Thursday, November 4, 2010

the photo piece

When I was trying to figure out how this whole book thing would come together, I must admit that the photo piece was a mystery to me. Who would take the photos? Who would decide what they looked like? Who would make the food? These all felt like secrets that I knew I would have to learn in the process--I hoped that when I got initiated into my life as a real writer that the information would just absorb into my cells, just like everything else I knew I had to learn.

Except of course it doesn't work that way, and so the only other option is that I ask every single question I can, dumb or obvious as it might seem to someone who's been doing this for a while.

I've found that I'm not the only one who's fascinated by this stuff, that the actual story of how pictures are created for cookbooks is, well...fascinating.

So I thought that while I'm in the middle of all of this, I might share it with you--maybe you're working on your own book and this could be useful, or maybe you just a shelf full of cookbooks and have always wondered what a food shoot might look like? Either way, pipe in with any questions or experiences you might want to share here--I'll just start out at the beginning.

So first of all, my sense is that every publisher does things differently, and then within that, different books have different photographic needs. Some publishers handle the photographs without much author input, and some authors hire whole teams, but they don't necessarily participate in the shoot. Others authors are super hands on, and of course sometimes authors take their own photos as well. Really, there doesn't seem to be one way to do it, but in my case, I hired a photographer, and Clarkson Potter approved her. The photographer hired her team, and then we all went about thinking about how the photos would look. We had a meeting with my editor and art director, and from there we made a shot list of all the photos that would be in the book. Because I'm still writing, this list stays fairly fluid, but when I submit my manuscript in the spring, my photographer will submit the photos, and within those shots on the list, there will be variations so that the editor and art director will have some room to decide which photos will work best. In the case of this book, I'm participating quite a bit in the photo process, and I'm there for every shot. I give my input as we go along, and I help set up the shots, and when there are hands in the shot, they're my hands.

Before we go any further, let's meet the team.

This is Jennifer May. She is magical, this woman. When I was looking for a photographer, I spent quite a bit of time searching through local publications in the hope that I would find someone close by. Jen had done some beautiful work for Edible Hudson Valley, and when I went to her website, I knew I had found the one. Lucky for me, she had a soft spot in heart for canning and good family food, and even luckier for me, she was already working on a book for Clarkson Potter, so they were familiar with her work. She's a wonder to work with and her photos? Sometimes I feel like I'm looking at my dreams of all of this stuff, but better and more beautiful.

This is Jessica Bard, food stylist extraordinaire. She makes most of the food, and she makes it all look lovely, and then messes it up when I say "more homemade!" She's a cook and a stylist and recipe tester, and when I'm not setting up shots I'm hovering over the stove grabbing impromptu cooking lessons.

This is Kari Chapin, the prop stylist. Most of the items in this book belong to me or Kari, for the past few months she's been searching the antique fairs and thrift stores for the perfect pieces fot the book. She gets them ready and puts them together in magical ways that I could never think of. Kari is also a writer and is, I think, the most helpful advice giver on turning your creativity into a business while still staying inspired. As an added bonus, Kari has the most perfect apron collection, and she lets me wear any one that I want.

We're shooting the pictures for the book over the span of a couple of months. Some are in my kitchen, and others are in a studio that we set up in Jessica's kitchen. Joey and the girls make several appearance, so some days are more at a kids pace, and with others we pack a little more in. But we average about 10 shots in a 9 or 10 hour day. When we're in my kitchen I'm doing some of the cooking, and in Jessica's I just focus on setting up shots.

The girls are completely in love with Jen, and they want all the photos to be of them.

And as she shoots, we all look, and after one or ten or fifty tries, we call the shot and move on to the next.

And that's how it's been working around here. I'll keep sharing little bits of this process here and there if you like--and finally there will be a book!


  1. Oh, how *fun*! I love these behind-the-scenes looks at how books come together.

  2. Very cool Alana! Congratulations! I liked reading behind the scenes- I educate kids on composting- let me know if you need anything - worked with NYC residents and NJ groups.
    Erica Fisher

  3. Fascinating! And so fun. I love being able to be a fly on the wall during this process. I totally want Jessica Bard's job!!

  4. Yes, keep sharing! It's so cool to read about the process, and you're such a rock star for getting a book deal. Very inspiring!

  5. Very cool Erica! I'm trying to think about community composting around here--a few people are working on it and I think it may be key.

  6. I know, Lo! It really is an art--amazing to watch...

  7. I love this post, Alana!... I just linked to it from my blog - along with a photo of Jessica's beautiful sage set tray.

  8. What a fun behind the scenes look. Is it good or bad that you don't make the food for the photos? (Probably a very good lesson in giving up control, now that I think about it....)

  9. This is great. Very exciting to see it in action - and read about these other talented ladies in the area.

  10. found this through Jennifer's blog, which I adore for all sorts of reasons. what a treat to see what's going on here. it's marvelous (and makes me hungry too) to be let in on the process -- jana martin