Oregon-based photographer John Valls is known for his extensive portfolio of food photography. Having worked with many restaurants, wineries, farms, and artisan producers, John has worked in various areas of the industry over the years. In his latest work for Tillamook Creamery, he takes on aged cheese.
John’s images for Tillamook straddle the line between commercial and editorial, creating natural but elegant cheese pairing vignettes for their new line of Maker’s Reserve Aged cheddar cheeses.
Tillamook Creamery, established in 1909, has been a farmer-owned cooperative since its inception. Their long history in cheesemaking means they’ve had time to perfect their recipes — and with aging, time and patience are key. The maker’s reserve cheddar is aged over three years, and each year, they release a new vintage of what they’re calling “patiently aged white cheddar.”
John first worked with Tillamook to create some hero images to release the line of Maker’s Reserve cheddar cheeses and later shot flavor pairings for each cheese that would be used to promote the products on the website and in a brochure for the product line.
The photos of the cheesemaker in the denim apron were part of the launch concept. The flavor pairing shots were later created to help promote the different “vintages.”
To get all the cheese pairings set up in an appealing and appetizing way, John worked with food stylist Nathan Carrabba and prop stylist Kira Corbin. Nathan meticulously arranged the small bites and cheeses, and Kira sourced and styled each pairing with the appropriate glassware while John photographed each setup.
Finding the correct glassware for each beverage — a pilsner glass or a wine glass that was small enough not to overwhelm the bites — took a little extra legwork to locate. Kira did a great job running down petite versions of iconic drinkware shapes.
The pairings, shot up close against a dark backdrop, bring out the unique flavor notes in each aged cheese. Pair a 2015 Extra Sharp Cheddar with honey ham and a chocolate stout to savor the citrus, black tea, and dark cherry undertones in this vintage cheese, or try a 2015 extra sharp cheddar with pepperoncini and apple cider and embrace the cheese’s peppery finish.
These images were shot in John’s 1,200 sq ft studio next to his home. The client attended virtually in real-time to ensure all COVID-19 safety and social distancing protocols were being observed.
Being able to share our captures while we’re on live feed with our client is every bit as good as being together in person.
Each image was photographed against a black backdrop and elegantly lit so that the viewer’s focus is on the color and texture of the cheese. At the same time, the pairings complement the composition of the image and make the star of the show look a little more appetizing.
One of the gratifying parts of this project was creating a set of photos that clearly read as a set without being repetitive or dull. John and the Creative Director, Rachelle Running, worked carefully with the placement of products and shadows so that each shot was its own little story.
After the images were captured, John retouched the images in post-production to ensure that the dark, moody look of the photos would pair well with the copy that would go on each image.
The photos required a deft hand in post to ensure that the vignettes worked with the copy overlays without looking too heavy. The client also had a vision for how the shadows should look. Getting both of the variables just right required a bit of extra attention.
The composition, lighting, and styling of the final images harmoniously capture the products in an appealing way. A testament to having a clear vision, the images are simple but carefully composed to maintain visual interest and communicate a refined elegance that perfectly captures the sentiment behind the products.
This client is always teaching us the value of being into the details. They are a big company and have many different product lines and projects with a wide variety of looks. When they outline a project for us to shoot, we always get a deep dive into the attributes that will make the end result successful.