How to bake the perfect photo

Photo baking

How to bake the perfect photo

Finding a recipe

You may have been watching a cooking show or scrolling through Instagram and found a beautiful image of a photo you want to bake. Cakes come in many shapes and flavours and you’ll most likely be attracted to those that have a similar style to your photography. These may be cheesecakes, portraits, sponges, landscapes, Wedding or Weddings. Inspiration comes in many forms and once you dabble with many different types of photography, you’ll be more confident to start writing your own recipes. Make sure that if you do try and bake a photo someone else baked first, don’t try and claim it as your own recipe. Let the chef know that they were your inspiration.

Getting all your Equipment

A good cook will already have an oven in their camera bag but depending on the photo they are baking, some extra utensils may be necessary. A mixer or tripod, cake-tin or flash, or possibly some filters and a piping bag. These come in a range of prices and although the more expensive items can produce better results in the right hands, a first time cook will not take a great photo just because they have a medium format oven. If you think you’ll only need to use something once, there are options to hire equipment rather than buy it. The more cakes you bake, the more equipment you’ll become familiar with. You don’t have to have the best kitchen and equipment to take a great photo, you just need to know how to use what you’ve got. Once you feel you’ve reached a limitation in your equipment, work out precisely what tools you will need to improve before throwing money at fancy gadgets. A brand new ice-cream maker taking up space in your camera bag is pointless if you only got one because someone said you needed one. Remember; you’re baking cakes, not making ice-cream. Experience and knowledge trump inexperience and wealth every time.

Sourcing the right ingredients

Going shopping for the right locations or subjects can be done locally, but sometimes going out of your way to find exotic ingredients is worth the effort. Having a clear vision of how you want your photo to taste and factoring in your budget will determine whether you will have to go for generic scenes or foreign delicacies. You may have to go hiking for 3 days and nights for that one special ingredient that is only accessible at certain times of the year. Other ingredients may be too famous to work with an aspiring chef, but if you don’t start climbing the ladder now you may never reach those top shelf items. Keep in mind the quality of these ingredients will form the base that your whole cake stands on. Putting in some effort at this stage may avoid you repeating the process when your cake doesn’t taste as good as the one you saw on 500px.

Setting up you composition

Mixing these ingredients with your equipment is all about timing. Shooting at sunrise or sunset with filters should result in some nice soft peaks in your meringue or histogram. Baking in the middle of the day is fine but can leave you with a high contrast mixture. This is where preparation in your equipment and ingredients steps can mitigate any potential problems. Having good leading lines (or is it lead-in lines? I can never tell) will reduce air bubbles in your cake and really draw the taster’s eyes into the photo. Mixing a third of each ingredient is a good rule to start with but other ratios can produce stronger results. Make sure there are no egg shells in the mixture from the start as this can save you time in post production removing unwanted distracting features. A clean work station and lens can make all the difference so have a microfiber cloth handy to wipe away any unsightly dust or fingerprints from your bench and equipment.

Baking time

Modern ovens these days do have pretty good auto settings depending on the type of photo you’re baking. How much you leave up to your camera should be dependent on your existing knowledge of baking. However, you should try and learn the difference between baking for longer at a lower temperature, and having a shorter shutter speed with a more open aperture. Both may produce the same exposure level but if you’re cooking with a model then an open aperture and a shorter baking time works best. Placing the cake at a higher shelf or ISO in the oven will cook it faster, which may burn it and produce noise. Knowing these oven settings before you open the oven door and close the shutter is essential to not over-cooking or under-exposing your cake. Pressing the shutter is the shortest part of baking a cake but something most people incorrectly associate as being the only step involved.

A little icing on the cake

Your shutter has opened and closed and now your cake is on the computer screen. As delicious as it looks now because of all the care you’ve taken at the start, a little icing and decoration never goes astray. Some cakes may be cooked in separate layers and need layer masks to make sure they stick together. Other cakes may have a few spots or blemishes that a little airbrushing or fondant will easily cover up. Your cake’s horizon may need straightening or its hips need to look a little more flattering. A few other adjustments here and there just to bring out the key features of the cake, should be made carefully and precisely. Believe it or not, photos can be too saturated with chocolate and other sugary constituents. Just throwing icing over everything won’t hide the lack of preparation and care taken at the start of the shoot. This is all done to personal taste and can depend on the client you’re baking the cake for. Keep in mind a delicate touch and steady hand will be the difference between a magazine cover cake and a couple of sympathy likes from friends and family on Facebook.

Share your photo with others

Eating an entire cake by yourself is not a good idea. Sharing it with other cooks or friends and family is a great way to see if your baking skills are up to scratch. If you are serious about being taken seriously as a chef, you’ll need to listen to your peers and judge your own photography subjectively. This can be difficult when your tastebuds haven’t yet become accustomed to subtle colour, contrast and sharpening differences. These refined senses will come with time and a determination to better oneself. Baking one reasonably OK cake does not make one a photographer. It takes many successes and many mistakes to know how to deal with any situation that may arise. Changing lighting conditions, uncooperative ingredients, missing or failing equipment, and something going wrong with your camera because you changed some setting that one time for a random shoot and didn’t change it back and now your photos are coming out weird and you can’t understand why, but you’ve been shooting for an hour and have only just now realised it. These are all things you will encounter in your journey to becoming a world class chef. So get out there and bake as many different photos as you can, then share them with the world!


Kieran Stone