How to create dessert pictures that really take the cake
Chef’s will tell you that you eat first with your eyes – meaning that food must look as good as it tastes. And that holds double when you are the photographer of those mouth-watering desserts we all love so much. Open any magazine or search online for the perfect dessert recipe, and you’ll find images that almost leap off the page and onto your fork.
The dirty little secret of food photographers is they often have a team of chefs and food stylists working behind the scenes to help create that perfect image. The good news is that, with a few tricks up your sleeve, you can fulfill each of those roles in your home studio and produce mouth watering images that are sure to add a few pounds for the viewer.
Be a food stylist
Food styling is about more than arranging food on plates. Yes, the presentation must be clean – without a crumb out of place unless intended to be so – but it also must engage all the senses visually. Food is about smells – so add a steaming cup of hot coffee next to a piece of pie to simulate wafting odors. Food is about textures, so spray a few drops of water on an apple to invoke that feeling of biting into the crisp, fresh flesh. Food can be hot, so melt a marshmallow in hot cocoa or cold, so add a few chunks of ice around sorbet.
Food styling is also about making food attractive. Garnishes and accents create a more appealing presentation. Foods that are monochrome in color or texture can benefit from the addition of fresh spices on top. Plates that have foods that tend to run together can use fresh fruits or herbs to change things up.
Think about set construction
A cake is a cake is a cake. Add candles and it’s a Birthday Cake. Add garland and red balls and it’s a Christmas Cake. Top it with a bride and groom and it’s a Wedding Cake. Adding simple touches like fine china and linens vs. rustic crockery and wooden spoons can set the mood and appeal for dessert images.
Placing raw ingredients next to bowls will appeal to cooks (and cookbooks!). Add a menu or recipe card for restaurants to use. Strategically position a teddy bear, and it’s now a kid friendly scene. Put the image on a tablet or smartphone to represent online applications. Think outside the box when building sets – and include as many as you can conceive for your dessert – to increase the popularity for and uses of your images.
Deconstruct before you construct
One of the benefits of being both cook and photographer means you can capture the baking process from raw ingredients through to fabulous desserts. So take advantage of that by capturing the purity of fresh fruits, show batter in bowls, crusts before they hit the oven, then capture the fresh out of the oven yumminess before your work of art is sliced and served on a plate.
Light the scene
Food photography is one area where expensive studio lighting isn’t necessary. Natural foods and natural lighting go hand in hand. Placing food next to sunny windows, or in sunlit rooms, helps produce an organic feel to the picture.
However special attention should be paid to the details in a scene. Dense, rich foods can appear like unattractive blobs when not lit correctly. Add small fill lighting to the composition to help lighten where needed. Foods with high contrasts can benefit from HDR stacking to show the wide range of lights and darks found naturally in our favorite gooey foods.
Other tips and techniques
And finally, here are a few simple tricks to keep in your toolkit when shooting scrumptious desserts.
Try different angles. The new trend in flat lay – laying objects on interesting backgrounds and shooting from directly overhead – can create some great imagery. Get low. Get close. Have fun with your shooting angles and make the food the star of the scene.
Set up before adding food. This seems like such an obvious point, but so often we create images by starting with the subject and building the image around it. With food, you need to build the set and then add the star to keep things fresh and attractive.
Work fast and have plenty of understudies. Keep back-ups of food and accents to quickly swap in and out of the scene to keep things fresh.
Undercook fruits and vegetables to help them maintain structural integrity. When cutting fresh fruits toss them in lemon juice to minimize browning.
Remove foods from the refrigerator at least 30 minutes ahead of time to minimize condensation.
Create a hard freeze on ice cream – this means scooping balls into a bowl and refreezing to reduce the melt. This also works great for frozen drinks like smoothies or shakes. Or use the melt creatively in the scene to show cold foods on hot days.
Don’t be afraid to use synthetic objects – like ice cubes or fruits – they never loose their freshness and are guaranteed not to melt all over your scene!
Keep a spray bottle handy with water and a few drops of glycerin to create that “dewy freshness” on foods.
Then have fun. The only thing I like better than shooting great dessert shots is getting to eat the spoils afterwards!
Photo credits: Karen Foley.
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