Chronicle Craft: Behind the Scenes of Step it Up Knits

One of my favorite parts of designing craft books is collaborating with talented photographers and Step it Up Knits, shot by brilliant photographer and all-around nice guy Jody Horton, was no exception. The assignment was intense: a cover portrait of author Vickie Howell, more than 50 technique shots, and styled photos of the 25 projects worn by models of all ages. On top of all that, we wanted the photography to have a sense of place that could set it apart from other knitting books. Vickie and Jody both live in Austin, and when Jody suggested shooting on a farm in Texas, I knew that setting was just what the book needed. I recently touched base with Jody and asked him to reflect on the assignment.

Below, some of Jody’s food and lifestyle photography.

Q: Describe the shoot—where did it take place, how many days did it last, and how many crewmembers and models did you have?

A: We decided to shoot Step It Up Knits at one of my favorite places in Central Texas—Montesino Farm in Wimberley. The farm is owned by architect Scott Mitchell and has great spaces and a rustic/refined aesthetic that was a great match for the project. It also has a few rooms for rent so we were able to set up base there for a few days, having some of the crew stay overnight.

We shot over 5 days with a full crew (makeup, wardrobe, wardrobe assistant, three general assistants), so 7 crew members overall. We also hired three of the farm crew to help out some of the days, making that number as high as 10 at times. We used three principal models (2 women and a man) but also had 2 young children, a baby, and two assistants who did some modeling—so 8 in all.

Jody’s Step it Up Knits photos and a couple spreads from inside the book, below.

Q: Did anything unexpected happen once you got to the farm? Was weather a factor?

A: Yes, it rained. Some of the fields got very muddy so we walked around in rubber boots much of the time and had to wait out the showers, shifting to inside work when we had to. Having this many hands made it possible to do this pretty quickly.

Q: Regarding the cover, could you describe your process of stacking and propping the crates? Side note: where did you find those great crates?

A: That was a lot of fun really—like a self-contained art project or sculpture in the middle of the shoot. We knew that we needed boxes to create a stair effect and thankfully (and amazingly) we found them all on the farm during a scouting trip. They were exactly the number we needed too. I chose the stacking method and location and then let stylists Kate LeSueur and Eliza Kelly fill in the boxes with props and projects. They did a great job. We tried a range of small variations and positions for props and for Vickie. It took a few hours to arrange everything and then, halfway through the shoot it started raining hard. We had to position the camera just beyond the overhang of the roof so we could keep all the equipment under two big umbrellas. I was afraid something was going to get too wet, but everything survived. Once we were finished, we photographed a deconstruction of the props—removing one at a time—so that one item could be swapped for another in post if needed. It all came together well. Luckily, Vickie is great on camera, so that part was very easy.

Q: You’ve shot some remarkable portraits—what are some of the things you aim for in a portrait photograph?

A: I like to see people doing something that feels real and natural. We are all hardwired to read faces, so making moments appear credible can be a challenge. I often set a small scene and have models act within that, doing things that they would do within that context. This helps to remove them from the direct pressure of being photographed. Even in a shot like the cover (that is obviously very arranged) you can still have an expression that is genuine and real.

Thanks for the insight, Jody!

Allison Weiner

Allison Weiner

Senior Designer at Chronicle Books and weekend crafter.

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