Food Blogger Camp- Food photography, Getting a cookbook deal & Zihua Market

by on January 16, 2010

Banana flowers & fruit

As David Lebovitz put it, ” Yesterday was the best day of my life. Okay, it was the best day of the year ” and we agree with him 100%. Here at the Club Med Food Blogger Camp in Ixtapa, Mexico it has been a tremendous 7 day experience of valuable blogging workshops and of course, not to mention all the sun, beach and cocktails. Not bad for a day of learning. If school was always this great, we’d be 2 Ph.D’s smarter and always donning a beautiful golden tan.

Matt Armendariz

Our last report was about Adam Pearson’s food styling workshop and Michael and Donna Ruhlman’s writing and photography seminar. Next up was Matt Armendariz’s workshop on food photography. It’s not just any ordinary photography, it’s stunning food photography, the kind that makes you want to poke at the computer screen because it’s so deliciously food pornographic.

(These are all just a fraction of what was discussed! It’s impossible to share what was covered in 2 hours of talk)

Matt shared some great tips to think about when shooting:

  • Photograph, practice, and photograph some more.
  • Learn to work with what you have. Having a bigger, better camera isn’t always the answer. There are some great food shot with a point & shoot and some bad shots with an expensive camera out there.
  • Think about what you’re trying to communicate in your photograph and that will dictate how you photograph. Think about different ways to communicate your image.
  • You don’t always shoot so close-up, so tight. Shoot further away, show different elements around the food because that tells a story. Shooting a little further away to include the environment gives more context to your image.
  • Using a tripod is helpful to get consistent shots and a tripod will help steady your shot and avoid camera shake.
  • Food needs directional light, sometimes it’s as simple as a good light source in just one direction: back light or side light.
  • Once you start with a directional light source, learn to boost that light with bounces such as white foam core boards. You can use pieces of paper or anything white as “fill cards”. Anything metallic will help fill in more light and get light back to where you want it.
  • Using vellum paper helps diffuse light, soften the light.
  • He loves working with props and telling a story. Some as simple a on a cutting boards shows shape, texture and tells a story.

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Jaden Hair & David Lebovitz

Jaden from Steamy Kitchen and David Lebovitz presented an engaging and fun 2 hours of discussion on “blog to book” and their journey from blogger to cookbook author. They both came from two different backgrounds and their approach to getting their cookbook deal were so vastly different.

Jaden and David have different opinions on how to approach the publication of your first cookbook. Regardlessof how these two hashed it out (all lovingly, of course), it was wonderful to be exposed to all the different routes one could approach in getting a cookbook deal and still be successful.

Regardless of their different approaches to cookbook publishing, both have an immense amount of respect for each other and  their successful cookbooks proves that there are many options available out there to publishing a cookbook and to still be successful. You must be open minded!

 

  • Both agree that there isn’t alot of money involved in selling cookbooks for the tremendous amount of work it takes to finish one.
  • They both are committed to building their blog, content and their “brands” through using different forums of networking to share their content, like Twitter and Facebook. Jaden is especially brilliant at reaching out more and building Steamy Kitchen by accessing additional forms of media: television, radio and in print (her newspaper food column).
  • Jaden’s Steamy Kitchen started from a grass-roots, home-cook situation, where she did all the food writing, food photography, styling her self. On top of that, she didn’t have a literary agent represent her, she did it all her self. Jaden also spent personal money in marketing her book by hiring a private PR agent to represent her. Because she had such a small publisher, a large amount of funds weren’t available to her for marketing. But her personal money and effort to her cookbook was a great investment because she’s been able to sell tens of thousands of cookbooks, which will set her in a great position to get a better and more profitable second cookbook deal.
  • David, already being an established pastry chef from Chez Panisse, had years of restaurant experience heading into his cookbook projects. So he was able to have an agent represent him to get his cookbook deals. But even getting a decent cookbook deal doesn’t guarantee financial rewards. He still invests huge amounts of personal time marketing his cookbook and has spent personal funds to pay for recipe testers and food photography for specific books. Thus, David confides, there doesn’t leave much money left at the end of a cookbook project.
  • Being a cookbook author is definitely a labor of love!
  • Pro’s and con’s of self publishing cookbooks: David believes one can self publish a cookbook and still be successful because the world of cookbook writing is changing. He thinks resources to self publishing options out there allow everyone to get their voice heard and the exposure they want. Self publishing options can get anyone’s cookbook out there.
  • Jaden is still cautious about self publishing your first cookbook because the success of your first cookbook determines the future (if any) of your second cookbook. She believes for all the hard work and personal money that you would to put into your self-published cookbook, you must sell alot of books and sell enough of them to create more opportunities for you. If your blog is relatively new, or no one really knows what your brand is, who will buy so your books? So she suggests that you work hard at building your brand, getting your brand noticed and then approaching a publisher to get a deal. Having a publisher will help provide the some funds and legal, marketing assistance.
  • Both emphasize in getting your name and blog out there to be noticed and building your “brand” (David doesn’t like this word) is just one of the valuable points in starting your journey to becoming a cookbook author.

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Zihuatanejo Market Trip

Whew! So much information, now time to play! A group of bloggers went on a great market trip to Zihuatanejo market. We ate a ton of great local foods and just being a part of the local food scene added some special flair to this rewarding week. Here are a few images of the colorful local flair. More pictures to come on a later post.

Beautiful market ladies & fruit

Amazing carnitas street tacos

group shot!

Here are some previous posts from Food Blogger Camp:

{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Divina January 16, 2010 at 6:11 am

Thanks for all the wonderful tips. My problem is that I always shoot photos up close because I’m afraid I might show the now so good stuff around it. I only have a small space to take photos but I will try my best to shoot farther. From blog to cookbook is an inspiring transformation. It is definitely a labor of love. :D

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2 Mardi @eatlivetravelwrite January 16, 2010 at 6:17 am

This is a great post – thanks for all the useful photog tips and the info about from blog to book.

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3 lauren @ healthy delicious January 16, 2010 at 7:11 am

I’m in the same boat as Divina – small, cluttered space means I’m zooming in on the food to eliminate background noise. Especially in winter, when I can’t bring it outside.

Thanks so much for these posts – I really wish I could have gone. Next year, fo sho! ;)

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4 Gavan "The Healthy Irishman" January 16, 2010 at 7:14 am

Hey guys, fabulous post. My wife and I were hoping to make it down to meet all of you guys but it just didn’t work out this time. Obviously you all had a great time “working” and will hopefully get to meet sooner rather than later.
Thanks for the info.

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5 Kare January 16, 2010 at 8:47 am

Thanks for your terrific recaps – and great tips! As someone who’s very new to blogging, I really relish info like this.

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6 ravenouscouple January 16, 2010 at 10:03 am

from the title, we thought you were going to announce your own cookbook deal and congratulate you on it… :)

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7 Christine @ Fresh Local and Best January 16, 2010 at 11:31 am

Thank you so much for providing such helpful insight into photography and experiences of getting a book deal. It’s always exciting to learn how people get their start. I admire them and YOU for all of the hard work put into building and providing a great blog.

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8 Neel | Learn Food Photography January 16, 2010 at 3:04 pm

You all seem to have a lot of fun and lot fruitful week. I wish I was able to get to this event and be part of this. :( Makes me feel very sad that I missed it. But thanks to you for posting this online.

Thanks,

Neel

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9 Joan Nova January 16, 2010 at 4:31 pm

Thanks for sharing the tips. Looks like a valuable and enjoyable time.

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10 parisbreakfast January 17, 2010 at 4:53 am

Another BIG thank you for all the valuable info here.
I hope I can go next year!!!
Best,
Carolg

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11 kellypea January 17, 2010 at 10:21 am

Great write-up on what sounds like a fun and informative trip. Great photos, beautiful locale, and happy foodies! Very cool.

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12 Susan @ SGCC January 17, 2010 at 12:34 pm

What a great post! Thanks to you both for sharing the highlights. I was so bummed that I wasn’t able to join you all this time. Personal family commitments made it out of the question. (Mini-SGCC had her Sweet 16 this weekend!) If there is a next time, I’ll be there with bells on! :)

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13 Debi(Table Talk) January 18, 2010 at 6:07 am

Hoping their will be another go at this next year…sure sounds like it was a success!

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14 marla {Family Fresh Cooking} January 18, 2010 at 7:21 am

WOW!! Again, thanks for including your readers with such a detailed post, filled with info from Ixtapa. Matt’s photo seminar sounds like it was awesome. I like the small tips that can help heaps in our food photos. (Btw….your pics tell a great story and they are beautiful!)
To learn some of the cookbook tips from Jayden and David is inspirational and truthful. I am curious to go read David’s take on the E-Cookbook.
Looking forward to seeing and hearing more about your time away!

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15 Ed Schenk @ Detroit Eats January 18, 2010 at 12:25 pm

Thanks for this great post. As a newbie food blogger I am trying to learn all I can. This post helps.

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16 Manggy January 18, 2010 at 2:46 pm

Thanks for the report guys! I gotta say, though, that Jaden’s publishing company only seems small on a relative scale (vs. Wiley, Clarkson Potter), but Tuttle is no lame duck. I think it’s done a good job keeping its focus on Asian culture.

I’m glad you all had a great time!

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17 Tokyo Terrace January 18, 2010 at 3:12 pm

I really enjoyed reading this post. It is always great to hear advice from other, more experienced bloggers out there. Somehow I always feel like I will never know all there is to know about photography, writing, etc. In a way, it is better that way because it gives me something to constantly work on. Thanks for the great post and the beautiful market photos!

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18 Winnie January 19, 2010 at 5:52 am

I loved reading this. Helped me feel like I was there, as I would have loved that!
Thanks for sharing esp. the highlights of the blog to book talk…nice to hear both David and Jaden’s different perspectives/experiences. And I love all your photos, as usual!

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19 laura January 19, 2010 at 6:56 am

I own a natural food business and have just recently started a blog. Thanks for all the interesting information. -laura

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20 katealtmix January 19, 2010 at 11:26 am

wow, this looks like the best week i could ever imagine! and this, “He loves working with props and telling a story. Some as simple a on a cutting boards shows shape, texture and tells a story.” i needed to hear that piece of wisdom! :)

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21 beth aka confusedhomemaker January 19, 2010 at 1:13 pm

I came via Ruhlman’s blog & I don’t know why I wasn’t reading sooner (now I’m subscribing!). Those street tacos also look amazing. And for the advice, it’s great to read I have no idea most the time what I’m doing (blogging or otherwise) & hearing/reading from those who have more experience is always a big help.

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22 Bren January 20, 2010 at 4:13 pm

getting a book deal is definitely not an easy thing. I’ve had to get rid of the my agent and now working directly working with the publisher. Better that way, but still a hassle. Wish I were there. Latino’s need to represent, too, you know!

Glad you guys had fun and Mexico is always such a great place to make it happen!

Kudos on it all! :)

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23 TripleScoop January 22, 2010 at 3:38 pm

Wow. I hope someday I can make the trip and pick the brains of my favorite food bloggers.

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24 Amber @ Native Food and Wine January 28, 2010 at 4:19 pm

O M G I am jealous! Not just envious but jealous! Looks amazing. Thanks for sharing.

Cheers!

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25 Aparna March 11, 2010 at 3:39 am

You seem to have had a wonderful time. I was under the impression that the fruit plant in the first picture is actually an ornamental plant related to the banana family and not a “real” banana tree. Hm…..

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