Last week we stopped by the studio where the Weldon Owen Publishing team was shooting photography for our upcoming cookbook, Quick Slow Cooking, by local food writer Kim Laidlaw. We were so inspired by the visit that we couldn’t wait to share the experience with Taste readers! If you’ve ever wondered how cookbooks are made, here’s a behind-the-scenes peek.
Once all the recipes for a book are finished, the storyboarding begins. For this book, Weldon Owen’s associate publisher Jen Newens organized all of the recipes by chapter in a giant sheet of paper taped to the wall. As each recipe is styled and shot, a photo is printed and pasted to the wall, so you can actually see the book coming together.
“Building the story board is the best part of the photo shoot,” Jen tells us. “You can literally see the book coming to life before your eyes and it helps inspire creativity from the whole team.”
Then, it’s time to shoot. For this project, art director Ali Zeigler defined the aesthetic and overall tone of the photos and book layout. She decided to show some recipes in their mise en place state — just the raw ingredients, ready to be combined and cooked.
“For this book, Ali’s direction was for everything to be very organized and compartmentalized,” Eva Kolenko, the photographer on the shoot, told us. “The look is very fun, fresh and different. It’s cool to see recipes visually rather than just reading a list of ingredients. The color is really rich, slightly moody and warm.”
The team works with a prop stylist, in this case Glenn Jenkins of Charmed Life Design Studio in San Francisco, to source bowls, plates and background surfaces that match Ali’s art direction, incorporating color and texture into the photography. In addition, the Weldon Owen studio is filled with racks of pots, pan, dinnerware, glassware and linens that have been collected over the years, to help fill in additional prop needs.
In the kitchen, food stylists Lillian Kang and Amanda Anselmino cook and style each dish, adding the perfect finishing touches. Lillian uses a paint brush to get the details just right and garnishes bowls with cracked black pepper and fresh herbs.
“Photography is all about light, and all ingredients come from the earth, so food photography is really about natural elements and highlighting the details of the bounty nature provides,” Eva explains. “Also, food is nourishing — everybody needs to eat. It’s something everybody can connect with.”
Once a dish is perfected, Eva and her photo assistant Brian Lackey set up the shot. For Quick Slow Cooking, everything is shot from overhead for a rustic, communal feel. “When you think of a slow cooker, you think of a house filled with warm smells, and the photos really reflect that,” Eva says.
The photos show up on Eva’s computer screen as she shoots, and the team examines each one before making adjustments. When she decides they’ve nailed it, she prints a small photo for Jen to tape on the wall. Progress! They are shooting eight to 10 recipes a day, for a total of 80. And from the creative energy flowing, it’s clear they’re having a blast.
“I’ve been really inspired by these recipes!” Eva told us. “I haven’t traditionally been into slow cooking, but it really makes sense for my life right now — it’s perfect for busy moms like me. Having healthy meals for my family is really important, and with a slow cooker you can eat the food that day and store leftovers for weeks down the road. ”
Look for Quick Slow Cooking in stores and online this fall! In the meantime, check out some pictures from our visit to the studio: