In our continuing series on food photography, Tessa Huff of Style Sweet CA shows us how she styles and photographs the wide array of baked goods and desserts she creates by breaking down her photos for us. There will be lots of food photography tips and tricks to help guide you with your own photography, as well as a healthy dose of food styling inspiration. Today, Tessa talks about photographing those quintessential summer treats, ice cream and frozen desserts.
I don’t know about the rest of you, but it looks like this week might be the hottest it’s been all summer here in Vancouver. Living in an apartment without air conditioning with a kitchen that feels 10 degrees hotter than the rest of the space once the oven is turned on, I’m preparing with an arsenal of no-bake recipes and frozen treats. I have a feeling that I’m not the only one that doesn’t want to stand over the stove during the height of summer, so I’m sharing my tips and tricks for photographing ice cream and other frozen desserts.
I’m talking REAL ice cream today. There are many food styling tricks involving substituting mashed potatoes and such for non-melting ice cream, but we’re only discussing the real deal today. You know, the good stuff that will start dripping and turning into a puddle before you can adjust the aperture and hit the shutter on your camera? Frozen treats coupled with summer heat sounds like a disaster waiting to happen, but thankfully there are a few ways to weather the elements and still get that great shot.
As discussed in length in my preview post on photographing cold beverages, the majority of the hard work happens before you even open your freezer. Depending on your environment and what type of frozen treat you’re shooting, you may only have minutes to snap before things start to drip and melt. The solution? Make sure to set up your shot before bringing the subject out of the freezer. Using a tri-pod and a stand in for your “hero” will certainly help.
What’s a “hero,” you ask? The hero is the most attractive version of your subject. It’s that perfectly stacked burger, the cleanest slice of cake, and the most mouth-watering scoop of ice cream just before it melts. Consider your composition and camera settings beforehand and figure out what’s going to make that hero really “pop” before bringing it to set.
Of course, styling up beforehand doesn’t always work out 100 percent of the time. For me, it seems like I’m perfectly happy with the first set-up only about half of the time; the rest of the time I end up rearranging on the fly. Since the clock starts ticking as soon as the freezer door opens, it’s best to be equipped with anything you might need to make last-minute changes, from different dishes to extra paper towels to clean up drips. Be prepared to move fast and think on your toes, too!
Lastly, consider pre-scooping your ice cream. You’ll want to let the ice cream soften slightly in order to get that perfect scoop. If you know you have a lot of scoops to get through, place them on a baking sheet and then into the freezer before setting up. I prefer a mechanical ice cream scoop for cleaner, more uniform scoops.
Keep It Cold
As mentioned before, the clock starts ticking as soon as the freezer door opens. To keep things cold longer, consider some of the following tips when shooting and styling.
Shooting scoops of ice cream in the container helps keep them cold longer. Assuming that the container has also been in the freezer, a loaf pan or tin of homemade ice cream provides a pretty chill environment for the scoops to hang out in.
Put it on ice! For things like popsicles, try styling on a bed of ice. This could be ice in a small vessel that’s part of the styling, like this pie tin, or an even larger container where only the subject is in frame. Styling and shooting with ice can be fun, too. I love the way the light catches it sometimes!
Consider your surface. I love shooting on a slab of marble. It’s intended to keep pastry cold longer, so the same principle should apply to all things cold. Also, it makes cleaning up drips much easier.
Composition and Camera Settings
Using a shallow depth of field can work wonders when shooting ice cream. A lower f/stop will bring only a portion of the frame in focus. Widening the aperture can highlight the hero, leaving any unattractive drips in the back and foreground a bit blurred and out of focus. Also, a shallow depth of field is great for capturing the texture of the ice cream.
Is the ice cream in the bottom of the glass melted while the top scoop’s still perfect? Try changing your orientation and shoot at a different angle to capture the texture on that top scoop only.
Lastly, know when to stop. Sometimes a melty scoop can be salvaged if rushed back to the freezer at the right time. As soon as the ice cream starts to melt yet before it begins to separate, immediately get it in the freezer. If you continue, the drips and “watery” edges will freeze as such, unless re-churned. This applies to pre-scooping, too. If the ice cream in the container gets too soft, pop it back in the freezer before it becomes ice cream soup and try again a bit later.
Embrace the Mess!
Eventually your perfectly scooped ice cream or popsicle will meet their demise, but learn to find the beauty in the drips and spills. They will all inevitably melt, but why not document the process and see what you can capture?! It will probably feel like time is mostly working against you as you rush around, but some patience is required to get that singular, coveted drip too. Try using a tri-pod to capture the lifespan of your scoops and wait for that small window between slightly drippy and melty mess.
In real life, ice cream either melts or gets eaten. The aftermath is part of the narrative and should still be styled and documented. I like to consider food photography as a way of story telling, so embrace the mess and let it be the conclusion to your tale!
Looking for More?
- Photographing Cold Drinks
- 5 Simple Tips to Improve Your Food Photography
- 9 Must Read Food Photography Articles
- Outdoor Food Photography
- Food Photography 101: Camera Exposure Modes
Food Photography: Photographing Real Ice Cream & Frozen Desserts was written by Tessa Huff. Tessa is a Vancouver-based pastry artist, food stylist and photographer. Before moving to British Columbia, she was a cake decorator for several years and owned her own cake boutique. Tessa currently runs her blog, Style Sweet CA, and is a freelance recipe developer and photographer. Her first cookbook, Layered: Baking, Building and Styling Spectacular Cakes, was just published (Abrams Books, Spring 2016) and she’s also having fun spending time with her husband and their baby boy. Follow Tessa on social media: Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram.