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Behind the Scenes at the Book Shoot

March 5, 2014 Gillian

It is fair to say that when we received the phone call from Kate Pollard at Hardie Grant Books asking us if we would like to write a cookbook, we shouted a resounding YESSEYESESYSYESYES without worrying about the fact that we had no idea how to actually write a cookbook!

Panic began to set in a few weeks later but once we had dusted off our propellor pencils and set about the writing bit, it all came flooding back to us. Linsey and I both studied English at university so, if anything we found ourselves dramatically OVERwriting most recipes and intros. The unexpectedly difficult part for us, was the photoshoot.

As the collective owners of many beautiful cookbooks, we were very aware of the importance of good food photography. In fact, for someone like me, who is not an instinctive cook or baker (unlike my two sisters!) or a natural experimenter in the kitchen, a cookbook with pretty pictures is utterly essential otherwise I simply lose interest.

Knowing we needed good photos and being able to achieve them were quite different things however. We were given an enormous helping hand by the fact that the lovely Helen Cathcart agreed to be our photographer. She is an amazing and hugely experienced food and travel photographer, so we knew were were in good hands. I spent hours trawling through the archives of her blog drooling over her food pictures and contemplating a round the world trip after looking at her travel photography. If anything, we were even more apprehensive after this, daunted by the challenge of creating photos which would look as amazing as those on her website and blog. We began to worry we had bitten off more than we could chew in many ways!

Ahead of Helen’s arrival in Scotland, last May, we were set the task of hunting down enough props, plates, cutlery and interesting backgrounds to fill an entire cookbook of photographs. This initially seemed like great fun but we soon discovered it wouldn’t be nearly as easy at sounded! We have since learned that ours is one of relatively few cookbooks to be written and shot in Scotland and, as a result, there is not really the same availability of prop hire companies which exist around London. We were on our own, with only charity shops, our own homes and antique shops to scour.

So we set to work, amassing what we hoped was the most enormous selection of plates, props and vintage accessories!

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We were given fantastic help by our Glasgow Wedding Collective friends, Butler & Taylor. The girls have collated the most amazing collection of vintage china, toys, platters, teapots, lampshades and suitcases and VERY kindly invited us to borrow anything we liked. We really were the definition of ‘kids in a sweet shop’ as we raided the boxes of beautifully patterned china with our eyes popping out on stalks! There are many beautiful Butler & Taylor pieces scattered throughout the book if you look closely!

The other thing we had been asked to try to track down was ‘backgrounds’. This word initially meant nothing to us but it turns out that most professional food or lifestyle shots will be taken against at least one background. These can be anything from wrapping paper to textured wood to metal. Initially we were quite stumped and exchanged many emails with Kate, our publisher and Helen the photographer trying to pin down exactly what would make a good background. We resorted to wandering around our houses and the cafe looking for interesting pieces of floor, tables and trays!

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Eventually, we drafted in the assistance of Superdad Harry and got him to raid B&Q for planks of textured wood which we then nailed together and painted with various washes and coloured paints. Phew!

I was so fascinated by the process of photographing a cookbook that I took lots of iPhone photos of Helen at work throughout the shoot. The styling, composition and photography that goes into every single shot really is quite phenomenal. The photos that follow are all from my iPhone. Having seen an advance copy of the completed book (and crying!), I still find it hard to believe that we achieved such stunning photography from the process documented below. It just shows you the enormous talent of photographers like Helen, and the eye for detail they have to be able to create such beautiful pictures from a few props and platefuls of food!

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One of the best things about the shoot was discovering lots of beautiful wee hidden places around the village which we had never seen before (this is quite miraculous considering how small Quarriers Village is) but obviously as a photographer, Helen has a nose for sniffing out photogenic beauty spots!

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We had made a plan in advance of Helen’s arrival of which photos we would like to shoot each day. We’d been warned not to try to shoot more than seven pages in one day, but we knew that we only had a seven day shoot and that we wanted our book to have as many photos in it as humanly possible! As a result, we ended up working really long days and cramming in far more photos than even we had hoped for.

As you can see from the photos, poor Nic was HEAVILY pregnant during the shoot but she kept on trucking. She’s SUCH a perfectionist, she couldn’t stand the thought of her cakes not looking as amazing as possible in the book! Some days we worked on into the evening and just invited family members to join us, here you can see Baby Bake Rosie enjoying an unseasonably warm Scottish evening while Auntie Nic demonstrates pastry rolling!

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The three of us are hard workers (it’s hard not to be when it’s your own business) so it was great to work with Helen whose work ethic outstripped even ours! She kept us going some days when we were so tired that we wanted to stop, saying “but the light is great, we have to find another recipe to shoot!”. And so, thanks to her, we have managed to achieve MANY more photos in our book than were originally planned, making it so vibrant and beautiful that even non-enthusiast chefs such as me will be compelled to pick it up and keep flicking!

One of my favourite observations as I looked back through my iPhone was seeing the photos of the props we collected appearing in all the finished shots. This example of our soup truck is great –

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And here’s all the props which feature –

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Or the battered old cabinet which we dragged in to the middle of a field and turned into a designer cake display!

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I hope you’ve enjoyed the insight into what goes on behind the scenes of a food photoshoot, I’ll be creating a ‘Behind the Scenes Part II’ all about our trip to Arran where we shot many of the great scenic shots which give the book such a ‘Scottish’ feel.

Three Sisters Bake: Delectable Recipes for Every Day will be out on March 17th and will be available to buy from our cafe, from the Three Sisters Bake website and from good bookshops across the UK, USA and Australia!




Written by Gillian .

March 5, 2014 Gillian

Social Media Addict, Mum to Baby Bake Rosie, cheese enthusiast!



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