June 27, 2013

Photography and styling are topics I can talk on all day – I have a passion for both and I have an understanding of how they go hand in hand so when I was asked recently to give some tips on how to get some great photos of a dessert table I thought I would write them down and share them with everyone.

Whether you are a mum pulling off her first dessert table for a birthday party, an event stylist or a cake decorator there is one thing for sure – you want amazing pictures to show off all your hard work!  The world we live in now is so visual – pinterest, Facebook, blogs and magazines are a constant souce of amazing images and if you want your hard work to be part of all of this then you need to have great images.

A great photographer can make event day so much more enjoyable on so many level, and I will touch more on that later as I do feel that it is important that everyone understands that the beautiful images you see all over the internet are not accidental and can at times take a lot of work to achieve.   I do however understand it is not always possible and the budget does not always extend to having a professional photographer.

So if you are keen to have a go at taking your own photos here are my top tips for photographing your next dessert table.

1. Light

The single most important thing any photographer will tell you is that it is all about the light – this does not mean the light on the ceiling but the available natural light.  When I plan a dessert table a number of things come into play but the first thing I think about is where will the table sit and how much light is available in that spot.  I avoid at all costs using my flash – natural light to me is always the way to go so try and position your table near a window or door where lots of natural light floods into the room.  Of course a nice blank wall always helps so you have a blank canvas for your backdrop but try and keep the two in mind when planning your next event.

Consider also the placement of your taller items on the table – if you place a tall cake stand and cake on the side of your table where the light is coming in then it will possibly cast a dark shadow over the other items.  For this reason it is good to place larger items on the side furtherest from the widow or light source and lower items on the brighter side.

The camera settings also play a big part in the amount of light it captures in your images – an understanding of how shutter speed, aperture and ISO all combined make an image lighter or darker will really improve your images – I am not going to go into details about these things today as this guide is a little more basic but in the future I will elaborate on this topic for those who would like to know more.

2. Angle

Obviously it is important to get a great shot of the table as a whole.  If you look at most of my tables I like to get a few different angles of the entire table.  One from straight on and a few from a little higher – to do this I generally stand on the first or second step of a step ladder or one of the little ikea two step ladders.  I am to get this “whole table shot” first up before I get any other images.  When taking the photo straight on remember to make sure that the lines are straight and your table does not look like it is on a lean.  You may need to play around with your image once it is on the computer to make it straight and in proportion.

Crop out any distractions if you can – things like power points or edges of door frames – anything that will detract from your lovely display needs to go!  Don’t be afraid to crop a little off the side of your table if there is something too distracting that you could not avoid when taking the photo.

3. Details

I love capturing details – getting in and taking a close up of an amazing cookie or a buttercream swirl.  I will usually take a photo of every item of food on the table from above, straight on and at an angle.  To get that lovely blurry background which is called bokeh you need to understand your camera’s aperture settings or f stop – to take detailed photos is one of the most important reasons to learning about your camera’s manual settings.

Basically a camera’s aperture tells you how much of your image will be in focus.  The smaller your f stop the less of the image that will be in focus and the more of the background that will be blurry. The images below show you what I mean by a blurry background. It makes the main focus of your image the hero of the picture.  You will also see here some shots taken at various angles so you capture lots of interesting details.

Also remember when taking up close detail shots that it is ok to move them to a spot on the table where the light is best – you don’t have to take your shot of the bottles hiding behind something because that is where they sit on the table.  Move them to a better spot and get your shot then move them back!

4. Time

Don’t leave yourself with too little time to photograph your table.  There is nothing worse that realising that the party guests have arrived and you still haven’t got any photos.  Suddenly little fingers are touching and moving items and the anxiety builds!  You want your table photographed and ready for the party with at least 30 minutes to spare.

I am going to let you in on a little secret here with my own parties that I hold at home – I photograph them all the day before or at least 3-4 hours before the party begins.  I then put everything away that needs to be in the refrigerator or in a sealed container and I reset up again just prior to the guests arriving.  I know I have captured all the shots I need and I can sit back and enjoy the party when everyone arrives.

If I am setting up in a venue or another home I allow 2-3 hours for set up and another hour at least for photographs – once again if need be I will ask the host to pop certain item back in the refrigerator if it is a while before the guests will be eating from the table

5. Editing Software

Most photographers use some sort of editing software as part of their process in creating beautiful images.  I personally use photoshop and have also recently started using lightroom.  These programs are amazing for enhancing your image – they can straighten a crooked shot, add light to a photo that is too dark and so much more.  It really is worth investing in some editing software – all adobe products can be tested for a 30 day trial so you can have a go with them before you buy and there are so many instructional tutorials on the internet as well as wonderful online courses to teach you how to use these tools.

Finally a word on the benefits of an expert…  as a photographer I understand that there is so much more to picking up a camera, pushing the button and instantly you have the perfect shot.  As a stylist I also understand the countless hours that go into preparing all the details that create a special dessert table.  I heard something the other day by a well know stylist about the job of putting an amazing looking image together – the stylists job is in the lead up to the event, planning, creating and pulling everything together.  On the day of the event the photographer and the stylist come together and the stylist helps the photographer to capture their vision.  The photographers job is then in the days that follow – working out which shots are the best and editing them to bring them to their full potential – all of this takes time so please remember this when you look at your photos – it can take a village to create these things so don’t be so hard on yourself!

A professional on the day of the event also takes so much stress off you – if you are the stylist putting together a table it is a great marketing tool to have the amazing photos and if you are the host of the event you already have so much to think about without having to add taking photos in as well!  There is a pretty good chance you will miss the perfect photo while you are finding a drink for your guests!

I do hope this little bit of info has been helpful.  While I have put this post together to give you some basic tips on taking better photos of your table, please understand that learning all you can about how your camera works – its setting and its capabilities – will go a long way to helping you taking a better photo.  There really is so much to learn in the world of photography and I think if you ask any photographer they would say they are constantly learning.  Practice also helps – in this day and age of digital photography it is so easy to set your food up and then start clicking – load them onto your computer and check out what worked and what didn’t and then try again.

I would love to hear from anyone if you have more questions – leave a reply below and I can respond to your answers here and keep the conversation going!

28 thoughts on “Tips for Photographing your Dessert Table

  1. Fabulous Post Leanne! I always have trouble with close up shots and have always blamed my camera (first digital SLR they made)..l think it might be time for me to take the camera off auto and try it on manual! Thanks again for writing such an informative and inspiring post!! Love your work! XOXO

    1. Absolutely Larissa – the benefits of learning how to use the camera on manual are incredible – it means you can pull your aperture (f stop) down low and let in lots of light and make the food pop out of the photo. Let me know if you have any specific questions – only too happy to help! Leanne x

  2. Glad to know I was somewhat on the right track. I definitely need to spend more time learning about my camera. Thank you for spreading your knowledge, your work is always amazing!

  3. Fantastic information Leanne, thank you for sharing. I had the problem of not leaving myself time on the weekend to take good shots of my daughters table and decorations! I also forgot to charge the battery on the ‘good’ camera, so most shots are from my phone!!

    1. Ah yes the old phone battery – such a pain isn’t it when that happens! Still lots you can do with good phone images Vanessa – get yourself onto lightroom or photoshop and they will come up a treat! Leannex

      1. Thanks Leanne! As a total novice in the ‘editing’ photo world, which program would you suggest to be the easiest to learn (I am also very impatient!). X

        1. Hi Vanessa – I am really impatient also so I know that feeling – just want it happen magically! I have recently started using lightroom which I am finding fairly simple to understand. You can download a free 30 day trial and there are loads of great tutorials around online. It is worth giving it a go – it fairly simply to bring in a photo and then play with the exposure to bring up the light and play a little with colours. I also use aperture which is a better version of iPhoto if you are a mac user – it has a lot of similarities to lightroom so if you have a mac they also have a 30 day trial on this product so you can play around with it. Photoshop is also wonderful once you learn how to drive it. L x

    2. Thank you Leanne, this is a wonderful post and so kind of you to take the time to share with us some of your knowledge. Your photos are beautiful and I always enjoy seeing them 🙂

  4. I have two wizz-bang photographers in my family (husband & male cousin) and although they have you-beaut cameras with all the bells and whistles – AND know how to use said bells and whistles – I am always a bit disappointed with the photographs they’ve taken of my cakes, cookies & desserts. They tend to get all arty-farty on me and are so caught up with line and shadow, that they don’t notice things like they’re taking a photo of the BACK of a cake, or that there’s a smudge on a particular cookie they’re getting a close up of….

    3 photographers that I’ve spoken to say they get frustrated with a stylist who is always flitting about and feel they should be left alone to do their job….

    I think what you’re doing – helping the stylists & bakers take better shots of their creations is a wonderful solution! I know what I’d like to see captured in a photo, just need the photographic know-how to do it. Thank you so much for starting at the basics – I’ll be looking forward to your future postings on this subject!

    1. Thanks so much Tui – happy to answer any specific questions. I guess that I became a photographer because I knew how I wanted things to look and the best way to do that was to do it myself!! Leanne

  5. Hi Leanne I found this post so interesting thank you. I share your posts with a my mummy friends here and we sigh about all the fantastic creative mummies in Australia and all us slummy mummies in my group. I certainly will not be sharing romola’s 3rd birthday pix with you. It looked like a car crash with jelly and cake everywhere! Thanks for sharing your secret that you shoot everything way beforehand though. Makes me feel much Better. D
    o you ever take any pictures of what happens on e the little ones have got their hands all over everything?!!!!! Your posts always make my day and remind me of gorgeous Sydney xxx

    1. HI Al – lovely to here from you – hope the weather is being kind over there! I do take photos of the parties in action so I must pop some up after the next one (which is coming up this weekend!) – I never have that many though as I am too busy talking or serving drinks so it does get tricky! Will try and take more this time around. Leanne x

  6. Hi Leanne, thanks or sharing a great post and so many wonderful tips. Do you offer any online courses? I would love to learn more about this but I am based in England! xx

    1. Hi Melissa – I have done a lot of online courses and one that really got me into the whole photography world was the Eye Candy Workshops. I am not sure if there are any more running this year as Sheye had twins in February so she is pretty busy with that so courses may be on hold. I have also recently discovered a website called Lynda which has endless tutorials on all sorts of things – worth looking at that. Leanne

  7. Hi and thanks for the fabulous post. If you had to chose between Lightbix and Photoshop, would you have a preference?
    Thanks Clair

    1. HI Clair – I have only just starting using lightroom and it is fairly easy to work with and there are lots of online tutorials – I haven’t gotten into the nitty gritty with it though just done some basic playing around with exposure and colours. I have been learning photoshop for a few years now and every time I use it I learn more. The advantage to me at the moment with photoshop is that I can add a lot of creative effects. I also like working with layers which means you can make changes and if you don’t like them you can easily get rid of them or change them. I have not investigated if this is possible with lightroom (I think it may be). I guess I learnt on photoshop so that is why I like using it but I can see why a combo of the two will work – make basic edits with exposure and colour in lightroom and then bring the image into PS and add your creative effects with pre-set actions I have purchased. PS is a lot more expensive though than LR. HOpe that helps. Leanne

    1. Great Info Leanne,
      So true about allowing yourself that extra bit of time. I too try and photograph a table well before the party, as I just find I get too stressed if its too close to the party and end up rushing and not getting the shots I would like. There is so much to learn ! a new lens is definitely on my wish list. I do find also that the phone although not ideal can capture some pretty cool up close shots. ( and so many apps to edit phone pics its great ).
      Talk soon
      Dawn x

    1. Hi Natasha – I used a Canon 5D Mark II and I have various lenses that I love to use. I do love the canon brand of camera and recently I had a play with a compact slr by Olympus which was fantastic. My recommendation is to go for the best camera you budget will allow for and buy your cameras and lenses separately (not as a kit) as the lenses are not as good a quality. Let me know if you have any more questions – only too happy to help. Leanne

  8. Thank you so much I appreciate your time and expertise .. I just purchased a canon rebel sl1 . I am also going to invest in a better lens and brush up on some Photoshop skills . If my pictures come out some what near yours, I will be ecstatic, the level of clarity attention to detail is Superb .. It is Art

    Thanks again

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