The creative process of shooting a cookbook cover is always inspiring, exciting, surprising, confusing, and nerve-wracking — all at once.
Take, for example, the first cover I ever shot — the one for The CSA Cookbook. We photographed three variations of essentially the same scene, and in the end, the publisher chose the cover that I was originally uncertain about (but have since grown to love).
Then, there was The New Camp Cookbook cover. After submitting our ideas to the art director and getting the green light on a concept that everybody was on board with, the publisher ended up choosing a cover image that hadn’t even been on our radar at all.
With my third book, The Backyard Fire Cookbook (now available for preorder!), the process felt a bit more fine-tuned as it’s intended to be a companion title to my second book.
That meant we already had a general direction for the look and feel of the cover, as we wanted it to be visually similar to The New Camp Cookbook while maintaining its own identity.
We’d also “proven” ourselves to the publisher, who, by now, was familiar with Will’s style and knew what to expect with his work.
While I was in the middle of writing my book, corporate restructuring resulted in my editor moving to Harvard Common Press, an East Coast-based imprint of the parent company (Quarto Publishing, whom I’ve been signed with for years), so my title went with him.
Despite working with an entirely new creative team, things felt much calmer this time around, even to the point where Will and I started to worry that they’d forgotten to put us on the project calendar.
“When do you need the cover by?” we’d ask them, hoping for a firm deadline that we could aim for.
“Oh, probably not for another few months,” they’d reply.
So we kept shooting recipes all summer and sketching out ideas, all the while making mental notes of what we thought could be cover material: food on plates, food on the grill, food on the fire, food around the fire pit, people around the fire pit.
We liked the idea of continuing the moody feel that made the last book so successful, and knew that fire would be an integral part of the cover.
Making and sharing a home-cooked meal outside is a central theme of this book, so when we were about three-quarters of the way finished with the recipes, we landed on the final concept: a roaring fire in a cozy backyard, shot just after sunset.
Like the last book, the food would be a supporting character. We wanted to focus on the feeling and establish a sense of place that would set the tone for the rest of The Backyard Fire Cookbook.
We’d built a fire pit for the book (that’s part of a DIY in the second chapter) and originally envisioned shooting the cover in our yard. But since the fire pit was a temporary fixture (we’re renting our current house, and may take the fire pit with us when we move), we didn’t put too much thought into its location.
It was hard to find the right angle for our shot that encompassed all the details we wanted to show: a nicely landscaped yard, a bit of house in the background, and chairs around the fire pit.
But where our fire pit was placed, we could only show an expanse of grassy lawn (which wasn’t very interesting) or the natural wild knoll on the other side (which read more as “forest” than “backyard”).
We also didn’t have the time or resources to add our own plantings, so we decided to shoot the cover at our friends’ house, where we’d spent many an evening downing delicious food and libations with them.
They had the perfect setup and even the perfect props: an unassuming ranch-style home, a natively landscaped yard with beautiful lavender and desert brush, wooden Adirondack chairs, and even a vintage cooler and wheelbarrow.
The fire pit was fabricated from an old piece of HVAC ductwork, which gave it a simple, clean silhouette at dusk. (And by fabricated, I mean they really just cut off a section of the duct and burned off the interior before plopping it right in their yard. Nothing fancy at all.)
The only thing missing to create the warm, welcoming scene we’d pictured was a string of outdoor lights.
I turned to Brightech, a company that specializes in interior and exterior lighting, as they had reached out in the past about collaborating. I finally felt that I had the right project coming together to showcase their product, and they sent a few different styles of their weatherproof string lights to try in our friends’ yard.
What I really liked about Brightech’s lights, in contrast to other outdoor lights I’d purchased in the past, was how heavy-duty they are… not to mention heavy! While the weight might sound like a drawback, it was reassuring to me that they could withstand the elements and not get blown around like flimsier lights.
The cords are commercial grade, and the bulbs come as LED or incandescent lights in various shapes: an old-school Edison-style lightbulb, a classic round bistro style, and a traditional teardrop shape.
We ultimately chose the Ambience Pro Edison lights, as we loved their vintage look. The only challenge with using them was figuring out how to (temporarily) hang them across a yard without any tall supports like trees or fences.
Will ended up rigging one of his light stands to its maximum height, secured the strand of lights with a clamp, and pulled the lights over our carefully styled scene to the roof of our friends’ house. We screwed in each bulb once we had the strand at just the right height and drape, plugged it in, and voilà — an instant cozy patio.
Fun fact: This was all done in the front yard, not the backyard.
I don’t know about you, but I love knowing these little tricks behind professional photo shoots!
We shot this one and only scene for the cover, both with and without corn on the grill.
Here’s the image that won everyone over!
The Backyard Fire Cookbook: Get Outside and Master Ember Roasting, Charcoal Grilling, Cast-Iron Cooking, and Live-Fire Feasting will officially release on May 7, 2019, and it’s available for preorder right now!
By preordering now, you’re reserving a copy in the first run and will be one of the first people to receive a book (oftentimes before the official release date). Might this make a nice holiday gift for someone you know?
Thank you for your support! I can’t wait till this book gets in your hands.