Making your cookbook picture perfect
Genre Types

Ask the Editor: Making Your Cookbook “Picture Perfect”

Making your cookbook picture perfectThis month, Xulon Press is all about self-publishing your recipes—we’ve gone cookbook crazy! One of the most important components of a cookbook is, of course, the pictures! To get the skinny on how to capture your picture-perfect casseroles, sauces and sides, we’ve tapped into the brains of our resident food & photography experts. Meet our panel: Krystina Murray, Xulon Editor, blogger and passionate foodie; Nick Lopez, Author Support Rep and photographer extraordinaire; and Sabine Khouri, our super-trendy, tech-savvy Product Coordinator.

Me: Thanks for getting together! Our authors have been pretty excited about this month’s topic. We all know that pictures are a huge part of cookbooks. What advice would you give to someone who is brand new to photography?

Nick: Getting to know all the features on your camera is a great start. But the most important thing is to practice, practice, practice, and always take notes on positioning, settings and lighting.

Me: Good advice. So let’s say I’ve got a few practice rounds in with my camera, and it’s time to prep the food. Where do I start?

Krystina: I’ll chop up fruits and veggies and organize them up on a plate (preferable a white one to highlight colors). I may also decide to drizzle any liquid-based sauce that I used in a dish for emphasis. Garnishes are always fun to use if they apply; you can also sprinkle spices or dry ingredients on the plate for a little fluff.

Me: That’s a great idea! Also very simple. Any fave tricks for “prettying up a plate?”

Krystina: I try my best to use fun colors (complimentary, primary color schemes, monochrome, etc.) to bring together items on a plate. It’s all artistic at the end of the day. Nice angles and fun composition also help. You can also use background props to enhance a theme and support the type of food you are presenting. It’s all about having fun and experimenting!

Me: You’re speaking my language; nothing enhances food & entertaining like a theme! Fiesta, anyone?! Okay, once the feast is laid out, what’s the best way to get those scrumptious close-up, detailed photos?

Nick: For close-up pictures, it all depends on the lens you have. Macro lenses are great for close-ups! I always avoid using a flash and white-balancing. This will give your images a more natural look.

Me: See, this why we brought in the dream team for this interview. How would you stage pictures of your favorite recipes? 

Nick: 50mm f1.8 lenses are great for starters. Natural lighting is best. You do not have to be outside for great lighting. Let the sun shine in, but not directly on to the subject to avoid unwanted shadows.

Sabine: Absolutely. If you have an area in your home—think kitchens, solariums—that allows sunlight in, that will be your best bet. Built-in camera flashes are often too harsh and rarely enhance the color and texture of the subject.

Me: Sabine, what if I’m a food blogger looking to assemble a collection of my “biggest hits” for print in a cookbook? Many blogs feature pictures taken on smartphones. Do those translate to books?

Sabine:  I would be hesitant to recommend using smart phone photos for a (soon-to-be) published book. I can understand the convenience in doing so for bloggers, but I highly suggest using a DSLR, or digital single-lens reflex, camera—even a low-end, hobbyist DSLR will make your finished dish come alive! If you decide to take the route of using your smartphone, I recommend at least an 8-megapixel camera and a macro lens (such as the Olloclip for iPhone), which will heighten the details of your scrumptious creation.

Me: So note to self: selfies of me and my accidentally-blackened french toast won’t work. For more reasons than one. Got it! Krystina, what about you? What’s your favorite dish to capture on film?

Krystina: I made a Chinese-style shrimp stir-fry with jasmine rice and an egg roll that was beautiful and delicious. The mixture of Asian vegetables and the shrimp in the sauce produced a nice contrast. It just looked appetizing and the composition in the picture was appealing.

Me: That sounds so great! This must be how you food writers get people like me to try to copy your kitchen genius, huh?

Sabine: Haha. Pretty much! With regard to photographing food, the end goal should be to make the viewer’s mouth water. To achieve that goal, we focus mostly on color, texture and even creative angles and arrangement that make your dish pop!

Don’t forget to click the “Subscribe” button in the top right corner to stay in the foodie loop this month! We’ve got lots of treats coming your way—no pun intended. Well, maybe…


Brittnee Newman, Marketing & Communications Strategist for Xulon Press, has been a blogger, freelance journalist and editor for just over half a decade. She joined Xulon Press as an editor in 2012, and now supports the company within the Marketing Department. Follow her on Twitter at @XulonBrittnee.

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