I, Photographer: Cookbook Shooter

Jeff Kauck makes a living shooting the more delicious things in life.



Jeff Kauck, based in Chicago, has been shooting food professionally for 13 years. His most recent book, Salad as a Meal, by Patricia Wells, comes out this April.Aaron Corey

Why food photography?
My wife and I both love to cook, which made it a natural transition from my product-photography business. Since 2004, I've done 11 cookbooks. As I began doing it I realized it's similar to watercolor painting, which I'd studied in art school.

Similar how?
There's a sensory experience with food and with watercolor because it's a transparent medium. With oil painting, you work from midtones down, and you can go back and correct. With watercolor, like food photography, you work from midtones up. It's important to have elements in the food lift and come to life, and it's very spontaneous—like watercolor, you can't go back and correct.

What's a typical shoot like?
They differ for advertising and editorial. For advertising, I have a large crew and we do the shoot in one day. For editorial, I work without a crew, and the process is much more spontaneous and collaborative, which is inspiring. For cookbooks, you'll talk with the chef to get a feel for their work and what they want from it. The shoot itself will last about a week, but then you're doing about 15 dishes a day.

How do you shoot outdoors?
I start just before dawn. Watercolor painters focus on "first lift," when light first begins to break. Before it approaches the horizon, the light and colors are very soft and gentle; then there's a moment where they fill in the landscape and the world suddenly becomes three-dimensional. This is when I'll begin taking atmosphere shots. The chef begins making recipes, and we'll do those as they come out, one at a time. For Patricia Wells' salad book, we often shot in her garden at her estate in Provence; I'd use one table and move that around until I found the perfect light.

And your gear?
For the salad book, I used either my Hasselblad H3 39 on a tripod, or my Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III with a 24–105mm or 70– 200mm lens. I use available but indirect light, and my best tools are white tablecloths and bedsheets to use as fill cards. I'll have someone hold these up or, on closer shots, use a towel or a napkin.

How do you approach a dish?
Composition is key. For something with a lot of colors, I'll step back to make sure you can breathe them all in. When there are specific things to focus on, I'll make sure your eye moves around. For pasta or very delicate lettuce, I'll shoot closer up. Color is important, too.

What do you love most about your work?
The passion of chefs in working with them is very contagious. Being in a room with people who are the best of the best never feels like work, and you take joy out of it seven days a week. I will die with a camera in my hands.

Photos shot in Jeff's studio.Jeff Kauck
Photos taken while shooting the new cookbook by Patricia Wells, Salad As A Meal.Jeff Kauck
Photos of peaches taken for chef Tony Mantuano at Spiaggia.Jeff Kauck
Photos taken in Barcelona with chef Jordi Roca at El Celler de Con Roca.Jeff Kauck
Photos taken while traveling in Molise Italy with chef Tony Mantuano.Jeff Kauck
Garden fresh photos taken for a Swiss client.Jeff Kauck
Contemporary approach to vanilla beans and extract shot for a Swiss client.Jeff Kauck
Photos of citrus and atmosphere shot for a Swiss client.Jeff Kauck
Blackberries in vodka.Jeff Kauck
Photos shot for chef Perry Hendrix at_ Custom House._Jeff Kauck
Photos shot for chef Tony Mantuano at Spiaggia.Jeff Kauck
Photos shot in the Amalfi Coast for the Ritz Carlton.Jeff Kauck
Photos from the Salpicon cookbook. Chef Priscila Satkoff.Jeff Kauck
Truffle fries.Jeff Kauck
Contemporary photos of citrus shot for a Swiss client.Jeff Kauck
Photos for Cooking Light magazine.Jeff Kauck
Photos for chef Josh Linton.Jeff Kauck
Photos for chef Ryan Poli.Jeff Kauck
Photos shot for Pouke. Exploring the light in San Francisco.Jeff Kauck