I recently shot images for a book called Vegan Weight Loss Manifesto by Zuzana Fajkusova and Nikki Lefler, the forces behind the wonderful plant-based blog Active Vegetarian. It was an amazing project and I couldn’t have asked for better clients to work with my first time shooting a cookbook. They made what was a large amount of work an enjoyable experience, and the ten solid days we spent shooting flew by.
As the title suggests, Vegan Weight Loss Manifesto is more than a recipe trove. It’s a complete guide to transitioning to a plant-based diet and living a healthy, vibrant life. The book is due out December 2017, published by Page Street Publishing in the US. I can’t wait to see all the hard work that went into creating it finally come together in print form.
I thought I’d give you a little peek into what went into this project on the photography side of things, and share a few images that ended up on the cutting room floor, so to speak. I’ll have to keep you I suspense until the book comes out for the final images *wink *wink.
There are different ways to approach a cookbook shoot. On some shoots, a food stylist is hired by the photographer and is responsible for preparing the dishes. However, Nikki and Zuzana couldn’t imagine not preparing their own food, so they did the cooking while I finalized the styling of the images and the propping. That being said, it was a collaborative process between us, as it should be. We were all passionately invested in getting the best images we could.
We had fifty recipes to shoot in addition to author portraits. I estimated that it would take us two weeks to complete it, and this turned out to be exactly how long it took us, with some of those days ten hours long.
A lot goes into a food shoot. One set-up takes an average of sixty to ninety minutes to execute, from styling to image capture. I wanted to get a few different angles and compositions out of each one so we could choose the very best image but after a few days, I had to limit my approach due to time constraints.
One thing I have learned in my career as a professional food photographer is that there is nothing more important than being prepared. We were all on the same page as far as the look we were going for, so I took on the preparation of a shot list, detailing exactly what we were going to shoot, how we were going to shoot it, and in what order. We shared mood boards on Pinterest and pored over cookbooks and magazines to help us crystallize exactly what we are looking for. Every prop was carefully chosen for the mood we wanted to convey through the images. Still, we often changed things mid-stream or ended up shooting some set-ups that didn’t quite work.
The other thing I have learned as a photographer is that no matter how prepared you are, photo shoots in general are a bit chaotic. Problems materialize and you need to be prepared for them. You also need some breathing room for the creative process, and once you are in it, you sometimes realize there is a better approach than the one you’re taking. The end result can be fantastic, but nothing like you initially intended. This wiggle room is why I’m particularly drawn to editorial photography.
We definitely had some firm ideas about how we wanted to capture each image. The look was meant to be organic and a bit rustic, not perfectly styled. The food needed to be approachable and we wanted to highlight the best of every dish. Fortunately, this is rather easy to do with vegan food, which is so textural and vibrant with colour. For me as the photographer, one of the best parts of the job was eating Zuzana and Nikki’s treats at break time. 🙂 I ended each day still feeling energized and inspired enough to go home and make their overnight breakfast oats for the following morning, or their seeded crackers and hummus to munch on while hunkered down at the computer, going over the images.
In a following post, I will talk more about the logistics of the shoot, and a bit more about what goes into creating a cookbook.