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Cookbook Shoot

My head is still spinning from the past few days – we just finished a whirlwind session of photography for my next book (another easy Asian cookbook). This time, instead of doing it all by myself, I enlisted the help of Todd, Diane and Jenna to protect my sanity. Originally, I had planned on having T&D style and shoot the book while I cooked and hid in the kitchen….but Diane insisted that I shoot my own book and that they would help me in the kitchen and with the styling.

Prior to them coming, Diane had sent me a list of things we needed for the shoot – number one on the list was a place to shoot near the kitchen that had plenty of natural light throughout the day. I originally had my prop room way out at a building in the back of the property – it’s a good 2 minute walk from the kitchen, through the living room, across the lanai, out the screen door, dodging the bitey red ants, balancing on large uneven rocks, up the deck stairs, across the deck, tiptoeing across the old (and unused) putting green riddled with more red ants and through the building door.

Can you imagine trying to do that for every single dish? And what if you forgot a garnish? You’d have to trek back and by that time, the food would have been very tired.

So we converted the already converted garage (the previous owners had made the garage a playroom for the kids) that was adjacent to the kitchen into my photography studio. It made sense, there’s plenty of large windows, double glass doors and it was steps from the kitchen.

With new paint and flooring, the space that used to be our junk/laundry room turned into a light-filled, bright, cheerful place to work. Wire racks from a discount warehouse store, Ikea baskets and bookshelves and a drop-dead gorgeous wooden table from Greentea Design, the number one requirement for a photoshoot was checked off.

I have plenty of dishes and props, but since I normally just shoot on white, the second item on my list was fabric.

Here’s a tip when fabric shopping: don’t go when you’re in a bad mood. Otherwise you’ll end up with drab colors.

Blah. So I left the store, went and got some coffee, scrolled through Failblog (hahahaaa!) and went back in a much better mood.

Ta-da! Happy! Bright! Cheerful!

They went organized by color in the Ikea wire baskets on a rolling rack.

Ikea Antonius system – $38.99 for the frame, I bought two of them and stacked on top of each other. Each wire basket was $6. Plop some wheels on the bottom ka-blam! It rolls around, out of the way.

Those are Billy bookcases, $49.99 each. Cheap, functional and even I can put it together. Once Todd and Diane arrived, we first worked on creating a workflow. Normally, when I shoot for the blog, I scout around the house for where there’s a good light. Candidates include: my office, outside patio, dining room table, breakfast nook, family room or the outside kitchen table. It’s a lot of work chasing light, huffin’ and puffin’ moving things around.

Instead, Diane said we were going to shoot in one spot and use white bounce, black bounce and scrims. For the book (i.e. print) we need to shoot tethered to the computer (that itty bitty tiny screen on the camera isn’t good enough!) and we hooked up a 15ft tether cord from my iMac to the camera.

I use Adobe Lightroom to manage and edit my photos, so we shot directly into Lightroom. The computer was anchored to a $159 rolling cart (yes, also from….you guessed it, Ikea) – Scott used 2 clamps and some plywood to secure it, though we’ll be looking for a more um, pretty solution soon.

I highly, highly recommend Lightroom for food bloggers – it helps me catalog and keep track of my photos AND makes editing so super easy. You can try out Lightroom 4 Beta for free right now.

You can see how awesome it is to shoot tethered – everyone can see immediately on the monitor the shot.

I should also mention that the computer is hooked up to two other things:  a 4-drive Drobo and a CyberPower battery backup. I keep my photos on the Drobo and not on the computer hard drive because I just don’t trust my hard drive (how many of you have had your HD crash!!????) The Drobo has 4 hard drives and if one crashes, the other drives can rebuild the data and you won’t lose YOUR ENTIRE COOKBOOK SHOOT. Alternatively, you could backup to a cloud every night, but what happens if you lose your hard drive in the middle of a shoot?

The battery backup is essential – those flimsy power surge bars are useless when it comes to protecting against massive power spikes, surges and outages. The battery backup we have gives me about 15 minutes of time so that I can save and shut down properly. Since we live out in the country (and in hurricanetopia), power outages are pretty common.

Okay, back to the workflow – We shoot with the camera on a tripod since I’m shooting with a macro lens which magnifies every little shake. I have a Canon 5D Mark II and a 100mm macro lens – my favorite food lens (but please don’t think you need this type of fancy camera equipment – I shot half of my first cookbook with a Rebel and a $100 lens)

I never understood why tripods varied from $29 to $2,000 until my $29 tripod broke and tipped over….with $1,000 worth of camera equipment on it. Get a good, sturdy, lightweight, quality tripod – I use a Manfrotto head and a Promaster tripod – though I am constantly fighting to adjust each leg the same height to make it level. I would LOVE a pneumatic tripod with a foot pedal that raises and lowers all three legs simulateously! Sadly, I don’t think they make one affordable.

The bounce was a $4.50 foam board held up with clamps secured to a block of wood. (That’s Jenna taking a picture of the hero wall!)

Sometimes, to get the perfect shot (like the egg swirl on Egg Drop Soup) we have teamwork — Diane and I swirl the egg and the moment we pull back….

Todd shoots.

Jenna was amazing in the kitchen – she can chop!-chop!-chop! lightening fast. She and Todd were in charge of prep and cooking of the dishes. Once a dish was ready, it was placed on a full sized sheet pan along with the garnish sitting in ice water and any other ingredients we needed to plate the dish. That was transported to a table right by the door (see above table behind Diane) and ready for Diane and I to style and shoot.

Once we were done with that particular dish’s shoot, everything goes back on the sheet pan, back to the same table ready for Jenna to pick up and bring back to the kitchen.

We had a crew member who served as the handsome security guard…..

and taste testers….

We had one wall that was our “hero wall” – all of our final shot arranged by chapter so that we could get an idea of how the book was shaping up.

When you’re doing a cookbook photoshoot, you inevitably end up with TONS of leftover chopped ingredients – which we used for our meals….fried rice, pizza, spring rolls, Vietnamese rice noodle bowls.

It was non-stop eating – not only did we eat all the dishes we made for the shoot, but we actually cooked MORE food every couple of hours. 3 breakfasts, 3 lunches, 2 snacks and 2 dinners was quite normal for us.

At the end of the week, we celebrated with a trip to the beach! Toes in sand, mojitos and a frisbee.

I wont’ lie – it was exhausting work – but working with good friends made it all so much more fun than attempting to do it all by myself! Big, big, big thanks to Diane, Todd, Jenna, Scott (he was our tech support), the boys, the hens (our official taste-testers) and our security guard Coco. The book doesn’t come out until next Spring, we’ve got a couple months of writing and recipe testing left – then off to the publisher for editing, layout and design! See more photos over at Todd and Diane & Jenna‘s blogs.

Comments 58

  1. fiona

    Thanks gal for this wonderful sharing. It was great to see what went through for a cookbook shooting. I am always learning to cook, style and take pictures and I have learnt from what you shared today. you have made me more determined to save up for the 100mm macro L lens.
    Look forward to your cookbook and I believe is going to be as good or if not better than the first one I bought and hug. :)

  2. Kari

    I have a question…The picture with the chickens and a bowl…what are you feeding them?….

  3. Averie @ Averie Cooks

    I am in love love love with this table and have been stalking it and pondering it ever since you posted it. Is it the narrow Maru or the wide? And it comes in varying lengths. Just wondering which one you opted for and if you are still over-the-moon happy with it. Obviously a big purchase and the West Elm table I have is nice, but this is…well, spectacular!

  4. Sharon | Chinese Soup Pot

    I love your photo shoot studio! It is so bright, organized, and heavy-duty! (By the way, I hope you will never have to use the battery backup or lose any photos!) I never imagined how much work it takes to create a cookbook until I read your post here. Good luck with everything and I look forward to seeing your next cookbook!

  5. Pingback: Cookbook Shoot | Health, Fitness & Wellness

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