Production Phase 3: Step-by-Step Photos The cakes for my first hardcover book, The Cake Bible, were all baked and styled by me and photographed by Vincent Lee. I baked the cakes and decorated them and then brought them across Houston Street from my New York 7th floor apartment to his apartment/studio in SoHo. I brought my best props, borrowed from friends, and sometimes would run over to the lower east side to search out fabric for backgrounds or counter surfaces. I even found a realistic large plastic honey comb surface at Canal Plastics which Vincent used creatively for the Honey Bee Cake by shining light through it from the bottom. The photos for my next nine books all had a cast of professional food stylists, their assistants, a prop stylist, and photographer, all hired by the book publisher. They took place at a studio or off-site location. For my most recent book, The Baking Bible, my dear friend, artist and baker, Caitlin Williams Freeman, offered to come from San Francisco and be the head stylist. I loved her artistry at Miette Bakery and her styling in her book--Modern Art Desserts. Woody and I also participated by baking and styling many of the recipes. In my previous books, only a few recipes, mainly for techniques, had step-by-step photography. Since this upcoming book will be filled with step-by step photos, which is radically different from my prior books, I wanted to choose a photographer who could make the photos instructive, bring the recipes to life, be willing to make the long round trip drives from Brooklyn, and who would be as enthusiastic about the project as we are. Matthew Septimus, who did my portrait for the FIT newsletter magazine several years ago, said at the time that he hoped some day he would work with me. The day has arrived. To have complete control of this 'keystone' phase for our book, I also decided that the photography would be done in my home's baking kitchen. This way, Woody and I would have access to all of the ideal equipment, ingredients, and four reliable ovens. We also would be able to schedule the prep for all of the recipes ahead of time, even completing some of the steps to save on time. This also served to eliminate the need to reserve a studio for the 21 planned days of photography, which spanned a period of 6 months. I asked that we start earlier than initially scheduled, to be able to make several of the fruit based recipes with seasonally fresh local fruits. To get our feet wet and Matthew familiar with the location, we scheduled a 2-day shoot of 7 recipes, this past June. Our editor Stephanie Fletcher and Matthew's assistant Justin were both on-set for these days. Stephanie set the tone with many valuable suggestions including a request for overhead shots which work so well for the step photos. Woody and I had previously gone through about 100 of the recipes to yellow highlight steps we wanted photographed and then discussed them with Stephanie for her advice. The baking kitchen soon looked like a photography studio with lights on tripods, a roll-down white backdrop, camera tripods, a step ladder, a computer station for Matthew and Justin to assist them with taking the shots, and for all of us to make photo selections. Matthew surprised us by giving us a 4 foot long unpolished white marble slab for the countertop. Woody and I have been struggling at times with taking photographs on my highly reflective marble countertop. Digital photography has the potential to offer the highest level of quality and precision. His CaptureOne computer program, allowed him to shoot and adjust his camera remotely, a great benefit considering that most of the shots were taken directly overhead, so that for most of the shots Matthew, who is over 6'4", did not have to be perched up on the 6 foot ladder, needing to lean a few feet over the countertop. This also gave him the advantage to ensure that lighting and composition were similar from one step to another for each recipe, because many times we needed to shoot another recipe in between steps, or the recipe had to be shot over two days. To enable me to see what he was photographing up close, as I was making various steps, Matthew linked up his IPad, which he positioned on one corner of the countertop. In addition to our yellow highlighted proposed shots, Matthew was clicking off shots for virtually every step, sometimes, over a 100 shots per recipe from overhead, a three-quarter view, and even from shooting upwards. (He ended up with over 15000 shots!) Although our book will have many 'beauty' style-shot photographs, we also had each finished recipe 'plated' for a style-shot.
The first two days went as scheduled with the added benefit of all of us enjoying the baked recipes of our labor on the porch, when weather permitted, and baked goods being packaged to bring back with them. To get an idea for how to schedule future shoots, we had chosen recipes from all four categories: cakes, pies and pastries, cookies, and bread. Although we thought that the printed recipes were in their final form, what I found most enlightening in making them for the step-by-step photos was how we were able to tweak and improve several recipes and to write them in a way that would be easier for the reader to follow and more reflective of what we actually do. After the first few days of shooting, Stephanie could see that we had our routine in full swing, so she left it up to the three of us to decide what to shoot and how to do it. With Stephanie and Justin no longer there, Woody's role expanded to assisting Matthew, making shot suggestions, and styling. All three of us participated in the final style-shot. After a few sessions, we became more efficient so that we were able to eliminate two days of Matthew's having to drive back and forth from Brooklyn. This said, we often worked 10 hours a day and were exhausted by the end of it. One night, as Matthew was pulling out of the driveway, I ran over to ask him something and realized that he couldn't hear or see me. To avoid being run-over I lept into the hill of pachysandra. He was horrified by how close he had come to hitting me but I was hysterical laughing at the absurd ridiculousness of it, not to mention how pleased I was that my sense of self-preservation over-rode my fear of the snakes that make their home there. There were several other 'funny' unexpected moments that were not life threatening: One was when I streaked by the set to reach something, not realizing Matthew was in the process of shooting. He told me not to apologize because my black shirt had created the perfect contrasting backdrop that was needed! Another was when Woody was a bit too efficient in his eagerness to move on to the next recipe. We had just finished, in his opinion, after several different takes of our marble cake's final step style-shot, which Matthew had shown us on the computer monitor for our consensus. Mathew went back to his camera, turned towards me say something, then turned back to look through his viewfinder, about to take the shot. But all he saw was a barren marble tabletop. He looked up dumbfounded in a double take of disbelief at the now cake-void space asking in total puzzlement: "Where's the cake?" We all laughed uproariously as Woody was asked to bring back the cake. Every time we tried to get serious we started laughing again. I still get chuckles when I think about that scene. Because baking needs to be so precise, and we wanted the finished result to reflect the best possible appearance, there was always the concern that a baked item might not to come out of the oven as expected. Woody and I were thrilled, and Matthew was impressed, that we only had to reshoot a couple of recipes for one or two steps. One of my favorite moments was at the end of each day's shoot when Matthew, after tasting a dessert, would proclaim it to be the best one. Matthew's family's favorite moment was when he returned home with samples of the day's treats. I saved the pizza and the hearth bread recipes to shoot as a celebration for our final day. We are all looking forward to a week long photo shoot of the beauty shots in April.