New book out this week chock-full of my food photography! The Book is called “Buttercream Basics- Learn the Art of Buttercream Decorating” by Carey Madden. It is a step-by-step book demonstrating buttercream icing decorating techniques. It is 256 pages and full of photos, 360 step-by-step images plus probably a hundred more of the finished cakes and cupcakes in all of their glory.
I am really proud of how it turned out, but as much as I would like to, I can’t take credit for the whole thing. In reality, without Carey Madden’s incredible talent there would have been nothing to photograph. It was a such pleasure to work with her and her assistant Leigh Polous as they came up with these incredible cakes day after day. I am also thankful for my assistant Don Bethman who came up with great visual ideas and kept things moving along on a tight schedule.
It was a whole lot of work. Between making the cakes, photographing them and then doing the demonstration photos it was a bit dizzying. We found our work groove fairly fast as we shot over a period of several weeks. At the beginning of each week we would get to work photographing cakes that were made on the weekend and chilled. After looking at the cakes we would look through our collection of backgrounds, surfaces, plates, utensils and props and come up with a concept that would enhance the cake. We had in mind that there would be somewhere in the area of 40 cakes and we wanted them to stand out form one another so we had our hands full. Once we came up with a concept we would begin making the “beauty” or “hero” shots, these were the images that would run at the beginning or end of each project that showed the cake looking as appealing as possible. I would try and get several beauty shots of each cake so there were some options for the designer. Different angles, different camera heights, one image we might add some plates and silver and another we would take it away. When we had enough good pictures to be satisfied, we would quickly “break set”(take everything down) and get to work on another cake.
Since the cakes could sometimes be fairly labor intensive we would run out of cakes to photograph quickly. Then we would set up a table and lighting to do the demo photos, while Leigh would continue to prepare the next cake for it’s “beauty” shot. Photographically the idea with the demo shots was to get everything looking as perfect and consistent looking as possible so that while Carey demonstrated I could quickly shoot without missing any important steps. The step-by-step photos were fun but also a little challenging. Part of the nature of the decorating that was being demonstrated was that the smoother and more fluid the motion the better the results. However, to me it just seemed fast. So when the author would do a simple step it would be over before I even snapped the shutter. We would have to go over steps a few times because I was too slow on the draw. Even when we slowed things down, the issue is that there is only one perfect moment to shoot. For example, if you were demonstrating an s shaped curve, a shot at the start or middle of the stroke doesn't show the s shape. After the piping tip pulls away it doesn’t seem like anything is being demonstrated since all that is visible is the s curve. So, there is a very tiny window of time to catch, the moment the action is finished, right before the tip is pulled away. Otherwise we would try it again.
Watching the author work so closely was fun, she had developed an amazing amount of skill, so much so that everything looked easy and fun. Her enthusiasm for her work was so catchy I would watch and think about how I should make these cakes myself. In fact, that might make a fun post someday soon, my daughter’s birthday is coming up and that caterpillar cupcake cake is so cool…. Stay tuned to this blog….
To finish all of the photography we ended up going through this cycle 40 times for all of the beauty shots and another 40 times for the step-by-step demos. Every new cake meant setting up saw horses, putting a table surface on those. picking a wall color or background, hanging the background. setting lights, reflectors and flags to block unwanted light. Picking a plate or cake stand, arranging the cake and props. wheeling the huge camera stand over, shooting low, medium, overhead, tight or wide. Then taking it all down to put up the demo table in its place, then re-lighting for the demo. It all sounds a little like the movie “Groundhog Day”, but it wasn’t at all, partly because of the personalities involved and partly because we all loved what we were doing. it ended up being a relaxed(most of the time), creative, fun experience.
Post-production was complicated partly because of the amount of step-by-step images we shot. Rather than risk a re-shoot, we made sure to get every last nuance. When we finished I printed up proof sheets for Carey and the editor to pick from that seemed about a mile thick. I went through two sets of ink for my printer by the time I was finished. The photos then were RAW processed in Lightroom and minor retouching was done in Photoshop. I retouched things like strange reflections on the metal surfaces on a few of the images and smudges here and there. In the end after so much time with the project I was a little sad to send the photos off to the designer because it meant I was finally finished.
Now with the book in my hand it makes me smile. I may have finished retouching and sent the images a few months ago. But since then other people have been working with them and putting together the book. There were decisions made about which images to use and what context to use them in, and even how and where to crop them that gives the images a totally different feel. Thanks to Daniella Zanchetta for a great looking design that pulled the whole thing together and made everything look amazing. This whole project was really a creative collaboration and I was happy to play my small part.
Thanks so much for reading. If you think you might want to learn more about Buttercream Decorating I have a recommendation for you available here. If you need food photography for your restaurant or cookbook or business or a food photographer to help you with your project I would love to hear about it, you can reach me here for a free quote or visit www.danieljacksonphoto.com to see recent work in my food portfolio.