I love working with first-time cookbook clients because they come in super enthusiastic and ready to throw down. But sometimes, the amount of information and prep work we need to do before a cookbook photoshoot can be surprising. We all know that setting up a recipe takes some time and effort. But when you’re looking at dozens of recipes, each with its own unique ingredients and cooking methods—and then you have to create your own images for each one—it becomes clear why there is so much prep work that goes into shooting a cookbook.
That said, I will share some things with you below so that you can hopefully get a feel for what I do before every cookbook photoshoot.
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a visual learner. I mean, you are too, right? If you get it in your head that you want to do something, but you’re not going to be able to focus until you see it and feel it. However, if you’re planning a cookbook photoshoot for an upcoming cookbook, you will need to use every tool in your arsenal to get exactly what you have in your mind’s eye onto paper (or screen).
Firstly, when I am working with a cookbook author on a photo shoot, the first step I take is to build a mood board. This is a great way to showcase colors, textures, themes, and inspiration from different sources. However, I find inspiration in a lot of places: cookbooks, other food photographers, google searches, and Pinterest boards. I use Adobe Color to help me determine what colors will be used in the shoot.
Once you’ve captured your general idea and feel for the photoshoot, it’s time to narrow it down into a more specific direction and tone. What are you trying to say? Are you trying to show off how simple and easy this recipe is? Are you trying to evoke feelings of joy? Or maybe feelings of nostalgia?
If I’m working with a food stylist, they will do most of the shopping for props and ingredients. But if I’m not, my assistant or I will shop for props and ingredients.
Antique Shops: If you’re looking for one-of-a-kind props, antique shops are a great place to look. You’re bound to find something unique that not every other cookbook author uses!
Garage Sales and Goodwill Stores: Garage sales and Goodwill stores are the best places to find individual items like plates and glasses. They provide the opportunity to find quirky items that aren’t mass-produced, for instance ceramic pots and pans, vases, and vintage french fry signs!
Crate & Barrel: Crate & Barrel sells high-quality kitchenware at affordable prices, making them one of our go-to sources for cups, bowls, and serving platters.
Telling you how we prep is great information (I hope!) but what I really want is to tell you WHY we prep. The main reason is that it saves us time on shoot day. We don’t have to spend precious minutes searching through our pantries for ingredients or trying to remember how much salt goes into that recipe. A photoshoot for a cookbook is a massive job, with many moving parts.
You’re working under pressure on shoot day—you’re on a tight timeline, and the clock’s ticking. Your recipes need to be ready to go at the exact moment of readiness for the camera. You don’t have time to get in there and blanch that broccoli if you need it in five minutes! And you definitely don’t have time to filet all those fish if you need them ready for a shot in ten! And that’s why we prep.
Every cookbook shoot is different, but the basic principles hold true. So if you’re working on your first cookbook, this post will hopefully give you a deeper insight into the photoshoot process.
Having a good working relationship with your photographer is key. You want someone who will listen to you and who you will not just be able to voice your creative vision to, but also an individual who will work with you on developing a plan for the shoot that is based around the vision and budget you have in mind for your project.
They will help you make any choices about where the shoot takes place, what props and ingredients are used in each shot and what kind of light is required to create the most stunning visuals possible. In short, a great food photographer will likely know a lot more about food styling than even what they can do with their camera so make sure you pick one with experience!
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