From Tree Tops to Wood Ovens: Snapshots of My Country Life

About seven years ago, after a long career as a qualified Arborist, I started thinking about being a photographer. I found that spending twelve years working outdoors definitely helped give me an appreciation of the countryside.

I am a self-taught photographer and have learned from reading photography books and magazines. My father was a keen amateur photographer and he used a room at home as a darkroom: he took lovely black and white candid portraits. He never gave me any lessons or advice when I was young but there were always prints drying on the kitchen table in the morning and I guess it must have planted a seed.

It was tough at the start of my career as I was doing bits of tree work and gardening and driving a delivery van to make ends meet. I had two children under two to keep me awake at night too!

My first break came from a big country fair called the CLA Game Fair, organised by the Country, land and Business Association, a three day country show attracting 140,000 visitors. I got the job as the show photographer. As part of my payment they gave me a stand and I decided to sell prints rather than my services and it worked out as a very good way to get my name around to the right people. Magazine work and brochure commissions soon followed.

I really enjoyed working on my first cookery book, “A Hunters Cookbook”, written by Ray Smith and published by Lorenz in 2010. Ray was formerly of River Cottage and it was fascinating to work with him as his knowledge of meat, butchery and cookery, along with his enthusiasm for life, were very infectious. A good friend of mine, the writer Robert Cuthbert, and I would travel down to Dorset to Ray’s cottage on a little stream with a car full of various game for him to prepare. Ray had a fridge in his garage full of the most delicious dried and cured meats I have ever tasted. We were always trying something different and the flavours were like nothing I have ever tasted, off the chart! It was the best job I have ever done – it never felt like work and I would love to do another project with Ray again.

There are many food photography projects I would enjoy working on. I would love to go travelling around Italy looking at the different ways of preparing and cooking with meat. I also think Rachel Khoo is talented and it’s amazing what she produces in that tiny Paris kitchen. I worked with Marco Pierre-White very briefly but I would love to work on a project with him too.

By preference I am a natural light photographer and I have always admired the work of David Loftus, Simon Wheeler, and Christian Barnett. I also think that keeping your own style and not being too influenced by the work of others is very important.

I hope the trend in lifestyle photography keep going towards more relaxed, rustic and simple styles purely because that would suit my style of photography more. I love natural looking images that give an honest reflection of good food.

For my work I do a fair bit of travelling, all over the UK, but also Russia, British Columbia, Namibia and Norway. That was tough when my children were small, but as they grow up it gets a bit easier. It won’t be long before they don’t even notice when I’ve gone away! I have a very supportive (and patient) wife and we live in an old school near Tisbury, Wiltshire with our two children and three dogs.

I am very conscious of where my meat has come from and how it has been reared, not just from a welfare point of view but also the husbandry of the countryside where the animals are reared. I get most of my lamb, chicken, pork and eggs from Angel Cottage Farm, a 20 acre organic farm in Sutton Mandeville run by some very good friends of mine.

Since working with Ray Smith I dry and cure my own bacon and hams – the flavour is a million miles from any bacon you will buy in a supermarket. I love fishing, so during the summer I smoke all the trout I catch and last year I worked on a book about cooking in an outdoor wood oven. The publishers couldn’t find somewhere to build one so we built it in my back garden. It is truly amazing what you can cook in them, anything from a full Sunday roast dinner to meringues.

I make pizzas for the children in the wood oven and they go mad for them, it seems to enhance the flavours and you get a lovely light crispy base. I also make bread when I have time. My wife sent me on a bread making course in Bath for my birthday – it was a great present but I think it may have been because the bread I made the course was so bad.

If I had to give advice to young people hoping to enter the professional world of photography I would recommend looking at a wide range of work that can be done until a niche can be carved in a specialist area such as food or fashion. You can specialise later on. I’ve done so many different, wonderful jobs, from photographing the American cartoons “SpongeBob SquarePants” at a theme park in Germany to assisting the set photographer on Guy Ritchie’s “Sherlock Holmes” film.

It is important to be honest and realistic about what you can do. I often look at pictures and ask myself if I could have created them. Often the standard is way out of my league and I will ignore that line of work, but when I think ‘yes’ I could have created that photograph, I can pursue a line of work with confidence. Don’t give up until you realise it’s a lost cause and don’t take a ‘no’ personally, just grow some thicker skin and always try and improve on the last shoot.

Further Information

Jake Eastham Country Photography:

Follow Jake on Twitter: @JakeImages

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