Shoot The Cake, And Eat It Too
What if you had exactly three minutes to make a perfect picture -- well, good enough to eat -- before the garnish wilted, ice cream melted and the chicken breast turned gray?
Indeed, art directors and photographers who work on cookbooks have their work cut out for them. But there's a payoff. They often get to eat the food they shoot -- if they don't mind, of course, that the strawberry shortcake spends a few minutes on the set first.
So what do art directors and photographers do to make the image leap off the page and entice the reader's aesthetic senses?
Traditionally, the tricks used to make photos look more appealing were more prevalent in advertising food photography than in editorial food photography. It's still the case, according to the wizards at Reiman Publications, Greendale, Wis., whose cookbooks won three Gold Ink Awards this year in the Cookbook category. (The annual Gold Ink awards are given to entrants, e.g., printers and publishers, for excellence in quality. The awards are hosted by Publishing & Production Executive magazine, the sister publication of BookTech the Magazine.) Reiman also produces cooking magazines.
Reiman's Ground Beef Cookbook won a Gold medal; Country Woman Christmas, 1999, a Silver; and 2000 Taste of Home Annual Recipes, won a Bronze. All three titles were printed by Quebecor World Book Services, Kingsport, Tenn.
Although Reiman uses food stylists, explains Mike Sloane, vice president of prepress operations at Reiman, they don't paint food with dyes or use fake food in photo-shoots other than for stand-in. Nor do they spray-paint or airbrush.
"We do all of our own food photography and prepress in house,"he says. "We have a complete studio. All of the prop and food styling is done on premises. We test all of our recipes well before we actually photograph them."
Reiman's food stylists use a kitchen in the studio. There are usually two stylists, who share a sink and a microwave. They have their own stove and oven. There's also a mobile stove for a third food stylist, should one be needed for backup.
This is how the shoot works: Stand-in food (mashed potatoes for ice cream, for example) is used at first to achieve composition, explains Stephanie Marchese, food photography art director.
Once the lighting is set by the photographer in the studio, editors are called in for a Polaroid approval. Then food stylists prepare the tidbits in the studio's kitchen.
At this point, the food that will be shot for the printed piece becomes exposed to the studio lighting and other conditions, and it's important not to have it "die" on the set before the shoot is completed.
"Team-work effort is the solution," says Marchese. "And communication and timing are essential -- a lot of communication between myself, the photographer and the food stylist."
Depending on the feature they're photographing, it takes a few hours to compose, style and prepare the food, says Marchese. Considering that souffle, for example, has a life span of two to three minutes after it's taken out of the oven, timeliness is crucial indeed.
"Once the final food is on the set, we take one more Polaroid before we go to film," Marchese continues. Sometimes, she adds, this stage is skipped until after the film has been shot --especially with food that has a short life span.
Since all food is prepared in the photo studio on the day of the photo-shoot, Marchese emphasizes, there are only a few tricks used during shoots. Sometimes she uses fake ice cream as a stand-in food. Another ploy is to moisten the food at the last minute, or undercook it to make it more photoworthy. For example, she says, if broccoli is cooked for 10 minutes, it turns olive green; but if it's cooked for only three minutes, it will maintain its bright green color.
After being in the business for many years and currently with numerous magazines under their belt, and about 12 cookbooks produced annually, Reiman is moving toward a 100-percent digital workflow.
Why now? "Because it now works," says Sloane. "We tested it for many years; we just never were happy with the quality."
Currently, Reiman uses a CT/LW Scitex workflow on a Mac using a central server-based type of architecture and a PSM Scitex RIP. All proofing is done in house on two Kodak PS Approval proofers.
"All magazines and books have been printed CTP for a number of years," says Sloane, "and the conversion to digital photography will finish our move to an all-digital workflow."
Reiman brings in freelancers only at crunch times. Otherwise, all photography is done in house by staff photographers. The photo studio has two working Sinars, says Sloane; the third one serves as backup.
"Right now, we're still shooting primarily to a transparency," he continues, noting that all scanning is done on one of their Crosfield scanners. "We are currently working on our conversion to digital photography. We recently bought two Sinar digital systems, and we're just getting into the fine-tuning of the digital process. For example, we shot our fall catalog 100 percent digitally this year."
Each year, Reiman produces two catalogs, called "Country Store." The company takes the direct-marketing approach when it comes to producing catalogs, and a wait-and-see approach when it comes to cross-publishing and cross-promotion involving the Internet.
"Our audience is a little older and may be not quite as prone to online shopping as somebody else's customers would be," Sloane explains.
All image and data archiving is done in house on an Oracle-based database called FlexstorDB that can be searched using a standard Web browser. Since some editors work from home, it's important they also have access to the database. All data is kept on the server in the prepress department, Sloane adds.
The artist's vision
Reiman's design philosophy, Sloane explains, leans toward simplicity and quality. Format is illustration-heavy, but easy to follow and consistent throughout the publications.
Just as Reiman's food editors don't try to doctor the food on the set, art directors don't alter the images digitally either.
"We scan everything GCR to keep colors bright and clean; and it helps us on press, as well," Sloane points out. "Reds don't get olive, blues don't go purple. Our prepress people use Photoshop mostly to correct colors, including background colors."
And how do the images end up looking so vibrant?
"One of our secrets, if you will, is that we use very good paper," Sloane reveals. "And we're very fussy with our printers. We always do on-site press checks and ask for the printer's best ink sets. We try to control the entire process, from creative all the way through to the finished product."
And the results are scrumptious indeed.