The Making of a Cookbook: Photography
FIVE WEEKS TO GO! In a little more than a month, The Well Plated Cookbook will be in the world and in YOUR hands. I CANNOT WAIT!
Friendly reminder that if you preorder the book from anywhere books are sold anytime between now and publication day (August 25th), I’ll email you an EXCLUSIVE bundle of bonus recipes that aren’t in the cookbook or anywhere else as a thank you. And of course, you’ll receive the book on publication day! (Find out more and get your free bonus recipes here.)
Last week, I shared a behind the scenes look at how I tested the recipes in the cookbook, including the deets on the number of times each recipe was tested, what happened to the leftovers, and more.
Well-tested, practical recipes that both work and that DELIGHT is the most important part of writing a great cookbook, and I can say that the recipes in my book are my best ever!
The next step in writing a great book is the photos. We eat with our eyes. It was important to me that the recipes looked just as incredible as they tasted. And WOW. Did we succeed.
Because I wanted to focus exclusively on making the recipes their very best, and I’m not ultra confident in my abilities as a photographer, I reached out to Becky Hardin of The Cookie Rookie.
Not only is Becky a good friend who I knew I would enjoy spending time with on this project of a lifetime—she is one of the most outstanding food photographers I’ve ever met. When Becky accepted the job to photograph the recipes, it was a dream come true.
Becky lives in St. Louis and shoots out of her home. Our plan was that I’d come down and stay with her a few times so that I could cook the recipes, then she’d style and photograph them.
I don’t think either of us realized how much we’d taken on, until we were in it.
Sante Fe Chicken Salad: In Progress.
Sante Fe Chicken Salad: The RESULT.
We shot 50+ recipes in a single week for two separate weeks. We planned one trip in the summer, when we shot all of the produce-heavy recipes (think salads and fruit), and one in the winter, where we shot the more comforting dishes like pastas and soups (I definitely needed my stretchy pants that week).
Becky shoots with natural light, so our window to photograph was from about 8 a.m. to about 3 or 4 p.m., depending upon the season.
Cooking 10+ recipes a day would have been impossible on my own. I am incredibly lucky to have found some stellar kitchen assistants: Becky’s mom Susie (who is an experienced cook with a food blog of her own), my dear friend Rachel who flew down to help (now that is love), and Becky’s blog assistant Courtney who washed dishes like a boss for 6+ hours a day.
Before heading to St. Louis, I created a recipe game plan of what we’d photograph each day, including what I could prep the night before and what would need to be made fresh. As much as possible, I grouped recipes with similar ingredients so that we’d minimize waste.
I had a GIANT file folder of the printed final recipes, with back up copies just in case.
Here’s how each day went down:
- The Night Before. Order groceries. Review the next day’s recipes with Becky and that day’s shots. Erin stays up late to prep.
- 6:00 a.m. Erin gets up to continue prepping.
- 8:00 a.m. Kitchen assistants arrive. Talk through recipe shooting order as a team. Kitchen assistants start cooking/dishwashing.
- 8:15 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Photograph! We started with the recipes I’d prepped that morning or the night before. Erin, Susie, and Rachel keep cooking. Courtney washes dishes like a boss. Repeat. Then repeat again (and again).
- 4:00 p.m. Review the plan for the next day’s recipes, revising if needed. Order more groceries.
- 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. Catch up on work for the day. Becky edits photos. Erin makes any notes/updates to the recipes based on feedback from the day.
- 6:00 p.m. Next day’s groceries arrive. Break for dinner.
- 7:00 p.m. – ???. Continued food prep and photo editing. A few nights I was up reeeeeaally late. Susie prepped a few things at her house too, which was tremendously helpful.
Periodically, I’d also pop into the studio during the day to lend a hand. Or two hands.
If this all sounds incredibly exhausting—it was.
I was on my feet for more than 12 hours a day, and Becky had to be creatively “on” for extremely long stints, multiple days in a row.
You guys, I could cry. These photos are THAT beautiful. I can’t overstate how special it was to see the recipes come to life on camera.
I still get goosebumps when I flip through the book.
It was also super inspiring to watch Becky work. The way she could transform something that I didn’t think could be visually appealing (like Caramelized Onion Bacon Dip—so beige!) into a gorgeous dish that took my breath away surprised me again and again. Just LOOK AT IT.
One of my favorite attributes about the book (and something that sets it apart) produced the most challenging recipes to photograph.
For many of the recipes, in addition to giving you a stellar base recipe—like the most life-changing, epically delicious mac and cheese that you will never ever believe is healthy—I also included recipe “spin-offs” so that you can cook that same recipe multiple ways.
Not only did that make recipe testing a challenge (I tested every individual version), that meant that on photo day, we had to cook EVERY version so we could photograph the whole group.
That mac and cheese I mentioned? I included four variations, so we had FOUR POTS of homemade mac cooking on the stove at the same time.
But look how it turned out!
We didn’t use any “fake food” or secret photo styling tricks. All of the food is 100% real, cooked by myself and this amazing team, and styled and photographed by Becky.
In addition to the two weeks of shooting in St. Louis, Becky also flew up here to Milwaukee for three days, where we shot some very special lifestyle photos that featured myself, Ben, and even our pup.
My girlfriends also got in on the fun (and yes, these ladies are my friends in “real life” too).
To prep for the lifestyle shoots, I organized every prop down to the spoon, planned what I could cook at night to be ready the next day, and then prayed for decent weather so we could shoot outside. At certain points, I felt like I was planning a mini wedding.
Prayers answered and totally worth it. I love how much personality these photos add!
Every recipe in The Well Plated Cookbook has a stunning photo. I can’t wait for you to flip through it and see them yourselves.
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