Chefs may think that the recipes and writing are key to a successful cookbook –witness the hullabaloo over The New York Times article on cookbook ghostwriters – but it’s the photographs that really count. Whether they are stylized or more realistic, action shots of the celebrity chef buying, cooking, and eating, or just kids helping to make a dish in the kitchen – photographs count. They whet our appetites, they are short cuts to understanding a process, and they are goals for a finished dish. Whatever reason the photographs are there in books, websites, and magazines – they help readers understand the story behind the food.
Nicole S. Young‘s Food Photography: From Snapshots to Great Shots (Peachpit Press) is a nuts and bolts guide to taking food photographs. The book covers photography fundamentals, equipment, lighting, styling & props, framing & composition and processing images with Adobe Photoshop. Comparison photographs show how different kinds of lighting, cameras, or lens. Nicole points out the differences and why it makes sense choosing one way over another. She shows how to style food – and how to compose a photograph by positioning the food or highlighting one ingredient. Nicole even reveals the tricks of the trade like using a hand steamer to add steam to food to make it look like it is fresh from the pan. She shows how acrylic ice cubes make for a better photograph than real ones.
The challenges of food – the shapes, colors, temperature, and design – make food photography both challenging and rewarding. Nothing will substitute experimenting with photography yourself to find your own style, but Nicole S. Young’s Food Photography is a great guide.