Straight to plate: large panoramic prints of the Bear Café’s kitchen

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I recently installed a permanent series of four large format prints in the Bear Café in Todmorden. It was a great commission; combining my passion for local food and photography, crafting a detailed and distinctive view behind the scenes in the kitchen.

Four panel panoramic print in the Bear Cafe, Todmorden

The initial brief was to deliver an artwork which would achieve two things: showcase some of their local suppliers and producers, and better inform customers that all the food is prepared on the premises.

Both are central to their business… the Bear is passionate about using local, sustainable produce wherever possible, and has long been affiliated with initiatives like Incredible Edible Todmorden. They’re also proud of how their dishes are produced on the premises, but as the kitchen is two floors away from the dining area, customers are often unaware of this. The client had previously seen my work so was onboard with the idea of using a high resolution 360° panoramic print, so we could capture the detail and experience of the kitchen fully.

Like any shoot, proper planning was key. I shot an initial test panorama during a recce a week beforehand: this allowed us to consider the positioning of products and people, and then we used a printout to mark up areas to address. As we always had a large, detailed print in mind, one of the key things to bear in mind was that we wanted an even distribution of points of interest throughout the scene. The client was keen to emphasise the importance of the teamwork and skills of the whole staff, so we planned their positioning.

Four panel panoramic print in the Bear Cafe, Todmorden

We were keen to use bright natural sunlight streaming through the kitchen window to beautifully illuminate the fresh produce on display, so worked out the optimum shoot time for direct light. The team at the Bear ensured the space was organised, and added a lick of paint to the walls, making sure even a working environment would look at its best, while still staying true to its purpose. I’ll always explain to clients that a quick wipe-down or tidy-up in real life can save hours in post production… and the real-world effects last for longer too!

Chef Scott and manager Rhian added lots of little touches and details to the scene to reflect the personalities in the business… from Scott’s homemade kimchi in jars and stickers of seminal Manchester club nights on storage containers, through to the signature wooden bear who normally sits on the bar upstairs. See if you can spot them all…

After the shoot I processed the panorama, working at higher resolution than normal, and then tested several different projections to portray the whole 360° of the kitchen with as little distortion as possible. In the end I chose four square prints, each covering 90°, and prepared the final images for print.

The detailed fine art printing and mounting was by CPS Digital in Manchester. They did a great job. The installation, before opening hours, was fun… and the final work closely resembled the mockups we’d envisaged. Looks great, can be seen from the street outside, and it’s been provoking discussion and interest since it went onto the walls.

Exterior view of the Bear Cafe Bar in Todmorden

Thanks to all at the Bear for their help, co-operation, patience and enthusiasm. Read below the jump for more technical photographic info…

Four panel panoramic print in the Bear Cafe, Todmorden

I elected to use only natural light for the scene, rather than fill-in flash so after positioning the camera properly I shot a ‘naked’ version of the scene, without staff in place. This was useful to gauge the dynamic range, check lines of sight, and so forth.

As you might expect from bright direct sunshine, there was a huge dynamic range. I shot 13 exposures for each view, ranging from 1/640 to over 6 seconds, which tested the patience of the participants somewhat.

The RAWs were processed in Lightroom, converted to HDR and tonemapped with HDR Expose 2, stitched with PTGui, and finished in Photoshop.

Shot with a Canon EOS50D, Sigma 10mm f2.8 fisheye, Nodal Ninja 5, Promote Remote control. 13 shots per bracket, 1EV apart, f11, ISO125.

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