A great dessert image is luscious. It makes you want to eat it.
Here are some top tips to help you take mouth-watering images of your sweet confections.
Choose Props and Backgrounds That Match Your Dessert
Food photography requires planning. It takes a lot of work to make food look appealing on camera.
Dessert photography is especially challenging. Desserts often have garnishes and sauces that can become messy if not handled well.
Items like ice cream can pose problems because they melt so quickly.
If you’re shooting a birthday cake, maybe some candles or a sparkler would be a nice addition.
If your dessert is pretty and pastel, then a similar approach in props and backgrounds would create a cohesive look.
In the shot below of the doughnuts, I chose to shoot them overhead. A 90-degree angle emphasizes shape. It’s also a great approach if you want to get several objects into the frame.
In this case, the doughnuts were iced and powdered. This was the most important factor in my choice of how I wanted to compose them.
In food photography, you always want to choose the angle that best highlights the features of your subject.
Take some time to think this through before you pick up your camera.
Think about what you want your image to convey. Do a rough sketch of how you plan to shoot your dessert. Include the best complementary elements you can add to your scene.
In this case, I used a textured background and also added a couple of sheets of parchment paper for extra layering.
Use Details to Evoke Emotions in Drool-Worthy Images
In addition to your props, you should also think about the details. These will bring out the best in your dessert. Dessert photography should evoke the emotions and stir the senses. Make your viewer want to eat it.
This can mean adding a swirl of whipped cream to your pecan pie, a drizzle of caramel sauce to your cake, or even a sprinkling of coarse salt to that chocolate fudge cookie.
The best food photography has textures and layers. These kinds of simple details can take your dessert photography to the next level.
In addition to these details, think about what other elements can complement your subject.
A stack of brownies or cookies looks great featured with a glass of milk. It’ll add more interest to the shot, as it’s not always easy to make brown food look good–even if it’s sweet and delicious.
Also, be aware when extra additions can detract from your main subject.
In the images of the pie below, I wanted to draw attention to the beautiful pastry work of the crust.
Simple Tools That’ll Help You Create the Perfect Dessert Image
No discussion of dessert photographs would be complete without mentioning the best tools to have on hand in order to style them.
Food styling can often make or break an image. Dessert photography is no exception.
A few simple tools, many of which you probably already have at home, are all you need to take your dessert pictures to the next level.
Want to give that ice cream a natural look? Take a drinking straw and gently blow on the edges of your scoop to soften them.
Use a fine mesh sifter or tea strainer to gently sprinkle some cocoa or powdered sugar on your cake or chocolate mousse.
A vegetable peeler will help you make ribbons from a hunk of chocolate. A pair of tweezers will help you place garnishes on your dessert where they will look best to the camera.
Use a Stand-In to Avoid Your Dessert Going Bad
One of the most useful tricks that pro food photographers and stylists use is to always have a stand-in for their “hero”–their main food subject.
It’s always a good idea to have more food on hand than you think you’ll need. Especially in the case of food photography.
You may not be able to get a straight edge on that slice of cake or the crust on your pie might crumble and fall apart. If you have extra on hand, it can save you a big headache.
In the case of ice cream or frozen desserts, your subject might melt before you can get the shot.
Have an object that is similar in size and colour to your subject to act as a stand-in while you adjust your set and lighting. This will ensure that everything is in place when your dessert is camera ready.
For example, a wad of crumpled up red tissue paper can make a great substitute for your raspberry sorbet.
You can also use items of dessert that didn’t really work out. Swap out the plate for the more attractive version when you’ve determined correct camera settings for the scene you want to shoot.
Best Light for Photographing Desserts
If you’re photographing food, you’re probably already working with natural light.
Common advice is to shoot food with natural light because it’s “better”. This isn’t true. Pro food photographers use artificial light all the time and are paid to take awesome images.
The trick is to make artificial light look like natural daylight. This takes the right equipment and a lot of skill.
A diffuser or scrim will help soften the light. A white piece of cardboard placed opposite your light source can help you bounce some of it back onto your subject to brighten it up.
Dessert looks best when the light is soft and the colours are vibrant.
Use a Grey Card to Achieve the Correct White Balance
Desserts are one type of food photography that requires accurate colour.
For food to look good, it needs to look natural, with colours as realistic as possible. This is why purchased presets tend to rarely work on food.
Realistic colours mean that your white balance needs to be spot on.
You might be able to get away with using white balance creatively in some instances. In general, the more accurate your whites and tones, the better your picture will look.
In other words, this is not the time to add green split-toning.
A grey card is a grey piece of plastic or paper that you can buy at a camera supply shop. Don’t use any old piece of grey paper. It has to be the exact 18% grey that your camera looks for while metering.
Take a shot with your grey card in a scene. When editing in Lightroom, click your white balance eyedropper on the grey card in your image. It will automatically adjust it for you. Then you can sync it to your other photos.
How to Photograph Frozen Treats Like Ice Cream
Cold dessert photography such as ice cream or popsicles deserves special mention. They can be tough to work with. In fact, some food stylists refuse to work with them at all!
On commercial shoots, sometimes fake ice cream made from instant mashed potatoes or confectioner’s sugar is used to mimic the real thing. You don’t need to go this far.
With an understanding of some basic techniques and steps, along with preparation, you can get great-looking ice cream shots.
For basic ice cream scoops, start by lowering your freezer temperature by a few degrees. Scoop out five or six scoops of ice cream. Place them on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and stick them back in the freezer for at least twenty minutes.
When you’re ready, simply place one of the scoops in a bowl or on a cone. If it’s not quite right, or it melts too quickly, you have several others on hand to try again.
A nice trick is to place your bowl or dessert vessels in the freezer as well. This gives them a nicely frosted look. Just look out for any water stains from condensation on your linens, if you’re using them.
When you pre-scoop the ice cream, you may find it loses that freshly scooped look and becomes rather stiff looking.
You can remedy this with the drinking straw tip mentioned above. The warmth of your breath will soften it just enough to give you the desirable soft look you want for the edges of your scoops.
You can also gently press your scoop on the top to push the edges down. This will give you a similar effect.
When styling cones, try placing some crumpled up tissue inside the cone. It’ll create a buffer between the ice cream scoop and cone to prevent it from becoming soggy.
Dessert photography can seem simple because the subjects are so inherently attractive. But you need to be prepared and have a lot of tricks up your sleeve to get them looking their best.
When in doubt, a minimal approach is best. Choosing the right background with one or two props will go a long way in helping you create drool worthy images of desserts like you see in your favourite food magazines.