Four Household Items to Elevate Your Food Photography
Updated: Aug 26, 2022
Food photography can be daunting when first starting out, but it is an incredibly useful skill to have if you run a home bakery business or want to monetize your baking in any way. We’ve already covered how to easily improve your food photography with natural lighting, so now we’ll go deeper into another important aspect of any type of photography, including food photography: composition.
Now stick with me…I will get to the items that will help make a difference, but first, I’m going to meander into what composition is and why it matters. It’s all relevant, I promise!
Composition is the way the subject of your photography is arranged and staged in order to move the viewer's eyes throughout the photo in a certain way, focus on a specific aspect of the subject or evoke a feeling when viewing the photo, among many, many other things. In terms of food photography, you want to compose the photo in a way that brings the baked good and its ingredients to life, highlights the most appealing aspect of it, and most importantly, makes the viewer want to eat it!
Shooting a picture of your cake, cookies, pie, etc., on the kitchen counter will show the viewer just that–that you’ve made a cake, cookies, pie, etc. But by tapping into what makes it special, you can turn it into something the viewer HAS to have.
This is EXACTLY what I'm talking about. For the brownies, we can show off so much more of by arranging them in a well-lit area. Just look at those chewy middles! And for the cookies, the texture is clearly visible in natural lighting. I'm drooling as we speak.
So this is where the simple items come in! Composing your baked goods to be photographed doesn’t have to extend beyond what you likely already have in your home or a few inexpensive items you can find online or in a local store. By using these everyday items as props to stage your subject, your photography and delicious creations will stand out against the competition.
1. The ingredients themselves
Here’s an easy one to start, because you’re guaranteed to already have it on hand! Sometimes what makes our baked goods so special gets hidden away in the final product. Are your cookies loaded with peanut butter cups? Does your lava cake reveal an ooey gooey middle? Are your scones topped off with a delicious glaze? Show. It. Off.
Sprinkle those peanut butter cups around your baked cookies to really drive home how packed they are with flavor. Surround your lava cake with ganache to give a look at what’s inside. Glaze that scone like there’s no tomorrow.
Even a sprinkling of flour, sugar or–you guessed it–sprinkles, can evoke something in a viewer, whether it’s a memory of baking with a loved one, ice cream sundaes in the summertime or the smell of cookies fresh out of the oven.
Here we've got some cake crumbs, peanut butter cups and caramel sauce on these plated desserts, adding dimension and a more organic look to the photographs.
2. A neutral surface
This sounds vague, but it could be so many things! It could be a…
The world is your oyster here. Surfaces without any sort of rim or raised edge are especially helpful, as they make photography at the same level of your subject much easier.
A neutral, monochromatic surface will deliver the best results and really make your subject pop. Plus, a cake on a cake stand, cookies on a platter or bread on a cutting board will give you that finished touch look that’s not only professional, but tells more of a story for your baked goods than just a picture of the subject alone. Again, you want the viewer to FEEL something when they look at the picture—that’s why composition is so important!
In these pictures, the cutting board, cooling rack and cake stand are barely noticeable, which is exactly as they should be! They add just enough contrast from the goodies to make the pictures better without taking anything away from the main subject.
3. Parchment paper
I love using parchment paper to give pictures a rustic and fresh-out-of-the-oven look. It’s neutral, dynamic and provides texture and depth to your photography, which can sometimes be challenging to capture.
The best part: if it’s still in good shape and not ripped or coated in grease, you can use the same exact parchment paper you had in the pan of whatever you were baking. Smudges from chocolate chips, breadcrumbs or rogue pieces of fruit will only add to the authenticity of the picture.
So here's a look at how the photograph was staged, followed by what was captured and shared. Parchment paper is SUCH a simple tool that can result in some pretty unique and aesthetically pleasing photos!
4. A tea towel or cheese cloth
Last, but certainly not least! This has to be one of my most-used items for food photography. If you’re a home baker, you’ve probably got a million of them, so surely you have one to spare. For the most part I used a crisp white tea towel, which ended up being a fantastic prop for a number of reasons.
At first, the tea towel just acted to cover whatever surface I was using, be it a cardboard box, a fold-up table or sometimes even the floor. But I quickly learned that not only did the stark white towel offer a nice contrast to the colorful baked goods I was photographing, but it also helped with lighting! Plus, similar to the parchment paper, it added dimension and texture to the picture to engage the viewer and keep their eyes moving, noticing more details each time they scan.
The lighting! AHHH! These cakes are shining through in all their glory, but there's a soft, dreamy element to the picture thanks to the tea towel. It's subtle, but effective.
The tools for better food photography composition are hidden in plain sight! You don’t need to buy anything fancy to capture some really engaging photographs that you can share on social media, your website or with potential customers. So take a look around the house, see which of these items you’ve already got on hand and get shooting!
I would LOVE LOVE LOVE to see how you’ve incorporated any of these items into your food photography! Send your pictures over to firstname.lastname@example.org for a chance to be featured!!