How to Style Your Property to Achieve Stunning Photographs

During the course of our work we have visited and photographed many, many properties. Some have been private homes with exquisite interiors that we have had the pleasure to visit and talk about in magazine articles. Most are places we have stayed or holiday accommodation that we are reviewing either for our own website or on behalf of others. Whether it be a chambre d’hôtes or self-catering accommodation, we are often invited to style and photograph the properties for magazine features, advertisements, websites and brochures. Whatever the purpose you intend for your photographs, you should make sure the results reflect the properties at their best. Below are some guidance notes drawn from our experience to help make your property stand out from the rest.

Interior styling
Interior styling, private home, Perpignan, France

Plan your photo shoot carefully. Decide what pictures you require for your project(s) making a note of when the views will be at their best. Make a note of the times when the interiors get the most sunlight, and when the exterior looks best. This is the time to take your pictures. It may take more than one session to complete your shoot. Interiors can be shot on an overcast day whereas only blue sky and sunshine is acceptable for exterior views.

Clean and tidy the rooms and put an extra bit of shine on surfaces and chrome fittings. Pay extra attention to bed linen and towels. They must be a matching set and make sure that any cover / counterpane is absolutely spotless.

Remove from sight any dishcloths, cleaning products, plastic bin liners, waste bins – in fact anything that detracts from the “perfect” look. A good way to check is to look through the camera lens and the eye will be drawn to items that look out of place. Also look out for imperfections such as curtains that are not hanging correctly, cushions at the wrong angle, crooked pictures and so on.

Rooms often look a bit bare when unoccupied by guests. Make them look more homely with a few styling props. Keep looking through the camera lens and don’t be afraid to move tables etc. to close up spaces and create a better picture though guard against making a room look smaller.
Living area – place one or two matching cushions on the chairs or use a cosy throw combined with an up-market magazine and a tray of tea to give a relaxing mood. See how switching a table lamp on changes the mood and fresh flowers in an attractive vase can be moved around the property to enhance an empty window sill or side table. If there are French doors opening on to the garden – try opening them and see what effect it creates. Are there any interesting features, if so, take detail shots for your portfolio.

Kitchen
Kitchen in large open plan gite, La Vieille Fromagerie, Brux, France

Kitchen – it’s important to show all the best features, and include the dining table if at all possible. If you offer a welcome basket, have one ready to display and make it look really special. A bottle of wine and some glasses often works well and conveys the French holiday feel. A large dining table can be improved by adding a colourful table runner and some place settings. Always keep your options open on future uses by taking pictures with and without added props.

Bedroom – Lighting is very important in the bedroom as people like light and airy rooms but also want to feel cosy. Therefore, always take shots with and without artificial lighting. Detail shots are successful if you have particularly nice bed linen. It creates a luxury feel when combined with a simple flower arrangement on the bedside table.

Bathroom
Give the viewer more information about a guest room by showing the bathroom in relation to the bedroom. La Vieille Fromagerie Chambre d’Hôte, Brux, France

Bathroom – Probably one of the trickiest rooms to take effective pictures, not least because it is usually quite compact and the photographer can find him/herself in some very odd positions. Look through the lens and check that all the surfaces look especially clean. Include a set of towels if it enhances the look. Having some luxury bathroom items in your props bag helps. Try a bottle of French liquid soap or a block of huile d’olive savon combined with a fluffy white hand towel for a detail shot.

Private garden
Place yourself in an elevated position to make the most of a formal setting. Private garden in Provence, France.

Garden – whatever time of year you take the pictures, the garden has to look exceptional. Spend an afternoon cutting the grass, tidying the borders, raking the gravel – whatever it takes to make it look its best. A spray with a hosepipe just before you take your pictures will give a sparkle to a flower border. If it lacks colour, go to the Garden Centre and buy pots of flowering plants and place them in the borders.
Remove any plastic play items (unless being used to illustrate a play area), but do include seating with a table and a parasol. Place a tray with glasses and drinks or coffee pot and cups, plus an arrangement of flowers from the garden if this improves the picture. A colourful table runner looks good on a rectangular wooden table and plastic tables can be improved with a colourful plastic cloth though avoid anything too striking.
If you are taking an exterior view of the property, make sure any plants are in good condition, and again, add one or two pots for form (Box balls or small standard Bay or olive trees), or colour (pelargoniums, lavender).

swimming pool
Always photograph the pool in perfect weather. La Vieille Fromagerie, Brux, France

Swimming pool – it goes without saying that any imperfection in the pool or the surrounding area will show on a photograph so do everything you can to present a tidy, clean and safe environment around your pool. Sun loungers should be in perfect condition and placed in line or in groups determined by the space. Include any desirable features such as a shower, shady seating, changing area etc.

Using models
Some areas of your property may benefit from people in shot – in particular the play area, the pool, and the garden. If you think this might be the case, it is advisable to make a written contract called a model release between the photographer and the model. In France, this is known as an autorisation de publication or autorisations modèles. They can take various forms depending on the proposed usage, and should detail all subsequent possible uses for the photograph including various print and internet use. If someone offers to pose in their bikini at the poolside, this is almost certainly a case where a model release form would protect both the photographer and the model from any misuse of the images. A few example model release forms in French can be found on http://www.jpphotographie.com/page1autorisation.htm
When taking general shots of people, for example children playing in the garden, a group enjoying a meal al fresco, or even a scene from a local visitor attraction, it is not usually practical to get written permission from everyone appearing in your photos. In cases like this, don’t take close-ups, and avoid full face exposures.
It is always advisable to get the model to pose so tell them what you want them to do to get your picture. Think carefully about what they are wearing and how they look. If they feel awkward, give them a prop to use – carrying something, using something, or stroking a pet will help them to relax.

Roger Moss Photography & Features
Based in Poitou-Charentes, Western France, Roger Moss is an experienced photographer creating stylish images of holiday accommodation and period homes for all applications. Contact him on roger.moss@rogermoss.com to see sample images and quotations.

Advertisements

Sing for your Supper

Every Wednesday evening I drive about 15 minutes from home and spend an enjoyable hour or so singing with a French choir. Being in an area popular with British ex-pats, about a quarter of us are English but essentially, French is the language we use.

Chorale Chantvallon
Chorale Chantvallon performing in Taizé Aizie (16) in 2009

As people arrive, one greets and is greeted by everyone either with a cheery “Bonjour. Ça va?” or a friendly “Salut!” and one or two bises (a light kiss on the cheek). This takes some time with an average of 25 or so people turning up to sing each week but it does make you feel part of the team and new arrivals are no exception.

An English visitor sat next to me earlier this year and commented on how friendly everyone was. “Of course”, I replied, “it’s a community choir so everyone knows each other very well,  they care about each other…. and we socialise a lot.” Apart from weekly practices, we give concerts around the region and venture further afield to other regions of France and even to the UK. Food and drink always play their part, whether it’s a picnic, a summer party, or a fundraiser, there’s a generosity and natural sense of fun and sharing surrounding food that makes it such an important part of our choir community.

Chantvallon Summer Picnic 2011
Chantvallon Summer Picnic 2011 at Balandière

After every practice we gather together to have a drink and something to eat before leaving for home. Taking it in turns to bring the food and drink ensures that  there’s something different every week. Some bring mainly sweet things – cakes (chocolate being the favourite), fruit tarts, biscuits, and so on. Others have a more savoury inclination and will bring home-made paté, cheeses, olives, quiche, pizza – all manner of things. One of our sopranos runs a business with her husband called ‘Fromacoeur‘ They manufacture tasty little Goat’s cheese bites which are sold across Europe, even in Marks & Spencers where you’ll find their delicious little stuffed peppers in the delicatessen range. Others might bring huge turines of paté maison (home-made paté), or the regional speciality known as chou farci (stuffed cabbage).

When the choir performs, one or two people always take it upon themselves to bring a large flask of coffee and some biscuits – always very gratefully received, especially when we’re singing in a cold, damp church. One of the tenor voices runs a drinks supply business and started a little tradition of bringing a bottle of pear liqueur to concerts. So if you attend one of our performances and wonder why we’re late arriving on stage – you know why!

Roasted Almond and Sesame Seed Loaf

Here’s a recipe for a really tasty nut roast that is a little different and a little bit more luxurious than a basic lentil loaf – perfect for a Sunday roast or supper for friends.

I found the recipe a month or two ago in a collection of vegetarian recipes published in the mid-90’s. It’s so delicious served hot with a mushroom sauce, we’ve eaten it several times since. I find it will keep for a few days wrapped in foil or cling film in the fridge and reheats nicely in the microwave.

Savoury Roasted Almond and Sesame Seed Loaf

2 tbspn olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
60g risotto rice
300ml vegetable stock
1 large carrot, grated
1 large leek, chopped finely
2-3 tsp sesame seeds, toasted
60g chopped or flaked almonds, toasted
60g ground almonds
90g strong Cheddar cheese, grated
2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp dried mixed herbs or fresh herbs, finely chopped
salt and pepper

Sauce
30g butter
1 small onion, finely chopped
125g button mushrooms, finely chopped
30g plain flour
300ml vegetable stock

1. Heat the oil in a deep frying pan and gently fry the onion for 2-3 minutes. Add the rice and cook for 5 minutes, stirring now and then. Add all the stock, stir whilst bringing it to the boil then leave to simmer for 15 minutes or until the rice is tender. You might need to add a little more water.

Onion and risotto rice
Simmer the onion and risotto rice in the stock

2. Put another frying pan on a gentle heat and wait until it’s hot before putting the sesame seeds and almonds in to roast. Stir constantly while they brown, taking care not to let them burn.

Dry ingredients
Put all the dry ingredients into a large bowl

3. In a large bowl, put the grated carrot, leek, cheese, eggs, mixed herbs, sesame seeds, almonds and the rice and onion mixture. Season and mix well. It should be quite moist.

almond nut roast mixture
Stir in the risotto rice and beaten egg to make a moist mixture, season with salt and pepper.

4. Pour the mixture into a lined loaf tin, firming it down with the back of a spoon. Bake in the oven for 1 hour, temperature 180ºC, until set firm and golden on top. Leave it in the tin for about 10 minutes.

almond and sesame nut roast
Just out the oven!

5. To make the sauce, melt the butter in a saucepan and gently fry the onion until golden brown. Add the mushrooms and cook for a further 2 minutes. Stir in the flour and cook for 1 minute before adding the stock a little at a time, stirring all the time to get rid of any lumps. Bring to the boil, make sure it’s smooth and season to taste.

6. Turn out the loaf and slice. Excellent served with roast potatoes and fresh green vegetables with the tasty mushroom sauce.

Roasted Almond and Sesame Seed Loaf
Roasted Almond and Sesame Seed Loaf served with green vegetables and a mushroom sauce.

Potimarron and Leek Velouté

As promised, here’s a wonderful recipe for a thick and tasty soup using a small pumpkin known as the Potimarron. The flesh is dense and flavoursome and is perfect for adding to curries, risotto, vegetable crumbles and stews because it doesn’t break up as easily as larger pumpkins and retains it’s buttery, nutty taste. When made into soup, it hardly needs any other ingredients but in this French recipe, it’s paired with leeks to give a lovely earthy and Autumnal thick soup.

Potimarron and Leek Velouté ingredients
Potimarron and Leek Velouté
½ potimarron or 1 small one (or substitute Butternut Squash, de-seeded and peeled)
2/3 large leeks
1 small onion
25g butter
Vegetable stock
Salt & Pepper

Start by preparing the potimarron. If you have a steamer, place the pumpkin in the steam for about 5 minutes to soften the skin- it makes it much easier to peel. Meanwhile, wash and chop the leeks and an onion.

Potimarron, peeled and chopped

Heat a large saucepan, melt the butter, then gently frythe leeks and onion until they are softened but not browned. Peel then chop the potimarron into large chunks and add them to the leeks. Stir in enough stock to cover the vegetables, bring to the boil, cover and simmer for about 20 minutes or until the potimarron pieces are tender.

Cooking the vegetables in the stock

Leave to cool a little then blitz in a blender for a smooth velouté. If it’s too thick, add a little water, season with salt and pepper to taste and reheat when you’re ready to serve. This soup tastes much better if it’s left for a day or more for the flavours to develop.

Serve with a dollop of creme fraiche swirled through the soup for an extra creamy taste.

Potimarron and Leek Velouté

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

I grew Butternut Squash for the first time this year. Just one plant, but it was so successful I wish I’d grown more. Up until now I’d relied on the wonderfully flavoursome potimarron – a small, densely fleshed pumpkin with a super nutty flavour and one of the most popular here in western France. You can roast it, make great soup (goes especially well with leeks and I’ll give you the recipe soon), risotto and curries. But I’ve found that Butternut Squash is equally as adaptable and there’s still plenty of dishes I want to try.

Potimarron and a Butternut Squash
Potimarron (left) and Butternut Squash

I love to cook on a dull, damp Saturday like today. First on the agenda was something tasty for lunch.  I started by roasting half a Butternut Squash I had left over from making a curry earlier in the week. The cut halves keep very well wrapped in cling film in the bottom of the fridge. The plan was to make Roast Butternut Squash soup and  some Soda Bread.

You need to start preparing this from scratch about an hour and a half in advance but you could easily roast the squash ahead of time or the day before and leave in the fridge until you’re ready. I find that if I roast both halves, we can enjoy an evening meal with one half such as  stuffed Butternut Squash with blue cheese and walnuts, then make a soup a day or two later with the remaining half.

Roast Butternut Squash soup served with Soda Bread
Roast Butternut Squash soup served with Soda Bread

Roast Butternut Squash Soup  (serves 2)

1 half Butternut Squash

1 clove garlic

olive oil

1 onion, chopped

½ pint vegetable stock

salt & pepper

pinch fresh nutmeg

crème fraiche to serve (optional)

Begin by scooping out the seeds from the squash. Place the halved squash in an ovenproof dish, place a peeled garlic clove in the depression where the seeds were and pour in a good glug of olive oil. Season with salt and pepper then place in an oven (preheated to 180°C) until the flesh is soft when you insert a knife – about 45 minutes. When cooked, leave to one side to cool a little while you soften a chopped onion in some olive oil in a large saucepan. Remove the flesh from the skin of the squash with a spoon and add it to the onion, not forgetting any of the lovely seasoned olive oil and the roast garlic clove. At this stage I add a pinch of fresh nutmeg but you could experiment with different flavours –  a finely chopped fresh chilli added to the onion will give the soup a nice kick. Add the stock (adjust the quantity if necessary) and bring to the boil, then simmer for 5-10 minutes.

Whizz the soup into a smooth consistency in a blender or with a stick blender like me, taste and season if necessary. Serve with a swirl of crème fraiche and some fresh bread.

Soda Bread

This is ideal when you want fresh bread quickly as it takes less than an hour from start to finish and it looks great on the table. Serve warm.

170g plain flour

170g self-raising flour

½ tspn salt

½ tspn bicarbonate of soda

½ pint buttermilk

Begin by mixing the dry ingredients in a large bowl then add the buttermilk. If you can’t get buttermilk (soured milk), just add 1-2 tablespoons of lemon juice to the milk, stir and leave to stand for 5 minutes. Add the buttermilk to the bowl and mix with a fork until it’s mostly combined then you’ll have to get your hand in there and bring it together into a soft dough. Lightly flour your work surface and just knead the dough lightly to bring it into a ball then place on a floured baking tray. Take a sharp knife and score  a deep cross into the top of the dough. Bake in a hot oven (200°C) for about 30 minutes or until golden brown and sounding hollow when you tap the bottom of the loaf.

Place the loaf on a cooling rack for 10-15 minutes before serving when you can just pull it apart and spread with butter. Delicious!

Tomato and Red Lentil Soup

With an  Autumnal chill in the air at night and shorter days, the veggie garden is beginning to shut down. Somewhat annoying are the peppers and aubergines which are covered in flowers – I doubt that we’ll ever see the fruit grow but it’s a valiant last effort on their part. So, soup is back on the lunchtime menu and here’s a lovely rich combination of taste and colour.

Tomato & Red Lentil Soup
Tomato & Red Lentil Soup

1 large onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 carrot, sliced
4/5 large ripe tomatoes
1 vegtable stock cube or equivalent
1 cup red lentils
1 tbspn olive oil
up to ½ litre water
Salt & pepper

In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil then gently fry the vegetables and garlic for about 5 minutes until softened taking care not to let them brown. Meanwhile, skin and chop the tomatoes and add them to the pan. Rince the lentils and stir them into the vegetables with a stock cube and some  water. The quantity of water required will vary according to how juicy the tomatoes are.

Bring the soup to the boil then simmer on a low heat for about 20-25 minutes, stirring occasionally. It’s ready when the carrots are soft. Leave to stand for a few minutes then whizz the mixture to a smooth soup with a blender. Add salt and pepper to taste and serve with fresh bread and some grated Comté, Cheddar or parmesan cheese sprinkled on top.

Tomato heaven

After all the hard work in planting seeds, battling against pests, coping with extreme weather and controlling weeds, the greatest pleasure from tending a vegetable garden has to be eating your own produce. This year is one of the best. Despite the heat and the drought, rain in July has given rise to the sort of lush growth I hope for and every day sees me bringing another hoard of vegetables into the kitchen.

Peppers and nasturtium flowers
Peppers and nasturtium flowers

Last week, we enjoyed Nigel Slater‘s idea for roast tomatoes with fresh thyme. Just place halved tomatoes close together cut side upwards in a dish with a sprinkle of olive oil, sprigs of fresh thyme, season and bake for 40 minutes in the oven (temperature 200 °C). They were absolutely divine. The flavour was so concentrated and the juice had almost caramelised in the dish. But now I need to get serious and preserve.
Yesterday I was processing tomatoes to make tomato and tomato and chilli sauces so we can enjoy their fresh flavour well into the winter. There are so many variations on making sauces but I’ve found that these two simple sauces are the most useful. I don’t measure ingredients, it’s largely guesswork and experience but nothing will be wasted if you find you need more or less of something, you can always adjust it the next time.
Firstly, roughly chop 2/3 onions and fry them gently until softened in a generous amount of olive oil. Add a couple of cloves of finely chopped garlic and for an arrabiata type sauce, one or two fresh chillis from the garden according to taste (powdered chilli is OK if you don’t have fresh). While the onions are cooking, skin the tomatoes and roughly chop them removing any woody core. You can remove seeds if you want, but I leave them. They’re OK in an unblended sauce, and if you prefer a smooth sauce you’ll remove them later.

Softening the onion, garlic and fresh chilli in olive oil
Softening the onion, garlic and chilli in olive oil

Add the chopped tomatoes to the onion, stir and leave them to gently simmer until most of the liquid has evaporated. Stir occasionally to stop the mixture from sticking to the pan. It should take about 40 minutes for a large pan full of sauce.

Pass the tomato mixture through a mouli
Pass the tomato mixture through a mouli

Leave the mixture to cool. Now you have a choice. According to your preference you can leave the sauce as it is or whizz it up into a delicious smooth sauce packed with flavour. Either use a mouli or whizz it in a blender and push the sauce through a seive to get the sauce to a consistency similar to passata, except yours will be a hundred times better. Don’t forget to season the sauce when you come to use it, salt and freshly ground black pepper will enhance the flavour. The sauce freezes really well – I measure portions into freezer bags but containers are better if you have them.

Smooth and tasty tomato sauce
Smooth and tasty tomato sauce

By the way, this tomato sauce, either version, goes superbly well with the delicious Savoury Courgette and Rosemary Rice Cake recipe.