10 Tips on Food Photography for Cookbook Authors

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If a cookbook author or food blogger wants to try and photograph their own dishes, I’d definitely encourage them to do so. Click on the link to see examples of my published work and read the 10 tips below to improve your own food photography.

Enlightened Cook Food Photos

Here are 10 tips I can offer to other cookbook authors and budding food photographers:

1. Rarely shoot directly overhead. It’s usually a dull angle and almost never works when plates are round, because photographs are rectangular or square.

2. Don’t use a flash camera. Use natural light and a few bounce cards if you need them. Flash produces a very flat shot and glaring highlights. If you absolutely have no other option, back way up creating distance from the subject and zoom the lens in. Then the light won’t be so hot. (This is much more flattering for people, too.)

3. Never, ever use a light box. This light is too even and looks fake. If you do use one, your food will not look real. It will look more like a Hallmark card circa 1970’s.

4. The other trick to making sure your images don’t look like Hallmark cards is to have some of image in sharp focus and allow that focus to soften toward the background. Photos where the entire image is in focus don’t look natural because if the dish were actually in front of your reader, their eye would not see it that way.

5. Make sure you look at everything in the frame and take all extraneous things from the background out, unless you specifically want them there.

6. Shoot so that your photographs have a very large file size that will equal at least 300dpi so that when it goes to print, the images will remain clear. There’s nothing more disappointing than a great photo that doesn’t have enough resolution to be printed.

7. If you don’t absolutely love the photograph of a particular dish, omit it. If there are poor photographs it very quickly lessons the perceived professionalism of the whole book.

8. Don’t ever grab photos off the web to use on your own material. You must have copyright for all images. If a publisher finds out one of your images isn’t being used legally, I can promise you they won’t work with you again. Their liability risk for being sued is too high and too costly.

9.Be sure to choose props that are unique to each shot. It’s important to have other things in the frame, not just your food. It should look like we just arrived a talented host’s home where everything was beautifully laid out. I shop thrift shops constantly for tablecloths, napkins, utensils, dish and bakeware. Make sure everything you use is laundered, polished and immaculately clean.

10. After a few attempts, if your work isn’t top shelf, find another photographer and negotiate a rate you can handle. I work with cookbook writers and food writers to quickly get food images on a budget. I’d be happy to find out what food images you need and work with you at a reasonable cost. My food photos are on 10 food blogs and in my book, The Enlightened Cook: Protein Entrees.

Popcorn Cauliflower

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Hmm, you say you don’t like cauliflower or your family won’t eat it? Well, I trick my party guests and even kids into eating my Popcorn Cauliflower every time!

The cauliflower of yesteryear was over-cooked, which much like broccoli, releases a stinky sulphur odor. Batter dip and roast instead of boiling, and I’m betting you’ll love it, too. I make it for parties because it can be done ahead and reheated easily and frankly, I just get a little thrill out of people freaking when they realize they just ate cauliflower and loved it. I will say the chili-mayo dipping sauce is strictly for kids though. Its also very inexpensive, compared to other party foods like cheese and boxed crackers, which areladen with fat. (I’ll save my calories for a marguerite, if you don’t mind!)

I use dosa flour in mine, because I’m off wheat entirely and it’s made from lentils, which are ultra-high in protein. This recipe is easy-peasy. You might even get the kids in on this one. It’s easier than pancakes and much better for them.

Popcorn Cauliflower is great for parties!

Popcorn Cauliflower

½ T butter
1 large head cauliflower
2 eggs
1/2 T butter
1 head cauliflower
2 eggs
¼ cup flour
2 T dulse or flaked kelp
½ T sesame oil
1 t Dijon mustard
¼ t sea salt
¼ t black pepper
¼ t chili powder
¼ cup water (as needed)

Chili May Dipping Sauce:

½ cup canola mayonnaise
¼ finely chopped marinated green olives
2 T lemon juice
1 T horseradish
½ t chili powder

Preheat the oven to 375º.

Mix all the ingredients for the dipping sauce in a small bowl and place in the refrigerator to chill.

Using your fingers, snap off individual cauliflower florets or cut them off with the tip of a sharp knife from the core. Slice any of the florets in half that are 2” round or larger.

Place a buttered, glass, baking dish or cookie sheet in the oven to heat that will fit all the cauliflower in a single layer and allow for space in between the florets.

Beat the two eggs together with a fork, in a large, deep bowl. Add the remainder of the ingredients with only as much water needed to form a thick batter that will not quite pour.

Toss the cauliflower florets into the mixture and coat evenly. Then spread the battered cauliflower out on the hot baking dish, leaving space between each floret. Bake for 20 minutes or until the bottoms are crusty.

Using a thin metal spatula to preserve the coating, turn the cauliflower and bake for another 15-20 minutes or until crisp and lightly browned all over. Serve hot with the chilled chili mayo.





Easter Sunday Supper 2013

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Yesterday, a traditional holiday dinner for 5 people––not my usual 11 courses for 11 people–ha!-was enjoyed by Johnny, Leysa, Walter, Dave and I. We started with some bubbly at 3pm, then a version of my Aunt Muchie’s Antipasto Giardinaire, which is full of Italian delicacies. I’ll write up an ingredient list and post soon, but suffice it’s pungent and salty, and not for the faint of heart! I roasted red bell peppers and a whole head of garlic, rolled up proscuitto and salami, marinated mushrooms and tomatoes separately , added cured olives, truffle paté, celery hearts, anchovies and arranged it all on a bed of curly endive!  Yum!!

By the time we sat down to that we were already through a bottle of bubbly, so we started on the lovely La Crema Chardonnay that Walter brought. As Johnny prepared his Limey, I mean English peas, I broiled a crust on an herb stuffed, braised leg of lamb. Thank you, Walter for not one, but tow lovely bottles and a serenade on the guitar.

The main course was a braised leg of lamb. I had the butcher at Whole Foods de-bone it, but give me the bone. I cut it into a flat 3/4″ sheet, stuffed it with 40 fresh mint leaves, parsley and 3 cloves of minced garlic and bundled it in twine, after it had soaked in Cabernet Sauvignon for 24 hours. Then I braised it in a roasting pan with the wine marinade, some water and the bone, on 275 for 2 hours. Just before serving it finished it under a super-hot broiler to achieve  a nice crust. Cut  the twine off and slice into nice 1″-2″ rounds, it made a very nice presentation.


Yummy sides were Johhny’s English peas and my scalloped potatoes with goat gruyere and yogurt. Baked it for 2 hours on 425º until gooey inside and crisp on top. Johnny was fascinated with his peas and we played along all the way through my 3 layer banana pie: 5 fresh, sliced bananas with custard and a sweet ricotta and coconut milk layer on top, finished with chopped walnuts. This pie–as all my pies, had no white sugar! Maple syrup and a dollop of lemon curd were the only sweeteners.

Here’s Johnny ready to  take his own life when I smoked up the kitchen to get the perfect crust on the lamb with the broiler on high!!