How to photograph a cake
Thursday, May 7 2015
When you put a lot of work into creating a cake, you want to take a photograph which does it justice, whether for your own records or for clients if you run your own business. Cakes & Sugarcraft photographer, Alister Thorpe, shares his technical tips on how to make the most of your cakes and give your photographs a fresh, professional look.
I would recommend using a Canon 5D DLSR with 24–105mm zoom lens. Most cake makers have a good idea of the best angle for the cake; look at the cake (this one is by Cakes by Elizabeth Finch) and find a position which replicates how your eye would see it. Set up the camera in this position on a tripod to for composition and sharpness. Use manual or automatic focus; it doesn’t matter which. Avoid on-camera flash unless it can be bounced (some flash guns have flexible heads which would allow you to angle it towards the ceiling and bounce off that which works quite nicely). Using the camera metre either on TV (shutter speed priority) or manual mode will make sure you can expose the cake correctly. Take a practice image and adjust the exposure if it’s too bright or too dark until you can see all the detail. Use the highest quality files possible.
Built-in or attached camera flashes are fine for photographing people but tend to flatten the picture and lose the detail of cake decorations. It’s best to light the cake from a diagonal angle, somewhere between the front and side of the cake. Lighting can be natural or artificial, but experiment first with natural light, placing your cake on a table near a window (avoiding direct sunlight). Try a few places near windows and see what works well. If the sunlight coming in from the window is bright and direct, try taping a piece of tracing paper to the window to soften the light and improve the quality of the photograph. Use a large piece of white card on the opposite side of the cake to the light source to bounce light back to the areas in shadow. Rooms with white walls which don’t have direct light are good.
It’s best to set up a background behind the cake to avoid unsightly objects like radiators or sockets detracting from the subject. Choose a colour and texture which enhances your cake. There are two options we usually use at Cakes & Sugarcraft magazine photoshoots: wallpapers stuck to foam board with spray mount for the base and background, and ‘scoops’ of paper when we want to avoid a horizon line. If you’re not using a cake stand, place the cake on a small cake board to raise it just off the surface and prevent hard shadows around the base.
I use it to fine-tune my images; nothing more, nothing less. I think the mistake a lot of people make is to think that you can make a bad photograph good in PhotoShop but that’s not what it’s for; you can use it to make a good photograph a little bit better.
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