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Shooting a cookbook - 3 things I've learned


It doesn't look like much, and truth be told it's not. A typical photo shoot for my upcoming canning book takes place on a wobbly kitchen cart with a couple of baking sheets, a faux table top and a tea towel. No fancy lights, no assistants and no prop warehouse. Just me and my camera. But that's the magic of it all. In the process of writing and photographing this book so far I've learned these three things are all it takes to capture the fresh, clean look I'm after: colour matters, lighting is everything and simple is often better.
Choosing a colour palette
In this shoot, I was photographing pear slices in light syrup. Sweet, juicy pears are a kid favourite and a pantry basic in my house. Their soft, buttery colour and curvy detail is gorgeous in clear glass jars. I wanted the pears to pop in the shot and not get lost in a light and airy background, so I knew the background had to be darker. That's where the first baking sheet comes in. Its perfect shade of grey blurred in the background lets the pale yellow pears really stand out. Yes, that is a bunch of bananas and a children's step stool propping up my fancy baking sheet background.
Finding lovely light
I always use window light to shoot food for the blog and my book, and I'm fortunate to have a corner window in my kitchen that gets indirect light from the north and the west. So most of my shots are back and side lit. Sometimes, the dark side of a dish or a jar needs more light and that's where the second baking sheet comes in. Covered in foil, it bounces light back so that the pears on the dark side of the jar are brighter and have more detail than without the bounce. No expensive gear required. Yes, those are bottles of vinegar holding up the foil-lined pan so I can keep both hands on my camera.
Simple is better
Having initially overthought props in my cookbook shots, I've come to appreciate that for a fresh look simple really is better. I want the food to stand out, not the props. If I'm honest, prop shopping is a slippery slope that I'd quite happily slide down deep into if money were no object, but I've managed to keep it simple so far. Most of what I've bought are small plates and old spoons and knives from thrift stores. A simple tea towel or cloth napkin under a plate or under a jar helps tell the story and set the mood without overpowering the shot. In this shoot, a royal blue checkered napkin helps ground my otherwise simple visual of pear slices in jars on a white surface with a grey background. Yes, I do have quite the collection of checkered napkins now, photographed here on the same white surface with the grey background.

To see the final shot of pear slices in light syrup you'll have to wait until publication! My cookbook, The Canning Kitchen, will be out in time for canning season next year. In the meantime, I can't wait to shoot the rest of it.

Do you love taking food photos? Leave a comment and share your tips for taking great images.