After having the luxury of shooting my first book at home (or in various relatives’ homes) with easy access to a dishwasher, hot running water, and electricity, my second book was a true test of faith and patience.
Forget the beautiful filtered light through the windows and being able to walk barefoot on soft carpet. Think glaring midday sun and waiting for the light to move over the trees. Think dusty feet in flip-flops crunching across a pine needle-littered campsite.
The entirety of The New Camp Cookbook cover (plus a handful of other meals) was crammed into a cooler and a few plastic bins. Dirty dishes went into a collapsible sink filled with water that we’d carried back to camp from the communal spigot. Headlamps illuminated the evening clean-up after a full day of cooking, styling, and shooting. Trash was strung from the trees each night and hauled out at the end of the week.
Despite the challenges that came with cooking outdoors, we had some awe-inspiring moments as well. These were moments that we could never replicate in the comfort and convenience of home: balancing on a granite boulder under majestic oak trees while a warm stream of water from the solar shower rolled off my back. Listening to the sound of rustling leaves echoing through the forest while I put on fresh clothes. Sitting down to a glass of wine in front of a pine-scented campfire as the sun dipped behind the mountains, painting the sky with a broad watercolor-like brushstroke of red, orange, and purple above our heads.
For a week, this was our set while shooting The New Camp Cookbook (available for preorder now, and coming to you July 1, 2017!) in the California high desert.
Though the cover was the single most important shot of the whole book, that outdoor “studio” came together just a few days before we were scheduled to shoot, purely by chance and luck.
Unlike my first book, where we submitted cover photography right away (you might remember what a nerve-wracking process that was!), the second book cover wasn’t even discussed until I was nearly done with my manuscript and we had wrapped almost all other photography.
By then, it was the middle of summer and over half the recipes had been shot on our road trip around the Rockies. We sort of had an idea of what type of food we wanted to show on the cover, and were waiting to hear what the publisher thought so we wouldn’t have to shoot the recipes twice.
In a conference call with the art director and my editor at Voyageur Press, Will and I bounced a few ideas back and forth. Should we shoot on the coast or in the mountains? In the high desert or by a river? Should we show people or only food?
Their response: forest, mountains, some food and some tableware but nothing too busy. Nothing too rustic but nothing too stylized.
From a photography point-of-view, finding that balance between a beautiful landscape and a plated meal was rather tricky. One of them had to give a little in order to convey the overall mood of the book: fresh and modern, with a nod toward simplicity.
Will sent off a few sketches to the art director, we got the go-ahead to shoot our concept, and then we got to work on finding the right location for the cover. With a quickly looming deadline, we couldn’t travel far so we started looking within a four-hour radius of our house.
After shooting in Colorado the month prior, we were spoiled by the amenities we had in camp. Water was plentiful in the lakes and streams and campgrounds weren’t yet experiencing the summer rush, even on a warm, sunny Saturday.
Contrast that with California, where most of our favorite campgrounds were fully booked on weekends and fire restrictions were in effect by late spring due to drought. Trying to find a secluded and captivating camp with running water and restrooms, within reasonable driving distance from home, and that allowed campfires (and cooking over campfires) in July was challenging, to say the least.
But a week before we had to turn in our potential cover shots, we happened upon Marion Mountain Campground in Idyllwild. It ticked off all of our needs and after clicking through a few nondescript pictures online, we crossed our fingers and hoped it would work.
The campsite turned out to be quite scenic — an eclectic landscape of oak, pine, and redwood trees dotted with granite boulders. There was a perfectly distressed picnic table on site, and we experimented with several different props and setups throughout the day, depending on what the light was doing.
We decided to show four different recipes that comprised a complete meal: grilled shrimp tacos with tomato-corn salsa, grilled romaine salad with lemon-anchovy dressing, grilled watermelon with gorgonzola crumbles, and an ice-cold spiked lemonade. The sort of spread you’d love to dive into after a long hot day of hiking or biking or swimming, right?
They looked amazing on the table together, but picking the “hero” food was not an easy path. We considered so many more recipes that were equally worthy: Dutch oven desserts, cast-iron skillet pizza, grilled flank steak with homemade sriracha pickles, steamy pots of stews and soups. We wanted to highlight a realistic camping menu that wasn’t too fussy but still had a fresh and healthy vibe.
This was, after all, a different kind of camping cookbook, one that favored whole foods and fresh ingredients similar to how you’d eat and cook at home — but simplified with fewer pots and pans to wash.
In the end, we went with shapes and colors that worked well together, and with food that still looked good after hours of propping, styling, shooting, adjusting, and more shooting. (Cooking in the wild — and especially grilling in the wild — meant we were limited on how many “seconds” or “thirds” we could have as backup food to swap in.) We went with recipes that had wide appeal and hopefully had people daydreaming and starting to plan their first summer camping trip.
Our cover concept was simple: Food hot off the grill. Evergreen trees in the background. Dappled sun on the table. Plenty of whitespace above the food to allow for cover text. Happy, bright, warm, and welcoming.
We submitted this image to the publisher (the only one we’d intentionally shot for the cover) and were told to submit a few more choices that could be presented at the staff meeting. We figured it was merely a formality, so we didn’t put too much thought into the “extras” we sent in: a close-up of a plated meal, a recipe within the context of a campsite, and an early-morning landscape of breakfast being made on a high alpine lake in Colorado.
As far as we were concerned, the cover was done and done.
A few weeks later, my editor emailed with an update from the meeting: “Every once in a while a cover blows everyone away and I’m happy to say that just happened for your book.” — as I open the attachment and excitedly call Will over for the reveal — “It’s a bit of a surprise since it’s not the spread on the table shot we expected to use, but the group on my end really likes it — and I think it’s perfect for the book as well.”
Aaaaand our jaws dropped to the floor. In a good way!
It goes to show that anything can and will happen when it comes to publishing. I’ve been working with the same publisher for years now, and was surprised by how different the process was for my second book in terms of the timeline and cover decision. (Company policies changed to no longer release the cover mockups, so I don’t have any fun comparisons to show of the cover contenders like last time.)
The original image was moved to the title page, and serves as a great opener to the book and a counterbalance to the moodier cover shot. We couldn’t be happier about it!
Now that the book has an official release date (July 1, 2017!), it feels more “real” as I’m inching closer to having an actual hard copy in my hands. The New Camp Cookbook is the culmination of a year’s worth of work, and leading up to its release, I’ll be sharing more from behind the scenes of our road trips and photo shoots last summer.
What do you think? We love it, and we hope you do, too!