Here are some tips to help you take gorgeous cake photography.
Use Natural Light
Most food photographers work with artificial light.
It’s only true when you don’t know how to shoot with artificial light, which can be quite complex and requires expensive gear.
If you have done any photography at all, then you have worked with natural light. It takes only a few simple tricks to make the light work for you when shooting cake pictures.
- Make sure you’re working close to a window so you get the most out of the available light.
- Use a diffuser, or a translucent material or curtain as a diffuser. This will soften any harsh light or sunshine coming through the window. You’ll avoid hard shadows on the cake. If it’s a cloudy day, you might not need a diffuser.
Choose the Best Light Direction
Having good quality light to work with is not enough. You also need to work with the light in the right direction.
There are three types of light direction you can work with in food photography: side lighting, backlighting, and side backlighting.
- Side lighting is when the light is coming from one side. If you imagine the face of a clock, it’s at either 9 o’clock or 3 o’clock.
- Backlighting is when the light is coming from directly behind the subject, at 12 o’clock.
- Side backlighting is in between the two, at around 10 o’clock or 11 o’clock.
The light direction you want to avoid when shooting your cake pictures is from the front.
Shooting food from the front will result in images where the light looks flat, with a lack of shadows.
The best food photos are those with contrast and dimension to the light, where the light doesn’t look exactly the same through the whole frame.
The lighting style you choose will depend on the type of cake you’re photographing.
If you have a cake with a shiny glaze, or a lot of texture on the surface, like a coconut cake, you might want to choose backlighting. It enhances texture and brings out shine.
Side backlighting will give you a similar result but will be a bit easier to manage. Backlighting can be tricky though. Sometimes the back of your image is too bright while the front is too dark.
Keep It Minimal
When taking pictures of cake, you want to make sure your beautiful creation is the star.
When you use too many props, they detract from your main subject and your cake ends up competing for attention. This is especially true if you are presenting a whole cake.
You can also photograph several cake slices on plates, as in the image above. You can use matching plates or a variety of plates. Place them in an asymmetrical pattern so your picture has some flow.
Don’t use too many utensils, supporting ingredients or linen. This will keep the focus on the slices of cake.
When composing your slices of cake, remember the rule of odds. Use three or five plates, which is better than an even number like two or four.
Even numbers tend to compete with each other and split the viewer’s attention. If you do have an extra item, have it just poking into the frame. This will add some interest and tension to the image.
In the images below, I tucked a piece of linen next to my cake. This gave an anchor in the shot. In the image on the left, I placed a small jar of caramel sauce. It gives the viewer an idea of what was drizzled on the cake.
In the shot on the right, I placed a plate on the cake stand to add an extra layer. This added a bit more interest, as I didn’t use any other prop, like a knife.
Composing minimal shots seems easy. Because there are so few items in the image, they have to be styled and perfectly placed to work.
When it comes to food photography, your choice of props should never be random.
They should be cohesive with the other elements in the image and make sense in the context of your visual story.
It makes sense to put a knife in your cake story. But if the knife doesn’t look sharp enough to cut through butter, then it’s probably not a good choice.
Same goes with placing a pair of botanical scissors in your shot. You can see a lot of these kind of shots on Pinterest. If you wouldn’t cut anything in your shot with it, then don’t put it in there.
Here are some more guidelines about selecting your props:
- Stay away from very bright colours and bold patterns. They will distract from the cake. Sometimes colourful pieces add a point of interest. They need to work with the overall composition and feel of the photo. Sometimes I will layer a more colourful or patterned plate under a white or black one.
- Use small props. Even regular sized dinner plates will look huge to the camera and dominate the image. Scale and size is a very important aspect of composition. I usually use salad plates and smaller cake stands in my cake photography
- Watch for glare. Shiny utensils and dishes will reflect the light in a way that can be very distracting. This is one reason why I love the patina of vintage cutlery.
- Get creative with props by using them differently than their intended use. You can place several cupcakes on a cake stand. Or place your cake on a vintage tray or a stack of plates.
Choose the Best Angle to Highlight Your Cake
There is no all around “best” angle for your cake photography. The best angle is always the one that brings out the qualities of your subject.
What might work very well for one image, won’t necessarily work for another.
Before you pick up your camera, consider the cake you’re shooting. Decide which camera angle will bring out its best features and serve the story you are wanting to tell.
In general, frosted cakes with layers typically look best shot straight-on to emphasise the layers and height of the cake. If the swirls of icing are the focus, a three-quarters shot might work nicely.
Overhead shots don’t work as well. Unless you want to keep the focus on the top of the cake, or create a story where you have several other elements in the frame, like plates an utensils and perhaps a beverage.
In the shot above, I wanted to emphasise the crackled texture of the cake and the creme fraiche and maple syrup it’s typically served with. That’s why I opted for the ninety-degrees shot.
Use Fill and Bounce
To get the most out of your light, you need to shape it.
A few diffusers and reflectors in different sizes are an important part of your food photography kit. You can buy a professional kit or DIY one with a translucent white curtain and some pieces of black and white foamcore.
A set of professional reflectors is a good investment. These are fold-able discs that come with gold, silver, white, and black material. You can use them interchangeably, depending on your lighting scenario.
The gold reflector can be used to add warmth to your cake photos, while the silver can brighten it.
Diffusion softens the light and affects how much light hits your set-up. When working with strong sunlight, I like to use a very large diffuser. This keeps too much light from spilling onto my scene and creating any hard shadows.
You also need some tools to manage these shadows and direct the light to where you want it.
This is where the sheets of black and white foam core come in handy. Use them either to reflect the light or create more shadows and contrast.
Place a reflector or piece of foamcore opposite your light source. White will bounce back some of the light onto your scene. Black will fill in some of your shadows for greater contrast.
Nail Your Focus
Last but not least, take care with your focus when photographing cake.
In all likelihood, you are using autofocus when shooting your food photography.
Autofocus is not foolproof and comes with its own set of challenges.
The AF system can end up focusing on the wrong part of a scene. Sometimes it can struggle to lock onto anything, resulting in a blurry image.
The most important factors influencing autofocus are the level of light and contrast.
Your camera can struggle to focus when there’s not enough light, or when it’s faced with a low-contrast or uniformly-coloured scene. The AF system can’t locate a clear edge.
In these situations, the lens will focus back and forth, looking for something to lock onto.
You can have this issue in cake photography. A large part of your frame may be dominated by one colour or tone. You may not be able to focus where you want.
This means that you need to be very precise with your focusing. Being just a touch off can cause you to completely miss focus.
When shooting cake, try shooting at a smaller aperture, like F8. More of your subject will be in focus. You should also focus on the front of the cake.
Cake photography can be a lot of fun. With the right props and a bit of planning of your composition and lighting, you can take some gorgeous photos of your pretty creations.