An interview with photographer Shannon Lee Robinson on shooting the Blackberry Cottage recipe book

When I first created the brand identity for Blackberry Cottage five years ago, founder Kate Saunders said it was a long-term ambition create a recipe book, to inspire home bakers to explore her passion for baking with vegetables. After much recipe testing, writing, photographing, designing, (and eating), Kate has published Cakes with Secret Ingredients from Aubergine to Zucchini and she has been accepted as a member of the prestigious Guild of Food Writers! I asked photographer Shannon Lee Robinson of SLR Photography to share her thoughts on shooting the Blackberry Cottage recipe book and working with STRONG & TOGETHER again.


An interview with photographer Shannon Lee Robinson…

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Is this the first recipe book you have photographed? Yes, it is. I had been dreaming of creating a recipe book for years. It filled me with joy that this could be the one, as Kate Saunders was my first foodie client, right at the beginning, when I decided to specialise in food photography. We have been on a journey of business growth together, and it is so great to see how far Blackberry Cottage has come since our first ever shoot together.

 What preparations did you make before the shoot began? HUGE preparations!!! As we had 6 weeks to photograph 100 cakes.

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The first task was to break it down into how many cakes Kate could bake a week. That was critical. Without understanding her perspective, the shoot would have been impossible. Next, to break that down into the photo schedule, which was a Wednesday – Friday for 6 weeks. From 6-7 cakes per day, three days per week, we arrived at 20 cakes a week. We planned it, committed to it and achieved it!

What was it like to work with Strong & Together and Blackberry Cottage? I had worked with you, before on shoots, and we are very good at bouncing ideas, and working out exactly what tells the story for the client. You have also been there since the start, for Kate, as the designer of the Blackberry Cottage brand.

Collaboration was key. We had team meetings – you, me, Kate, and Chris (my husband the food stylist) to discuss the brand essence, the style, and how the photos needed to fit within the physical design of the book, as well as Blackberry Cottage’s practical and storytelling vision.

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It was really important to everyone that a cook could take on a whole, joined-up A-Z journey throughout the entire book, and that everything was also there for them if they simply dipped in.
— Clare Sheffield, Strong & Together

Was it easy to collaborate and keep on the same page over all those weeks? We had to be organised. We had a mood board on Pinterest, where everyone could pin their ideas, and the photos we liked that would match the storytelling, the brand style and practical vision. Chris made sketches of some of the cakes, and each scene we would be creating. There were prop lists, cake lists, photo shot lists, basically, excel spread sheets coming out of our ears! We were careful to prepare a brief for the food writer Michelle Power, so that the intention of the narrative would be crystal clear. We all have mutual respect for each other’s disciplines, and know exactly how great each of our talents are.

We trust each other and that makes a big difference to decision making and progress. Don’t be fooled by the warm country garden setting, we all had our heads both in the moment and on the future – this case, being on the shelves for winter and seasonal gifting, and the production deadlines associated with it.
— Clare Sheffield, Strong & Together
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What did you enjoy most about working on the Blackberry Cottage book? The sheer determination to make each and every cake look as great as the next. But also, the laughter and team spirit throughout the entire 6 weeks to keep creating something magical. Especially the huge party scene at the end, which Kate and I had dreamed of doing for years!!!

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Is there a funny story behind any of the shots? Oh my goodness … so many stories…

The dog eating the cake while we went through to get props. Chris nearly crying over icing. Me shouting at the ever changing weather - over those 6 weeks it went from snow, hail, sun, hot, cold, everything you could possibly imagine! Kate calling cakes all sorts of bad words. Kate again, who I ended up calling Cake, because all we did for 6 weeks was sleep, eat, dream, think about cake! Having to wash a cake under the tap because the icing totally melted, as that day turned to summer … oh yes plenty of stories to tell! Ha Ha…Each cake has its own story and funny memory, and every time we all look through the book together, they come out!

What is the part that is easiest for the client to under estimate? Preparation. In particular the props. Props create pace and interest. Sourcing props is not a last-minute thing.

As soon as we knew that the book was on, we began. We begged, borrowed and told everyone we knew we were on the lookout for props, months before we started! Most props without a doubt though came from Chris’s mum who collects pretty much everything from plates, linen, cutlery, cups, teapots … you name it – she has it! Her house became our Aladdin’s cave of prop treasures! Thanks Josie!

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Which was the most challenging shot to take? The most challenging shots were the cakes towards the end, probably the last 20 cakes, as we had shot over 80 cakes and to keep coming up with new scenes, new ideas, new props, was quite difficult after 5 very hard intensive weeks.  It is no lie. We were all a bit “caked-out” by week 6. But, between us, we pulled each other through, and some of those shots from the last week are my favourite!

What was your favourite cake to shoot? Oh my goodness … I couldn’t possibly choose just one, so here are my top seven:

  • Orange & Ginger Cake with Beetroot  - Soooooo gingery and delicious!

  • Carrot Cake Ice Cream – Just a yummy sensation!

  • Pear Cake with Celeriac – Super tasty, the celeriac really makes it POP!

  • Parsnip with Nut Crumble Muffins – OMG these blew my mind. I think I ate the whole lot.

  • Sweet Potato Blondies – Absolute revelation to cake. So moist, so delicious, you would have no idea it is potato. Amazing.

  • Sweet Potato Chocolate Fudge Slice – Holy Moly, if you are a chocolate lover like me….

  • Tomato & Strawberry Tarte Tatin – Wow, Wow, Wow …. Just wow, I was so surprised by this combination, but it worked SO well together.

Kate’s hidden ingredients don’t only make the recipes better for us, they also improve the texture, moistness or colour of the finished product. It’s a win-win!
— Bill Buckley – Food Writer, Critic, TV & Radio Presenter
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Would you shoot another recipe book?

 Absolutely, yes! If that is all I could do, I would. I learned so much from this experience. I allowed myself to be challenged and I challenged you all too - to get the best from each opportunity. It really helped me grow as a photographer. I can deal with pretty much every kind of lighting! It was inspiring, intense, but most of all fun. I have never laughed so much as I did in those 6 weeks.

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