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 tips and tricks to help guide you with your own food photography, as well as a healthy dose of inspiration. Today, Tessa talks about how to meet the challenge of styling and photographing cookies.
Oh, cookies. How can something so simple be so difficult to style and photograph sometimes? Word on the street is that the Food Bloggers of Canada community has similar feelings. Today, I'll be sharing my go-to ways to style those frustrating, albeit delicious, brown disks we love/hate to photograph.
So simple and pure, is there anything better than a freshly baked chocolate chip cookie? Probably not. But unlike other desserts and more visually-appealing dishes, they tend to leave me uninspired once I grab my camera. A cake may stand tall with multiple layers and decorative elements just waiting to be captured and a kaleidoscope-like fruit tart makes for gorgeous top-down photos, but a basic cookie comes with its own challenges. Round, somewhat flat, and brown. Here are some of my best ways to overcome these less attractive traits.
Stuck shooting something relatively flat? Why not photograph the subject from above?! A photo of a cookie shot straight on might fall a bit flat, but when photographed from a top-down perspective, the scene becomes much more interesting. Shooting a spread of round cookies from above is quite striking; the shapes create an interesting pattern against a flat surface.
Speaking of surfaces, consider different types to incorporate into your top-down photos. Unlike a surface that can get blurred out by using shallow depth of fields when shooting straight-on photos, the background will be relatively in focus too. My favourites include an old cookie sheet and a smooth slab of marble. Don't have either of those on hand? Try a crinkled piece of parchment! They all add interest but without taking too much attention away from the subject.
Stack 'em up! A single, flat cookie is rather boring, but a towering stack of cookies is something completely different. Like photographing the layers of cake, shoot a stack of cookies straight on to capture height, shape and interest. The silhouette of a a stack of cookies can be quite dramatic and impactful. Not only is it stunning to look at, it conjures up emotions as our minds marvel over the teetering dozen. Personally, I like to stack a few askew to add movement and even more wonder as to how they are all still standing. Feeling like you're playing a game of cookie Jenga? Place a wooden skewer down the center to keep the cookies in line!
Concentrate on the Details
A simple cookie might not be as flashy as a hamburger with the works and or a show-stopping cake, but it forces us to look at the subject differently. Try focusing on the little details instead. Use a macro lens or a wide aperture to capture flecks of salt and crumbles.
We know that it can be difficult to photograph our food right from the oven, but thankfully, as food stylists, we have some tricks up our sleeves. Pop a chocolate chip cookie in the microwave for 10 to 15 seconds to give the illusion of fresh-baked cookies. Check out that melty chocolate! Set your focus on that gorgeous, glossy detail and you'll have your readers drooling in no time.
Play with Texture
Cookies might be small, flat and not very colourful, but they make up for those shortcomings with incredible texture. From melty chocolate to the crumb itself, try capturing the different textures of the cookie. I love the crackly top of peanut butter cookies — from their rough edges, signature fork marks, the crunchy peanut bits and the extra sugar on top!
Not only do we need to think about light when it comes to the technical side of taking a photograph, but don't forget that light plays an important part in styling, too. Bright, airy photos are very appealing, but dark, dramatic ones tell a different story. When lighting something as simple as a cookie, pay attention to how the light catches to reveal the different textures as well as the mood. Some darker shadowing can evoke feelings of comfort or depict a late afternoon (when one might spend some time indulging in a cookie baking session). For any kind of stack of cookies, I always favour side lighting to enhance the shape of the silhouette.
Tell a Story
At the end of the day, our food photos should tell a story. Spruce up a boring subject by creating vignettes to show what might be in the recipe, where you might eat it and how it's prepared. These types of photos may include showing the ingredients used in the dish, process shots and dining scenes.
This might go against today's lesson by bringing in another element, but sandwich cookies are cookies too. Adding a bowl of smooth, swirly chocolate filling adds contrast in both colour and texture. Incorporating appropriate props like a frosting spatula, cooling rack and kitchen linens helps fill the frame and further tell our story. But while props usually help style a photo, remember that they should always play a supporting role.
Let's stick together and vow to push ourselves beyond a sad plate of flat cookies and try to let them shine like the delicious treats that they are! Be sure to share your best cookie styling tips in the comments — just in time for fall baking!
Looking for More?
- Photographing Cold Drinks
- How to Photograph Real Ice Cream and Frozen Desserts
- Shooting in Low Light Situations
- 9 Must Read Food Photography Articles
- Restaurant Photography and Natural Light
Food Photography: Styling and Photographing Cookies 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.