Doing a cookbook: How I decided to document all my family recipes in a cookbook

Some time ago I decided to start documenting my family's recipes. My mom comes from Perú, my father is Argentinean, my grandparents are Chinese and Spanish, so the food at home was extremely diverse.

Just before deciding to move out from home, I decided all this needed to be documented. This is how a journey of documenting more than 60 recipes began for 8 years. Photography of each dish, copywriting of the recipes and graphic design of the book were done by me.

Here are some details of the book and the process I followed to make plus some tips cause everything doesn't always go as planned 😅

As my two previous photobooks (Erasmus photobook and China trip photobook) I decided to print in Blurb (Even though I wish Blurb have sponsored this post, this is not sponsored just honest review haha)

Biggest Learnings of Food Photography as Amateur 

  - Natural light is everything
  - Learn how to do a balance composition, like adding extra elements to the picture, maybe some ingredients, a spoon, another plate, a glass.
  - Play with color contrast and textures!
  - Take the photos fast! (you can tell when the soup you are doing a photo is cold or the ice cream is melting)


Before making this book I hadn't had any experience in food photography. I started documenting my family recipes just one year before I move away from home, I was 17 years and this was 2011 (left photo). I finally got to finish it in 2019 (right photo). This is the reason that pictures in the book are diverse in quality, they not only reflect my family cuisine but also reflect 8 years of learning and improvement.


Handy elements for food photography

All the photos were taken in my hometown home which is not prepared as a photography studio. So the basic set up for most of the photos were just 3 wooden planks, on one side painted light blue and on the other side the natural colors. This base plus pieces of different cloth were all the elements used in the book.

Here a list of supplies I used in the process
  -  💡Access to a window!! ( this is key as I said before to get natural light). Found your spot and your time of the day, mine was around 2pm when the light was not so direct in my window.
  -  3 wooden planks, one side painted. Or a nice table
  - Different pieces of cloth that you can use to create texture
  - 2 or 3 plates of different colors ( I have one turquoise, one white, 2 small bowls)
  - Talking about the camera, I took most of my photos with a 50mm f/1.8 lens I think it works perfectly! Regardless of this, this is a beautiful lens to have, I highly recommend it to travel or takes portraits.
  - Collapsible reflector 5 in 1 (like this one). This is super useful, plus it is cheap, mostly depending on where your light comes from, for example in my case light is not uniform causing a shadow behind my food, this reflector is an easy way to fix this.

I am looking forward to doing a completely separate post on this, also on how to prepare the woods planks and the details of the photoshoot! 🤞🏼I hope after this quarantine.


Designing a cookbook in Indesign for Blurb

Blurb has it owns program which I use for my first photobook but after getting a bit more familiar with Adobe programs I decided to go all in with inDesign + the blurb plugin for inDesign. I highly recommend if you are going to start the endeavor of doing a photobook to use inDesign.

I even believe that doing a cookbook is much easier than doing a photobook. Since here you just created a template and replace photo and text (of course you can get more creative than this).

This how my workplace looks like, with 3 master pages (my templates):

After finishing my book I notice that there was a nice Skillshare course on how to do a cookbook in Indesign, you can check it here, I think it cover most of the things you need to know!

I also did some watercolor illustrations to decorate the index:

How to start doing a cookbook or documenting family recipes?

I decided to this post while this quarantine since I want to encourage you to start simple and right away. What are you cooking tomorrow? save some more minutes to take a picture of that plate! 
Copywriting can come after this and I think the step to have all the photos is the most important one, you can write recipes via skype call or remotely. 

Some of the main steps that can help you start:
  - 1: do a list of all the recipes you are interested in documenting: this will be your guide and future index, plus it will help you know what to cook next. Sometimes thinking about how you will classify it will help you organize and don't forget any important recipe. For example: mom family recipes, dad family recipes, or maybe is just: entrance, main, dessert. 
  - 2: start planning which dishes you will do each week: we did around 3 dishes per weekend. 
  - 3: Plan ahead each dish photo: you are doing vanilla icecream this Saturday? think ahead the composition and some elements you want to use in your photo. 
  - 4: Start writing the recipes in a gdoc

It took me 8 years for step 1 and 2, because I was not at home, but the point is, these are the most tedious. Doing the template in Indesign and putting everything together took me around 2 months of free time. 

How to make a full-page photo in Blurb 

Ok lets get honest here. The first batch of books I printed turn out with a white border. I was more than disappointed, 8 years of working to get this tiny white border. I wrote Blurb like "hey you know how much work this took, I did my file like x why this white border come out in my full page photo?"


Well, it turns out the fall was shared and they printed my books again for free! (This is where I don't regret choosing Blurb for the 3rd time!)

So if you are going to do full-page photo in your cookbook or photobook, listen carefully

The screenshot of the left is WRONG because the photo doesn't reach the Bleed line (the read one), putting the photo up to the Trim Line increase the risk that there will be a white border. 

The screenshot on the right is CORRECT! The photo goes until the Bleed Line and should be print it with no risk. 


I hope you like it this post and inspire to document your family recipes :) 
In case you want to acquire this book or the pdf (is only in Spanish for now... ) you can find it here

And let me know if you want me to share any recipe here ;)
  1. ¡Qué buena idea! Nosotros hace poco recopilamos los cuentos que mi suegro ha ido contando a toda la familia durante años.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Thank you for sharing

    Bonnyin |


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