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• Food photography with Matt Stow

If you're a regular diner at any of South Africa's franchised restuarants, chances are that you've chosen a meal while staring at one of Matt Stow's mouth-watering menu photographs. This Cape Town-based photographer did not chose the label of food photographer, but constant bookings from clients like Spur and Kauai has nudged him in that direction in the two decades he's been shooting food. We caught up with him on location at the shoot of the Kauai summer calender in Milnerton.

What are you using today?
For this shoot, a Canon EOS1D Mk111s with 100mm macro, shooting at f10. Broncolor octagon softbox with double scrim as main source, striplight to fill in from the front, and spot grid from the back to add accents to textures on fruits and water droplets.

Where did all this start?
I started as a surf photographer in Port Elizabeth, and joined Navy News in the early nineties as a photojournalist. It was during this time that I realised I'd like to pursue photography as a career, and when I finished my National Service, enrolled at PE Tech in 1995 for a three year course, specialising in advertising photography. It was at a time of major change in the industry, technology-wise. I was the first student to put my portfolio on CD!

Matt then moved to Cape Town for a stint at Hirt & Carter, where he decided he would stay until he felt he had enough experience to turn freelance. Which he did - and hit the ground running with an enormous amount of colour experience which he put to good use in advertising photography.

Would he have changed anything in his career?
No. A technical background and proper training is all-important. It shortens the learning curve, it teaches you the right disciplines, the right techniques from the start, and helps you be methodical in your shoots. This saves time and helps you in difficult lighting situations and solve problems, especially when clients are present and watching.

On location
Matt at work. With him are his clients and stylist Lolene Krige (picture right) setting up the elements of the shots pictured below. The day starts with a shot of the background, to check that the exposure is the same from the front to the back, and that everything works, and if not, that he has a backup in place.

The final shots below required between 4-6 individual, locked-off shots for the final image. With the camera on tripod and triggered by wireless remote, elements could be added and taken out of the setup without moving the camera, and then overlapped in Photoshop.

For instance, the ice was added almost at the end, shot, taken out of the frame and the wet spot mopped up before too much of it melted - or turned brown, in the case of the apples.

On a shoot like this, Matt says, a stylist is invaluable for sorting out props, cutlery and plates, and taking part responsibility for the composition. It leaves the photographer free to concentrate on fine-tuning lighting and exposure. Still, styling is as much his job as that of the stylist. If no stylist is not available for the shoot, he falls back on "design 101," he says - "You find a feature or a side of an element that looks good and arrange things around this."

The final product - a combination of several images in each case, which allows greater flexibility with the lighting setup and dynamic range used to produce the images.