PetaPixel

My One-Shot, Zero-Setup, Sure-Fire Guide to Photographing Wedding Cakes

cake_head

This guide is what I do during wedding days, and I typically photograph the cake right when I enter the reception location. Overall, I take 4 shots of the cake: 1 vertical, 1 horizontal, 1 detail of topper, and 1 detail of the base or whatever is the most interesting on the cake.

This process takes me literally 30 seconds. That’s it; done. Move on to centerpieces. This guide is for photographing real cakes on real wedding days for wedding photography professionals.

There will be some assumptions such as (1) you know how to expose properly, and (2) that the cake is indoors or lower light (think reception lighting). If you’re interested in photographing cakes in studio, this is not it, but the idea could definitely be translated into studio.

Things You’ll Need

  • Camera
  • 200mm lens
  • Flash with 90 degree (or higher) swivel and point-up ability
  • Delicious wedding cake (preferably red velvet… am I right?)

The Lens

The lens you select to photograph a wedding cake is absolutely crucial. You’ll want to grab your longest focal length lens. I use Nikon’s 70-200mm f/2.8, but if you have the cheaper 200′s with 5.6, that works fine, too!

What matters most here is that the 200mm will do 2 things:

1. Compress the view, allowing the cake to be the prominent subject and, if the venue isn’t organized, remove a lot of the clutter surrounding the cake.

2. Keep most of the cake in perfect focus, yet having a nice out of focus background. This is the wonderful thing about telephotos. With lower focal lengths, you cannot have both an out of focus background and retain focus throughout the cake.

Shoot at f/4 for “fill the frame” cake shots and f/2.8 for “big picture” shots containing more of the ambiance and venue decor.

The Flash

The idea for flash is that we’ll be using our flash to ‘bounce’ light from the left off of a wall or whatever is available. This will create a pleasing soft light that will hit the cake from the left and will give an appearance of softbox or window light. The trick here is to aim the flash directly left, and not up or down at all.

When shooting vertical framing, the flash will be pointed directly “up” from the camera’s point of view. When shooting horizontal framing, the flash will be 90′ left. It’s important to remember not to have the flash pointed up at all, unlike photographing people where you would want the flash to be aimed towards the ceiling.

Be mindful of guests; they do not like being flashed in the face. I’m leaving it up to you to expose for the ambient light and to make sure your background is how you’d like it. I typically expose 1-3 stops down depending on the mood I want to create and depending on pre-existing light. Set your flash to TTL if it is not already. Max out your flash shutter sync speed (Nikon is 1/250, Canon is 1/200).

Your resulting image will be a very soft left-to-right lit cake. I light left to right because that’s a more natural look. The more of the frame that the cake takes up, the better your result will be with lighting. When you are first doing this technique begin with a very tightly framed cake and work out from there.

Here are some cake photographs I’ve shot using this technique:

cake3

cake2

cake4

cake1

cake6


About the author: Michael Doerman is a wedding photographer based in Nashville, Tennessee. Visit his website here and his blog here. This article originally appeared here.


 
 
  • https://twitter.com/adamhowardcross Adam Cross

    “you cannot have both an out of focus background and retain focus throughout the cake.” … you could try using a tilt-shift lens =)

  • Vladimir Oltean

    Or buy a 200mm lens and a car instead.

  • Squirrel Geek

    In order to shoot 200 mm and get the whole cake, you’d have to have clear access from across the room. I don’t know how you get the flash to actually extend that far. What is the usual distance from the cake in these photos?

  • http://www.shinyphoto.co.uk/ Tim

    Your post couldn’t have come at a more opportune moment – I’ve got my parents’ wedding anniversary on Sunday coming!

  • http://www.facebook.com/matthew.neumann Matthew Neumann

    …..off camera flash..

  • http://www.facebook.com/matthew.neumann Matthew Neumann

    Because a tilt shift costs any more money than a professional-grade 70-200mm lens does? Not really..

  • Vladimir Oltean

    1. Why does it have to be professional-grade?
    2. Why does it have to be a zoom, since you’re only using it at 200mm?
    3. Does it even have to auto focus? Is the cake running anywhere?
    4. Does it even have to do auto exposure? Since you’re using flash, you can also cut down costs by using a non-TTL flash and setting your exposure manually.

    Once you manage to overcome these snobbish mental barriers, you will start to see the abundance of manual 200mm f/4 lenses.

  • 3ric15

    …when the cake fits in the frame at 200mm I would guess.

  • 3ric15

    It’s not off camera, “When shooting vertical framing, the flash will be pointed directly “up” from the camera’s point of view. When shooting horizontal framing, the flash will be 90′ left.” Plus “zero-setup” would mean no off camera flash.

  • Michael

    It’s not as far as you’d think – maybe 12 feet. Most reception venues are plenty large.

  • http://www.pouriolee.com/ pourio

    I’m shooting a wedding this Sunday so this will be useful. Thanks!

  • http://www.foggodyssey.com/ foggodyssey

    I get what this guy is saying but at best this article is confusing. For a “sure-fire guide” he leaves some details out that leaves people wondering “so he’s saying to do what???”

  • http://www.facebook.com/matthew.neumann Matthew Neumann

    1. Maybe it should be professional-grade glass because someone shooting hired to shoot wedding (and therein, the cake), would be a professional and not using consumer-level glass.

    2. Listing all your replies in a numbered list is obnoxious.

    Don’t be so presumptuous. You’ve made your own interpretation of “professional grade” as including auto-focus and auto-exposure just so you could detract them yourself.

  • http://twitter.com/JoeCampanella Joseph Campanella

    These photos are wonderful. Especially for such a run and gun setup. Easy could fit into a Martha Stewart Living type magazine.

  • Tzctplus -

    one thing to add : place those champagne flutes carefully for a pleasing composition, or better, get them out of the picture.

  • Mansgame

    200mm doesn’t mean standing across the room (with FX at least) I’d probably just use an 85mm 1.8 and get the most bang out of my flash bucks.

  • NEF2JPG

    Yes because switching lenses or carrying around a third body for a tilt-shift lens is what every wedding photographer looks forward to ;-)

  • https://twitter.com/adamhowardcross Adam Cross

    switching lenses! how awful!

  • https://twitter.com/adamhowardcross Adam Cross

    wedding photographers need two cars?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=771700542 Dan Howard

    great tips. Really really really useful blog post. Luckily enough I have a 200mm 2.8 SIGMA DG and a flash so I’m all set. boom!

  • Justsaying

    Are all wedding cakes slightly wonky?

  • Gman

    yeah but it’s the cake layers settling, not the photography.

  • http://www.bobcooleyphoto.com/ bob cooley

    a 105mm f/2 DC Nikkor would actually to do an excellent job on all fronts and allow more flexibility in regards to distance. A little pricier, perhaps but it’s an amazing lens for any wedding or portrait shooter.

  • http://www.ameridane.org/ thingwarbler

    End result is pretty good, so he’s clearly doing something right. Always good to hear quick and easy techniques that deliver. I’d loose the champagne flutes, though — pain in the ass to expose glass and they’re not adding anything to the shot… But the idea of going with a 200mm lens left me a bit stumped, too… awkward as hell to get the necessary space to work, even 12 feet from the cake you’re going to have traffic and other crap to contend with. Why not simply go with the 85 1.2L (or something similar) that a wedding photographer typically uses for all the portrait-y stuff? It’ll deliver the extra-juicy bokeh behind the cake, be infinitely sharper than even an L glass zoom (stop it down to f4 and it’s magic all the way) and allow you to work a bit closer to the cake, but still not flatten the thing out like a mid/wide angle lens would?

  • William Thomas

    Great post. One additional tip worth considering (which is evident in the photos)… Don’t forget your composition. Make sure the lines of the cake are straight and level. Kneel or crouch so your shooting angle is perpendicular to the cake (not shooting down on it or up towards it). Also leave room in your composition for it to “breathe”. This will not only help for a better photo, but also help when you’re designing the wedding album. Don’t be afraid to get creative, but only do so after you get the safe shots first. Remember, these are paying customers in most cases. Happy shooting :)

  • Cakeman

    Seriously? There is nothing more uncreative/boring than these straight on/dead center shots.

  • Vladimir Oltean

    Come on, don’t be silly. You know you pay a lot just for convenience. You couldn’t tell the output of a good manual $200 lens from that of a $3000 AF zoom one. If you think you can, think again.

    Nonetheless, I’m not here to argue, but I have a faint impression that jokes are not reaching to you…

  • Eugene Chok

    i do basically the same thing with a 100mm macro, im guessing its much easier then that 70 – 200 especially when going in tight for details

  • man.

    oh man just shup up, people like you are the bane of photography.

  • Former Bride

    They may be boring, but they’re a quick way to document the wedding cake and allow him to move on to documenting the rest of the reception / venue.

    If it was my wedding, I would rather have a couple of well done, if boring, shots of my wedding cake and a ton of creative photos of my guests than the other way around.

  • Matthew Sumpter

    Damn good posts, Vladimir