[How to] photograph your cakes

Your work is really only as good as the record you keep of it. You can create the most stellar cake ever but take a rubbish picture and you may as well not have bothered at all.

You will live or die by the quality of the images in your portfolio yet it’s often left to chance, an after-thought and then a cringe-worthy apology on socials and an excuse for why the images are totally lame.

Apologising for you work before you’ve even started is a really rubbish sales technique by the way. #Justsaying

Don’t do it my friends, stop it right now. Draw a line in the sand and commit to taking your images, the very life blood of your future business, seriously.

What’s that you say?

I don’t have the money to buy any kit

(you can’t afford not to in reality)

I finish too late at night

(so shuffle your schedule or buy lighting and stay up 10 minutes later to honour the hours and hours you’ve already invested – it won’t kill you I promise)

I’m rubbish at photography

(you were rubbish at feeding yourself once too – now look at you go …cutlery and everything!!)               

I don’t know where to start!

(ah ha! Then please allow me to help…)

OK OK, so before I became totally, wildly, unashamedly addicted to cake making I was a professional photographer. I ran a studio in London for 10 years and worked for clients including The Metropolitan Police, Marks & Spencer, Waterstones, Sainsburys and a bunch of other names I’ve forgotten in the fog of time and icing sugar, I’ve even photographed a few big celebs in my time so I must be legit!

This gives me the total right to coax, cajole and generally poke you down the path of righteous images.

And the good news is it doesn’t actually need to be an expensive outlay, although it’s helpful to gather a decent set up over time there is a huge amount you can do fairly quickly to shift your understanding and your photography skills – at least enough to be producing clear, clean, well lit, airy photos of your work. As it should be!

You know – the work you put your life and soul into before taking a half-arsed phone pic probably at 2am, possibly in it’s box about, if you are lucky, 2 mins before collection – yeah that work.

So here we go.

This is my current set up (I’ve built this up over the last year or so buying one bit of kit a month. Background first, then a stand for it because endless ‘please stick’ gaffa tape fights gets old fast,  a couple of months later the lights – then a new camera when my old one jumped out of my hands to certain death.) It’s all set up on my dining room table still – no fancy studio space for me – yet! My dining room table is under that lot somewhere. I pop it up and fold away as needed.

Let me break down what I’ve put together here:

The background. This is your single most important weapon to create the illusion (or reality) that you are a professional, you take your craft seriously and you are worthy of client or fellow creative attention. Kitchen sides, tiled splashbacks, random wallpaper oven tops or even stuck in the garden do not create for aesthetically pleasing portfolio scrolling, even more so if you chop and change between several of these. (I’m going to caviat this by saying if it’s a gloriously styled shoot in a country house or wedding venue with a dropped focus background and soft autumn back light and you are a pro then this obviously can look amazing. ) If you are any of these things, I’m guessing you aren’t reading this blog though so I’ll going to say it again –  keep it simple and neutral.  

A simple, clear, neutral, low distraction background that runs right through your portfolio is always going to look the smartest and most professional.

Remember your future client is actively looking for any red flag reasons NOT to approach you.

Letting your work sing out of a neutral, well-lit background with zero dodgy splash backs and distractions allows full focus on your work gives them no wriggle room to dismiss you out of hand.

It also shows your work off to the very best possible. Even as a hobby baker you need to be adopting this because who knows what the future holds and your future self will really appreciate the fact that your today self gave a damn.

My background stand is this one and my colorama roll is this one

You can also buy a huge selection of nice photography backgrounds here at Sugar&Crumbs if absolute white is not your brand style.

Your brand is what people say about you when you are not in the room, so find a background that suits your vibe and stick to it.

If you do buy photography backgrounds keep them in a way as they do not crease or iron them with a towel over the top to get the creases out. Creased backgrounds in photographs make my eyes bleed #pethate # sorrynotsorry

If you are going to use sheets, fabric etc please do the same. Oh and avoid faux fur – the idea of fluff fibres all over cakes even dummies would be enough to make any environmental health officer go green!

No matter what – it’s a food first and needs to represented in a food safe way.

You can also get a roll of good quality wallpaper and gaffa tape that to the wall. Just do something. Anything that creates a simple, neutral curve to set your work against. Pick a style or design you like and stick with it. Consistency through your portfolio makes you look professional even if you don’t feel it yet. Remember – fake it til you make it (by the way you’ll never feel like you’ve made it even when the world is sure you have. ‘Making it’ is a fallacy but that’s for another blog.)

Ok – we have a background – hazzah! What’s next?

Your lighting.

You may not know it but not all light is equal. The very best, most beautiful, makes your work look it’s most stunning? It’s that big old lightbulb in the sky. The sun – or more importantly, the soft daylight it creates. And it’s totally free! Yay!

The very worst, death to all cakes and all photography, is your kitchen lighting. Whether it’s harsh as hell spotlight or 30-year-old florescent strip light that buzz when you turn them on. They are the killer of images.

What you will learn if you ever take an interest in light is that it isn’t white. None of it. Your kitchen florescent makes everything look green, your living room light will casts yellow and the outside world? Blue! You don’t really see it because those spectacular jelly balls stuck in your face auto correct, colour correct as you look, changing everything to a lovely even ‘white.’

Actually, if you really start paying attention to light, you’ll see a lot of the different shades they are pumping out, just most of us never take the time to look. We just see what we want to see.

So geeky they even measure it in degrees Kelvin. Kelvin…. Lols

For more information on light and colour temperature check here:

So now we know all this geeky stuff we have two options and only two.

First, we can organise our lives to make sure that we block in daylight hours to photograph our beautiful ‘soul left on the kitchen floor’ work. We can assemble our set up SIDE ON to a large window to get maximum soft daylight. Have your large window to the left or the right of your set up, never in front of it. Side light makes for the lights and shadows that bring your work to life, straight on light will leave it flat and lifeless.

You can even earn extra bonus points by creating a bounce on the opposite side of the window with a large white piece of card or even a white sheet flung over a lamp stand or chair. Doing this means your light floods in from the window and bouncing off the white surface back onto your cake lifting the shadow side. Clever stuff huh!

Result?

This:

Reality?

This!

Yes, that is my life! Don’t believe the hype!

Fake it til you make it. Got it?

We can also take our makeshift background set up outside and set it up in gentle shade. The soft shaded light on a sunny day is perfect for photographing in. Stay out of direct harsh sunlight as it will bleach out one side of your work and plunge the other side into darkness. Your camera hates huge difference in light and can’t handle it so keep your light reasonably even in a softly shaded area of your outdoor space and everybody comes out happy!

Both these options cost you nothing and give you fantastic results if used in conjunction with your simple background set up. It works fantastically well in summer and leaves you screwed into the floor in winter when your daylight hours are about 4 – on a good day. Do’h!

So, assuming you don’t plan on hibernating cake wise from October to April (UK time) we really do need to invest in some lights. Otherwise you are back to green tinged cakes 5 months a year – nice! 

My lights are these.  These are more powerful LED daylight balanced lights with full height stands as I use them for filming for my online tutorials. However, there are plenty of effective smaller LED kits suitable for home photography though that are essentially the same just less powerful and at a more affordable price point – great starter products accessible to all such as this set. Do make sure you complete your own research before deciding what’s right for you, I’m just giving you some springboard ideas here. Remember to think ahead though and work on future proofing yourself.

After all it’s not where you are now that’s important, it’s where you are heading!

Ok! So we have a decent background ready to pop up wherever and whenever we need. We are going to either utilise the big softbox in the sky or the daylight balanced lights we’ve procured. All we need now is something to record the images with!

The camera I use at the minute is a Canon Eos 2000D . The tripod is a K&K concept tripod. I also have a Lumix DC.  They are both mid-level ‘cross over’ cameras meaning they have some features of proper SLR cameras but are more user friendly. So not fully automatic point and shoot yet not fully professional level cameras either. They suit me perfectly at this point in my needs.

That said, a decent camera is probably the bit of kit I’d buy last in all of this. I know that sounds funny but cameras on phones are so so good these days that a decent phone will take a better picture than a cheap/old camera! And even a half decent camera is quite expensive for a start up budget.

So I’d recommend starting with your phone as long as it’s not a 10 year old brick and spend your money working on improving what’s in front of the lens i.e your background and your lighting. Worry about upgrading to a decent camera if and when the need or desire arises.

My phone takes lovely pictures because my background and lighting are good enough for it to pick up well. If I’m out of time I’ll pop up the background and lights and use my phone. I can tell the difference in terms of absolute detail between my phone and camera but only if I zoom in and really study them.

Decent lighting and a plain/consistent background is far more crucial to good imagery than your camera at this point.

I use some pretty decent kit now, although still way below professional levels in reality. Maybe one day I’ll get back into the really high-level gear – if I ever have cause to need it. For now my mid-level set up services everything I need and more.

I didn’t start with it like that though – and you don’t need to either. It’s not an all of nothing scenario. Like everything I work to instill, it’s a start now and build better as you grow game.

I started out using rolls of paper thrown over the sofa next to a window with a cake box propped one side for bounce – it did the job fantastically until I was able to slowly invest in more effective (winter proof) kit. It gave me clean, clear light photos that showed my work in it’s very best light.

Because let’s face it levelling up your cake decorating skills is only ever going to be as effective as your ability to document your skills because

in a world where people actually eat your artwork you literally have nothing else to show for your efforts.

So if you are on the path to stardom you need to pay attention and make sure you have your paparazzi trained up ready to capture every glorious moment!

If you enjoyed this post or found it useful and would like to know when rambling thoughts tumbled out of my overactive brain please do hit the subscribe button so I know there is somebody out there and I’m not just leaning into the void.

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