teeny little video stating one of these bingo lingo calls, and was given ’36 Three Dozen’. Quite apt when you think how many eggs I collect in a week!

Here’s my little video (with an impromptu appearance by SassyCat!).

The original video I shot had a chicken pecking corn on the picnic table, but when I got inside to edit it I realised I’d called the wrong number. Duh! By the time I got outside to film it again I forgot to drag the poor hen out of the run to join in so it’s just me and a basket of 36 eggs. Oh, and a gorgeous little cat ;)

Altogether there are 90 short videos that are designed to help people remember and learn the bingo calls. One is being released each week and there are some funny ones in the collection.

Now, where’s my lucky bingo pen…

Collaborated post, visit youtube to see all 90 videos in this campaign.

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Soft and Chewy Coconut Pyramids

Does anyone else remember these gorgeous, soft and chewy coconut pyramids from childhood? Textured with dessicated coconut, they used to fill my back-from-school-hungry belly in a nanosecond.

Sweet Coconut Treats

With only four ingredients, they’re really fun to whip up and only take minutes. And as far as sweet treats go, they’re kinda healthy to boot. It might even be a recipe that you can hand over to the back-from-school-hungry bellies to make for themselves. Win-Win!

The recipe below makes six pyramids. Of course you could make them bigger or smaller, but be sure to alter the oven timings if you do.

Sweet Coconut Treats

Big thanks to Viking for sending me these shiny new stainless steel kitchen scales. My previous ones were on their last legs and digital has made my recipe work a whole lot easier! 

Soft and Chewy Coconut Pyramids

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Cook Time: 14 minutes

Total Time: 19 minutes

Yield: 6


  • 40g icing sugar
  • 75g desiccated coconut
  • 2 level teaspoons cornflour
  • 1 egg white


  1. Preheat the oven to 170/fan150/325/gas 3.
  2. Mix all four ingredients together in a bowl. Divide into 6 portions and mould each portion with your hands into a pyramid shape.
  3. Place each one onto a greased baking sheet and bake for 12-14 minutes or until the tops are dark golden brown and the sides have also take on some colour.
  4. Let cool on the tray then scrape each one off with a spatula. You'll find they will harden as they cool.
  5. On the off chance that there are any left over, store in an air tight tub.
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Sweet Chilli Chicken Skewers

One of the best things about backpacking in my early twenties was discovering a planet full of new and before unheard of foods. Asian Inspired Street FoodI still remember the very first Macadamia nut I ate in Australia, the first Durian fruit in Singapore and the first bowl of miso soup I supped in Japan.

My memory can still taste those little sweet steamed red bean dumplings from the old lady on the street outside my dorm house in Shanghai, and I can still feel the excitement in the sushi bar as my puffer fish was taken fresh from the tank all puffed up and deadly looking and instantly turned into the freshest sashimi Fugu.

Asian Inspired Street Food

I don’t remember too many town names or even the names of the people I met in those towns, but I vividly remember the meals we shared, the local beer we drank and the new styles of cooking my young mind was opened up to.Asian Inspired Street Food

So when Vue got in touch to come up with a street food inspired dish to celebrate the launch of the film Chef, I knew I was the girl for the job!Asian Inspired Street Food

One thing I learned from Asian street food was that simplicity and speed were of the essence. The quicker a dish was prepared, the safer the meats would be in the tropical heat and often the simple meals turned out to be the tastiest.Asian Inspired Street Food

These Sweet Chilli Chicken Skewers are about as easy as they come. You could, if time was short and cupboards were bare, just use the sweet chilli sauce to coat the kebabs and still get a damn tasty skewer. But the extra ingredients bring a depth of flavour which is multiplied if you can cook them over a BBQ or real fire.

The beauty in them comes from the sugar in the sweet chilli sauce caramelising over the heat source. Delish.Asian Inspired Street Food

The ingredients below will serve 1-2 people depending on other dishes you are offering. If you’re feeding more, just keep doubling it up.

Sweet Chilli Chicken Skewers

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Cook Time: 6 minutes

Total Time: 26 minutes

Yield: 1-2


  • 1 chicken breast (around 200g)
  • 2 tablespoon sweet chilli sauce
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce or Tamari
  • 1 clove of garlic, crushed


  1. Put the wooden skewers in cold water to soak while you prepare the meat.
  2. Slice the chicken breast into long strips, no more than half an inch thick. Pop in a bowl with the sweet chilli sauce, soy sauce and garlic.
  3. Mix it all together well and ideally leave to sit in the fridge for 30 minutes - 24 hours. However, if you don't have time, they will still taste fantastic if you cook them straight away.
  4. Thread the chicken strips onto the skewers, with the thin, pointy end of the chicken going on first. This will allow the fatter end to get more heat and cook safely all the way through.
  5. When all the skewers are loaded up, pop over the white hot coals of a BBQ or grill and cook for 3 minutes each side.
  6. Baste the skewers while they are cooking with the remaining marinade and a silicone pastry brush.
  7. Before serving, check sure they are cooked all the way through by making sure there is no pinkness left in the middle of the meat.
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For mine & other bloggers street food inspired dishes, take a peek here.

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