How To Photograph Rustic Cake

Cake Photograph

Take a look at this photo. What do you feel when you look at this photo?

This photo does not have many props. This simple and minimalist photo still evokes emotions. Don’t you think?

Using rustic props and distraction free background, Kristin has created a photo with amazing impact.

In today’s post, Kristin Rosenau shares with us how she shot this photo, what decisions she took and how all of these elements were selected to tell the story. 

About  the Photographer

I first got into baking four years ago. After graduating university with a degree in physics, I needed a creative outlet. I had been following a handful of food blogs the year prior, captivated by the way the men and women weaved together food, photography, and life. One evening it occurred to me there wasn’t any reason I couldn’t have my own blog—a space to share my own stories and the foods they inspire. And so the adventure began.

Food Photography Camera, Lenses and Other Gear

My equipment is quite simple. I shoot almost exclusively with a Canon T2i Rebel and a 50 mm/f1.4 lens. I do not own a tripod; on rare occasions, I will use a homemade reflector (a sheet of aluminum foil) to help reduce the effect of a particularly dark shadow. I have a few pieces of barn wood, scavenged from my grandparent’s farm, for backgrounds and purchase the majority of my props from thrift stores. I am a natural light photographer and do not have an artificial lighting set-up.

Her Food Photography Process

As with all of my photography, the process begins and ends with the food. I shuffle through the cupboards, develop a new recipe with the ingredients hidden within, and, if everything turns out well, I pull out the camera.

I choose the background based on both the food and the mood. For lighter fare and a feeling of spring and summer, I reach for the white backgrounds. For a more decadent or rustic feel, I’m guided to the darker backgrounds. There is no hard or fast rule for these decisions—it is not unusual for me to change them out once or twice until I find the right feel.

I tend to stick to basics with my props. White and cream colored dishes set off the simplest of dishes. Dull blue or red pattern cloths can add a quick accent color. I form the idea of the photo shoot in my head while I cook, imagining colors and the mood, but nothing very specific.

When I begin to style the food, I often find myself reaching for the same props for each shoot; they feel comfortable and I’m drawn to the familiar. I often need to remind myself to step out of my comfort zone and find a way to use different or more unique props. If I am stuck in a real creative rut, I’ll scroll through Pinterest to gather inspiration.

I usually change out the props once or twice before I find the dishes that best complement the food. A photo shoot for a single dish usually lasts about an hour. I take around 100 photographs, many of them near duplicates as I try to find the perfect angle.

First Decisions

The cake itself is an everyday cake, a combination of peanut butter and chocolate. It reminded me of my own childhood, of afternoon snacks after a long day at school. I wanted to create a modest, rustic mood to mimic that feeling.

When setting the scene, I did not have a particular image in mind, choosing to allow the camera to guide me instead. I made small changes along the way, changing out the fork and adjusting the angle. Eventually, these small changes led to towards capturing the right image.

I chose the horizontal frame because I felt like it opened up the scene and made the cake appear more approachable. To a child peering over a dining room table, he or she would see the cake from a low angle, the cake slice standing tall in the frame, drawing the eyes in.

Lighting the Photograph

As a natural light photographer, I rely on my living room window as the exclusive light source. This particular day was cloudy, which I consider the ideal light to photograph in. The clouds soften the shadows and provide a diffuse light source over the food.

I did not use a reflector, preferring the shadow cast naturally by the window. The only gear I used was my camera—nothing else.

Food Styling and Prop Styling

To style the food in a rustic mood, I choose the wood background to add a homegrown feel and I settled on a white backdrop to help lighten the frame. The wooden plate and silver spoon match the colors of the background, adding interest without detracting from the focus of the image.

I simply chose the glass because it was the only tall glass I had in the cupboard and I needed to add a source of height. The glass has a bluish tint to it which was not ideal for the photograph, but all of the clear glasses I do have were too short to accomplish the same task (even food photographers don’t always have the right prop for every situation, but the trick is to find a way to make it work with what you have).

I centered the cake off-center to add an additional element of interest and to open up the frame.

Post Processing

I use Lightroom for post-processing. I made a handful of edits to the photograph: adjusted the white balance, increased contrast, increased exposure, and added clarity. I make these changes to all of my photographs to sharpen and brighten the image. I try to limit editing so that the final image on my computer screen matches the image I see in my camera lens.

Advice for New Food Photographers

When I began blogging at Pastry Affair, I knew nothing of photography or the challenge behind photographing food. With a point and shoot camera and the desire to capture food as I saw it, I taught myself to use a camera. Through practice, I learned to find the right angles and to develop a mood. I wanted to tell a story with my camera lens, to draw people into the food by creating a familiar moment in time.

The “trick” to food photography is practice. There is no substitute for hard work. Even now, I treat each moment behind the camera as another opportunity to learn and to practice. I continue to challenge and push myself beyond my comfort zone to grow as a photographer.

When you are behind your own camera lens, do not be afraid of failure! These are the photographs that you learn from the most—which angles do not work, what lighting to avoid, and how to prevent props from stealing the focus. Food photography is a journey and it can be incredibly rewarding as you grow and develop your own style.

One Question for You

I hope you learned some good tips on creating a rustic photo from this post. In the comments below, in one line (or more), tell us what was the inspiring thing that you learned from the post.

  • I LOVE Pastry Affair blog because her photographs are amazing. Thank you for sharing 🙂

  • Lorinda Clark McKinnon

    I don’t have to spend a fortune to get great photos. That’s a very good thing 🙂

  • Fanus Vermaak

    Practice, practice. There is no substitute for hard work.

  • Revati

    I saw the pic in the thumbnail and knew this was Kristens work 🙂

  • Drennen Brown

    I love the detail in the cake and the whole setup, but I am wondering, is that crack/line in the wall an intended part of this scene? It seems distracting to me, and could so easily be taken out in post.