Anatomy of a Cookbook Photo Shoot

The writing and publishing of a cookbook is a real process.  Interested in immediate gratification?  Oof, this is not your line of work.

The manuscript for The Mom 100 Family Table is finished, it’s being edited by my excellent editor Suzanne, and we are spending the entire week shooting all 100 recipes (plus variations!) in the book. I absolutely love this part of bookmaking . First, the photographer of the book is my good friend Todd Coleman. He’s so talented it’s stupid. And he has assembled a team of cooks and assistants who are so top notch it makes me weepy.   And then our photo editor, designer, prop stylist….that whole it takes a village thing certainly is true when you’re getting 100 plus shots and a cover in less than a week.

This is the part where the book, which has lived in my brain, my computer, my house, starts to become real, and live out in the world.  People who cook for a living are cooking the recipes from the book.  And the recipes are all working, and everyone is eating everything as soon as the shots are wrapped up (prosciutto wrapped shrimp and carrot ginger soup for breakfast, anyone?  you bet), and the music is blasting, and the place smells like all kinds of delicious, and we are happily discussing things like how shredded the carnitas should be, and which versions of the stuffed baked potatoes to shoot.

After each shot is taken, an 8 1/2 x 11 page of the image is printed out and taped to a huge wall.  The number of images grows, and the book becomes real.

Here is a tiny snapshot of what happens during a cookbook photo shoot.

This is Todd.  Nothing happens without Todd.


Pasta with Chicken and Broccoli.  Dish #48.

IMG_5697The setting up of one of the shots.

IMG_5711Curated utensil choices.


Tables of possible props.IMG_5701

Rice bowl.  One version of shot #53.

IMG_5715Setting up burger shot, #74.


Pot and pans and surfaces to choose from.


Plates on deck for shot #85.

IMG_5704Streusel coffee cake.


One of the two kitchens where all of the cooking takes place.

IMG_5720Me taking photo of Todd taking photo.

Me taking photo of Todd taking photo


Wall of photos in process.


End of day on Tuesday, celebrating Todd’s birthday with coconut cake and Manhattans.


And that’s just the first 2 days out of 6.

It makes me think of a passage from the children’s book The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams:

“Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.’

‘Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit.

‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ‘When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.’

‘Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,’ he asked, ‘or bit by bit?’

‘It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

One thought on “Anatomy of a Cookbook Photo Shoot”

  1. Reynaul says:

    Too excited! I can not wait for the book to come out!!!

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