Have you ever tried to take pictures of chocolate?
If you have, it may have been a struggle. Chocolate is the problem child of the food styling world.
Here are 6 tips to help you create tantalizing images of the famous cocoa-based treat.
Prepare Your Chocolate
Although delicious, chocolate isn’t always perfect looking in real-time.
Sometimes it has what is called “bloom”. This is a thin layer of white that can appear due to changes in the sugar or fat crystals.
Bloom is safe to eat. But it’s surface texture and appearance is unappetizing. Not what you want when you are trying to “sell” your chocolate to the viewer.
Food stylists who work with chocolate fix this problem by lightly and quickly applying a heat gun to the chocolate. Enough time to get rid of the bloom, but not enough time to melt.
You can also try blowing on the chocolate. Depending on the consistency of the chocolate, this may be enough to do the trick.
Chocolate bloom is a nightmare to retouch later. Make sure to deal with it before you pick up your camera.
To ensure optimal texture, store chocolate in a cool dry place that is not the fridge. And make sure it’s not exposed to direct sunlight.
This is where “hot” or constant lights can be a bad idea, unless they are LED.
Handle Chocolate With Care
So you have the perfect chocolate specimens.
Now you need to keep them that way.
Use gloves when handling chocolate. Any fingerprints will become glaring to the camera. Use gloves that will also not leave their mark on the chocolate.
White cotton gloves are nice. But they might leave a little bit of their fuzz behind. Latex gloves can leave behind dust.
In the meantime, the warmth of your hands can soften the chocolate.
Have some extra chocolate on hand to play with and determine your composition.
Swap it out with the “hero”, or the final product, before pressing the shutter.
Choose the Right Light Direction
Choosing the right direction of light is one of the most important elements in food photography.
Your lighting should always enhance your subject in the most thoughtful and positive way.
When it comes to taking pictures of chocolate, natural light is the best choice, if it’s available.
Try lighting from an angle that brings out the texture.
A side-lighting setup is a safe and easy bet for many types of shots. Use fill and bounce cards to carve the light in order to enhance the pictures of chocolate.
In the picture of the chocolate cake below, I used backlighting. This brought out the natural sheen and texture of the chocolate icing.
The problem with backlighting is that the image can be blown out in the back. All while the front remains too dark and underexposed.
To remedy this, play with the distance of your set to your light source. And make sure to use a bounce card at the front of your setup. This will direct some of the light back into the scene for more even exposure.
My recommendation when it comes to any type of food photography is to avoid lighting your food from the front or the top.
This will result in flat looking images without enough shadows. This is great for portraiture, but when it comes to food–especially in chocolate photos–contrast is essential.
Use One Light Source
In food photography, one light source is all that you need. Unless you’re doing certain types of advertising work where you need artificial lights with a lot of power.
One light source, like a large window, will give you one beautiful set of shadows and highlights.
For a soft and dreamy look, be sure to diffuse the light with a diffusion panel. A scrim, or even a translucent curtain or piece of fabric work too.
Deep shadows make milk and dark chocolate look appealing. You want to go easy on any fill light.
A couple of white bounce cards should be enough to direct some of the light back into the scene without over-brightening your images.
Sometimes silver or gold reflectors can add a metallic look that doesn’t look natural.
When shooting chocolate, it’s important to know what mood you want to convey. Then you can build your set.
It doesn’t need to be complicated. But planning out your lighting advance will ensure that you get the best results.
Choose a Suitable Lens
The lens you choose to shoot with depends on the subject you are photographing and how you want to portray it.
When it comes to chocolate photography, you will want to get pretty close to your subject.
On a full-frame camera, this will mean an 85mm or 100mm macro lens. On a camera with a cropped sensor, a 50mm or a 60mm macro will give you great results.
Edit Your Chocolate Images in Photoshop, not Lightroom
When it comes to editing pictures of chocolate, Photoshop is your best friend.
It’s difficult to create decent chocolate imagery without some basic Photoshop skills. Lightroom won’t cut it for this one.
The reason is that Lightroom is a global editor, while Photoshop is a pixel editor. Lightroom is best for making adjustments to the whole image.
You can fine tune your images with some of the tools, like the adjustment brush. But you can use the tools in Photoshop to make very precise adjustments to various parts of the image.
For example, you can use the spot correction tool in Lightroom to fix little spots or flaws on your chocolate. This is fine if you only have a couple of flaws to fix.
Most likely, you’ll actually need to do a lot of finessing to get your chocolate images to look smooth and refined enough. Spotty chocolate is not appealing.
Use the spot healing brush tool in Photoshop to make multiple edits. When you use the spot tool in Lightroom, it will slow down the software’s performance. It won’t give you clean results.
The good news is that you only need a few simple tools to make photos of chocolate look their best.
The spot healing brush tool, clone stamp, and healing brush will be more than enough to take your images to the next level.
Chocolate photography can be tough to shoot. With a little bit of planning and care, you can take some truly drool-worthy images for your portfolio.
Eating the leftovers afterwards will be the best part.