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Cookbooks and Pictures

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When buying a new cookbook, which is acceptable:

1) No Pictures

2) No Pictures, but illustrated with drawings

3) Black and white photos

4) A few color photos

5) Fully illustrated with tons of color photos and demonstrations throughout.

Wawa Sizzli FTW!

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I can tell you that right now I'm reviewing a book that has less than a dozen pictures. Its a great book, but as they say "A picture is worth a thousand words." So now I have a book that I'll have to let me mind create the pictures - which is okay, but to me cookbooks are more than instruction manuals - they are entertainment.

As for sketches - blah! Unless they came from a really amazing artist, don't bother me with them.

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I guess it depends on why you're buying the book. Pictures do add a lot to the price.

One of my favorite books for baking, the King Arthur Flour 200th Anniversary Cookbook, contains no photos and just a few drawings, whereas two of my other favorite cookbooks, Baking with Julia and Julia & Jacques Cooking at Home just wouldn't be the same without the excellent photos.

Then there are publications like the Balthazar Cookbook where the photography completely overshadows the text!

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I agree with srhcb—it depends on why I need the book in the first place. If the book has intricate recipes of dishes unlike anything I have attempted, I find color photographs very helpful, especially if they illustrate specific steps.

If it is a collection of recipes, such as Jr. League cookbooks (of which I have several and love), then neither photographs nor drawings are necessary as far as I'm concerned.

I have never found drawings to be very helpful. Interesting, but not necessarily helpful.

I read cookbooks for fun and while I never need illustration or photography in the "real books" I read, I love photographs in cookbooks. Even if only a tenth of the recipes are photographed, it seems to help me understand the "feel" of the cookbook and its author. (if done well, of course)

Edited by shellfishfiend (log)

Preach not to others what they should eat, but eat as becomes you and be silent. Epicetus

Amanda Newton

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I'd vote for a few pictures, but not the full blown one on every page macro close up variety. It just feels too garish somehow. A subliminal "We know you're not actually going to cook it so, here, look at it.

As for drawings, I'd just like to cite one example I do really like. "The Enchanted Broccoli Forest", one of the earliest Moosewood cookbooks, is filled with sketches and doodles (and the recipes are handwritten). None of them are meant to represent the food really, but it makes it gives a rediculos charm to the whole thing. There's some very tasty recipes in there as well.

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I buy cookbooks mostly for reading, so if they are entertaining I don't care about pictures.

There are many reasons why I don't like pictures in cookbooks:

1) all that heavy stock makes the cookbook weigh too much,as well as cost too much

2) some books contain pictures supposedly from the recipes, but the stylist changes them around to look pretty, sometimes even adding ingredients

3) most books with a lot of pictures contain pictures other than that of finished recipes; I don't need pictures of wine bottles, bowls of lemons, restaurant waiters, etc.

That being said, I am sometimes tempted to make some dish I would otherwise ignore, once I've seen a picture of it.

Ruth Dondanville aka "ruthcooks"

“Are you making a statement, or are you making dinner?” Mario Batali

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I thought I should chime in again. Most of my books are pastries where having a picture is very useful. Today I made a peach tart - I had made all of the components before but the instructions in the book weren't clear enough for me to assemble the way the author had intended. So my penchant for photos is limited to pastry books :)

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I definitely prefer books with lots of photos. Images are such a great source of inspiration.

One photo per recipe is pretty much the norm with Japanese cookbooks. However, if I used that as my criteria for buying English cookbooks, my bookshelves would be almost completely bare.

Baker of "impaired" cakes...
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I enjoy photos in books, but with a couple of exceptions it's not a necessity. I think technique-driven books are helped by photos, and of course books on ingredients need photos of the ingredients (like Vegetables from Amaranth to Zucchini).

Drawings can be distracting and silly, but on the other hand, sometimes that's great. What would The Joy of Cooking be without the drawing of how to skin a squirrel?

The photos that I don't care for in cookbooks are of the authors -- Food Network stars' cookbooks tend to be filled with them, which is a major reason I don't have any of them. I don't want pictures of Tyler or Jamie or Paula or Rachael; just show me the food, please.

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I think that photos are not necessarily a pre-requisite for a great cookbook, but it does very much depend on the nature or theme of the book.

Some of my favourite books have no pictures (Richard Olney, Elizabeth David) and some only very few pictures (Nose to Tail Eating). But then again, as I said, it depends. Restaurant cookbooks, where plating is inherent to successfully recreating the dish, definitely "sell" themselves on the pornographic and instructional/aspirational qualities of the food photography.

Then again there are other books where the food photography is just to demonstrate what some of the finished products might look like, but have very detailed photographs of important preparatory steps eg Yan Kit So, and The Cook's Book, for examples and Martha Stewart's Baking Bible.

And lets not forget about line drawings, such as those to be found in Julia Child, Barbara Tropp and Ruhlman and Polcyn's Charcuterie and Shizuo Tsuji.

Certainly, the overall "worth" of the book is not solely determined by food photography, and its rare that lack of photography has dissuaded me from purchasing a book, so long as the recipes were good and the sort of thing I wanted to cook, its ended up in my kitchen.

Oh, forgot to mention books where sometimes its more about the mood/feeling created by photos but with good/interesting recipes, such as White Heat, and those with not so great recipes but really nice shiny photos (sorry, but Donna Hay et al fall into this category for me! No offence!)



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Let me start out by saying I own roughly 1,800 cook books... a large percentage are from the early 1800 thru the early 1900's... I own a rather large quantity of pamphlets, menus and other such materials... Cook books, for me break down into a few different catagories... some include: early great masters of cooking: Careme, Soyer, Dubois, Escoffier, Nignon, Fracetelli, etc.; some are authors like MFK Fisher, Elizabeth David, etc... others are literary (I am currently reading Clementine, again...)... other cook books I own because I am trying to familiarize myself wirth certain regions and/or techniques... others I own because I love Robuchon, Gagnaire, Ducasse and stilll others have to do with regionality... i.e. Southern, Alaskan, etc.

now whether or not they include pictures, lithographs or whatever really does not matter as much as the content of the material. Is the author transmitting a concept for which I bought the book? If I want a picture book I will buy a coffee table book and that is that. Words have far deeper meaning than a picture...

Grimod in Paradise

"Bacchus has drowned

more men then Neptune"

Thomas Fuller

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I enjoy pictures with my cookbooks, but one of my current goals is working on my plating, so it helps to see how others plate, so I can get inspiration.

Also, if I am at a loss of what I am in the mood to cook, the pictures help inspire some dishes.

On the other hand, when I know exactly what I am cooking and just need some tips, my new york times cook book and escoffier have no pics and they are well used...

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It depends on the subject. As a publisher I was working with said to me, "Why would we include pictures? What would they be? One soup, two soup, red soup, blue soup?"

I like colour pictures. But I think they're much more important in a pastry book than a slow cooker book (though I still like a few pictures in the slow cooker book).

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I won't re-quote his post, but Raj Banerjee has written everything that I would have loved to have posted on the issue of pictures in cookbooks.

But on the issue of food porn photography, I loved Martin Picard's pisstake photo in the PDC cookbook.

and those with not so great recipes but really nice shiny photos (sorry, but Donna Hay et al fall into this category for me! No offence!)

I dare you to post that in the Donna Hay thread! :raz:

Daniel Chan aka "Shinboners"
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I want pictures! I like to see the finished product as well as pictures of the process. That way I can compare my progress and finished product with what it should look like!

And I don't want to have to turn to the middle or back of the book to find the pictures. Pictures should be adjacent to the recipe or incorporated into the recipe.

Most people are visual learners to some degree, and pictures, as they say, are worth a thousand words.

And make the pictures color! And with good clarity and contrast!

I've been reading Peter Reinhart's American Pie, and while I enjoy the book and his "formulas," the pictures in there are terrible!

Bob R in OKC

Bob R in OKC

Home Brewer, Beer & Food Lover!

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  • 2 weeks later...

A cookbook needs pictures in my opinion. And the more the better. The only book I have think is amazing without pictures is Elizabeth David's "French Provincial Cooking" She does such an amazing job of describing things, that the lack of pictures doesn't bug me too much.

I am working on a cookbook at the moment that is going to be ladeled with them. Perhaps the most detailed out there so far in terms of explanations and photographs. So far I have had a great response from test-cooks about the amount of photography littered throughout the book. You can see some exerpts at http://www.mattikaarts.com/wrightfood (not trying to plug anything here.. just thought some people might be interested.

I would certainly say for new cooks, pictures are a must.



Edited by Mattwright (log)
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  • 3 weeks later...

I was recently looking at some opinions of a bread baking book on Amazon. The reviewer was highly critical of the book not containing photos or drawings. Frankly, I thought they might be nice (do you really need to see a photo of biscotti?)- but not necessary; esp. if it would add significantly to the price of the book. So it depends what the book is about and how important it is to visualize the end results.

Mark A. Bauman

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Before I buy a cookbook, I read a bunch of recipes. If my mouth starts watering, then I know I'm onto something. So for me pictures aren't necessary, though an aesthetic design is important. Everyday Greens by Annie Somerville doesn't have pictures, only beautiful watercolors of gardens and produce, and it's a wonderful cookbook to look through.

Beginning cooks I've met all like lots of pictures in cookbooks. More advanced cooks have different opinions about pictures. If the food is unusual, the kind people may not have seen or eaten, then pictures are necessary. Once in a while I find a picture inspiring me to cook, but usually not.

A cookbook that is basically all text is problematic, unless I am extremely motivated to cook from the book because of its reputation. Instructive line drawings can be helpful, but not a pleasure to look at. I cook from Julia Child's Mastering the Art, etc., and Barbara Tropp's Modern Art of Chinese Cooking, despite the lackluster design. But so far I haven't tried Diane Kochilas' excellent cookbook, Glorious Food of Greece, because so much text puts me off.

A final word: Nothing ticks me off more than to read a recipe, look at the picture, and realize the picture does not correspond to the recipe. Those are the books I will not buy.

Edited by djyee100 (log)
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At the high end of the scale, presentation is at least as important to me as the recipe – so a book with no pictures fails to represent adequately the work of the chef. Most of the inspiration comes from the pictures so good quality photography is very important. Impressionistic images just don’t add value (here I’m thinking about books like Planet Marx) and sketches don’t seem too helpful,

At the other end of my scale there are books that stand alone as a reference. I often will take just one cookbook with me when traveling and need something light. Often the recipe is printed opposite the picture; and that means I can’t tear out the recipes to leave the pictures behind so I appreciate books that have recipes (and photographs) all presented on a CD.

As for number and style of photographs, relevance depends on the basis of each case. If I were exploring a new cuisine, lots of picture and explanations of techniques are helpful, but for a cuisine that I know, it’s just a waste of space.

And I don’t subscribe to the idea that cookbooks are primarily a work of art; content before style always, please!

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I actually prefer a cookbook without any recipes, great pictures, and inspirational writting, especially when it envolves the topics of the evolution of dishes or techniques, and life as a professonal chef.

I don't like to use another chef's recipes, but I am always inspired by another's use of ingredients and flavor combinations.

A perfect example of a cookbook for me is Pierre Gagnaire's Reflections on Culinary Artistry.

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I have tons of cookbooks without pictures. And I use them. That said, I am an absolute child about pictures in books. I truly believe that all books should have pictures. I hate when travel narratives don't have photos or even maps. That said, I hate, hate, hate bad illustrations. I have had whole series of books ruined for me because of publishers who won't pay for decent illustrators/photographers. I do realize that I sound like a brat here. :laugh:


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