A Labor of Love: Ren Fuller Discusses Shooting for Chronicle Books’ “The New Homemade Kitchen”

Oct 14, 2020
Photographer Spotlight

There's no shortage of project types in the world of food photography, but few are as investing as shooting for a cookbook. For years, Ren Fuller had it as a goal to complete this kind of work. She just needed a bit of good fortune to get a shot at it.

Shooting cookbooks was something I wanted to do. I was finally given the opportunity by a bit of luck combined with a solid food portfolio to drive it home. A photographer friend of mine was in town and we met up for a hike. I had recently relocated to LA from Brooklyn, so she was asking how the transition was going and what I was working toward. I mentioned to her what I really wanted to do was shoot a cookbook.

Ren Fuller The New Homemade Kitchen Cover

Without my asking, she passed my name to an editor at Chronicle Books. That led to the editor reaching out to see if I was interested in being submitted to an author who was looking for a photographer for their second cookbook. Luckily, I had a portfolio that was in line with what the author was looking for and, after a portfolio review and an in-person meeting, I landed the job!

 
Ren Fuller The New Homemade Kitchen Joseph


Ren with the book's late author, Joseph Shuldiner

This book, “The New Homemade Kitchen,” was my second book with Chronicle. We shot last summer over the span of three weeks, and the book just hit shelves in June. I’ve since shot two more books for them, giving me a total of four.

Ren collaborated with the late chef Joseph Shuldiner and because of the nature of a cookbook shoot, the two became close. Part of what makes this kind of work worth it is that team spirit, which Ren also cultivated with the other creatives on the job.

Cookbooks become very intimate projects. They are incredibly time consuming and the budgets usually make it a labor of love. It’s also impossible to not build a lasting relationship with an author or chef who you spend weeks shooting with and even longer preparing and finalizing with.

Ren Fuller The New Homemade Kitchen Fish

I’m also lucky to work with the best team of ladies in all of L.A., prop stylist Stephanie Hanes and food stylist Marian Cooper Cairns. We’ve done enough projects together that they have since become some of my best friends to boot, which makes our shoots extra fun.

“Labor of love,” describes the work well because the chef/author has usually been at it for months (or years) before a photographer comes on board. The phrase also fits because of just how long it takes for the process to be completed. While Ren’s imagery was ready to go last year, the book itself didn’t find its way to bookshelves until this summer.   

Once I’m involved, it’s figuring out when we can shoot based on when their manuscript is due, finding the right team, and doing all the pre-production. Sometimes that process is a couple weeks, and other times it’s over the course of a few months. The actual shoot averages out to about two weeks. After the shoot, it typically takes me a month to get all the deliverables to the publisher, depending on how much work I’m juggling in between. The book typically hits shelves a year to a year and a half from when we shoot!

Of course, all those moving parts can strain the photographer, and managing workload is one thing Ren has learned about while doing this kind of assignment. By taking agency in herself, Ren can assure she isn’t being overworked.

I’ve learned things from every book that I’ve shot. The biggest lesson is to stand up for myself because no one will do it for you. If the shot list is unrealistic for the time frame or budget, suggest less shots or ask for more shoot days. I know now how many shots I’m comfortable doing in a day and what most food stylists can handle. You never want to agree to something that has a changing scope, so making sure you have all the details you need up front. For example, If the publisher needs 80 shots, make sure you know if that number includes recipes plus all the additional content like a cover, chapter openers, etc.

But with this team in place, things were balanced, fun, and collaborative. Ren had many kind things to say about Joseph, but as it relates to the project itself, most admired his ability to mix a clear set of goals with an open mind.

It was really easy to connect with Joseph. He's a very sweet man who has a passion for food. What I liked most about working with Joseph is that he knew exactly what he wanted. But that didn’t stop him from being a great collaborator. Even though he had a clear vision, he really trusted our team to bring it to life in our own unique way. That’s really the ideal collaboration.

Credits:

Food Stylist: Marian Cooper Cairns
Prop Stylist: Stephanie Hanes
Food Stylist Assistant: Megan Hubbell
Photo Assistant: Jennifer Chong

Check out more of Ren's work at renfuller.com.

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