William and Hannah Meppem are in their element. The acclaimed Sydney photographer and food stylist, who met while working on Gourmet Traveller magazine a decade ago, are prepping an elaborate tower of lamingtons. As they brush away stray coconut crumbs and angle plates towards the light that streams through their Rosebery studio, it looks suspiciously like the couple specialises in a kind of telepathy.
“We just get each other,” laughs Hannah, who started out assisting Andy Harris, the ex-editorial director of Gourmet Traveller, and who works with Will to style food images for Fairfax’s Good Food, and Fresh and Light magazine. You may have also seen the pair’s work capturing the glistening curries that accompany Neil Perry’s columns in the weekend papers, and the crab linguine in a Donna Hay cookbook. Hannah has also works for advertising clients such as Red Rooster, Oporto, Donut King and Homer Hudson. “If we weren’t together, we’d need to have so many conversations to explain to each other what we want. Our shoots are relaxed and so much fun.” She adds that working with Will to shoot the cover of Jamie Oliver’s magazine – for which the pair spend time at Oliver’s farm in the English countryside – is her most memorable assignment.
“I just do what she says!” jokes Will, while their dachshund, Luigi, who accompanies them on their commute between their Bondi home and the studio, scoots around his ankles. “From a technical point of view, it’s all about light and depth of field, as well as considering story and layouts. I’ve always been interested in food – if you want to be successful as a food photographer, you have to be passionate about it. But so much is about your food stylist. If you have a good product, it’s easier to shoot.”
Will, who started his photography career in the darkroom at Vogue during university and who spent extended stints in London and New York, is quick to credit Hannah with his achievements. Hannah does the same. “Will is amazing at composition, and because I’m from a food background, I focus on that,” she says. “I love collecting props and if I see something beautiful, I just buy it. My assistants go out on ridiculous journeys – I sometimes send them to buy five types of pastrami.
“Our ethos towards food styling is about using really good ingredients,” says Hannah. “On set, my spray bottle is my best friend – it makes everything look fresh and moist and intensifies the colour of vegetables and fruit. In terms of styling tricks, the most important thing is to shoot the food so it looks as realistic as possible, and to have amazing fresh produce – lots of it.”
But like any couple, their special connection doesn’t stop them from getting their wires crossed at times. “Will thinks I’m cheeky and tells me all the time: ‘No other food stylist talks to me like that’,” laughs Hannah. “If you’re working on a big project, it eats into your night time, and I’m quite bossy and like to nut out the details. And Will’s like, ‘Oh God, I need to focus on my stuff!’ We both have sons as well as a daughter together, who’s up all the time singing and dancing. It can be very stressful. But we wake up in the morning and know exactly what is happening. We very rarely have surprises.”
This creative chemistry proved essential when the pair worked on The Broadsheet Sydney Cookbook – a project that involved shooting and styling 80 signature dishes at up to five restaurants a day. For Will, the logistical challenge was compounded by his desire to capture the electricity and personalities of Sydney’s most-loved restaurants while grappling with frantic wait staff and less-than-ideal lighting conditions.
“When you’re shooting a story, you’re done after eight pictures, but cookbooks can be exhausting because you’re trying to maintain the same style over an entire book,” says Will, who’s a fan of shooting dishes from above. “I was really trying to get across the essence of that restaurant – the people you would see there enjoying the food and the energy of the area. In some cases, we were there for hours, and others we could only stay for 10 minutes. A lot of the chefs wanted to shoot at night when they weren’t open so that was one of the hardest things.”
Hannah says that discovering the breadth of Sydney’s culinary scene and witnessing the stories that shaped the city’s most iconic restaurants made the process worthwhile.
“We discovered some amazing places, such as Shenkin and Faheem’s, and loved meeting some of the chefs who were so, so generous and didn’t want us to leave. But a lot of the time, I was running around trying to make it as easy as possible for Will,” she says with a smile.
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