After writing the previous post regarding the cost of photoshoots, several people asked me whether investing the money and hiring a food stylist is indeed a necessary expense. Personally, after experiencing the quality of imagery once a food stylist was in involved, I realized this is essential for the High Cookery book. When I authored my first cookbook, I didn’t hire a stylist and the images were substantially inferior to the ones in my following books. It’s not that I didn’t try real hard… I just had to acknowledge I don’t have what it takes.
Food stylists are responsible for making the food appear as tasty and perfect looking as possible for the photographer to shoot. While photographers aim their attention on lighting, camera position, focus and other technical considerations, stylists deal with the plating, food arrangement, background and dishware. Food stylists typically have some professional background in the culinary arts and, naturally, an advanced artistic sense.
Making food photogenic isn’t as simple a task as some of you might imagine. Other than a great sense of style, there are numerous professional schticks that promote the food photo to the desired degree of ‘culinary pornography’ (as I like to call it). Fake ice cubes, the timing of each ingredient preparedness, adding the small touches such as sesame seeds and black salt, ‘accidental’ spills and many more.
In our shooting days, the stylist was, in fact, the boss of the day. She was the one guiding me when to get the next dish ready and approved each image before moving on to the next. Timing is extremely fragile in shooting days as most dishes cannot stay waiting. Think of a chocolate souffle coming out of the oven all fresh and steamy. Now picture it an hour later just sitting and waiting to be photographed… it will look less appealing and won’t represent the ‘respect’ it deserves.
All of the above said if you’re short on budget and you possess some basic artsy traits, this is definitely one area where you can save money in my opinion. The internet is filled with tips and guidelines to improve your food styling proficiency. However, since I employ no design skill whatsoever, it was evident to me that this is not where I would cut my costs.
In addition to food styling, most cookbooks incorporate some ambience imagery as well. These images are ‘softer’ as they don’t place the food in the centre but rather focus on the relevant atmosphere. In High Cookery, the food images gave a very serious tone that might intimidate people who aren’t utterly passionate about cooking. Therefore, the ambience pictures (nine in total) aimed to lighten things up a bit (see below). These photos give a sense of the social scene in which canna-food is consumed.
We did most of the ambience imagery in one (very expensive) day. For this purpose, I had to get a relevant location, arrange for models and a visual stylist. Luckily, I was able to use my mother-in-law’s house and (mostly) bring in friends to act as models. However, I decided to bring a professional visual stylist to assist me with making the different scenes. Similarly to the food photos, the ambience images quality increased exponentially thanks to her involvement and we were able to meet the overall book standard.
In terms of expenses, the ambience shooting day cost me $2,800 which included the cost of the photographer, visual stylist, ingredients, cannabis (this day had a heavy use as most imagery required a hefty presence of it) and other design expenses.
Tis it for now. Next design