A Cookbook Diary: Food Photography (Part 3)

Monday, October 17, 2016

I love to take something ordinary and make it really special. - Ina Garten
The photos on my blog were often snapped in haste. 

The dishes were not cooked for photography but for some hungry diners. I shoot them to keep cooking notes. Sometimes, it is for blogging purposes. How long did I take to snap those photos? In seconds and if time permits, minutes.  

I thought I could get away with that kind of photography when it came to the cookbook. That would have been the case if I had my way. As long as the dish is authentic, it give a visual indication of the result and tastes as nice as it looks, that should be enough. 

However, my publisher (Goh Eck Kheng) had a different approach. When it comes to a cookbook, the dishes deserve the best shots. Creatively taken, they can tell a story of their own. 

A photography session in progress
And so, the photographer was working harder than the cook. A shot could take almost half an hour to get right. Some took more.

It was mostly about light, more or less. Blockers and reflectors were used to control it. The right plates, bowls and backgrounds had to match the origins of the dish. The food was prodded, poked, handled and arranged to ensure the overall picture turned out right. Some photos looked like pieces of art.

It was meticulous, patient and sweaty work. I can imagine why photographers are paid well for their job. 

The photos were all taken using the best type of light: God's light. And so it meant that I had to use my off days and occasionally took leave to get the photos done. Sometimes I had to cook more than 10 dishes before sunset. I am glad for the help from some of my cooking kakis. 

The end result were some really nice photos. My food has never looked so good. Local ordinary ingredients received some glam.  

I should add that there was no "pretend food." Every dish was authentic. To an experienced cook, you can tell a lot by just looking at the dish.

In fact, some recipes had to be cooked again just to get it right. One example is a nice looking fried pork photo (see below). I think most will not see anything wrong with it. But it did not pass muster as Hakka Zhar Yoke because some wrong ingredients were used. It didn't look right to me. Still delicious but it wasn't how my Mum would have made it.

And so on another day, the recipe had to be re-cooked and re-shot.

      Left: Pic of some generic Fried Pork..          Right: THIS is my Mum's Hakka Zhar Yoke.
It was all very hard work but we found it fun and satisfying. I literally saw my food in a new light. 

My Mum could never have imagined that her dishes would attract all this fuss.

She would have been proud, very proud.

You can order the cookbook from here

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