The Art of Food Photography

I love photography...love it! If I could have photographs and quotable, quotes placard everywhere I would. So naturally when I was querying our cookbook I also took, what I thought were wonderful, full of thought and colorful images. However, I learned very quickly that food photography is not what it’s ‘pictured’ to be. It is an exclusive unique art, in and amongst itself and I had a crash course learning some of the creative techniques of food styling for some of our photographs in the cookbook.   In The Big Sky Bounty Cookbook, both Chef Barrie and I were adamant about including a photograph with each recipe. Upon our contract, I was very exceptionally excited our acquisitions editor shared our same feelings and passion for a colorful image filled cookbook featuring Montana's beauty and resources, as well. It was especially important to me as a non-chef and rustic gourmet cook, to depict each finished recipes product so anyone creating the recipes had a visual to reference along with it was key as we ended up utilizing and sharing historical images.   "Winner, winner chicken dinner," I thought with joy because I had already made over 60% of the recipes and photographed each, multiple times and multiple angles and with multiple props, to my delight. But then, our Editor sent us an email, and while he was very professional and complimentary he also said, none, (did I read that correctly-NONE) of the images I had already submitted were viable, and they would all have to be reshot. After my initial instant gut churning, blood draining from my body leaving a definite numbness, I immediately began troubleshooting how to make this the best it could be. So together Chef Barrie and I split the difference and began on all the images necessary for our first major deadline. 

I’d love to say this was easy, but that would be an absolute lie. This was one of the most tedious, time-consuming, draining on hundreds of levels, yet resulting in one of the most fabulous and fulfilling experiences of creating this cookbook. We did have a bit of help from a couple local professional photographers as far as the opening Montana scenes, and a few more recipes, but 85% of the recipe’s photos were shot by Barrie and myself. Food styling is truly a creative art, and many cookbooks have professional food stylist...but for our cookbook...it was all us, gladly, gratefully, and God-'truly'-willing.  There’s lighting, weather-hot, cold, rain shine, cloudy, sunny, locations, props, meals that sat in a tub carted back and forth to the refrigerator, and tricks to the trade I quickly had to learn. How you might ask? Well, trial by error and of course all the many things that didn’t work. I also leaned upon my 'third time’s a charm', theory, I’d try until it was complete and to my deemed photographic satisfactions. But I did do quite a bit of research on-line, reading and reviewing any and all magazines, ads, and coffee table books. I would study the various design elements of the photographic images to ascertain were the light was set, how the dishes were lifted, angles of elements, closeness or distance from the dish, scenery, props, and whether image focus was sharp in the front view and blurred in background, or vice-versa, etc.  There was an incredible portion of this aspect of the cookbook's authorship process that was beyond my scope of knowledge to learn, navigate, schedule, and accomplish with each set of images that it could, at times, be overwhelming-not to forget to mention cooking, baking, and creating each of the recipes with its meal’s ensembles to photograph. I’d love to say that I had no tears in the process, but that would be another bold face lie, because I cried tears of frustration, anxiety, and joy as this process unfolded. And of course, there were epic and mighty photo failures along the way, but I learned an invaluable wealth and scope of first hand knowledge through the peaks and valleys of the photography crash course. Most of all, I was filled with elated and true joy upon the finished product which pushed me out of my comfort zone and challenged me, which is exactly what I needed to climb to another level of creation.  Each of the images credited to me in the cookbook has another story and often there’s several layers to the story. I also had a chance to involve my family and dear friends in the cooking, carting, traveling, staging, and photographs, and I wouldn’t trade that for anything. These are the most precious memories and fill the heart of the cookbook’s depth unseen by the reader, but another rich descriptive layer for me, as an author.

Our Editor was truly an amazing supporter of the photographic process of the cookbook, and gave me honest, professional input and then he and his team selected the best of the best, that we submitted, to create the book-they as the publisher wanted. I couldn’t have been more thrilled with their choices. They over exceeded my expectations of the look and photos they selected to capture and create a beautifully colorful, inviting and professional cookbook. I personally submitted over 300 images to our Editor, for their choosing, and took over 1,000 images after I stopped counting and categorizing them, which was before retakes or additional images needed.  Chef Barrie submitted an equal amount of images for submission and the publishers choice. This was not only a huge undertaking on our part as authors, but also on the editors and publisher, because they were selecting the images they felt worked best for their vision, as well as ours, for the most successful product once published and printed. Our Editors and Publisher were dedicated to a high quality cookbook, which is, in my opinion and very proudly say, even as biased as I am, what they created, produced and printed.

While food styling and photography wasn’t my first-hand knowledge, I learned a process as the cookbook was developed that I wouldn’t have had the chance beforehand, and for that I am exceptionally grateful for the opportunity.  So, as you look through the cookbook’s image, there may be just a few images that aren’t actually what they appear to be or there may have been creative components to making the scene’s image ‘work’, like...is the ice cream really ice cream beneath the fudge sauce? And how do you shine up a limp piece of quail or lift a plate using a golf ball without everything sliding off its holding? Well, I guess you can take a peek and see, and maybe look at each photograph with a different eye.  As I reflect, I smile with sincere happiness, am filled with the blessings of its fruition along with accomplishment on many levels as I learned a portion of this creative food styling photographic art, and reflect extremely fondly upon the layers of stories I have surrounding each of these images.





© 2018 by Jean Petersen

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