Natural Light: An E-Cookbook Project Update

by Britta-Lis on October 28, 2010

in The Cookbook Project

Looks Good Enough to Eat

Test Kitchen

Me in the "Test Kitchen"

I’ve had a marathon cooking week. I’ve been cooking every recipe I’m including in the book, along with side dishes and desserts, so that I can photograph each dish before adding it to the cookbook. Food photography is tricky—the food must look appetizing above all else—so I’ve been playing with lighting and staging, and trying to figure out the best angle and positioning. What I’ve discovered is that lighting has the single greatest impact on whether food looks appetizing or not, and is the biggest reason that travel photographs of food often look so terrible. In restaurants, with low light and only the point-and-shoot camera settings to measure light and focus, it’s difficult to make a dish look really good. Even when you follow all the rules of shot composition and framing, it’s still difficult to get a good shot when the light isn’t ideal.

What I’ve learned is to use as much natural light as possible, to shoot from a lower angle—one that better approximates what you’ll see when you sit at the table—and to zoom in. I’ve been adding place settings, wine glasses and other peripherals, but they’re not as important as I originally thought, because they usually just show up as a blur in the background. The natural light requirement is tricky because, in this season, we’re losing light rapidly, so I only have a small window in which to cook and photograph. Plus, it’s been cloudy all week (when is it finally going to snow?!) so I haven’t had as much light as I’ve been hoping for. Enter the fill-in flash and the white backdrop. And maybe Photoshop.

I hadn’t realized just how much energy cooking requires. How do restaurant chefs manage to do it for so long, night after night? After cooking one recipe after another all day, I found myself exhausted at the end of the day (or rather, at the end of the light). I had to sit down and veg for a while—I didn’t have the mental or physical energy to do much of anything else. And unfortunately, since my natural light window was so short, that meant the end of my day came pretty early. So a lot and a little got done this week, all at the same time. Yes, it’s possible

The Creative Approach

This project has definitely been putting all of my creative skills to the test. I still have yet to “write” the recipes. They’re all finished, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re well-written. As of now, they only have the basic information: ingredients, amounts, instructions—and even a lot of the instructions are just notes I wrote and added to as I cooked. Now that the cooking part is over, though, the real writing part is beginning. That’s my real element, so the collection of recipes I had is looking more and more like an actual (e)book.

I’ll also be using my design skills when I create the e-book itself, which could be either the most or the least time-consuming aspect of the project, depending on whether I like my first design or not (usually, not). This is the part that will keep me up all night if it comes to that—once I get on a roll with these types of things, I am loathe to stop just because it’s bedtime.

To Subtitle or not to Subtitle

After a few false starts, I think I have finally thought of a title for my cookbook: The Traveler’s Cookbook. What do you think? I was also thinking of subtitling it How to Cook in a Hostel Kitchen, but I’m still not sure about that part. It’s a little tongue-in-cheek, and it’s likely that many people who frequent hostels, especially on long-term trips, will get it and appreciate it, but there are just as many people out there who won’t. And, it isn’t solely for hostelers, either. So, I guess the question is, do I really need a subtitle?

Anyway, that’s where the cookbook is, and I am, at this moment. Keep reading for more details. Next up: a description of the spice kit I’ve invented to go along with the e-cookbook.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Traci Sanders October 28, 2010 at 8:21 pm

Wow, I like reading about your experiences in writing and creating this cookbook!! Keep it coming. Are you still living the high life in Girdwood?

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Pat Perry November 3, 2010 at 6:57 pm

Any recipe problems with the standard format – you have TWO Home Economist’s in your immediate family willing to review. I like the idea of a lower case subtitle to the cookbook. “Hostel Kitchen – Backpacker Stove – Fire Pit – Recipes for adventure cooking” Only a thought! Looking forward to the finished product.

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