Commercial Photography

Setting up a commercial shoot – what’s my process?


’Fail to prepare and prepare to fail’ – this is a quote I love and which I aspire to live by.

And preparation is especially important for a photographer, not least with food and lifestyle shoots, where there is so much to think about before you even get behind a camera.

I can never just turn up and start pushing the shutter. Significant advance prep and thought go into any shoot – including the props and equipment involved, plus the expertise and experience needed in terms of camera work and editing skills.

In fact, if anything, the prep and setting up are what take the time – the actual photography is achieved far more quickly. Moreover, clients have the peace of mind of knowing that I’m covered by comprehensive professional insurance throughout the shoot.


Preventing a monumental ice cream meltdown!

If I’m shooting ice cream, for example, I know it melts so rapidly that it has to be placed on the serving dish after I’ve chosen the base and backdrop, plus any props. Even then, I can only add everyone’s favourite chilly treat at the very last minute.

First, I’ll have put everything in place, taken a test shot for the client to see on the laptop, added any other food and taken a second test shot. Then, and only then, will I add the ice cream (which the stylist scoops very carefully) just before I take the final image.

I’ll do landscapes and portrait-style pictures, with and without packaging, before reviewing the shots. If the ice cream has melted to any degree, and we’re not 100% happy with the end result, we’ll start the whole process again.

For example, before a recent shoot with Mackie’s of Scotland, makers of truly incredible ices, we had the initial contact then our stylist and chef Christopher devised no fewer than 30 serving suggestions as the Mackie’s team closed in on what they wanted.

There were video calls with the marketing agency and Mackie’s, and we received a detailed brief. After handling further queries by phone, we sent a final schedule to the client, and once we’d received their approval, shopped for ingredients, assembled props and set up the studio.

Remember, by this point I hadn’t so much as picked up a camera! But all the planning and organisation ensured a smooth, successful two-day shoot, with the client and Mungo our canine officer manager in attendance.


Prepping a burger shoot

At a recent ‘burger shoot’, the original brief was for a plain white background. However while we were doing our ‘homework’, I couldn’t resist experimenting with some gorgeous backdrops that had recently arrived at my studio in Fife. Created in wood effect and grey, they gave a dramatic feel to the images and, I thought, showcased the food to perfection.

Of course, ultimately, I always respect my client’s wishes when it comes to backgrounds and other aspects of the shoot, but frequently (as in this case) the client chooses take my ideas on board.


Getting a ready-meal company ready for its close-up


Fife-based company East Neuk Cooks delivers fresh, home-made “meals for one” to its customers’ doors. To prep for this client, I read their brief then planned the style and layout of the shoot for their approval.

The company sent over a wide range of products, which allowed me to pick out the most photogenic dishes.

I like having clients on hand during a shoot – after all, no one knows their products better – and in this case, Stacey from East Neuk Cooks was in the studio with me all day.

Once the food was unpacked, I assembled the props, including herbs from our garden. We set up the backdrop and base before Christopher heated up the food and positioned it as planned.

Next it was time to take the photos, and study them on the computer. We tweaked the various items so each one looked distinctive and was properly lit, ensuring there was no evidence of any marks or smears.

We retook several photos from different angles, creating options for different uses. (For this, it’s useful to have a second camera set up differently.) I also did some Photoshop editing, but this was minimal since I prefer to have the right shots in the first place, meaning little editing.



Finally, of course, there’s all the cleaning up and clearing away and, most important of all, rewarding Mungo’s ‘supervision’ with a gravy bone!


Lazy Day Foods – but not a lazy day for us   

Our client Lazy Day Foods runs a gluten, dairy and egg-free bakery, concocting glorious treats that everyone can enjoy.

Following initial contact, and receipt of a detailed brief, we came up with four original ideas which differed from last year’s shoot, and Lazy Day narrowed down what they wanted ahead of a further phone call.  Studio shots of the packets were also requested.

We then sent them the final schedule, bought ingredients, put together everything we needed and headed for the beach.

There we set up the shoot, adding the chocolate at the last minute as, just like the ice cream, it would have melted. Once again, I still hadn’t even picked up a camera by this point.

As if on cue, the sun provided the dramatic lighting that the Lazy Day marketing team had requested. The picture shows a picnic hamper and rug plus a bright red play bucket, with the client’s rocky road treats and millionaire’s shortbread at the heart of the shot, and the sea beyond.

Once again, this was time-consuming to set up – but worth every second for what, though we say so ourselves, is a pretty special end result.


If you’d like your edible goodies to be given the Caroline Trotter star treatment, talk to me about your professional food shoot. Remember, we can also snap your personal profile picture for your website and other promotional materials while we’re at it, making maximum use of your commercial photography shoot.