Behind the scenes: Cookbook photoshoots


Cookbooks are one of the most fun projects to work on from a design point of view, as there are so many avenues of creative expression, from the typography, to the recipe pages, feature pages, and of course the photography.

Here at Chil3, when curating a cookbook, we develop a unique BLAD (book layout and design) based on the client’s brand and preference to look, feel and overall message. A BLAD is a mock-up of how each feature page would look, typography selection and also style and tone of any images, including the cover, so the client has a clear idea of how the finished book will look before we get started. It’s incredibly important to involve eventual photographic style in the BLAD, as this way, the design of the book itself and the images within it marry perfectly, producing a truly beautiful end result. Because of this, with all our book projects, Becky includes one day of on-set art direction gratis.

So, how do cookbook photoshoots come into being?

When we say “cookbook photoshoot”, people instantly imagine the glamorous side. And there is one; it’s great fun planning and producing truly beautiful images as part of a talented team and the end result is always so satisfying. But while days spent on set are exciting and rewarding, it doesn’t come easy. Long hours go into both the planning and the shoot-days themselves.

Typically, a shoot-day is about 12 hours long, starting often at sun-up and ending at sundown, keeping a strenuous and tight timeframe so as to make the best of our beautiful Western Australian natural light. Shoots are paid by the day, so in order to get our client the best value possible, we meticulously plan every detail to fit in as many shots as we can. We will typically aim for anything between 15 to 25 shots in a day. When you consider setting up, prepping and cooking, lighting, props etc., it’s a pretty huge number.

Before we even get there, days and days of planning and development go into finalising the mood board for the shoot, developing a shot-list, sourcing props, scouting locations, coordinating the team, and in the case of food shoots, prepping and cooking the recipes.

Our most recent food shoot was for holistic counsellor Carla Thomas’ debut book, The Juicy Movement: A holistic approach to clean living, a project we worked on from the get-go with Project Manager and Editor, Kami Ramini, from Kami Ramini Media. The Juicy Movement is a beautiful, crisp, bright and inspiring book highlighting just how easy it is to get started on the road to the healthiest, most energetic and fulfilled version of yourself. So, we were aiming to achieve a clean photographic tone and vibrant typographic style which would support this message.

As Art Director, I wanted the food images to have a strong and consistent visual style throughout the book, so we opted to shoot all the recipes overhead on the same tabletop. Mood board developed, presentation done and all boxes ticked and approved, it was time to get the photographer and stylist on-board.

Our team was:

  • Becky Chilcott – art director and designer
  • Kami Ramini – project manager, editor, and food preparation
  • Sabine Albers – photographer  
  • Harriet Harcourt – food stylist 

We got together a number of times as a team to talk over ideas and to nut out the finer details; content structure, overall design, lighting and props. For this book, we had a one-day photoshoot consisting of over 20 food shots and around 10 lifestyle images of the author, Carla, including the cover. It was going to be busy, but we had planned it so there would be no lost time; whilst waiting for a dish to be prepared, we took lifestyle shots of Carla, and we’d scheduled the shots so the set wasn’t changed up unless it really needed to be.

What a mammoth day for both client and the team, but especially for Kami, the project manager, who was heavily pregnant and on her feet for near-on 12 hours, organising and preparing the recipes to be photographed. She welcomed her beautiful daughter into the world four weeks later!

It was a busy day but the satisfaction from each shot was immense, as we all saw the images in live streaming as they were shot. Luckily, we were all so full from sampling the beautiful recipes (no food goes to waste!), there was no need to cook dinner afterwards, we could all just go home and flop.

Carla was a dream client and trusted us with every detail. A brave move for a self-publisher. The results speak for themselves, as you’ll see, when we show you some of the book a little later on this blog. Carla’s book has already enjoyed great local media coverage and is selling well. It is available for purchase directly through her website, or see the list of stockists here.

If you are interested in producing a cookbook for marketing, fundraising or celebratory purposes, please contact Becky to chat over the process and any questions you may have.