(This article appeared in the Summer 2020 issue of Pastry Arts Magazine)
We reached out to food photographers, bloggers and pastry chefs, and here are some of their top tips on how to up your food photography game and capture some seriously sweet dessert shots.
Use natural light: position your dessert near a window and turn off overhead lights to prevent irregular glares and shadows. The texture and intricacy of frosting, sugar, and pastry is best displayed by natural light hitting your subject from the side or back. Try all the angles to see what looks best. –Sarah Licata, blogger, saltjar.com
Lighting is everything when it comes to creating an eye-catching, scroll-stopping image. Beautiful natural light makes desserts look their best. I love side lighting to capture highlights on rich chocolate frosting or the golden sheen of a perfectly laminated croissant. –Laura Kasavan, blogger, tuttidolci.com
Lighting is the most important aspect when it comes to capturing a great photograph of your food, and finding a natural light source to photograph in will give you clean, natural looking photographs that can be captured with a phone or camera. This could be at a table near a window, under a skylight or bringing your creation outdoors where there is available light. This will be useful to anyone photographing food who doesn’t own a lot of gear or large lighting set-ups (most chefs I think). – Fiona Caswell, photographer, fionacampbellphoto.com
The best advice for any type of food photography is to have good lighting. Natural light gives you high color fidelity, and it’s pretty easy to use if you don’t have the budget for professional lighting. My favorite tip is to use side light and only one source of light (for example, a window and all the lights in the room off). This will give you softer shadows that create contrast avoiding flat looking photos. This trick is especially good in recipes with an interesting texture like cookies, crumbles, and puddings. When in doubt, you can always use side lighting; it is the most flattering light angle for food photography. –María Campos, blogger, thecookwaregeek.com
To capture a great image of a dessert, my best tip would be to shoot in natural light on an overcast day. Overcast skies create soft, well-balanced light without a lot of harsh shadows. Shoot near an open window and use a reflector to bounce light back onto your dessert.
Adjust the distance between the window, subject, and reflector to manipulate the light until you achieve the look you want. –Jen Sobjack, blogger, bakedbyanintrovert.com
Use negative fill to create shadows on at least one side of the dessert. The negative fill can be as simple as a black foam board that is propped up next to the side on the opposite side to where the light is coming from. Negative fill is useful because it absorbs excess light instead of reflecting it and bouncing it back on the dessert. This creates shadows, which is critical to emphasizing texture and dimension. If you don’t have shadows, your dessert looks flat and boring. With texture and dimension, you get drama in your dessert photography. – Anna Rider, blogger, garlicdelight.com
My favorite time of day to get a great shot is about an hour after sunrise, as it seems to cascade a lighting that gives the desserts a warm look, while providing a slight shadow that exposes the dish’s different textures. Jessica Scott, Corporate Pastry Chef, 50 Eggs Hospitality Group, 50eggsinc.com
My advice would be to invest in a high quality macro lens that will allow for very high resolution detail in a photo. This type of lens is not only good for super close-ups, but close-ups in general, while blurring the background so that the viewer’s focus is the food. Being able to show the smallest detail in an image, a photo can enhance the usually delicate nature of a dessert. – Tariq Nasir, blogger, cheftariq.com
Neutral backgrounds allow desserts to shine. For light and airy photos, opt for white, light gray, or light blue backgrounds. For more dramatic photos with rich shadows, opt for black, dark gray, or dark blue backgrounds. –Laura Kasavan, blogger, tuttidolci.com
I love to shoot on unlikely backgrounds – sometimes a colorful tile floor or even a rusted charcoal table can bring out colors of the dish that may have been muted before. Jessica Scott, Corporate Pastry Chef, 50 Eggs Hospitality Group, 50eggsinc.com
Shooting straight-on works well for desserts, especially to emphasize height (examples: a plated dessert, a layer cake, or a stack of cookies). Overhead shots are the perfect way to emphasize repetition and geometry (examples: a tray of freshly baked croissants, a flat lay of macarons). Shooting at 45 degrees is incredibly versatile, and allows you simultaneously to view both the top and side of a dessert. –Laura Kasavan, blogger, tuttidolci.com
Set your white balance to make all the colors accurate: the easiest way to do this is to make sure there is something that should be pure white in your photo, like a plate or linen, and adjust the colors to make sure that item is truly white. This step will help make all the other colors look their best. Free apps like Lightroom Mobile, VSCO, and Snapseed make this easy. –Sarah Licata, blogger, SaltJar.com
The Human Element
Don’t be afraid of the human element: a hand holding a cupcake or a piece of cake with a bite out of it can be even more compelling, particularly on social media. –Sarah Licata, blogger, Saltjar.com
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