I have just packed up the Christmas decorations, taken the Christmas cards down from the mantelpiece and the Christmas tree is lying in the garden. It’s the 12th of July and Christmas is over in my house!
Christmas comes earlier every year
Together with my team from River I’ve just finished a two-day photo shoot for The Co-operative Food magazine’s Christmas issue. My children have become quite accustomed to the topsy-turvy timescales that I, as an Editor and cookery writer, work to. They find it exciting that Christmas, like many other seasonal events, comes twice a year in our household.
I am always working four to six months in advance in order to meet client and magazine schedules and this produces a number of interesting challenges, especially in sourcing seasonal food and props. Finding a Christmas tree in July is harder than you would think – this year I managed to track down a Christmas tree at Wilderness Woods in Sussex but there was no one available to cut it down for me, so off I set with my own saw to bring one home strapped precariously to the roof of the car.
Working with the client’s team we speak to suppliers to identify products that will be in store at Christmas and source many samples for possible inclusion in the various photos. For the days prior to the shoot there is a constant stream of deliveries bringing anything from turkeys to Christmas decorations and every inch of cold storage in our house is given way to Christmas fare.
Co-operative Food Magazine’s Christmas shoot
Davina Perkins, Co-operative Food Magazine’s Art Director and Lucy Battersby, Deputy Editor, arrive the day before the two-day shoot. We called it ‘Christmas Eve’ – to help with the final preparations and together with my children we complete the room decoration. We shoot these features from my home which enables us to make the photography and videos as realistic as possible (even if it’s ‘slightly’ out of season…).
This July was very hot and for the week prior to the shoot I was finalising and testing all the various recipes we would be including in the magazine. My family are very much part of my testing routine and I subjected them to many interesting combinations of my Christmas recipes, seeking their feedback and comments for improvement. Sitting in the garden eating stir-fried sprouts, stuffing with roasted parsnips, followed by Christmas chocolate yule log melting in the heat is a typical example of the slightly bizarre life that I lead. You will find these delicious treats in the Christmas 2013 magazine.
Location shoots out of season
During the winter months, instead of slow-cooking stews to help keep us warm I am whipping cream and mashing out-of-season fruit to make ice cream. Creating and testing recipes like this is straight forward and relatively easy nowadays as supermarket shelves are stocked with food from around the world, all year round. It is also reasonably simple photographing summer recipes and food in the winter months. However, the bigger challenge arises with the location shoots. Trying to create a summer feel on location during the cold months can prove to be a challenge. One cold and windy day in April I headed out to a beach with my team, my campervan packed to the brim with a summer feast.
The photographer’s hands were blue within the first half hour of the shoot, making it almost impossible for her to work the camera. The food kept blowing around in the wind and the sky was as grey as thunder as winter storms approached. The shoot was aborted. All nine of us, including the client, decamped at my house, I fed everyone the camping feast, that had yet to be photographed, and then with Lucy and Davina’s help we pulled out all the stops and photographed our next cover instead.
That evening, after entertaining the client from Co-operative Food, I set about cooking up the camping recipes again and the following day we set off to another beach. This time, the wind had dropped and with the help of Photoshop we ended up with a feature that looked remarkably like summer. Just imagine how much simpler life would be if we could work in season, but it might not be so much fun!
Advance scheduling for publishing seasonal magazines
So why do we work so many months in advance?
We are driven firstly by our client’s publication schedule. The Cooperative Food magazine is a bi-monthly publication and the Christmas issue will land in store during the first week of November. We allow four weeks, for printing and distribution from the print to sign-off date, so our deadline final print sign is the beginning of October. We generally work on an eight week production schedule, which allows my editorial team to develop and refine the brief and layout with the client, commission features, develop recipe ideas and complete the photo shoots.
Similar to many production companies we use an online approval system, so that as work is completed a magazine flatplan (diagram to show what pages will be created for the print and digital editions of the magazine) is populated allowing both the production and client team to review progress and content. To ensure that our magazine is produced on time and meets the client’s brief, we work closely with the client, discussing changes and issues, so that they have sufficient time to circulate pages to their internal stakeholders (of which there are many) prior to final approval. We work hard to understand the client’s values and ethos, their target market and their products to ensure the magazine supports them.