Photo notes: tawâw.

Cookbook Photography • Food Photography • Portrait Photography • Lifestyle Photography • Collaboration with Shane Chartrand and Jennifer Cockrall King

tawâw: Progressive Indigenous Cuisine was my first foray into cookbook photography, and I learned a tonne along the way. From food styling to angles and framing, here are my top tips for cookbook photography:

1. Think about angles.

Providing lots of different options for the hero shot is always a great idea – overhead, 45°,  and straight on can all be used to showcase different aspects of a dish. Don’t be afraid to give yourself options and consider which angles work for different types of foods. Drinks are often shot at 45°-90°, while intricately plated dishes can look stunning with an overhead shot. Burgers, sandwiches and other stacks are best shot at closer to 90° to show off the ingredients. Given the delicate modernist plating Chef Chartrand is known for, we ended up going with a lot of overhead shots for the book. 

2. Don’t forget backdrop shots!

Always grab a shot with the backdrop by itself – you never know when you might need to photoshop something, fix an error, extend a backdrop or change one. I learned this one the hard way – of course the one backdrop I forgot to get a plain shot of was the one chosen for the cover image, which needed a bit extra to wrap around the side of the book. We were ultimately able to photoshop a workaround, but it would’ve been easier if I had a wide shot of just the backdrop in my archives. 

3. A book lasts a lot longer than an Instagram post.

We studied many cookbooks new and old while deciding on a creative direction for the photography in the book. Ultimately we decided to skip the trends we were seeing on social media at the time – super dark moody shots, washed out scandanavian colours, and an emerging focus on hard light – instead opting to let the food speak for itself with soft and diffused natural lighting. 

There’s nothing wrong with choosing a trendy look if that suits the project – but it is good to consider the shelf life of a book and always focus on making the food itself looking its best instead of trendy.

4. Consider Strobes.

Natural light can really make food shine, but sometimes the logistics of shooting a cookbook means you’ll be working after sun goes down. Properly executed artificial lighting can be indistinguishable from natural light – so don’t be afraid to work with both. While our creative team decided to go in the natural light direction – this definitely limited our working hours (especially during an Edmonton winter!). Artificial light can be a great time management tool.

5. Shoot Wide.

Leave yourself lots of space around the edges of each dish (shoot wide) so there is space to crop down – this makes it easier for the book designer to lay out the book.

6. But don’t be afraid to suggest crops. 

Don’t be afraid to send the publisher cropped photos, let your vision shine through in the design of the book. While it’s great to provide some extra space around each dish so the book designer has space to work with different layouts – it’s also okay to provide some creative direction by cropping down some photos. Just be sure to discuss the book size and orientation with the designer so you’re working together as a team.