Sunday 3 November 2019

How to Photograph a Self-Published Cookbook

It's been a whole year since I self-published Plantain Cookbook and to mark the occasion, I've put together this short, no-fuss guide to food photography, aimed specifically at anyone who is interested in self-publishing a cookbook but perhaps worried about getting the quality of photographs just right. This was a major concern for me, and so you can imagine my relief when compliments about the food photos started rolling in as people purchased the cookbook.

I used my trusty Sony Alpha A58 to take all my food photographs. This handy camera with 18-55mm lens has served me well for about five years now. But any reliable DSLR or one of these (Professional) Mirrorless Cameras will do the trick. A DSLR is worth the investment and will give you more control over the final outcome of your photographs.

Still, whether you have the most basic or advanced camera/equipment, there are a few principles to keep in mind when it comes to taking beautiful and eye-catching food photographs. Forget brushing your food with glue or any of those other crazy hacks you've probably heard of. Read on to discover a more down-to-earth approach to food photography.

1. Use Natural Light
You'll want to schedule your shoots for when you've got the most natural sunlight streaming in. At the time of writing my cookbook, I was also working a full-time job, so that meant favouring weekends or early mornings to do all my photography. As tempting as it is, avoid using lamps, artificial lighting or your camera's built-in flash. Move around and try different parts of your house. Don't forget to use a diffuser (this can be a white foam board or white sheet held up against direct sunlight) to soften any shadows. The image below was taken in my housemate's bedroom because it had more natural sunlight than our kitchen at certain times of the day.

Fruity Plantain Loaf

2. Use Props
Get creative and use props to tell a food story. If there's already a lot going on with the dish, with lots of eye-catching elements and colours, then you can scale back on the props or go for more neutral tones. Sometimes less is more. Otherwise, try using complimentary props such as coloured napkins, mugs, jars, textured tiles/fabrics, cutlery, ingredients or plants to bring a shot to life.

Plantain Scones

3. Try Multiple Angles
Better to have a lot of different shots to choose from than to regret not taking enough. Certain dishes look better from different angles - whether overhead or from the side - so be sure to capture as many sides as possible so that you can pick the one that best showcases the meal.

Plantain Dumpling Soup

4. Understand Basic Editing
Natural lighting will allow your food colours to pop, but if for any reason you discover something off about a photograph you've taken, the last thing you want to do is make the entire dish again and repeat the process. A good photo editing tool will allow you to make certain colours vivid or adjust the white balance or fine-tune the exposure - these little tweaks can make all the difference! Adobe Photoshop, Fotor and Pixlr Editor are just some examples of editing platforms I've used in the past.

Plantain Choc-Chip Pancakes

5. Make the Food Look Tempting
Once you've got your lighting, props and angles down, you're well on your way and can be as experimental as you want. But how's the actual subject looking? Try layering ingredients, add greens and fresh veggies/fruits where necessary to brighten up the meal. Remember, we eat with our eyes so if you're not tempted to lick or bite into the picture then you're probably doing something wrong!

Baked Plantain Burger

And remember...have fun! No, seriously. Banish perfectionism. The process of photographing your cookbook should be as enjoyable as possible. That's the empowering part of self-publishing - there's no limit to how creative you can be. Good food photography is a never-ending learning process and the more you play around with it, the better it will get.