How to Photograph Sweets and Desserts

Food photography can make us hungry; it can completely captivate us. Sweet food photography can do this in its own way, making us crave food and want to learn more about the story behind the image. There is an intrinsic link between seeing visually beautiful food imagery and the desire to eat that product.

There are many aspects that play an important part in creating that perfect sweet food shot. From colour consideration and lighting, through to styling and props, it is important to consider all aspects of the photograph.

We wanted to explore how such elements are considered in the food magazine industry and share some tips and tricks for producing that perfect sweet food photograph.

Sweet food photography is not only seen throughout magazines, enticing the customer to purchase a product, it is used across many global and cultural platforms, from social media, to magazines and in restaurants, where the sweet food is displayed on the table. Desserts and sweet food are also photographed beyond the realm of the consumer eye, where images of sweet food are seen in situ, for example a cake being cut at a wedding or a celebratory feast. With the development of social media, such photography has become prominent in different consumer platforms, and we have seen an increase of sweet food photography in food blogging.

We also wanted to share the different ways in which sweets and desserts are photographed and represented in many different aspects of life. We share some of our finalist images across these genres of photography, showcasing how you can photograph sweet food in varying ways.

HOW TO PHOTOGRAPH SWEET FOOD – TIPS AND TRICKS IN PRACTICE

We spoke to Leanne Bracey, Advsiory Judge and Picture Editor and Producer at the Sunday Times Magazine, who shared with us some tips and tricks for creating that perfect sweet food photography shot.

Colour and Lighting Tips for Sweet Food Photography

‘A lot of sweet food photography can actually be quite brown! When a recipe writer comes up with a recipe they do not always think about the visual of the finished bake or pudding. This is often what we must really consider when we photograph baking, puddings, and other sweets. In saying this, quite often if a recipe writer works as staff on a food magazine, they will really think about the final visual, but we do not always have this luxury.’ 

‘At the Sunday Times Magazine, we approach our baking shoots a little bit differently and may commission the recipe writer with more of a direct brief to encourage them to think about how it’s going to look. If we are given recipes that are quite brown in nature and that do not necessarily have any fancy decoration, we really must think about the props a little bit more. We may also have to encourage a recipe writer to perhaps consider the overall finish a little bit more as they often come from a taste perspective, not from a visual.’ Of course, when a cake or a pudding is real showstopper then the opposite can be better; when the food speaks for itself too much propping can be overkill.

This close-up of a lemon meringue pie needs nothing more than a whisp of smoke and a dark background to show it off perfectly.

lemon meringue Food Portraiture 2020 – CHS Creative
Image: 2nd Food Portraiture 2020 – CHS Creative

‘At the Sunday Times Magazine, our style of photography has a lot more of a modern still life approach (as opposed to lifestyle), so this allows us to play around with poppy bright colours that help to tone down the brown and make the recipe look more approachable. We also play around a lot more with light and perhaps go for more shadows and textures which can really help food that might be ‘struggling’.

Nick Milward’s winning image from 2019 uses light to draw out the hidden textures in this tart tatin and the addition of a simple sprig of thyme adds a touch of contrast to produce this elegant shot.

Food Portraiture winner 2019 - Tart Tatin with Thyme
Image: Food Portraiture winner 2019 - Tart Tatin with Thyme

Styling Tips and use of Props for Photographing Sweet Food

‘It is important we get the right Food Stylist on board who really thinks about the shape and colour of the recipe. It is also important to get the Stylist not to veer too far from the recipe by adding extra things to be able to make it work. Of course, the recipe may require extra gelatine for example to make it firmer than it would normally. Or perhaps more flour to make it more stable from a visual point of view.’

Caramel Jammy Dodgers 1st place Food Stylist Kim Morphew
Image: Kim Morphew "Caramel Jammy Dodgers" - First Place, 2019 Food Stylist

Food Stylist, Kim Morphew, show above how important styling is in making you crave what you see. The image above ‘Caramel Jammy Dodgers’ is enhanced by the addition of a simple prop, which adds context to the photograph.

‘The key to creating the perfect sweet food photograph from our perspective is to get the right team collaboration. For those photographers commissioned, it is key to understand the importance of how all these elements come together to match a set brief.’

From food blogging to photographing for food magazines and restaurants, Hein Van Tonder has spoken about teamwork in his winning shot ‘Salted Caramel Drizzle.’

Molten Caramel Choc Pud Hein Van Tonder Salted Caramel Drizzle
Image: Hein Van Tonder - ‘Salted Caramel Drizzle

‘I was shooting these chocolate puddings and I knew we had to do a pouring shot at some point. The caramel sauce was hot and I remember my assistant complaining that his fingers were burning while pouring it.’

To read more about Hein’s creative journey, visit: Sweetness of Photography - Pink Lady Food Photographer of the Year

For further tips and tricks, visit How to photograph food - Pink Lady Food Photographer of the Year

HOW TO PHOTOGRAPH SWEET FOOD IN DIFFERENT SETTINGS

Sweet food photography can be seen to feature throughout the broad genre of food photography.

Pink Lady® Food Photographer of the Years categories cover all aspects of food photography both culturally and globally and to the images below highlight how sweet food photography is represented across this spectrum.

Sweet Food in Portraiture

Food portraiture is perhaps the most traditional way of making our mouths water instantly.

Judith Balari’s image below shows how this sumptuous blueberry cheesecake is enhanced by props, to develop the delicious colours of the cake. Their clever selection also sets the scene as ‘cake and tea’ – as if to make us enjoy the food more.

Food Portraiture Judith Balari Blueberry Cheesecake Marks & Spencer
Marks & Spencer Food Portraiture, Highly Commended, 2020

Photographing Sweet Food at the Table

Images of delicious sweet food are photographed don’t need to be restricted to the traditional ‘Food Portraiture’ format. Beautiful images can be taken in hotels, restaurants, gastropubs and bars across the globe. Such photographs are used commercially to entice us throughout the journey of a meal; all the way from booking, to ordering, and indulging in more!

Madeleines Steven Joyce Food at the Table 2018
Steven Joyce ‘Madeleines’  - Food at the Table Second Place, 2018

Steven Joyce highlights this in his Food at the Table shot ‘Madeleines.’ Even in action, the sweet treats make you want to jump into the photograph and indulge!

Sweet Food Photography in Celebration

Of course, sweet food is intrinsically linked to celebrations across the world. Whether it’s a wedding, birthday or christening, Christmas, Divali, Easter or Chanukah, sweet treats regularly play a big part in the festivities. The centre-piece can often be a cake specially baked for the occasion and photographs of majestic and elegant examples can be seen globally.

Here, CHS Creative, use props to set a scene for their ‘Decadent Black Forest Cake.’  The gold leaf on the cherries are not only part of the food, but mimiccandles which leads us to read that this is a celebratory cake. giving us a visual story in addition to drawning us to the deep rich colours of the chocolate.

Again, the carefully chosen props, such as the cake slicer, makes us engage with the photograph further.

Decadent Black Forest Cake food for celebration Highly Commended 2018
Food for Celebration sponsored by Champagne Taittinger, Highly Commended, 2018

Sweet Food in Food Influencer Photography

From blogs to Instagram feeds, stunning images of sweet foods are incredibly popular and can be seen everyday. With the growth of social media and the introduction of more and more visual platforms, photographing food has become much more widespread and stunning images of sweet food are accessible to almost everyone. These images entice us to learn more about the story behind the picture and can be seen to reflect the vision of the influencer.

In her photograph of this ‘Hungarian Wedding Peach Cake.’ Reka Csulak shows us how you can be drawn into an image from a distance to discover more as you keep looking. Creatively designed as peaches, these are in fact exquisitely produced, individual cakes.

The complimentary hues of the props enhance the subject and make us want to learn more about the story behind the image.

hungarian wedding peach cake reka csulak HC Bloggers
Food Influencers, Highly Commended, 2020

To learn more tips and tricks, or to gain useful insight into the competition please visit our blogs section to find out more.

Get further inspiration from the breath-taking photos of our previous winners and immerse yourself in our finalists' gallery.

Want to try your hand at food photography and enter our competition? Register your interest today!

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