The first cookbook I was hired to shoot was Tina Miller’s Vineyard Harvest, published by Random House in 2005. Before accepting the job, I had serious doubts about my ability to photograph the recipes. In my mind “recipe” photos represented an entirely different genre of photography than what I was comfortable with. I incorrectly assumed that food photography involved complicated lighting setups, and styling complete with artificial sprays and concoctions designed to make the food look more appetizing. I knew nothing about working with lights, and nothing about styling. I’m about as far away from being a “studio” photographer as I possibly could be. My expertise is not in creating a beautiful scene with beautiful light, but in capturing it. I came perilously close to agreeing to photograph the scenes of the fishermen, the farmers, and the raw ingredients, while sub-contracting out the recipe photos to an experienced food photographer.
Luckily, I ultimately said yes to the entire project, recipes included. Looking back, the first few recipe shoots were definitely part of a learning curve for me, but once I got the hang of it, the photos came easily. The trick was to approach photographing a salad or a pie the same way I would approach photographing a landscape – with natural light well suited to the subject matter, and with minimal handling of the food and very little styling. In producing most cookbooks, a stylist is hired as an additional part of the team. In our case, Tina styled the food (which was really no more than her natural ability to make her recipes look good), while I styled the setting (placemat, napkin, flatware, and any additional props).
By the time we had a finished cookbook, I realized, much to my surprise, that my favorite part of the shoot had been the recipes – since food photography was a new challenge for me, mastering it came with an added sense of accomplishment. Not to mention that I love to cook (and eat!), so unanticipated perks included watching an expert chef in action, and having plenty of opportunities to sample the finished products.
Since the publication of Vineyard Harvest, I’ve gone on to shoot four more cookbooks. These include two with well-know island chef Catherine Walthers – Raising the Salad Bar (which has sold 50,000 copies), and Soups and Sides, both published by Lake Isle Press. I’ve also shot Morning Glory Farm by Tom Dunlop (published by Vineyard Stories), which received the Gourmand Awards first place in Local Cuisine Cookbook category in the United States (2009), Gourmet Gifts by Dinah Corley (published by Harvard Common Press), and have several new cookbooks in the works.
In addition to doing food photography for cookbooks, I frequently shoot photos for the cooking columns in Martha’s Vineyard Magazine, and Vineyard Style. These often involve the “farm to table” approach where I’ll shoot everything from the apple harvest to the apple pie. Some of the dozens of subjects I’ve shot include eggs, farmstands, grilling, squid, summer bites, drinks, bluefish and bass, Turkish and Indian food, a farm CSA, canning, and one-pot-wonders.