How to photograph a cake

One question I’m asked often: how do you photograph a cake? It’s not hard. And it doesn’t require an expensive camera. Some of the photos I publish of my cakes come from my iPhone camera.

Here’s your traditional photo of a cake …

There’s only three things wrong with this photo and they’re all very easy too fix:

  • The camera is down level with the cake,
  • It’s on the kitchen table and
  • We’re using the flash on the camera.

So how can we make it better?

The first thing to do is fix the angle. The right angle for you is going to depend on the design of your cake, but I find that this angle works well in most cases. I’m directly in front of the cake and just a little above it. The cake is centered in the photo.

Better already huh?The beauty of living in the 21st century is that we don’t have to waste film and wait for it to be developed before we know how things look. Until you can do it without thinking, take a dozen or more angles then look back through them critically before continuing.

So let’s get rid of the table and grandma’s skanky gingham tablecloth.

I use a queen size satin bed sheet that some lovely person gave us for our wedding that we never used (does anyone else fall out of bed with satin sheets?)The reason I love this satin sheet is because it doesn’t wrinkle. This means the background is always either perfectly smooth, or has nice satin waves in it.

You can use any material you want, but you’ll probably want to iron anything that wrinkles.

Now we’re starting to get there. What I’ve done here is turn off the on-camera flash. Immediately we get some depth to the cake and the piping work.

If there’s one lesson in photography that will make everyone’s photos better it’s this: turn off the on-camera flash.

Rather than use a flash, I use a desk lamp with the brightest ‘natural light’ globe I can find. You want something around the 5500K mark, but anything down to about 4500K will be fine. Anything lower than that and your lighting will be yellow and so will your cake.

Now we’ve moved the lamp from being about 20° away from us to 45°. This increases the lovely shadows we get from the cake and shows off our work better.
Bonus tip

In this shot I’ve added a second (not-so-bright) light above the cake at the back. This fills out some of the shadows and increases the general vibrancy of the cake.

To be clear (click the imaage to the right to see it better) there are two lights now on the cake. One is very bright and is to the left of the camera. This creates shadows to the right. Then there’s a second behind the cake that’s way dimmer but looking down on the cake.

Of course, you can play with your backing cloth color to see what result you can get. Here’s I’ve matched the cake color with the backing cloth.

Personally I don’t like it as the cake is a little lost.

While I personally prefer black or white, using some color that contrasts or complements the cake color can give you a great effect.

Use the Color Scheme Designer to work out some colors that might work for you. Select the color of your cake from the color wheel, then select on of the options above like “complementary” or “triad”.

So there we have it. Three simple rules to take better photos of your cakes:

  • Find the right angle
  • Get a nice backing cloth
  • Don’t use the flash on the camera

Here’s the two photos, side by side. While I’ve used a computer simulation for this post, the cake object has never moved or changed color. Isn’t the difference amazing?