I’ve minimized my sock drawer, twice. I’ve burned through the stack of books I was planning to reading “someday” and now that I am juggling distance learning and working from home off of nothing more than a hotspot, my Netflix binging is pretty much nonexistent.
It’s been eight months since COVID has rocked my world and I have run out of things to do other than wake up, work, mom, repeat.
Well, almost run out of things to do. A few weeks ago, when I was laying in bed thinking (when I most certainly should have been sleeping), I came up with a fun idea to break the daily monotony of my so-called socially-distanced life. I decided to do my very own version of a bake-off challenge with one of my oldest friends, Benjamin.
The rules were as follows:
- We both agreed to use the same ingredients: basic and cheap. We settled on boxed yellow cake mix and the creamy chocolate frosting that you find ready-made. (Think of the stuff that runs for under $2.00 and rhymes with Bunkin Bines or Jills Berry).
- With no other fancy add-ins, you had to make cupcakes to photograph and share.
So, this was my final result: And this was Benjamin’s:
Although my son tried to console me, by saying they both looked yummy, you can obviously tell that one of these things is not like the other. The photo on the left is mine. A tasty submission regardless of looks, but when it comes to visually pleasing food photography, let’s face it – it’s what’s on the outside that counts.
Oh wait, did I forget to mention that Benjamin is a professionally trained food stylist? As in, he went to school for it and you can find his name in published books, magazines and blogs. Just seeing his final product made me go down a rabbit hole of asking him to tell me all of his secrets. Snuggle up close, I’m now going to whisper them in your ear:
Light ‘Em Up
Good food photos are like high maintenance plants. They require consistently good lighting. When Benjamin takes his pictures, he is sure to use natural lighting when available. The sun can work wonders. The investment in a ring light can be worth it and done pretty inexpensively at places like Amazon.
Pick out a color theme or story you want to focus on. You don’t want your food to clash with your plate. Nobody will be able to see a piece of chocolate cake on a dark brown plate. Look for inspiration on Instagram. You can follow hashtags like #bake or #cakesofinstagram to get ideas.
Against All Odds
When in doubt treat it like you do decorating your house. Things in odd numbers are more visually appealing. Sometimes something a little askew can bring in excitement. And if the rug doesn’t fit the room, it looks weird. So make sure to find the right size plate or bowl. Secondhand stores are a great place to find a new treasure for showcasing your baked goods in photos.
A Spoonful of Sugar
Follow the recipe as it is written. This is easy advice for me, as I am a rule follower even in the kitchen, but some of us measure with our hearts in dabs and dashes, so following a recipe can be an important reminder. If you need to make alterations (i.e. gluten free, vegan, etc.) search for an appropriate recipe. Trust me when I say there is a recipe for almost every need out there. Baking can be pretty scientific and just swapping out an ingredient untested can result in some pretty ugly food.
Know that behind every pretty picture you see on social media there is a perfectly destroyed kitchen behind the camera. Most of the food gets thrown away because it’s touched by so many people or goes bad sitting under lights for hours. One simple looking post can take up to 6 hours of shopping, prepping, baking, photography, editing, and commentary.
So, it’s back to the kitchen I go, armed with both newfound knowledge and the confidence that even if these aren’t as visually pleasing, my family is going to think they are just as yummy. If you try out the above tips, or have some of your own to share, let us know at #heyduluthmom!
A huge shout out to my friend, Benjamin Plante, who has been humoring me for years. To see more of his delicious work, which may or may not be calorie free, check out his work on Instagram @benjaminplante_