Cookie Photography— A Beginner’s Guide
If you’re anything like me, then as soon as you put the finishing touches on your beautifully decorated cookies, you want to immediately take a picture (or 300). But if you’re like me, then you don’t have a professional photo studio or equipment at your fingertips, and this can lead to some…less than stellar cookie photos. When I first started cookie-ing, almost all of my pictures were taken directly from overhead on one of my dishes in my poorly-lit kitchen. Recipe for photography disaster. But by stalking our resident photo expert, Emily, I’ve picked up some tips and tricks that can make your cookie pics almost look like they were taken by a professional.
"I remember when I first started making cookies, I would literally walk around every room in the house with my plate of cookies in hand until I found the best light! It usually ended up being by a window."
The importance of good lighting cannot be overstated. If at all possible, take pictures in daylight hours when you can take advantage of that beautiful natural light. If your kitchen or decorating space doesn’t have good natural lighting, but your living room on the other side of the house does, don't be afraid to set up a temporary photography studio there. And by “photo studio,” that can mean something as simple as a firm platform set on a level chair near a window. (And make sure to keep out pets and kids so that you don’t test gravity with your cookies!)
Once you set up your photo area in front of your sunny window, assess the light situation. If sunlight is streaming through that window, move your photo setup a couple of steps away. Having direct sunlight aimed right at your cookies can make them look washed out in your photos. Instead, move a little bit away so that you still reap the benefit of the indirect sunlight, while also avoiding that too-bright result. And to avoid the shadows that can result from directional light, do yourself a favor and make a run to the Dollar Store for a large white foam board. Hold or place this on the opposite side of your cookies from the light source, and you’ll immediately bounce light back onto your cookies, washing those shadows away. Cheap and effective.
If you are taking pictures at night like I occasionally have to do (because that’s when I finished the set, of course!), you are likely to end up with harsh shadows due to overhead lighting. If you don’t have a choice and it’s nighttime or never, then invest in an inexpensive but decent ring light you can use to act as a natural lighting stand-in.
Like I mentioned before, I started out taking pictures of my cookies on dinner plates. And while I do still occasionally use dishes in my pictures, I’m much more likely now to choose a plain-ish background to allow the cookies to be the star of the show. You can certainly invest in a name-brand photo background, although they can be a little pricey. If that’s the route you want to take, I’d suggest picking something simple and timeless that can be used year-round for your photos, no matter what the theme of your set is.
Alternatively, you can use inexpensive shelfliner or removeable wallpaper to create your own backdrops for a fraction of the cost. I do recommend covering something that can’t flex (like a square of plexiglass); if you use a foam board or something similar, you’ll see rippling in the surface of the design as the board flexes and bends, no matter how careful you are.
You can also use cardstock or other designed paper as an accent background on top of your hard surface; this is an easy and inexpensive way to boost the interest factor in your photo surface. A little bit of a funky pattern can draw the eye, but you also want to let your cookies stand out and not get lost in a busy background.
Props** in cookie photos can be a personal preference. I very often prefer to simply arrange the cookies in a tiled pattern that is pleasing to my eye, but occasionally a set just cries out for a prop.
Beach-themed cookies? Can’t go wrong with some ground-up graham cracker crumbs as sand. Woodland baby shower cookies? Pop a few on a wood slice for that rustic vibe. I love the look of a coordinating artificial flower just peeking in at the edge of the photo; same thing with a simple strand of beads running artfully through the photo, drawing the eye where you want it to go. Even your (clean) cooling racks can up the interest level of your photos. But don’t forget—your cookies are the star! The props are just a supporting actor helping elevate your gorgeous baked goodies!
Most of us don’t have professional camera equipment on hand, but almost all of us do carry a camera in our pocket at any given moment. My iPhone camera is great as-is, but there are also several apps that can help with lighting, contrast, etc— not to mention the ability to use some nice filters. My personal favorite is the Foodie app (not sponsored), which has some excellent filters for taking pictures of food in particular. Take a look in your app store, and you’ll undoubtedly find some free camera resources.
Taking the Pics
There’s nothing wrong with your standard overhead cookie photo. That being said, it can be a little…boring. Think of this as if you just showed up to a department store photo studio. You’re going to take the traditional and reliable portraits, but once you have those in the bag, maybe change it up a little bit and see what works. You never know—you may love the over-the-shoulder sassy pose that you wouldn’t have ever asked to take but now you can’t live without. Take photos from a variety of angles-- an angled photo can make it look like there is a neverending spread of cookies as far as the eye can see. Elevate a favorite cookie above the rest by setting it on a tall sprinkle jar which is then surrounded by the rest of the set, becoming a background for your photo.
For every “perfect” cookie picture I post, please know that there are 85 reject photos that are practically identical and yet which can never see the light of day or I will undoubtedly face public ridicule and humiliation. Delete, delete, delete. But with every set I photograph, I learn better what works for me and what doesn’t. I have clear style preferences, but I also occasionally mix things up, and I’m often pleased with the result when I do step outside of my comfort zone. I also study other cookie pictures that catch my attention—I try to figure out what about that photo jumped out at me, and then I try to see if I can recreate that magic with my own cookies. You don’t need expensive props or a professional camera to take good cookie pictures. You just need a basic understanding of what goes into a “good” photo and a willingness to experiment with the process.
**Make sure that any props and surfaces that will come in contact with your cookies are clean and food-safe IF the cookies are then going to be eaten. If the cookies you are photographing are just for show, then have at it with whatever props you want!
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