Director of photography Julie Bozzo Cote likes to break the last decade of America's Test Kitchen food photography down into three categories: the Fabric Age, the Rustic Wood Age, and the Kitchen Stone Age.
The Fabric Age (above, left) featured shots full of napkins and vintage silverware, and which were defined by a shallow depth of field; the Rustic Wood Age (in the middle) featured shots replete with different cutting boards and butcher blocks, and which were defined by "happy, easy light"; the Kitchen Stone Age (above, right) featured shots meant to highlight the true test kitchen environment and were full of marble, soapstone, corian, concrete, different metals, and modern kitchen gear.
Defining this canon was helpful when approaching the photographic direction for our latest publication, Bread Illustrated. I caught up with Julie recently to chat about the photographic process of the book, as well as her favorite photos and recipes.
ATK’s food photography has really evolved over the years. How did you approach the photography for Bread Illustrated with regards to our current style of photography?
The photography for Bread Illustrated follows our current photography style where we show our unique test kitchen environment. We photograph each bread right as it comes out of the oven or after it has cooled and can be sliced; we focus on showing the unique attributes of the crumb, crust, color and slashing. We love our food and we love our photos of our food—it's that simple, and we want everyone else to feel it too. We love to show those moments that make us all feel successful… and hungry.
The photography in the book is downright stunning. Was there a conscious effort to approach this book differently than others, or was it more of an organic process?
Since this book is called Bread Illustrated, we included as many detailed step-by-step instruction photos as possible to demystify parts of the bread-baking-process and illustrate in photos how to get exact results. Baking bread is a labor of love made much easier when you can visualize how your project will go. We also wanted to give home cooks a quick glimpse of equipment needed. And time-lapses helped illustrate what happens during steps like yeast rising and kneading.
I think it would be interesting for readers to get a glimpse of how the photo team communicates and interacts with the kitchen. The food doesn't just appear, gorgeously plated, in the studio. Can you talk a bit about that process? And what happens to all that food after you’ve finished a shoot?
One word: pre-meetings. For Bread Illustrated, a group of us—the editor, recipe developer, art director, photo producer, and photo-specific cooks—met before each photo shoot and talked over the best way to display each bread. We wanted variety in the book so that it was interesting to flip through and would get people excited about making bread. Everything—the shape, size, browning, slashes, and interior crumb—needed to be exactly as the top editor remembered from the final stages of the recipe development. At the same time, our creative group gets to brainstorm ideas on how to frame the recipe for readers. For example, with our American Sandwich Bread recipe, we put some sandwich fillings in the bread to show how lovely a simple sandwich on homemade bread is.
On the shoot day, the same group is available to review the images and chime in if something could be improved creatively or technically to make the photos more engaging or accurate. That food gets eaten as soon as the shot is approved, or else lucky cooks and co-workers who put in their requests get to take some home for their family. I took home a sample of Kouign-Amann—a sugary, croissant-like buttery pastry that’s hard to find in the US—for my husband and it blew him away.
Do you have a favorite recipe from the book? Favorite image?
It’s so hard to choose, but my top three are the Chocolate Babka, Fougasse, and Auvergne Crown. Oh wait, and the Pain d'epi.
Can you talk a bit about your day-to-day role as photography director?
I have a really fun position because I get to see all the newly developed foods, and I get to work with our other great art directors and graphic designers to help make the food look the best the first time anyone sees it. This is a great honor bestowed upon our group and we don't take it lightly—we collaborate with the cooks and editors to make sure we are portraying all the details correctly to help our readers when they’re making the food, and to show off how amazing the recipes are. Food appeal is always our number one goal. We want people to want to eat the food and to be inspired by the photo to make it.