Photo Basics For Your Cake Problems

Thanks to guest blogger Bob Schnell of Bob Schnell Photography for going over this info and tips about getting better cake photos. I've worked with Bob on many, many weddings over the years, and he does excellent work. If you're looking for a photographer give him a call.

Details. The devil is in the details as the saying goes. When it comes to wedding photography in the modern age, it sometimes seems as if the big Wedding Blogs are only concerned with endless detail shots from one fantastic DIY wedding or another. And yet, detail shots can be fun and an oasis of calm in a hectic wedding day. Place settings don’t move. Mason jars filled with wildflowers don’t fret about what is their best side. And wedding cakes can be magical constructions that beg to be photographed.

However, it is easy to become complacent about capturing these things, when today’s professional cameras and lenses make taking pictures in the worst light and settings fairly simple. What would I do if I did not have all my equipment? What if all my money was tied up in bakery and cake decorating materials, and I only had a simple compact camera – or just my camera phone?  Getting marketable images of my cake creations to show prospective clients could be a very real challenge. But, a challenge can be a good thing though.

Here are my thoughts.

The first good news is that this is 2014 and any camera you have is digital, and digital means that you know when the shot is bad – at least a pretty good idea anyway. You have the ability to experiment until you get it right.  That being said, it probably makes sense to give a brief (I promise) rundown of how your camera works. These will be some things to keep in mind when you find your cake creation is not in the best location at the wedding.

Digital cameras use a sensor to capture the image. These days the sensors in even the most basic new compact cameras are pretty good. Heck, my iPhone takes amazing pictures – as long as I don’t have to make a poster out of them.  The meter in the camera is what the camera uses to make your pictures properly exposed – within the limits of available light, lens, etc. However, even the most advanced sensor is still essentially trying to average the light coming through the lens and hitting the sensor. It wants to average all the light out to an even tone. So, if your white cake is sitting in a dark corner, the sensor will have a hard time knowing how white the cake should be, or how dark the background should be – which leads to an underexposed cake, or a featureless white blob. Same thing goes if you try to take a picture of your cake with window light coming in behind it = underexposed cake and a blown out featureless window. An alternative would be to move so the light is coming in the window to one side of the cake. This also has the added benefit of having the light fall across the textures of the icing and decorations, making them more dramatic.

The thing to remember is that sensors can be fooled easily. So, think about the light and setting your cake is located. If you can move it, great, if not; there are relatively simple things you can do that will help.

If your camera has a manual mode – use that whenever possible. This will give you the most control over lighting, but it can be confusing of course. You have two controls that control the amount of light hitting your sensor. Aperture and Shutter. These modes will usually be represented as Av(Aperture) and S or Tv(Shutter). I will try to make this as simple as possible, so don’t freak out.


·         Shutter – how long the shutter remains open when you push the button

·         Aperture – how large the opening in the lens is when you push the button

o        A larger opening means more light, but the area of focus is more ‘narrow’. This is what causes those pictures where only a small area of the image is in focus, and everything else is a nice blur. *The problem here is that these kinds of lenses are extremely expensive. Most compact cameras will not have the kind of settings that will create this effect. Sorry, that is one of the largest limitations of these kinds of cameras.

However, you can still get wonderful images with these cameras – honest. Get a small, basic tripod and slow down your shutter speed to work with a low light situation (if you need to). Again, the beauty of taking pictures of cakes is that they don’t move. You can slow the shutter speed down to seconds if you need to – as long as you are on a tripod to steady the camera. Remember to use a timer though, since even the act of pushing the button on a long exposure can cause the camera to shake and blur the picture.

I am not going to go into the flash on your camera, other than to say you should turn it off for these purposes. Unless you have a flash you can bounce, or are comfortable with the concepts of off-camera flash, a flash will only hurt you here.

All is not lost, however. You can go a long way towards helping your situation without investing in professional level camera equipment. Look for a LED flashlight that shines at about 5000K (or as close as you can find). 5000K is closest to ‘white’ light, so you don’t have as much of an issue with the various lighting temperatures you run into at wedding venues.  A quick Google search will bring many fairly inexpensive options for these kinds of spotlights ($50-$70). They are small and easily manipulated. Use it as a spotlight to highlight a cake when the venue lighting is a problem. Grab a test cake and experiment with different lighting distances and angles to get a feel for what works best. Don’t try this cold when you deliver the cake though. Thirty minutes playing around with a light will go a long way with improving your comfort level.

Also, go to a craft store and get a white card or foam core card in whatever size seems to fit the average size of your cakes. The exact size is not critical, but you probably want something more than an index card.   This is your bounce card and , as the name implies, it bounces light where needed; for example; the cake with window light coming in from one side, leaving the far side of the cake in shadow. Place your white card on the shadow side to bounce some of that window light back onto the cake. Position it close though to be effective. The effect is subtle, but sometimes that is all you need. You can also use it to fill in shadows when your cake is backlit by venue lights, or windows.  Again, experimenting with this beforehand will easily show you what can be done with the card.

These simple tools and ideas will go a long way towards improving your images. I did not talk about Photoshop – which is another powerful tool to improve any image – because most people who are not photographers do not have access, and the learning curve is pretty steep. But again, that is a nice-to-have, rather than a have-to-have thing.

Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t suggest that simply asking the wedding photographer if they could send you some of their cake shots is also a wonderful idea – and a great way to network with other vendors.  Not all of us forget to send marketing images to other wedding vendors!

I hope this helps clear away some of the confusion. Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have additional questions.

Bob Schnell

Thanks, Bob! I'll bother you again the next time I have a question about how to get a photo of a cake when they set it up right next to the fire exit and you have all thoe red exit signs in the background...
Kara Buntin owns A Cake To Remember LLC,  online cake supplies at and

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