Food photography is challenging. Every dish has its own challenges and so does taking dessert photos. From melting ice creams to layered cake, getting a perfect photo of dessert can be challenging and enlightening. So, how do you photograph a dessert? Here’s how…
How to Photograph Cold Desserts
Desserts come in all shapes and forms. There are cold desserts and then there are desserts that are hot. In this post, we will focus on cold desserts and talk about preparing the shoot, styling the dessert and taking dessert photos.
Any food photographer who wants to make great food images should start with understanding its subjects. As we talked about the first phase of food photography process, understanding how food behaves or will behave is crucial for a great food photo shoot.
Before anything else, find out details about the dessert. What is the dominant color of this dessert? What will be its texture like? What garnishing will be used? Learn about this subject as much as you can before moving forward.
Preparing the Photography Set
Timing is very critical in photographing cold desserts. In the photo above, I had about 2 minutes to take photos before the garnishing started changing its shape. For this reason, it is almost mandatory to keep the set absolutely ready when working with cold desserts, before bringing out the dessert that will make into the final photograph.
Tip 1. Create a Shot List
Shot list is a list of possible photos that you would like to take of a subject. Note all the possible photos you would like to take. Would you like someone holding that ice cream cone? What about more than one dishes in the photo? What about different props? Brainstorm the possible photos. Get some inspiration from desserts photos.
Tip 2. Sketch Your Photos
If you are just starting out in food photography and can’t think of different possible shots under pressure, try sketching the possible images you want to get. This should be done before you start to set the table.
Tip 3. Arrange the Props
Once you know what photos you are looking for, start arranging the props. What background will look better for that ice cream? Is a spoon better for this dessert or should it be a fork? Does a white plate look better or should it be some other color? Answer these questions and set the table.
Tip 4. Adjust Lighting
Now, that you have the props in place, modify the lighting and its direction. Understand lighting and use reflectors, bouncers diffusers and whatever fancy equipment you have. Make sure the dish will be lit as much as you would like. This is something you may have to adjust once you start taking photos.
Tip 5. Lower the Temperature
For photographing cold subject, temperature of the studio (or your kitchen, as the case may be) affects the amount of time you have for taking photographs. If possible create ice baths for desserts. This can be as simple as putting ice in a container and placing desserts and plates in the ice bath. This isn’t the most realistic option for many desserts, but when possible, can help the dessert stand in the room for longer time. Another option is to lower the temperature of your studio or kitchen. Of course, you can make ice cream out of mashed potato, but I like to eat ice cream I photograph (No! not if I am on location. For on locations, rest of the team eats the ice cream).
Styling Cold Desserts
As we talked about photographing desserts earlier, timing is the key to taking dessert photos. When creating dessert images, the goal is to keep the temperature of the dish down so that you can increase the time that dessert can be photographed without melting away.
Styling a desserts varies a lot depending on the dessert itself. Styling an ice cream is different that styling a flan which is quite different than styling gulab jamun. Keep professional food styling tips in mind.
If you are using garnishes in the photo, make sure they are cold. If you are garnishing with pistachios or other nuts, cool them.
Having a freezer/chiller or refrigerator in your studio is almost a must. If you are working with cold subjects, you just can’t live without having one of these near you.
If you plan to put your dessert in a freezer, make sure you cover it or it will get frost if kept inside for long time.
Once styling is done, keep the dessert in the refrigerator for a little while before starting to take pictures. This will let the dish lower its temperature and give you more time to photograph it.
While books like Food Styling for Photographers suggest using cardboards for keeping layers of cake stiff or using Styrofoam when photographing whole cakes, as I said earlier, I like to eat after I am done photographing. So, I am okay with trading off flexibility for edibility. But if you are comfortable with using the tricks, by all means go for it.
Before you start photographing the decorated dessert dish, experiment using a stand-in. Stand-in is the fancy name for the dish that won’t make in the final photo. Stand-in may be just a dish similar to the dish that will make in the final photo, or it may even be a look-a-like. For photos in this post, an empty small-sized can was used.
Try couple of trial shots and see if you like the composition. Make changes. Move the spoon. Try vertical frame. Now try a horizontal frame. What do you like? Keep experimenting until you find some three or four compositions that you like (If you are planning to work with a client or art director, they may dictate how you should shoot). Once you are ready you need to move quickly.
How you photograph a dessert depends on what you want to show. Remember the most important photography question? Is your photo a photograph of the dessert? or is it about the experience of having a dessert? Whatever is your goal with this photo, it should translate to how you want to shoot the dessert.
If you are using artificial lighting, the timing becomes even more critical while shooting cold desserts. Most artificial light raise the temperature of the room and cold dishes start to lose their form sooner. In situations when you have to use artificial light and cannot replace it with natural light, using a stand-in is very helpful.
As we talked before, experiment with artificial lighting and modifiers using a stand-in. Adjust the positions of mirrors and bouncers. Since you are using a stand-in, you can take your time and take notes of the positions and set-ups. Now turn-off the lighting.
Bring the dish that will make in the final photos, turn on the light and make photos quickly. Once the final dish is out, there is not time to practice or experiment. Every second you waste, translates to a minute or two of preparation time wasted.
Let me repeat this – the most crucial aspect of cold dessert photography is timing. In less than two minutes the chocolate garnish in the photo above changed its shape and the dessert looked like this. It is absolutely critical that once the dessert is out, you take as many thoughtful photos as you can. This also means that you need to plan your photos beforehand. Unless you have lot of experience in food photography and you can be very creative under pressure, without good preparation, your photos may not come out as well as you thought.
While there are no hard rules, I hope this post gave you some guidelines for photographing desserts. As you start to practice and take more photos, you will no longer have to sketch the photos and create the shot list. These ideas will come to you more naturally and intuitively.
Have You Taken Dessert Photos Before?
Have you shot desserts? What has been your experience? Share your tips for photographing desserts. What did you think about this post? Was this post helpful?