Stock Photo Issues for Self-Published Cookbooks and How-To Books
I had a great question from one of my blog readers. He or she (it was an anonymous Q&A question) asked about using stock food photography in a cookbook. The reasoning was that this or that recipe looks pretty much the same from one making of it to another. So why not use a stock photo instead of going through the hassle of making the recipe and taking one’s own photos for use in the cookbook?
Indeed, why not?
While the discussion below applies to this cookbook question, the same principles apply to other how-to and nonfiction, too. Another good example would be gardening books where the author would use stock photos of plants that didn’t show the results of their gardening advice or efforts.
Show Your Work
When you self-publish a book, whether it’s a cookbook or not, we want something that’s you and that’s unique to you. We also want the truth.
Though this might be far-fetched, let’s say that some of your readers try a recipe in your cookbook where you’ve used a beautiful stock photo of the end result instead of a photo of your own. Depending on their skill level, there’s a strong chance that their making of the recipe won’t look like the photo. (There’s also a strong chance that your making of the recipe doesn’t either.) This might be especially the case for more artistic creations (cakes, cookies, etc.).
Now let’s also say that the reader contacts you, telling you that their results don’t bear any resemblance to what’s in “your” photo. How would you explain that? Would you be willing to own up to your cover up and say, “Well, mine doesn’t look like that either. That’s just a stock photo.” It’s a huge integrity gap.
It’s kind of the same situation as with food packaging. Have you ever noticed the delectable photos of the product on a package, and in small letters it says, “Serving Suggestion?” They do that to tell buyers that what’s inside may not be or look like what you’ll get. And often, what’s inside doesn’t. (Please tell me I’m not the only one who’s noticed this.) If you use stock shots for your cookbook, you may need to include some sort of disclaimer about it not being an actual photo of your recipe results. Ask your attorney for advice on that.
Stock Photos Show the Ideal, Not the Real
Food photography is specialty photography. There are photographers who specialize in it for food companies, advertisements, and publishers. So their stock shots of food can be impressive with just the right lighting, angles, and other pro tricks to make it look absolutely irresistible. So it’s easy to understand why some cookbook authors might want to use stock photos instead of their own.
True, your own food photography might not compare with the pros. But it will be a realistic depiction of your culinary creation. If you’re serious about self-publishing your cookbooks or food blogs, maybe you need to learn how to take your own food photos. I know a couple of chefs who do a great job with their food photos, but I don’t think they’d consider photography one of their professional talents.
Hoping for a Traditional Book Deal? Another Reason to Keep Your Photos Real
Again, talking about big “what ifs” here, let’s say that your self-published book in which you’ve used stock photos is a hit. It's rare to get a traditional book deal after self publishing, but let's say you're the exception. Now you have to tell them that the photos aren’t yours.
The traditional publisher will probably be less interested in doing a book deal with you because:
- If you’re not showing what’s real, the integrity of the rest of the work could come into question, too.
- If they’re still interested, they would have to research and re-license all the images. That takes time and money. So you’re already a liability and this deal’s likelihood is getting as cold as refrigerated day-old recipe leftovers.
A traditional publisher is buying a package from you. And if the package isn’t all yours, what are you selling?
Granted, they may not think your own personal photos are that great and want to re-shoot the pictures for the republication of this book. But at least you're showing them the genuine results of your efforts.
How Even Your Photos May Be a Problem
As I’ve talked about before in other posts, you may need to get property and model releases for subjects in your own photos when you self-publish books. Review any rights and release requirements with your attorney.
In the context of this post's discussion, an example of where this might be an issue would be if you're writing a gardening book and you take photos of someone else's garden.
Remember that self-publishing and selling your books is a commercial venture which can make these issues important ones to consider.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2018 Heidi Thorne