My favorite cookbooks on the shelf feature food photography so enticing that the flavors and aromas of the recipes tickle all my senses.
But we don’t all have professional food stylists at our disposal — and no matter how effortless they look, those Instagram food photos you spend hours double-tapping actually take a ton of work (and special lighting) to put together.
The good news: You don’t have to be a professional food stylist or Instagram celebrity to create a beautiful cookbook that you’ll open again and again for your favorite recipes and taste memories.
Here are some non-food ways you can capture the essence of your recipes.
1. Family and Friends Cooking Together
A perfectly framed shot of the finished meal on the table doesn’t evoke nearly the same memories as an iPhone selfie of you and your bestie baking a batch of brownies together, your noses covered in flour.
2. Guests at a dinner party
The happiness generated by friends gathered over a great meal makes for amazing photographic memories. Fill your personalized cookbook with recipes you shared with friends… and illustrate it with their smiling faces!
3. Children cooking
Kids in the kitchen — is there anything cuter? Sure, the cleanup is a mess, but in the still-frame moment, it’s childhood culinary perfection.
4. Archival photos
Put a vintage spin on your cookbook with old family photos. Depending on the types of photos you have, they can add a funny, kitschy feel — or sweetly sentimental.
If you’ve themed your cookbook with travel in mind, there are plenty of ways to give your culinary scrapbook a sense of place.
5. A favorite spot
Consider photos from a favorite restaurant in the city where you spent your honeymoon or anywhere that puts a smile on your face.
A well-worn map from your favorite destination abroad or the college road trip you took with your best friends can bring back a mouthful of amazing memories.
Sure, if all your flatware and dishes are from Ikea, they may not leave you feeling terribly inspired — but other items tell more of a story.
The forks, knives, and spoons you got as a wedding gift — or a cake-serving set handed down through generations — can make a beautiful image.
A sweet mismatched thrift-store tea set or your grandmother’s vintage china set the table for gorgeous cookbook illustration.
9. Special kitchen tools
Framed properly in a great photo, even a rolling pin can take on meaning if it’s gifted with love, handed down from a loved one, or prepared a meal that changed your life.
10. Table settings
Admit it: You’ve caved to the temptation of photographing your brilliant tablescape before many a dinner party. Adding a photo of your table setting may also remind you of the fabulous time you had at that dinner party. Bonus!
Treasured recipes deserved treasured treatment.
If you’ve framed a much-loved recipe for posterity — its heirloom quality can’t help but come across in your cookbook’s photos.
12. All tied up
Collect handwritten recipes together with beautiful twine and embellishments for that Pinterest-worthy look.
They say the whole is greater than the sum of its parts — but in the case of your special recipes, sometimes the parts can make a pretty beautiful picture on their own.
13. On the farm
Photos of fruits and vegetables growing on the farm can give a fresh, rural feel to the pages of your cookbook.
14. At the market
Farmer’s market produce during peak season tastes great — and looks even better.
15. In the kitchen
A super-organized mise en place set out in crisp white ramekins or half-prepped dishes just ready for their finishing touches in the oven brings your recipes to life.
Paige Worthy is a Chicago-based digital marketing strategist, writer, yoga instructor, and avid home chef. Visit her at paigeworthy.com.