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Lunch, Chiapas-style

We are finally getting a few moments to edit the pictures we shot on on our recent trip to Mexico, and I noticed a theme: FOOD FOOD FOOD. Anyone who knows Matthew knows his brain is hard-wired to think about food, 24/7.

We traveled to Chiapas, the fascinating state that borders–and actually was part of– Guatemala until relatively recently. Then an overnight bus took us to the rural coastal town of Zipolite in Oaxaca, one of our favorite places on the planet. Mexico City, one of the world’s greatest food towns was last on our trip.

If you’ve never had a fresh corn tortilla right off a wood-fired comal, you are missing something really, really special.

Mexico is magical, colorful, wonderful. If you are turned on by exposure to different cultures, and the different ways that people live, eat and make their living, I am not sure you can beat Mexico. We never felt the least bit in danger. The people of Mexico are lovely and gentle and warm. Don’t pay attention to the sporadic news reports. Go. Eat.

 

San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas

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Making tortillas on the wood-fired comal  in a  home kitchen in a Chiapian village
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Produce at a Chiapan market
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Very fresh chicken at the main market in Chiapas
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Mexican mangoes, a fantastic snack from the San Cristobal Market
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Traditional Caesar Salad – invented in Mexico

 

Zipolite, Oaxaca

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Fisherman net-fishing at sunset
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While we were there, Zipolite was seeing a run on fish of almost biblical proportions
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Breakfast at Zipolite’s version of a road-side “diner”
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Breakfast is served. Fresh crispy tostada with spicy salsa and local Oaxacan farmer’s cheese
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Devouring those tostadas
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A bubbling pot of rustic chicken soup over a wood fire

 

 

Mexico City

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A perfect El Pastor Taco (made with pork and pineapple) from a street vendor
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Margaritas are really not all that Mexican, but a great way to end a trip!
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Screen shot 2012 02 22 at 1251 XL A Truely Photo Driven Website Design

 View the new Inn at Hermannhof website

A few years ago when technology necessitated that website design migrate from those captivating flash-based websites to more search- and mobile-friendly protocols (e.g., WordPress) it seemed like a lot of the “magic” was suddenly lost from those multimedia, animated flash sites. Customers were asking “With these new standards, can you really do anything unique and fresh now?”
Last week, when White Stone Marketing launched the site for The Inn at Hermannhof, we thought: the magic is back. We think it is one of the freshest and most exhilarating sites we’ve seen in a long time.

How do we love this site? Let us count the ways:

-  The Innkeepers made a substantial investment in photography, and it shows. Have you ever seen such a photo-rich site? Instead of a plain vanilla background, there are dozens of lush, larger-than-life background images that constantly–yet subtly–tell the story of this unique property.

-  Check out this site on a mobile device–it translates beautifully! From a pure design perspective, it is not easy to design a site that is just as elegant and informative on a tiny iPhone screen as a 27″ monitor. Kudos to the design team at White Stone Marketing.

-  Notice the way the info box (the content box in the middle of the screen) interacts with background image and the way you can scroll down for information, yet the beautiful background photo remains static. Pretty brilliant. They say that no one reads website copy anymore; if that’s true, this might be the perfect website.  White Stone has made visiting the website an experience in itself.

-  The Inn at Hermannhof is a spectacular and multi-faceted property…and REALLY COMPLICATED to depict if you have not been there. The property is comprised of several buildings–some in town, some on a hillside above town, winding down to a stream and a “Hoffgarten” (a German-style outdoor-indoor event area) beyond. A tasting room for their on-site winery, various wine cellars, a restaurant, a gourmet deli and a massive banquet hall are all part of the Hermannhof compound. The site does an excellent job of telling the story without complicating it–no small feat. Scott and Allison were on location with us for the photo shoot and we all spent more than one night over wine with Innkeeper/Owner JiaMin discussing the intrinsic difficulties in communicating such a multi-faceted business. I guess all that head-scratching paid off.

 

We have photographed over 150 inns over the last seven years, and although it is a business, we take the creative aspect of our work very seriously and devote ourselves to creating photos that “sing”. When the camera is packed away, it’s difficult to hand images over to a design team and wonder whether the photos will be used to their full potential. It could be a matter of photos being used too small, or being cropped in a way that destroys the impact of the shot. This does not happen with White Stone and that is one reason why their sites are so captivating. They respect the crafting of the image, and know how to use photography to its full potential. They release the power of the picture. We are so grateful for that.

This project could not have been a success without a dynamic, supportive working partnership between photographer and website designer. In this process, feedback and suggestions go back and forth, and no one is afraid to step on one another’s toes. Egos are sent packing and we constantly push each other to create better pictures and ultimately a beautiful, effective website.

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2011 was a great year for us–and our best year ever. We traveled from Maine to Florida to Southern California and lots of places in between….and even squeezed in a long-planned vacation to France. We are some lucky lads! Thank goodness we like to TRAVEL!

Check out this video with some of our favorite pictures and a few behind-the-scenes moments.

Thanks for all your support, hope to see you this year!

Be sure to watch it FULL SCREEN.

 

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We had the pleasure of shooting for Hartstone Inn this fall. Innkeepers Mary Jo and Michael are friends, but this was the first time we’d worked for them. It’s a world-class country inn just steps away from Camden’s picturesque harbor. Owner-Chef Michael Salmon’s food at the inn has received lots of regional and national press–and with good reason. We were pretty excited to sample the 5 course dinner after a long day of shooting (I know, tough job, huh?) We experienced memorable food and warm, elegant service. While there, we shot some images for his next cookbook.  Here are a few dishes we captured for Chef Michael’s upcoming book:


Michael has already published two cookbooks. One recipe I HAD to try is his Sticky Toffee Pudding–an English classic and not really pudding as Americans know it, but more like a super-moist cake. I made this for my family for Christmas dinner and it was a huge hit. This recipe is from Hartstone Inn Cookbook- you can buy it on their website.

 

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Sticky Toffee Pudding

 

serves 9

2 cups dates, pitted and chopped (11 ounces)

1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

1 1/2 cups boiling water

2 Tablespoons rum

1/4 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup unsalted butter, soft

2 large eggs

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 batch Caramel-rum sauce (recipe below)

vanilla ice cream

whipped cream

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour an 8-inch by 8-inch baking pan.

2. Combine the chopped dates and baking soda together in a small mixing bowl. Cover with boiling water, rum and vanilla and let set for 5 minutes.

3. In another bowl, cream together the sugar and butter. Add the eggs and mix well. Add flour and date mixture and stir until well incorporated.

4. Pour into the prepared baking pan and place in the center of the preheated oven. Bake for about 1 hour, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Let cool 5 minutes.

5. To serve, cut the pudding into 9 pieces (3 inches by 3 inches) and serve drenched in Caramel-rum sauce with vanilla ice cream and whipped cream on top.

Caramel-Rum Sauce

2 cups brown sugar

1 cup unsalted butter

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Azalea Rooms CottonExchange 05 M >8 Photo Styling Tips for Guestrooms: Balancing Appeal and Honesty
Cotton Exchange Suite at Azalea Inn in Savannah GA
 

(Click here to see a larger version of this image…without the numbers.)

Truth be told, Matthew usually writes these posts, but to answer the perennial question “what the heck does MARK do?” I thought I’d dissect a photo from our last shoot to show you how I style a typical guestroom. It’s a balance between keeping it real (i.e. not overselling) and making a room as visually appealing as possible. We do lots of furniture re-arranging and tweaking, but large-scale changes are taboo. The number one comment we hear from Innkeepers after the shoot is “I love how you changed the room–I’m going to keep it that way!” That might be the ultimate compliment.

Azalea FacadePorch 15 S >8 Photo Styling Tips for Guestrooms: Balancing Appeal and Honesty
The Porch at Azalea Inn

A room like this poses special challenges–and opportunities–for the photographer. Many of the challenges can be alleviated with a few styling tricks. In addition, mood is greatly enhanced with the right styling. In this beautiful suite at Azalea Inn and Gardens in Savannah, we added, moved and subtracted our way to a pleasing image, while still honoring what potential guests will see when they arrive. Here’s what I did:

1.) I added a table (actually an upside-down garbage can) in the foreground on which to place the champagne (sorry, ginger ale). When using champagne or white wine, it is best to keep it in the foreground;  it gets lost in the background. Also, when pouring “champagne” for a close up, it is best to use a funnel rather than pouring directly from the bottle, as bubbles tend to stick on the glass, creating a sloppy look which detracts from a clean appearance.

2.) Always turn on the water or the jets when photographing a whirlpool tub to add a sense of life to the photo. In this shot, I opted not to turn on the jets because I liked the serene reflection in the blue water. And the water spout was so nice, it was just the ticket.

3.) Always light the fire in the fireplace, assuming it is a working fireplace. How do you get that soft glowing effect? Matthew says it was accomplished by using a long (about 1/2 second) exposure.

4.) Since the mantle is in the middle-ground rather than the background, I definitely needed to prop it. Because middle-ground is not that close to the camera, the forms need to be “readable”, so it is best to use items for the mantle that are bold, like a great silhouette, candle sticks, books, etc. Avoid numerous small items or dark colors if the mantle itself is dark. In this case, a reindeer provided a great shape and created some interest. (For an ideal silhouette, it could have been moved 4 inches to the left.) Books are used to balance the space; turning the books more towards the camera might have been an improvement. It is always a balance: you want the items to read for the camera, but you also want them to be in a natural state, logical and not completely unreal-looking.

5.) I added a small, but taller round table, because I knew that the tulips would work great next to that window. That particular table, borrowed from another room, was perfect: I love the way the silhouette of the legs plays against the wall. I wanted a tall vase for drama, but the tulips were not long enough, so I dropped a small ramekin inside the vase to elevate the flowers and make them more substantial.

6.)  A throw is added to the chaise lounge, again to add life to the scene. A light colored pillow from the bed brightens the chaise. As we said in an earlier post “Getting Ready for the Photographer” – pillows and accessories can really make an image.

7.)  I tilted the desk towards the camera to add some dimension, and placed more books on top to bridge the gap between the height of the lamp and the desktop. Matthew and I debated removing the desk chair from the room to space in the back of the room, but opted to keep it–a desk without a chair just wasn’t real. It’s always a delicate dance between making a great photo and showing a potential guest what a room looks like, what it actually contains. The shot would be better without the chair, but hey…. the goal here is not to make the perfect picture, but to make the very best picture of THAT SPACE.

8.) The large tropical leaves were picked outside (with permission!) and placed in a vase to add another organic element to the scene. Don’t underestimate the importance of including organic elements when styling a space. They also serve to brighten the otherwise very dark side of the desk, which is too prominent to be so dark next to the white of the tub.

Voila! A very pretty room photo, full of mood…and honestly portrayed. Employing tips like these will make your room photos much more pleasing and add to the experiential feel of a photograph. These simple techniques go a long way in getting a potential guest to say “I want to be THERE!”

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