One of my first attempts at food photography was to shoot these mini Christmas cakes by Nutmeg Bakehouse. In this post I go through the process of my shoot from start to finish.

The idea for these Christmas cakes came from meeting with my dear friend Meggie, who owns and runs her own baking business. Over a socially-distanced coffee, she mentioned that she was starting to prepare orders for her yearly Christmas cake sales. It dawned on me that a) it was nearly Christmas and b) what a great idea for a shoot!

So I ordered a few cakes and started planning.

Being a designer in my day job means that the creative process comes somewhat naturally. However, as I’d never tried food photography before, it was a bit intimidating.

Research & gathering

Having just made my own foraged seasonal garland, I was inspired to use found natural elements in my shoot that would create a wintery feel to the photos. Over the course of the week, on walks or runs, I’d stop and collect bits of holly or twigs or red berries along the shrubs and paths. Yes, I was that weirdo.

I also created a moodboard of images that acted as a reference for the type of colours, mood, styling and story I wanted the end photos to have.

Photographic techniques

I trawled the internet for tutorials on ‘food photography for beginners’ and ‘how to photograph food’ and came across a variety of information about composition, shooting angle and camera settings. Being able to rely on these tried-and-tested tips made my first forage into food photography a bit less intimidating.

The shoot

The beauty of the Christmas cake is that it lasts forever. Hence the joke about it being regifted every year… I took advantage of that and did several photoshoots using the cakes.

First shoot

Christmas cake on baking paper
1/13 | f/5.6 | ISO 800 | 19mm

First attempts using the leftover floorboard panels we had lying around and a dark navy bedsheet as a background. Major issues I had were:

  • Making the horizon line where the floorboards met the background look more natural
  • Adding some textural elements and props to the scene to bring the brown cake to life. I have another article about photographing brown foods here
  • Finding a plate or surface to put the cake on

Second shoot

I went into the second shoot with some ideas on how to remedy the issues I encountered in the first one.

christmas cake food photography
1/60 | f/4.0 | 16mm | ISO 800

It’s worth noting as well that I got some backdrops, which helped a lot with these second batch of photos. Other improvements I made were:

  • Adding a ‘belt’ of baking paper and string around the cake, to create more visual interest
  • Incorporating layers like the foliage in front of the plate and scattered almonds on the table
  • Using background props to give the main subject context
  • Positing the horizon line in a more comfortable level
christmas cake food photography flatlay
1/20 | f/10 | 26mm | ISO 800

The next version I tried was doing a flatlay using a C-shape composition. Having tried and tested composition shapes were very helpful for a beginner like myself to act as a guide for how to start positioning elements within a frame. Things I paid attention to here were:

  • Visual balance of the main subject (the cake) being the biggest and smaller bowls and elements surrounding it
  • Direction the elements were pointing towards, like the fork and the foliage.
  • Using elements with different textures to add interest and contrast

Gear and equipment

  • Sony Nex-6 camera with 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens
  • Backdrops from Black Velvet Styling
  • Props (white plate, fork, light blue bowls and wooden spice scoop) from Wilbur & Wolf

In summary

All in all as a first attempt at food photography, I was pleasantly surprised at the difference between my first and last shoot turned out. My key learnings from this were:

  • Variety of textures is important – from the backdrops, to props and accompaniments to your main subject. This is especially important for brown foods.
  • Adding layers helps creating a rich, interesting composition.
  • A tripod is an essential investment! I would have saved a lot of time if I had one, instead of climbing up and down a chair as I adjusted the scene. Also, it would have let me use a lower ISO, and avoid the graininess I got in the final photos.
  • Having go-to compositions are very helpful for beginners to get started.

Useful links

Here’s a handful of the links I found useful for this shoot:

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