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