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How to self-publish a book – Part 3: Photography Skills

Before I even started writing The Japanese Pantry, I knew that I wanted to create a book full of color and life. I have a hefty collection of cookbooks on my shelf, and the ones I love the most are the ones that have a photo for every single recipe. I was a complete novice to photography though, so I knew that if I was going to create a cookbook full of stunning photos like the ones in the books by celebrity chefs, I was going to have to teach myself how to work a camera properly, and fast.

Understanding Exposure

I purchased Understanding Exposure, by Bryan Peterson, to learn more about how a camera works and how to interpret light. I found this book extremely helpful, and set to work testing my new knowledge with my little point-and-shoot camera. I would set up little photo experiments where I would photograph the same object from the same angle multiple times, changing one of the cameras settings slightly each time to see the effect it created from the previous shot. My skills somewhat improved, but it still seemed that I just could not recreate the professional shots I was going for even when I did everything “right.”

The game really changed for me when Jeff got me a DSLR camera for Christmas, a Canon Rebel T3i. It became so much easier to manipulate the camera to do what I wanted it to do. I was so impressed with the change in quality from our Canon Powershot S90 (which really is an excellent point-and-shoot if you can’t go full DSLR) that I ended up going back and retaking some shots for the book with the new camera. The Rebel is definitely a beginner’s DSLR, but I’ve found it to have plenty of functionality for my current needs.

Love my gift!

I also have to give some credit to IKEA for my rapid improvement in photography skills. Wait, what??? I mentioned this last year when I first announced that I was writing a book but it bears repeating because it’s kind of incredible when you really think about it. Every single picture that appears in The Japanese Pantry that was not taken in a light box, was taken on a little square IKEA end table. Every one. I had nothing else at the time.

My photography table

This tiny setting forced me to get really creative with my photography to keep every shot from looking the same. I spent a tremendous amount of time on each shot getting my angles just right, the focus right where I wanted it, being careful not to let any of the area around the table show up in the frame. And I didn’t have a tripod that would let me get low enough to the table either, so nearly every shot had to be hand held. I would take a deep breath and release the shutter as I breathed out, just like a sniper. Sometimes I would be able to get the shot in about ten tries, but oftentimes it would take 30 or even 40 or more shots to get everything just right.

Also, because I didn’t have the stability of a tripod to take longer exposures, I could only photograph recipes on bright sunny days with plenty of light. This was severely limiting for me and one of the major reasons why I missed every deadline I made for getting things done with the book. Sometimes we’d have entire weeks of rain and gloom during which I was unable to take any photos. I’d work on whatever else I could, but it was not uncommon for me to just not get any book work done for days due to insufficient lighting. I wish now that I’d invested in artificial lighting sources way sooner. I’ve only just recently starting using light kits to fill in for the sun, and I’m kicking myself for wasting so much time without them.

I did my very best to edit the shots I got with my computer’s stock photo editor, iPhoto, but quickly realized that I had the need for more professional editing software. In the next installment of this series I’ll show you what software I went with and discuss its strengths and limitations.

If you missed them…

Part 1: Getting serious

Part 2: Anthologize and CreateSpace

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A really good week for Thyme Bombe

The last week has been kind of amazing for this little blog. Lots of good things happening that make me excited for what Thyme Bombe has become and where it’s going. Let’s start at the beginning…

Smitten Kitchen cookbook

On Thursday I hooked up with Laura, Carol, and Carol’s sister Anne to see Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen at her book signing at a local Atlanta bar. We had a great time listening to Deb’s entertaining stories about transitioning to blogging as a career and her long struggle to make a cookbook she could be proud of.

Deb Perelman

During the Q&A session, I asked Deb what she had learned about the publishing process that surprised her and was delighted to hear that her answer very nearly matched my own! She also struggled to meet deadlines and vastly underestimated how much time and effort it would take to make a product she was proud of. For her, she explained, making something excellent was much more important than making something on time. While I haven’t had the chance to delve into her cookbook yet, it’s clear that she’s put an incredible amount of work into it and I really respect that she took the time to make it perfect.

So speaking of cookbooks…I received my very first royalty payment for The Japanese Pantry! It’s really not much, but it feels so so good. I plan on hosting a giveaway for a signed copy soon, so if you haven’t gotten yours yet you may have a chance to win it!

And that leads me to some more exciting news… Several weeks ago when I announced the release of my book on my blog Facebook page, it caught the attention of a local photographer! Jimi of Jimi Filo Photography offered to do a collaboration with me so that he could take pictures of me cooking food for his photo blog that I could also use in a post. He and his wife set up at my house Saturday morning and snapped away in the dining room as I prepared 2 recipes for the blog – cold soba with hot duck soup for dipping and matcha bars with strawberry jam filling. I snapped a few pics too while I was waiting for things to cook.


Shiitakes and scallions

Hopefully Jimi will have his images ready in a week or two so I can share them with you all, along with the recipes for the delicious food I made. Seriously, those matcha bars were incredible.

Last bit of awesome news is that I had not one, but two, recipes accepted to Tastespotting this past week! This may not seem like such a big thing, but this news comes after submitting content to them for nearly 3 years and being rejected every time, so to have 2 recipes in a week finally accepted is just indescribable. I was floating all day when I found out. I’ve worked very hard to improve my photography skills over the last year, so having my work validated by such a notoriously picky site feels really good.

So that was my week!

What’s the best thing that happened to you in the last week?


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Baked sweet potato with miso butter

I have had so many potatoes this winter that I’m ready to just chuck the rest of them out the window. But until thin little spring asparagus starts peeking up out of the dirt and tomatoes swell up with sun on the vine, I’ve had to make do by reinvigorating some of my winter staple foods, potatoes especially.

This big baked sweet potato dripping with salty homemade miso butter really hit the spot.

Baked sweet potato with miso butter

Have you ever made a compound butter before? You know, flavored butter? Maybe an herb butter or a honey butter or one of those fancy jam butters for spreading on a scone? Well if you haven’t, you should start with this one. Making compound butters is incredibly easy, but makes for a really impressive result. Seriously, you just mix room temperature butter with your flavoring of choice, wrap it up, and then let it firm back up in the fridge or freezer. Honestly, it’s so easy that it’d make a for a fun project to do with kids. Kids love butter, right?

miso butter

miso butter

miso butter

miso butter

Compound butter is one of those things that as soon as you make it for the first time you wonder why you’ve never made it before. It’s just so darn simple! This miso butter added the perfect touch of saltiness to the creamy sweet potato. I ended up eating the whole thing for lunch right after photographing it. Luckily this recipe makes enough miso butter to use several times. Try melting some over a juicy seared steak or roasted pork tenderloin. OMG, I bet it would be really good on sweet corn bread.

Baked sweet potatoes with miso butter

Sweet and salty combine as homemade miso butter melts over a hot just-baked sweet potato.

Cook Time: 1 hour


  • 2 medium sweet potatoes
  • half a stick of unsalted butter (room temperature)
  • 1 tbsp. + 1 tsp. red miso paste

Cooking Directions

  1. Wrap each potato individually in aluminum foil and bake directly on the rack at 400 degrees for one hour.
  2. Stir together room temperature butter and miso paste until well combined.
  3. Transfer butter mixture onto a sheet of wax paper and roll up into a log. Twist ends to close.
  4. Refrigerate for 4 hours or freeze for 1 hour before use.
  5. To use, slice off a pat of butter and allow to melt directly over just-baked sweet potato.


Oh, before you go, I wanted to point out to anyone who hasn’t heard that I’ve finally made a Facebook page for my blog. Soooo behind the times, I know. Anyway, follow me for updates and discussion!

While we’re on it, you can also follow me on Pinterest, Twitter, or subscribe to my RSS feed if you haven’t already. Linky, linky, linky.

Tell me your dream compound butter flavor and how you would use it.