A Cookbook Photo Shoot
Here’s the view from my “office” today. We’re doing a three-day photo shoot for the new Yankee Favorites cookbook (see last year’s edition), due out in mid-October, and the setting is the beautiful studio of photographer Heath Robbins. This is, hands-down, the nicest studio I’ve ever worked in—5000 square feet of well-lit studio, office, kitchen, and comfortable lounging space.
My role here is pretty incidental, as most of the work is being done by a talented team of photographers, food and prop stylists, and Yankee‘s art director, Lori Pedrick. And since Tuesday is my blogging day, I though I’d take you behind the scenes to see how the beautifully styled sausage is made.
Well before the shoot, Lori came up with the idea of designing the book around a white color palette. Because the book is organized according to the seasons, she faced a challenge: how to make the it all look visually unified while giving each section the feeling of winter, spring, summer, and fall. She decided that with the neutral background, we could make the food pop and then use props and garnishes to give a seasonal feel. Meanwhile, she pulled images from other publications to help us picture how it would work.
Food photo shoots involve lots and lots of props. Bowls, dishware, boards, flatware, linens…all of it has to be planned in advance and carted in. Prop stylist Kelly McGuill (yes, there really are professional prop stylists, thank goodness) brought in a truckload of beautiful new and antique pieces. Here, food stylist Catrine Kelty chooses a baking dish for a sweet potato dish.
Using Lori’s white theme as her guide, Kelly gave us plenty of options so that we could play around with different plate and silverware combinations once we saw the food.
The props are organized by category and laid out on large tables so that everything is tidy and at hand. Most prop stylists have large collections of their own, culled from flea markets and antique shops, but there are also prop rental companies, such as Mad Props Boston, where you can rent what you need by the week. When I was in New York last fall doing the photo shoot for my apple cookbook, I was shocked at what we had to pay to rent a simple plate ($10) or napkin ($7) for the week. It quickly added up to thousands of dollars. Fortunately, Boston prices aren’t quite so outrageous.
Here, Catrine and her assistant Kendra are prepping the food in the studio’s kitchen. Food stylists are crucial because they develop a whole repertoire of tricks and techniques for getting the food to look perfectly camera-ready. While I could make the food myself, I couldn’t make it look as good.
After a dish is cooked, it’s matched with its props. Here we have some carrot cupcakes and pumpkin whoopie pies waiting for final styling and their turn on set.
So here’s the set. The whoopie pies have been slipped into little paper sleeves and arranged in an antique wooden box. The table is covered in white linen with an off-white runner and the white boards hanging around the table are used to control the natural light coming in from a wall of windows. When you see the actual shot, it will be hard to believe that it wasn’t taken on someone’s actual dining room table. That’s the magic of a good photographer.
Once Heath takes the shot, he can use Capture One Pro software to tweak the lighting, exposure, color temperature, sharpness, saturation, contrast, and highlights. He can also lay text over the image, which allows us to play with different cover possibilities. The image you see here is not going to be the cover…you’ll have to wait until autumn for that.