Q&A for the Phoenix Cooks Cookbook Shoot

Most likely you’ve landed here because you saw the video on YouTube recapping the Phoenix Cooks cookbook shoot with my friend and food stylist, Ellen Straine.

If you didn’t listen in to our chat on day 7 of the shoot, step into the studio!

As I mentioned, there were more questions that came in after the shoot wrapped. So, for those who wanted MORE!! here ya go!

FYI, we cannot release any of the images from the shoot prior to the publishing of the book. But, we can’t wait to show them off in late 2020!

Q: Was this a personal project or were you commissioned for this shoot?

A: This was a paid shoot. I was approached by the publishing company in the summer to see if I was interested and available for the shoot. The author, a friend of mine from the Phoenix food scene, was the one who recommended me. The publisher presented the scope of the project and we arranged a call to discuss more in detail. They also had a set budget for the project. After assessing the scope of the project, reviewing the budget and what it would require of my time and resources and reviewing the contract, we had some negotiations and eventually came to mutually agreeable terms. I signed the contract and planning for the October shoot started shortly thereafter.

Bear in mind when budgeting a project like this, things like the stylist, assistants, props, studio rentals, catering for the crew, prep days, additional insurance, etc… are all the responsibility of the photographer. Need more on this and all of my personal systems for budgeting shoots, creating proposals, negotiating contracts and how to manage the business side of things? Hop on the waitlist for my online course, FullTime Framework.

Q: What background did you use to shoot the headshots of the chefs?

A: I had originally purchased a backdrop from Denny Manufacturing. It was a really nice backdrop, however, we ultimately decided it was a little more dramatic than what we wanted. Ultimately, my husband helped me build a large faux wall with several sheets of plywood taped and spackled together and used the technique from my DIY backdrops video to create texture. It worked great!

Q: Did you have the dishes and recipes list in advance? What details were important to planning?

A: Yes, we did have the list of dishes and full recipes of each dish a couple weeks prior to the shoot. This was important so that the food stylist knew what garnishes and ingredients to bring as extras on shoot days and so that I could do image research on what the food might look like. Granted, we weren’t 100% sure in this case what we were working with until the chefs showed up. But, it never hurts to have some creative ideas at hand in case they fit the situation. For example, we knew we were going to be shooting a Paella. So, I researched Paella ahead of time, getting ideas for angles, styling, propping, colors, etc. So, then when the paella showed up, I had some ideas ready to go so we could stage the scene quickly, execute the image and move on to the chef’s headshot. Planning is paramount for an effective shoot, but flexibility to roll with the punches is equally important.

Q: How do you decide if the food will be served “whole” or as “plated”.

A: For this particular shoot, the art director wanted to make sure we had some images of the food served family style. Granted, some chefs didn’t bring the food in a manner in which family style was possible. There were other dishes that just simply looked better as a final plated dish. But, certainly, when it made sense for a dish to be served family style, we went for it.

For example, one restaurant brought a lamb roast. We took the opportunity to have him plate it on a large platter, as if it were for a holiday dinner, adorned with roasted vegetables and I pulled out a set of a lovely serving knife and fork. It was a stunner of a dish! Where there were some salads that would have looked monotonous served family style, so we took the opportunity to serve them as an individual portion, or as multiple plates of individual portions. The Art Director gave us a lot of leeway and allowed us to decide based on what showed up and what we felt was best for that particular food.

Q: What lighting did you use?

A: It was all artificial throughout. The headshots were done with two Godox AD600 Pro monolight strobes. One with a large umbrella behind me to serve as a soft fill. The other had a 32” round beauty dish to deliver a strong key light to the chef’s face. Where I had a tricky decision to make was that because I used my strobes for the headshots, that meant I was using my continuous for the food. I prioritized the strobes for the headshots because I wanted to make sure to get super crisp, sharp photos of the chefs without any motion blur. Flash is the easiest way to guarantee that.Admittedly, I was most nervous about shooting the headshots since that’s not my typical wheelhouse, so I wanted to have my best food forward there. Sure, I could have rented or purchase additional strobes, but I have great continuous lights and a studio with total control over ambient light. Too, because there was a lot of collaboration going on with the chefs, the stylist and the art director, it was nice to use lighting where they could see what the lighting would look like without having to take test shots. I used the Aputure 300d for the majority of the images, switching out different modifiers based on what that image required. For the hard light images, I would use the Aputure bare, without any modification and it looked great! The soft light images I used a 150cm octagon softbox.

Q: Is the final display of the book up to you? Where the pictures go, where text goes?

A: The layout is all in the hands of the Art Director at the publishing company. However, she has shared with me prior to and throughout the process, the intended layout so that I could shoot with that in mind.

Q: Did you tether with a cord or did you use the Case Air for transferring files?

A: I had sincerely hoped the Case Air solution would work as an easy wireless tethering solution. It didn’t work well for me and was slowing me down. After the first image on the first shoot day, I went back to my standard method of tethering with a cord to the EOS Utility app and then having that auto import to Lightroom. I have a video on that process HERE. Also, shooting that way ensured that images were being saved not only to the memory card in the camera but also to my network drive and backing up nightly to the cloud via Amazon Glacier.

Q: Can you share some of the post production activities?

A: After shooting all of the images, I delivered all of the low resolution images to the Art Director. These were unedited. This included multiple angles of each dish, extra ancillary shots that I picked up on set of ingredients, all of the many headshot options of the chefs and also a day and a half’s worth of visiting restaurants to shoot interiors. The purpose of these images is for the Art Director to build out the draft of the book, combing through the images to pick her final selects. We’re currently in that process. So for now, I’m waiting to hear back on the final Full Res order, at which point I’ll go through and edit and retouch those final images and deliver those to her.

My best advice

Thank you so much to everyone who submitted questions! Hopefully we helped shed some light on what it’s like to shoot a cookbook. That said, every single shoot will be different.

My best advice? Be kind. Be patient. Ask a lot of questions. Listen well. Follow up. Don’t be afraid. Show up. Learn new things. Expect the unexpected. Be generous. Say ‘thank you’. Be okay with feeling uncomfortable. Be proud of what you accomplished.

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