Sunday, October 17, 2010

Writing a Cookbook Part 6: photography

Photography is expensive, but few cookbooks do without it today: good photos can sell a book, and set standards of style and innovation that sometime text alone cannot reach. A good picture can say a lot, and its impact is instant.

I was introduced to my photographer by my publisher, it was up to me to choose if I wanted to work with him, of course, but after meeting him, and seeing his work in other books, and talking about what I wanted, I thought that his style of work suited me. Cookbook publishers may work with different photographers, and a good publisher will introduce the photographer they may think more suitable for your style of work, or for the type of book.

As an author you generally have to pay the photographer or, as in my case (and most cases I know) split royalties. It may sound strange: a writer spends months writing and cooking and the photographer just a few days shooting and adjusting the photos, but this is the reality of the trade, and it is the same for magazine work.

With royalties both author and photographer work on a risk: if the book sells well it is good for both, otherwise it was an expensive exercise. But as I said before, you don’t write a book just for money, you write a book to share something, for profile, and self-satisfaction. This is true for most photographers also: a photographer who has worked on books has something important to show in his portfolio, and there is nothing that has as much weight as a book. And the photographer becomes the co-author, his or her name running along side that of the author.

If you are a photographer and you would like to do a book, send your CV to a publisher (actually, send it to different publishers) and offer your services. Usually an author sends a book proposal or manuscript, and photographer a CV.

I am on my third book with the same photographer now. The publisher knows that we work well as a team now, and that we will deliver.

Shooting is hard work and you need to work well together, and to have similar tastes. But not too much!

I’ll give you an example: I don’t like over-propping, and I don’t like close-ups that are so ‘close’ that a piece of cake is as big as the page and you can’t understand what the cake was supposed to look like. In this we are alike. But I can be quite ‘girly’ at time, and I work well with a man photographer because he keeps me in line when I go too ‘pink’. We may look at props together, I see a lovely flowery pattern and go “ohhhh!” and he goes “mmmh”.

Other times is the opposite, he likes something ‘quirky’, and I go ‘mmmh’! The end result is always good because it is something we both like and that work for that particular picture. I also like a photographer who has a good eye for styling and colours, and as a bonus my photographer can iron (lots of ironing involved here, but I will talk about that in another post).

Bloggers are usually both photographer and writer, some blogs look good, of course, but for books I think that it is better to split jobs. If you are both a food writer and a photographer… well, fantastic! But a book is not a blog, and you will probably need to get another person involved to help you, either a stylist or a cook to prepare the food to be shot. Two minds are better than one, and four eyes better than two.

More about photography and styling in the next post.




  1. Sometimes I feel nostalgic about books without pics.
    few times, of course.
    and one of the most important thing is be a team.
    I like your post and good luck or your book.

  2. Thank you Enza. I have many books without pictures, and I read them more often that the others, from l'Artusi and other old style Italian 'ricettari' to a Japanese vegetarian book. But I kind of know already what the finish product is going to look like. Pictures are good for step by step and for new or unknown recipes. And for inspiration.

    Producing a book is team work, definitely!

  3. Great stuff Alessandra!
    I love Shaun's images, his style is instantly recognisable, it must be a lot of fun working with him.
    I think if first choosing a photographer it helps when they specialise in and have a great background passion with food.
    Food photography is very different to portraits/sport for example, few, even so called experienced professional photographers get and understand shooting food.

  4. Yes Bron, I agree, and Shaun does only food photography, and before becoming a photographer he was a chef. The perfect combo.

    But... a little flexibility (and extra ability) is required when people are also present in food shoots!

  5. I've seen many Shaun's works in many cuisine magazines and I just love them. I learn a lot from his works. I love food photography and passion in it, as this is the kind of photography that I understand. Thank you for the post, it is very informative.

  6. I tend to cook more out of books with less photos and use the photo filled ones as inspiration I think...Hope your shoot went well - look forward to seeing the book!

  7. Yes Sasa, I think that a lot of cooks do that with books... and so this time I will do something completely different with mine!!!!

    Wait and see! :-)

  8. Alessandra, your insight is really valuable as an experienced cookbook author.
    Your posts about writing a cookbook are not only very informative, but make me look forward to your new book !

  9. Thanks for dropping by. I always admire people who write a cookbook as I know there is so much effort that puts in before it goes to print.

    Can't wait to see your final output.

    Good luck.

  10. Thank you Vanille and Edith. Still lot of work ahead!


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