I have a long history with cake and photoshoots. The earliest record of our connection dates back to 1987; I’m chubby, fairly bald and celebrating my first birthday by being photographed next to a cake with a tiger on it. I don’t remember what it was the next year but my third birthday saw me posing with a giant cake shaped in the number three completely bordered by chocolate fingers… and so on, and so on it continued. Me, cake, photos.
Flash forward to 2016, and almost thirty years later from that first photo, the tables were turned. I wasn’t in front of the camera with the cake, but rather behind the camera and taking photos of just the cake. No one cared about me looking pretty or smiling, it was all about how the cake was going to look… this role reversal took some getting used to.
I had no issue with the cake taking centre stage, making it look the part was going to be the challenge for me. I bake cakes regularly, but the thought of decorating, styling, and then photographing it leaves me a little bamboozled. Would a day spent doing all those bamboozling things be a blessing or a curse? I pondered this all the way the L’Atelier des Chefs on a wet Saturday morning as I headed to the Baked in Style event with Currys and Neff. The plan was to get a crash course in baking, food photography and styling, then put it to the test ourselves…
Baking the Cake
The star of our show, a hazelnut torte, was an absolute cinch to make – especially after a thorough demo from Chef Fab. The team at L’atelier des Chefs had very kindly measured all the ingredients out (I wish this kind of service happened at home) so it was simply a case of throwing everything together – which was even speedier with a team of four! Once the hazelnut torte mixture was ready, it was straight into the swish Neff ovens… you may recognise their sleek exterior and fancy disappearing oven doors from a certain famous tent!
Setting Up the Camera
While our tortes were baking away, it was time to get some camera tips from food photographer and stylist, Carole Poirot, otherwise known as Mademoiselle Poirot – I absolutely adore her instagram feed! One of the first questions that Carole asked was who still used their camera on auto… standing amongst others who appeared very well acquainted with their cameras, I was a little nervous about raising my hand, but since I had owned mine for a total of four days, there was no point lying.
It may have been basic knowledge to some in the room, but I found her explanation of ISO, aperture and shutter speed extremely useful. I learnt that each are important on their own to get the appropriate light and focus for the conditions, but they never work in isolation. Before I stepped through the door, I barely knew what those terms meant, let alone how they interacted so already, I felt like I had made some progress.
Styling the Scene
The next lesson was about turning a photo from a mere image to a story – sound a bit cryptic? I thought so. I obviously take food photos all the time for this sideline gig, but it’s my words that tell the story. For me, the photos are mostly a prop so this was definitely out of my comfort zone. Carole explained the importance of elements such as proportion, height, and movement, as well as the significant difference props can make. It all made sense, but I had an inkling, it was harder than that in practice.
Watching her transform a fairly plain cake into a perfectly captured autumnal scene was quite fascinating. The wooden cake stand was deliberately chosen, as were the muted natural fabrics and selection of leaves and flowers. Ingredients from the torte such as hazelnuts and apples provided another mental link between the cake and the overall story. As Carole put each element in its place, it was like a puzzle being completed – I love watching chefs manipulate food in the kitchen and I realised this was not too different. The result had me dreaming of weekends in the country filled with mornings spent exploring the woodlands and afternoons spent eating cake by the fire!
Telling our own Autumn Story
After I snapped out of that daydream, it was time for the team and I to snap into action with our own masterpiece. We finished our hazelnut torte as Chef Fab had shown us – sliced through the middle and filled with jam and apples which we had prepared earlier. I’ll admit, it looked a little lacklustre at this point which made our challenge seem even more daunting. I felt like I stared at the torte for about five minutes, willing it to tell me how to adorn it before telling myself to get it together and just go for it!
Our team grabbed various bits and pieces and just started playing around with them, all the while having Carole’s tips about proportion, height, movement and props in the back of our minds. They say that two heads are better than one, but in this case, four are definitely the best – we each had different perspectives and ideas, and I think it all came together rather nicely! I took so many photos of our jazzed up hazelnut torte from various angles and focus that I think it would rival the number of photos of me and cake in the same shot!
I don’t think I’ll be quitting the day job just yet to launch into a new career as a food photographer and stylist, but I was quite chuffed with my efforts. All the lessons from the day have given my confidence a boost and I am definitely keen to put those to use and create more recipe posts in the future!
Do you dabble in food photography and styling? Any special tips to share?
Thanks to Curry’s, Neff, Carole Poirot, Joe Blogs for the incredible crash course in food photography and styling, but as always, all opinions are mine and mine alone!