Friday, November 16th, 2012

Behind the Scenes at a Cookbook Photo Shoot

A few weeks ago, I had the amazing and somewhat harrowing experience of seeing my cookbook come to life during a five day photo shoot. Instead of photographing the recipes in a studio, my partner Kathy and I decided to do the shoot at my house, which seemed more in keeping with the homespun vibe of the book (versus doing it in a professional studio in Tribeca with lots of shiny appliances, but the hominess of a psych ward).

If you’ve ever wondered what happens on a cookbook shoot, I thought I’d share some photos from the experience. Although I’ve attended shoots for magazine stories, and teamed up before with photographers on travel stories, this is the first time that my own recipes and home were photographed. A little surreal, to have all these people come together to make your dream project come true.  Luckily Kathy and I got to be part of the process (lots of cooking, lots of doing dishes), with occasional moments to marvel at what was happening around us.

So here’s how it works…

First, you and the publisher have to assemble a team of very talented individuals who will help you achieve the look, feel, point of view for your book. Beforehand photos/moodboards/Pinterest boards are exchanged in hopes that everyone who is brought in to work on the book will have the same style and concept in mind that you do. One of the first inspiration photos I circulated—that I felt really captured the happy/real/charming/chaos that we were striving for—was this one from Linda McCartney of her family’s kitchen table:

Our dream team to make this all happen included a food stylist: The person who oversees all of the cooking, makes it look beautiful for the photographer, and super important, makes sure the food matches what people will be making when they follow the recipe.

A prop stylist: The person who assembles the linens, dishware, tableware and surfaces. Surfaces are a neat stylist trick—they uses these large squares of different materials (like marble or galvanized steel) that can be placed as backdrops so it looks like you’re shooting in different locations, like a porch in Nantucket or a moody Asian noodle shop, even though you’re not.

The photographer: Obviously super important to have someone who is skilled at shooting food naturally, using different kinds of light, but also gets the look that you’re trying to achieve.  I loved our photographer, Christopher Testani.

The art director: The major domo and snack provider!

And wonderful assistants to help with all the packing and arranging and so on. Lucky for us we had an amazing crew. Not only did they spend 12+ hours a day in my house, but they did their work while life, kids, and a dog were running through it. Here we all are in the backyard on the last day:

Because we were using a 115 year old house instead of a professional studio, there was a lot of improvising in terms of work space and food storage. Here’s the pantry (aka the bay window in the kitchen):

Here is our photo studio (aka the living room floor near the window with the good light). See the surfaces?:

Here’s Conor being pulled in as a hand model (don’t tell the child modeling union):

Luckily Conor stayed home sick one day, so we could pull him in again for this broccoli shot (yes, bribery was involved with this; apparently I now owe Conor 100 Ninjago figurines, whatever those are):

Here is my partner Kathy busy filling and folding endless soup dumplings with our lovely food stylist Rhoda:

Another bonus of a cookbook photo shoot? Someone (us!) gets to eat all the soup dumplings for lunch. Here’s all of us breaking for the midday meal:

To be on schedule we had to prepare about eight finished dishes a day, plus prep for the next day’s recipes. Here is Rhoda slicing vegetables for a raw salad with quinoa and carrot-ginger dressing:

I’d love to give you a sneak preview of the photo-I think they’re beautiful!–but I’m afraid you’ll just have to wait! I don’t want to spoil the surprise…!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *