A new cook book, With a Pinch of Spice featuring my photography.
They say one should be careful what you wish for because it might come true. Well in my case it did come true. My dream to shoot a cookbook finally came to fruition back in January and February this year when I was contacted by the author Mrs. Laila Al Khaja who asked if I would be interested in the job of shooting her book which was to be published by Motivate Publishing here in Dubai. Well, when opportunity knocks one should open the door wide.
In early January the planning started in earnest with me sourcing cloths and props for the shoot. Mrs. Al Khaja, Laila, already owns one of the largest collections of white crockery I have ever seen. We were not short of white plates, dishes and bowls in every shape and size imaginable. It was amazing. I also needed a stylist to help me with the food styling. I was so lucky to have my friend and fellow food blogger Anja Schwerin of Anja’s Food 4 Thought, step into the role with gusto.
Since this was to be my very first time actually having my work published I had to make sure I was ready and that everything worked like clockwork. Apart from the actual shooting of the dishes there was a huge amount of preparation that went into planning the shoot. I set up a shooting schedule to make shopping for the ingredients and herbs we would need, easy to plan for. We shot between 4 and 6 dishes a day. Some days more. Each dish had to be described to me before hand so that I could more or less plan how I would shoot it. On the day of the shoot the dish would sometimes be different to how we envisioned it. This meant being flexible and open minded and adjusting the set-up and our props for colour or texture to compliment the dish.
The best part was that each and every dish was freshly prepared just before shooting. After shooting was over for the day, we always stayed and ate whatever Laila prepared that day for the shoot. The photographs in the book are all of real food. There was no cheating and no enhancing. What you see is what we ate! And what we ate was delicious. The recipes are a wonderful fusion of middle eastern and far eastern flavours and spices. Each dish flavoured and spiced to perfection. Even for those that don’t like their food too spicy this would be just perfect.
As you would expect the shooting was hard work. Some days were more challenging than others. Shooting for a book is not the same as shooting for your blog. For my blog for example I shoot mostly in natural light with only the odd bit of artificial lighting. For this book all the food was shot using artificial lights. The lighting for every dish had to be pre worked out in my head. I needed to know exactly which lighting set up I would need to make the food look good. The set up was slightly different for each shot. The size, shape and direction of the lighting I used was determined by the texture and shape of the food and the refection off the surface the food was placed on. Texture and colour are really important components to consider when shooting with artificial lights. You cannot have blown highlights all over the place and you want the food to look as though it has been shot in natural light. For bringing out the texture I used small reflectors or placed honeycomb grids onto my lights.
When shooting food you can’t mess around too much since food only looks good for a very short time before it starts to oxidise or leaves start to wilt. With artificial lights this process needs to be even quicker, since the lights are hot when they flash so you cannot be taking your time once the dish is in place.
This, my very first cookbook shoot has been a huge learning experience, and I am sure it was for Anja too. One is far more meticulous when you are working for someone else that shooting for your own blog ( well I am anyway). Shooting a cookbook is not just about taking beautiful pictures it is also about organisation and planning not to mention all the post production work once the shooting is over. About 10 images had to be re-shot either because the image did not fit on the page of the book properly or simply because I was just not happy with the quality. I also learned that the image you take and see on your colour calibrated monitor is not the image that eventually appears in print. The image is moved about to fit the page and the files are changes to suit the printing process so it can be a bit of a surprise when you see the images in print and they don’t look exactly as they did when you made them.
The experience of working with Anja and Laila has been one that I am enormously proud of. I think we did a great job of capturing Laila’s food and showing Dubai that a local cook and a Dubai based food photographer can work magic right here in our very own back yard.
Now I need to go off and set a new intention: ” I will shoot five cookbooks, including one for a celebrity every year”. How’s that for an intention? oh and by the way, I would love to hear what you think.