Visuals: How Cookbook Photography Differs from Blog Photography



1: Alice Currah
2: Micahel Natkin
3: Aran Goyoaga

Aran Goyoaga - Small Plates and Sweet Treats <- Book out soon

What to know if you're considering your own cookbook.

Alice: A lot of blog to book deals in the last few years. (Image: A big display of bloggers who wrote books.)

Publishers are looking for people who can write and shoot their own books.

What do editors look for?

It depends on your abilities and technical aspects. You have to understand what publishers are looking for.

Alice: Editor - looked for quality of photos. The professional look. If you're open to taking direction.

Cassie Jones, Editor
William Morrow/Harper Collins

Quality of Photographs
Professional look
Blogger is open to taking direction regarding fit and concept
If open to taking direction - be clear

Aran: Michael Sand
Little Brown & Co

Looks for food photograpy elements
quality of light in the images
strong composition and styling
deliciousness factor

Techinical matters
Basic file requirements for print vs. online
An understanding of print v. back lit computer screen difference

Advantages of authors who shoot:
Built in understanding of food
How it should look
How it will be presented
Author cannot blame photographers

When professional photography is required:
Samples don't demonstrate the above

Michael: Dan Rosenburg, Editor
Harvard Common Press

Photo Credit: Danielle Tsi.

Quality of photography on blog
Technical matters like focus and lighting
Artistic matters like composition, food styling and prop styling

Improvement in quality of blog photos over time

Benefit of working with one author and photographer
Ease of working with one creator rather than two
Helps stay on budget

Aran - Small Plates and Sweet Treats
Styling and Artistic Vision

The cover image took the most back and forth negotiations. It is very difficult to summarize a book in 1 image. They have the cover and 1 minute of pitch to sell the book to book sellers. It's a seasonal book, so I wanted the images to reflect the season. The lighting is different each chapter. I wanted to include a lot of lifestyle shots. Shooting outside can be tricky, but we shot under a tree with reflectors. I don't always look for perfect produce. I always go to the farmers around me to make it look as authentic as it is. That's a big part of my styling. You have to pay attention to the food and how you keep it to photograph.

Question: How did you approach the prop side of things?

Aran: I own everything and my husband wants to kick me out of the house. You can rent. Renting is another good thing. My book is very personal so it was okay to use the stuff we use everyday. It gives a sense of onnection to the author. I own a lot of things. You can go to anthropoligie to rent, but their fees are very expensive. You can also get a props stylist. You have to be resourceful. Sometimes a local cater will lend or rent certain items.

Aran: I tend to garnish a lot. I used to be a pastry chef and we always had to garnish everything. Enhance your food with garnishes. It adds texture and contrast. You have to pay attention to the details. Use garnish where it makes sense though!

Photo - from autumn on neighbor's bench.

It was important for me to come to them with several shots of the same dish. Not only angles, but differently styled recipes. You don't know the order of which these recipes are going to go into the book. You have to have options. You can shoot on a sidewalk, it doesn't always have to be a table.

Michael: Herbivoracious by Michael Natkin

We argued about the cover the entire book. We went through a whole bunch of recipes and photos of recipes. I had artistic freedom inside the book, but the cover had input from everybody. It's not just about the styling, it's about what the recipe says about the book. Do we want tofu on the cover of a vegetarian book? Some people don't like tofu. We ended up hiring someone to do the cover.

photo - This is a vegetarian chili. An important thing about this photo -- without the garnishes it would look like a bowl of brown goo. The photo was taken on old wooden beams.

photo - I used studio lights for this one. I have to do my shooting at night and live in Seattle. I don't have a lot of natural light. I used something called a snoot to focus the light in a narrow beam.

photo - Mango salad, originally shot for my blog. Consider shooting both horizontal and vertical. Shooting at different aspect ratios changes your composition.

photo - This is a good example of using depth of feel. This is a repetitive photo. Use a prime lens. In this case it's a F-50 prime.

Question: Should we go with just one type of lighting?

Michael: No, I don't think you have to. My book has a range. Some are studio, others have a natural light.

Alice: A publisher might tap you into write a book about popsicles. They are going to want a consistency of style to span the whole book. I feel like as a blogger when we post things because you like the picture. It's different when your book is being sold.

photo - popcorn. It's important to find your own voice. I don't use props. On a good day I'll put down a napkin.

photo - using a very stark modern look. The nicer the food looks the less you have to do to it. Shooting down on the food helps in this case because it has a graphic design look to it.

Aran: How do you get your images so bright and so white? When you have something very simple - light is what makes it even more beautiful. That shadow really adds a lot of dimension. In lightroom you can see where things are over or under red. You can adjust that and it will be a lot more interesting.

Alice: Savory Sweet Life

I thought we were going to shoot the cover, but I got an email "Here's your cover!" My blog is everyday family food, so I'm going to shoot it like that. What you see is what you get. I wanted the recipes to correspond with the photos. This is a shot I took on a rainy day. Sometimes grey does work because you have natural diffused lighting. This I shot late afternoon.

photo - Knowing how the light travels is very important. This one I shot at 8 o'clock in the morning. The light was so pretty with the oil. Know where the light comes in your house.

photo - I took most of my pictures next to a sliding glass door next to our family room. You have to work with what you have. The only big window we have is a sliding glass door. I used a poster board with my daughter holding it up behind me. Sometimes you'll be shooting with side light. It's helpful if you take the photos from different angles. There is a world of difference as to how shadows fall. If somebody is at the book store and they've never heard of your name or your blog - they're going to look at the photos.

Michael: It's not always the case for light to come from one place.

Alice: cheap tip is poster board from an art supply store. I prop it however I wanted to get a field light. If you prop them up and their tall you can position them. It's a cheap prop.

Aran: what creates a beautiful image is light. But light takes away colors and dimension. It only takes a little foam board or poster board. Shadows can be good, they add dimensions to the food.

Michael: I'm a big believer in shooting tethered. You camera shoots directly into your computer. This was you're really seeing close to the final shot. You can adjust your camera settings right then.

Alice: same window, rainy day. I know my optimal shooting time. It can be challenging with kids. If you know you're time it's good to maximize your time.

Alice: I sometimes like shots where you can kinda see the process. This is what people can imagine. This is what they'll see when they make it. You can take photos of the ingredients.

Technical Aspects of what you should know

Michael: The biggest thing is when you see something on your screen it's 72dpi in the book it's 300dpi. So a photo that is good enough for the web may not be good enough for your book. You always want to shoot in RAW. You're always shooting in the max resolution your camera will do. Don't shoot at low shutter speeds. If it's below 120th of a second you need a tripod. Maximum resolution is different from ISO.

Aran: I shot my whole book without a tripod. I live in Florida and shot an image in the afternoon. I shot an image at 32 iso with no tripod.

Michael: I was talking about using studio lights you don't need a tripod unless you want to reproduce the exact angle.

Question: Did you do your own post-processing?

Alice: You have to do most of it. That's part of the deal, part of the package. When you sell yourself as a photographer you have to do your own work.

Michael: Never give your publishing company any photo you don't want to see in print. I ended up turning in a few photos that I didn't love and they ended up in a book.

Question: Do you think there should be a photo for every recipe?

Alice: I don't think you'll get that because of the cost of printing. Give yourself as many options.

Alice: Different publishers and editors want different things. Bakerella - a lot of her photos are from her blog. When I signed my book deal my publishers wanted 0 photos from my blog.

Aran: My book had to be very visual, that's what I'm know for.

Aran: You can hire a post-processor. It has to be someone that understands your style. You can hire someone to do that for you.

Alice: Having a good understanding of color management is a good idea. Visible ink doesn't look the same as a computer monitor. You have to be thinking about that.

Michael: From a tech point of view is a color gamut. One of the best things you can do is print on glossy paper. If your photos are good they're going to jump off the paper. In particular if you'reremoving dot specs it may look fine on the web, but it's something to be aware of. Send your publisher some test samples early on.

Question: You mentioned the advance portion? Did you hire someone to work through your contract?

Aran: I have an agent. I was approached by publishers and didn't feel like I had something to say at the time. Then, when I started thinking about the book I asked around. Is it worth it? Paying 15% for an agent. Yes, my advance was larger and my agent looks out for me. If you've never worked in publishing before it can be beneficial.

Alice: Advance sizes - there are so many variables that go into that. It depends on so many things - your platform, your marketability. For myself I already had the book deal before I hired an agent. If you're shooting your own cookbook you are saving money on the photographer (who can charge as much as 1k per photo).

Question: Color photos are expensive and a great number of books are in color and B&W. If you're going to have to split what are going places to shoot in B&W?

Aran: The ones were colors don't really matter. Maybe shapes. I would never mute the natural color on an ingredient if that was the main subject of the shot. If you're shooting people or somebody walking by. B&W is still expensive. I love B&W for other things, but I tried it with food and didn't find anything that really worked. I would probably just not do that book. When you are printing a cookbook you do it in forms. It's not any more expensive to shoot B&W and color.

Question: I have a challenge making meat look good. Usually whole pieces or a chicken you can make that look nice. In the end it's a big pile of meat.

Alice: Vibrant garnishes. It goes back to that soup pic of Michael's. He had shredded cheese to give it a pop.

Aran: The less attractive the food the farther back you want to be and use props.

Michael: You might want to shoot raw. Raw meat is beautiful. And use garnishes for sure or use props.

Alice: Fresh herbs, not only chopped will make brown food pop.

Michael: You can tweak certain things. For a salad that's all tossed and looks wilted -- build it for the photo.

Alice: This is the difference between blog and cookbook photography - you have to think about different things. You have to put more thought into it.

Question: Could you make any recs on further reading resources to learn how to better post process for print?

Michael: I don't have a strong rec for you. The software changes so often. I would rec to follow the blogs and user forums. Lightroom or aperture are good for really walking you through. It's a much more streamlined way to work.

Aran: Editing food photos is very different from editing portraits.

Alice: The more familiar you are with a post-processing program the better.

** paid site for this!

Question: Have you ever changed a recipe so it matches up better after photographing it?

Aran: Lobster salad with apples - I had forgotten to change the recipe.

Michael: It's so easy to get in the rut. It's valuable to find a few people who will tell you when you've taken a good photo and what's not working.

Question: One of my biggest challenges is styling flat food. Do you have tips?

Alice: Overhead.

Aran: I shot a tart and stacked it. I cut 3 pieces and shot it. Even baking - if you're making a casserole, maybe make individual ones. Be creative. You have to make it work because editors don't care.

Alice: Your publisher paid you to publish a beautiful book. You have to go those extra steps.