Perfecting product photography

Using unflattering pictures of your products will ultimately reflect poorly on your bakery.

Displaying beautiful photos of your products, whether on Facebook, a menu, or on your website, is crucial for attracting new customers and showcasing the beauty of your product. Too often, retail locations snap unflattering photos of exquisite products. This isn’t fair to the bakery’s talent and risks losing the attention of hungry eyes. If you don’t have the budget to hire a freelance photographer, we’ve provided a basic introduction to product photography.

The Fundamentals

If you are using a DSLR camera for your images, learn how to manually set the exposure of your shots. While the fundamentals of digital photography may seem like a daunting subject, knowing the basics is one of the quickest ways to dramatically improve quality. When setting for manual exposure, it is important to understand these three significant factors: aperture, ISO, and shutter speed. These three settings can be manually adjusted on your DSLR camera. To learn how to technically access and adjust these settings, refer to your camera’s user manual.

Aperture

Measured in f-stops, aperture is technically the size of the opening in the lens. The larger the aperture, the smaller the f-stop is. A smaller f-stop, say f/2.8, allows more light through the lens than f/8. We know… it seems backwards.

With a large aperture, more light will enter the camera through the lens. In addition, the aperture will influence an image’s depth of field. The depth of field is the range of distance between the nearest and farthest acceptably sharp objects in an image. A smaller f-stop will result in a narrower depth of field, meaning a smaller range of distance.

Set a low f-stop, f/2.8-f/5.6, for a few of your shots. This will result in a reduced depth of field, leaving only a small portion of the product in focus. Some of the foreground and background will remain out of focus. This is a very common style in food photography that adds depth to the shot, which can result in a stunning image. You will want to set your camera to manual focus.

Shutter speed

Shutter speed also controls the amount of light that enters the camera. Measured in fractions of seconds, shutter speed is the amount of time that the camera’s shutter is open.

If you have the funds, consider investing in a tripod.

The slower the shutter speed, the more susceptible moving objects in the image are to blurring. In addition, more light will enter the camera when using a slow shutter speed, adding to the brightness of the image.

Considering that the subject will be still, there is no need for a fast shutter speed.
Keep in mind, without a tripod, the camera will not remain steady enough for shutter speeds slower than 1/60. The slightest handheld movement of the camera can easily cause the image to blur. Investing in a reliable tripod is a must for quality product photography.

ISO

ISO is used as a measurement for the sensitivity of the camera’s sensor. An ISO 800 and up can be ideal for indoor locations, and shots in dark or poorly-lit settings. Higher ISOs are also used in action photography, which often requires fast shutter speeds.

ISO affects the quality of the image and the amount of noise present. The lower the ISO, the less noise will be present in the image, which means a higher image quality.

For your product photos, you will want to use a relatively low ISO (100-200). Depending on your camera, anything over 800 ISO may end up with a noise-filled image.

Light

Natural light is the best option for illuminating your product photos. While it might be easier to snap a photo of your cookies or cakes in the display case, this can easily result in an unappetizing and untrue color hue over the product. The lights of the display case may cast a blue, green, or yellow tint to the shot, which will compromise the product’s visual appeal. There’s nothing delicious about a cupcake with a blue tint cast over the product. Your camera can adjust to different types of light via a number of presets in the “white balance” menu of your camera. Each is titled for specific situations, such as daylight, shade, tungsten, etc.

In the left image, the camera's white balance was incorrectly set to a fluorescent setting  - notice the blue tint. In the right image, the camera's white balance was set to a daylight setting.

Natural light allows you to more easily capture the natural color of the product. Remove the product from the display case, place it on a clean, white plate and take the photo near a window. Harsh sunlight is not necessary or preferable. An overcast sky is actually ideal. You will want the light to be hitting the subject from the left or right. You do not want the light to be coming from directly behind you, casting your shadow over the product.

Set the scene

Now that you know the basics, set the scene. This is an opportunity to get creative and construct the composition of your product photo. Wood cutting boards or white plates are great props for framing your product. Keep in mind, you won’t want to place your product on a colored plate or base that clashes poorly with the color of the product. Blue can be a difficult color to make appetizing, so you may want to stray from using it as a background or featured color.

Get close

In addition, you don’t have to have the whole product in the shot or in focus. Feel free to get up as close as you can to highlight a small, yet beautiful accent to the product. This is a common food photography style and is used often in professional product photography. Instead of relying on the zoom of your lens, move towards the product.