Here goes Part II of my lessons in food styling and photography, though I suspect the lessons will never cease as I learn something new every time I style a shoot (oooooh, look at me, styling a photo shoot! And being the photographer! This was never even on the horizon a year ago, but now that it’s a part of my life, I love it, I just love it!) After the first few photos it hit me that I needed to put some more thought into the whole process.
Rather than deciding how I’m going to style the photo just minutes before taking it, I needed to a) remind myself that I’m not experienced or talented enough to be that blasé about the whole thing (you are not THAT kind of artist Cheeku) and b) spend some time planning all 26 photos in my mind and on paper, at least to some extent. So I did just that…. And boy, have I had fun (and the results are much better as well)!
I went through every single recipe and envisioned a modern but rustic, Indian-themed image to represent the recipe in the most attractive way possible. For all 26 recipes. I looked through my favourite cookbooks for inspiration (Ottolenghi, your photos are beautiful), several websites, and spoke to more than a few people. There are so many excellent food blogs and very talented amateur photographers out there. Mostly, however, it has been a lot of trial and error. I have cooked and photographed some of the recipes 2-3
times over (Grilled Pineapple and Baked Kebabs– I’m talking about you), even after spending the better part of an evening planning the photograph – and missing
most of the latest episode of True Blood in the process. You get better by doing. Sometimes, you’re lucky and you get it right the first time. More often than not, however, you have to keep trying till you get it right. And even then, you come back to the photo a few weeks later and you want to have another go to make it just a little bit better…I have learnt to fight those urges.
In order to photograph a recipe for a cookbook, especially one that demands a modern take on a cultural theme and some staging to the photos, there are so many components to think about. In addition to the food looking as appetising as possible, you have to think about what it will be served in, the cutlery and other props, the tablecloths, mats and napkins (or not), the garnish, all the colours coming together and many other things – not to mention all the technical aspects (lighting, angles etc…) of taking the photo. It has to be pretty, but not so pretty so as to take the focus off the main subject – the food in question. I totally understand why people hire food stylists and photographers and why they are often separate people! It can get overwhelming. I owe my gratitude to several kind friends who lent me their lovely tableware and props – Bijal and Heena Dodhia of Café Mocha, Rumy and Neela Chadha of Café Nosh and Minal Shah. You came to my rescue when my mum, Nakumatt, and Mr Price could no longer meet my tableware needs.
I shared the first few photos I took with you in my last blog and I have shared several more on Facebook in order to get some feedback and to generate some anticipation and pre-publicity for the cookbook. Again, I am so grateful to so many of you for your encouragement, feedback, and constructive criticism (Winnie – thank you for dissing my Grilled Pineapple photograph – it is so much better now). Thank you especially to my cousin brother and talented photographer Harbeer Chadha, in Delhi, who pored over my first photos and came back with a page of very helpful observations and pointers for taking better food photos – I listened and I’m learning!
I have many more thank yous to say to so many; I’ll try to remember them all in the acknowledgements section of the Cookbook. But I’m getting ahead of myself (nothing new there), there is so much more to do before then. In tomorrow’s blog (yes, tomorrow’s), I’m getting back to the food by sharing a recipe and answering a question I have had about the nutrition analysis for the recipes. See you then and, as always, thank you so much for reading.