When I was young all photography was done on film and it was really quite expensive so the “family camera” really only came out on high days and holidays.
In my early ‘20’s, spurred on by independent travel, I loved nothing more than to photograph all the new places and cultures I was visiting.
It wasn’t until 2005 when I joined an evening class, really to meet new people as we had just moved into the area, that I thought it could be a bit more than a hobby. I thoroughly enjoyed the creative process and pottering about in the dark room. My confidence was boosted immensely as my images were well received so I thought to myself that maybe I should take up photography on a more professional basis.
Having already achieved a psychology degree and with several years of experience within the civil service I was rather hesitant about returning to study but I really loved my photography. Having developed a portfolio through my evening classes I decided to take the plunge and applied to study full time for a Higher National Diploma.
College gave me a grounding in the history and development of many photography genres. It also allowed me to learn the more technical aspects of the industry and editing skills.
I still worked part-time whilst at college and I did a few photography jobs for local restaurant websites, model portfolios, band promo shots and a few architectural shoots. I enjoy this eclectic mix within my photography as there are many skills and ideas which I feel are transferable – it certainly keeps you on your toes and you meet some very interesting and colourful people.
After qualifying we relocated from Edinburgh to Gloucestershire so many of my contacts were no longer relevant plus times were difficult economically.
My photography has been a bit neglected in the past year or so as we moved to a rather run-down cottage with a large but, sadly, neglected garden. We also set up our beekeeping business, Oak Tree Cottage Apiary, setting up a market stall, participating in food fairs and organizing beekeeping courses.
The food and lifestyle photography side or my work has grown recently through my new Gloucestershire contacts and also as our website has developed. Many of my images are taken in our garden or are small tabletop sets shot in my little blue potting shed. It is definitely more of a potting shed than a studio but it does benefit from lots of natural light.
I love to create little photo sets and I have amassed quite a collection of fabrics, antique plates, baskets and ornaments. My husband Chris, who used to be a Chef but is now a professional beekeeper, creates the dishes which not only look but taste delicious. He trained not just as a chef but also as a confectioner and has a very good eye for detail having worked in some of Edinburgh’s finest dining establishments.
Most of what I photograph has been either grown by us or is sourced from local markets. We have a stall at Stroud Farmers Market and whilst there we regularly buy artisanal breads, cheeses and the food we don’t grow ourselves.
We love shopping and supporting local markets. A great local asset near us is Over Farm Market in Gloucester, with its vast range of local produce. When on holiday we always shop at the local market. La Ramblas in Barcelona is our favourite: it has the finest selection of charcuterie and seafood I have ever seen and the presentation of the stalls is a feast for the eyes.
For a special occasion we enjoy indulging with the fabulous tasting menus of Whatley Manor near Malmesbury or The Crown at Whitebrook. For a more informal meal we visit Tetbury’s Priory Inn with its good, honest local food policy.
I love the mix of food and lifestyle photography out there at the moment. Different products and target markets each have their own style. One tends to find that the younger, often drinks orientated market uses photographers such as Jonathan Knowles with his more funky, energetic style. I love the flamboyant, theatrical style of Thomas Dhellemmes when he illustrated The Seven Sins Of Chocolate.
Many food and lifestyle magazines, and indeed the books of many of the TV chefs, go for the rustic and homely feel. The “Good Life” look is what many aspire to these days. Indeed this cottagey, retro style is what I tend to shoot myself. It is very much the whole lifestyle that people are buying into rather than purely the product.
I am embarking, once again into the world of academia. This Autumn I start a degree course in Advertising and Editorial Photography at the University of Gloucestershire, as they have an excellent reputation and many industry contacts.
In 2012 Oak Tree Cottage is looking to develop its product range further to include soaps and cards so I shall definitely be doing more photography for the business.
For inspiration I look towards the work of Tim Hill in creating my images. Magazines such as Cotswold Life and Gardens Illustrated are also great resources.
To aspiring, new photographers I’d say it is worth gaining a recognised qualification but more importantly just get out there and do it and enjoy it. It is very difficult to make a living out of photography in this economic climate and everyone these days thinks they are a photographer. Aim to produce quality images as there are so many images of poor quality and the nature of this digital age means images are very fleeting. I do many jobs for free or barter my skills but I do look to get something out of it. I look to get good images for my portfolio and often with this profession it is being in the right place at the right time and using connections which may lead to bigger and better things.
Christiaan Howlett’s website: www.christiaanhowlettphotography.com
Oak Tree Cottage Apiary website: www.oaktreecottageapiary.co.uk
Follow on Twitter: @OakTreeCottage