Erin Kunkel Seasons Her Photography with Smoke & Spice

March 1, 2013

By Barbara Goldman

© Erin Kunkel

 <em>Smoke &amp; Spice </em>cookbook has March 2013 publication date.

Erin Kunkel  is an award-winning advertising and editorial photographer based, as she likes to say,  in the foggy outer lands of San Francisco. Kunkel has a painter’s eye for color, light, and composition, which is evident in the more than 25 cookbooks she has photographed.

Recently Kunkel worked with well-known Los Angeles-based  cookbook author, food stylist and chef  Valerie Aikman-Smith  on a new cookbook, entitled Smoke & Spice.  The two developed a great rapport on an earlier cookbook for Williams-Sonoma with Weldon Owen Publishing and wanted to work together again.  Aikman-Smith sent Kunkel’s work to Art Director Leslie Harrington at London-based publisher Ryland, Peters & Small and the two were given the green light for this latest collaboration of Smoke & Spice.  “I was very lucky to find Erin.  I needed a California-based photographer to take this project and really get to grips with it in order to bring something special to the feel and style.  We really wanted a loose, natural style and Erin grabbed the project and ran with it,” says Harrington.

With Smoke & Spice, Kunkel and Aikman-Smith put their focus on an array of marinades, brines, butters, rubs, and glazes that  add flavor to  cooking, whether  outside on the grill or in the kitchen. They wrote about and photographed over 90 recipes for the matching of seasonings with foods from around the world to create new flavors as well as standard favorites. Kunkel’s mouthwatering photography included inspirations for sticky smoky baby back ribs and blackberry, beef with an African rub, sage glazed ham, marinade options for lamb with pomegranate and harissa seasonings, Jamaican Jerk chicken and fresh grilled fish and seafood with flavored butters. They also included many vegetarian options and recipes for tempting desserts.

As the publisher was based in London, Kunkel did not have the advantage of pre-production meetings or an art director on set, so she had to rely on her own initiative. It was all about collaborating with Aikman-Smith, and prop stylist  Jennifer Barguiarena, who brought a fantastic array of props to the sets. “It is rare to find people with whom it is so effortless and intuitive to communicate and work,” says Kunkel. 

Kunkel shot at Aikman-Smith’s house in Los Angeles, and with its incredible light she was able to capture the dramatic changes from the first shoot in the spring to the final shoot in September. “I definitely worked to modify the light so there was some consistency throughout the book.  We wanted to show some environment and maintain looseness in the shots, so we moved around as there are tons of locations on the property.  We also took field trips to friend’s houses to shoot in their gardens and yards, and needed to be adaptable with lighting and propping,” explains Kunkel. With their props and sets, they were also able to bring in lifestyle elements to give a sense of place and narrative to the recipes. Kunkel shot tethered with a Canon 5D Mark III in a tabletop area, but then would take almost all dishes and ingredients to shoot elsewhere on the property. All the images were shot with available light and various silks, scrims and cutters to modify the light. 

The  photographs in eSmoke & Spice are natural and authentic— nothing fussy or overwrought.  Says, AD Harrington, “Not only is the photography beautiful, she understood exactly what we wanted and brought that extra magic to the shots.  Erin is also a delight to work with, prepared to give the project all the attention and dedication that is required but with a lovely, easy going attitude. “

Smoke & Spice will be published in March 2013 by Ryland, Peters & Small, and you can find more information about ordering and pricing for the book here.  Kunkel and Aikman-Smith are working on some collaborative promotional pieces and are already planning another book.

Kunkel infuses her work with a sense of adventure both in the faraway and the everyday. She captures lifestyle, food and travel with an effortless sophistication that puts her in demand with both advertising and editorial clients.  You can see more of Erin Kunkel’s photographic journey’s at her site,