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How to Take Great Dessert Photographs

adminNovember 21, 2013


Great Dessert Photography

If you love dessert the way we love dessert, then, like us, you’re probably grabbing for your camera when everyone else is reaching for a fork. There’s just something about a decadent dessert (preferably dipped in chocolate) that makes many of us want to share the moment with friends and family. If not literally, at least on Instagram or Twitter.

Making food look as delicious as it tastes isn’t always easy. There’s quite an art to taking great dessert photos. To help you in your quest for fabulous food pics, we curated this list of tips from expert food photographers and dessert lovers.

1. Learn About Lighting

Want mouthwatering dessert photos? The most important skill to master is lighting. It’s the skill that separates the consumable from the exquisite.

“Because I don’t have a fancy camera, I have to rely on other tricks to make my sweets look good,” explains Jessie Oleson of “Lighting is key — natural light is best. I prefer a gentle natural light without strong shadows.”

And, whatever you do, don’t use a built-in flash. Most pop-up lights will cause harsh shadows and ugly hot spots. Shoot near an open window and use a reflector to bounce extra sunlight back onto your dessert. When dining out, asked to be seated near the window or outdoors. If you’re really serious, time your dinner so that dessert arrives during the “golden hour” when the light is just right for beautiful photos.

2. It’s All About Balance — White Balance

In addition to having enough light, be sure that your camera understands the kind of light you’re shooting in. Setting you camera for daylight, incandescent or fluorescent will help you achieve color fidelity by accounting for the color temperature of the light source. Without proper white balance settings, photos can end up with an orange cast or fluffy white mashed potatoes can become an unappetizing shade of blue.

panna cotta

Proper white balance and good natural light is essential to showcase the creaminess of this Black Pepper Panna Cotta by Elissa Bernstein at 17 and Baking.

3. Find the Right Angle

Be cautious about photographing food from above, which can result in flat, two-dimensional images. Instead get down, lean in or put food at eye level. Look for angles that capture varied heights to add depth to your photos. Professional Photography 101 does a good job of explaining this tip with side-by-side comparison shots.

4. Depth of Field

Selective focus is another trick of great dessert photographers. The goal with this technique is to focus on a single area and let the rest of the photo fade into a soft blur. You don’t even need an expensive lens for this technique! Most point-and-shoot cameras have a Macro setting that can be used to take images with a limited depth of field. If you are lucky enough to use an SLR, set a wide aperture. Dario Milano of Food Pixels recommends using a 50mm lens at f 1.8. IPhoneographers can pick up an Olloclip to achieve similar effects.

5. Go for Bokeh

Bokeh (pronounced “boke”) is the out-of-focus area on an image with shallow depth of field. A soft, beautiful bokeh is like a backdrop for your focal point. It allows the viewer to focus on the most important part of your photo and makes your images pop. For the most part, bokeh is controlled by the lens you’re using. Nevertheless, there are a few things you can do to improve the quality your bokeh. Get in close to your subject and increase the distance between your subject and your background. Without investing in fancy lenses, these two small steps offer the best chance of getting the visually-pleasing blur that top photographers aim for.


Christmas Decorated Strawberries

This sweet photo of our Christmas strawberries has a pleasing bokeh that keeps the background berries recognizable while bringing attention to the main subject.

6. Use a Tripod

Bokeh is good. Blur is bad. Avoid blurry shots by using a tripod whenever possible. Shooting in natural light often requires a slow shutter speed. Even the best photographers will fall victim to camera shake in low-light conditions. If you’re shooting desserts at home, take the time to set up a tripod. If you’re shooting desserts with your smartphone, get a good grip on your phone and prop your arms on the table for stability.

7. Set the Scene With a Series

Rather than just taking a photo of your ready-to-eat dessert, take a series of photos that tell a story. At home, take a few shots of the preparation: an artful compilation of raw ingredients, stiff peaks of fresh whipped cream, or liquid batter ready for the oven. Dining out? Set the scene with a photo of the candle at your table, a long shot down the bar, or your honey’s first bite. Then, use your favorite app to make a photo collage for sharing on social media.

8. Play With Props

Props are the supporting actors in your Academy Award-winning dessert photo. The dessert may tell the story, but the props set the scene. Place a spoon in the distance to hint at delicious bites yet to come. Include a pretty napkin with accent colors or garnish the plate with a contrasting color. Use a paper napkin or fabric placemat to add more texture to the photo.

bundt cake slices

This clever photo by Completely Delicious uses the full cake as the prop and the slice as the star.

9. Pay Attention to Plating

If you watch Top Chef, you know that the last few moments of competition isn’t spent cooking, it’s spent plating. Plating is more than just putting food in a dish. Take a minute to make sure that the rim of the dish is clean, that the garnish is attractive and that all the little details are in place.

10. Keep it Simple

Although a full plate may sound appealing, visually, it can appear cluttered. Serve less or use larger dishes for a minimalist display that allows your dessert to be the star. In situations where it’s not possible to photograph a smaller serving, such as in a restaurant, use selective focus to make one part of the dish stand out as the hero.

11. Take a Bite

Add a sense of real life to your dessert images by photographing some shots that are mid-taste. Take a photo that says, “I couldn’t wait to take a bite.” A cookie with a single bite mark or a “missing” a spoonful of pie can also add intimacy to your photos. It’s as if you’re inviting the viewer to share your dessert.

mini pies

This photo by Desserts for Two takes a bite to show off the flaky layers of crust in this mini pie.

12. Don’t Take a Bite

Sometimes food looks best when it’s not meant to be eaten. That is to say, many foods lose something in the preparation. Slightly undercooked foods or even replacement ingredients may be necessary if you want to capture a recipe looking its best. Rob, the editor of Light Stalking, explains that food looks best full-bodied not big. He also has some great tips for styling food for photography rather than for eating.

13. Have Fun

According to Oleson, “adding an element of whimsy or clever cropping can help make a photo compelling even if it is not technically perfect. And of course, you can always Photoshop a face on it to make it look adorable, as in this post.”

While some might groan at the idea of amateur food photography, it’s only because carelessly snapped images can make even the most amazing dishes look unappetizing. Use these tips for better dessert photos and your friends and family will be asking for seconds!

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