The Chocolate Life

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Does anyone have experience with photographing chocolate ? I photograph my own pieces and they look pretty good, but I would love to get my photos looking drop dead gorgeous so I can do a book someday, as well as offer this as a service ( since I love to photograph it so much ), any tips would be appreciated ...




Tags: chocolate, photography

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Tabletop product photography is its own special art form. It used to be that special lenses were required to manipulate depth of field, but these days as long as the entire image is sharp, Photoshop and plugins can take care of most view camera type effects.

The one place where I think people tend to underestimate their needs is in lighting equipment and in understanding that literal representation is not what it's about, it's about interpretation. In looking at some of your photos, what I miss is contrast range. There are neither pure whites (what used to be called "paper white" when people actually printed negatives on paper) and pure blacks - the contrast range is compressed. Of course, to work with chocolate you need cold lighting, so the new generation of LED lights is just what you need.

If you want to go small-scale there is a cool iPad app called SoftBox you might look into. You can use it (running on an iPad) as a light table and then with two more iPads you have a small - extremely portable and surprisingly flexible - lighting studio.

But mostly it's about attitude and style, which takes practice and editing. In this day and age of essentially unlimited storage, people have gotten out of the habit of deleting photos. To improve, you have to be a relentless editor, trashing every photo that doesn't "work." That's my experience, anyway. (I have a BFA in Photo from Rhode Island School of Design and it was one discipline I learned then that I practice to this day. I ruthlessly edit my photos and delete the ones that don't measure up.)

While you personally have a "style" I don't sense that style coming through in your photographs. What is the "Kat style" and how does it translate into photos? It takes practice. Lots of it. With enough, setting things up will become instinctual.


Wow, thank-you so much for the awesome detailed reply, the photos I have here are a few years old, I think I've gotten a little better, although it's only until recently I've decided to get more serious about this and actually learn the controls on my camera ;)  In the past I mainly just wanted quick snap shots of my work ( always staying on automatic ). But now I have this chocolate book idea, and I really do enjoy photography and want my chocolate photos to look as amazing as they can.


Great tip about cold lighting the new LED lights, I try to use natural light as much as I can. I was also thinking about trying Photoshop Lightroom for editing ( I'm pretty good with Photoshop ). The iPad idea for lighting is way clever! I don't have one though, but if it's cheaper than buying a lighting kit, I might have to check into it. However, I'm really too poor to buy anything right now, so I'm stuck with what I have. Luckily I have a Canon 20D camera to fiddle with.


Do you have any examples of your photography ? I would love to see. Maybe on your choco page, I will take a gander. Thanks for the feature also, and for creating such a great platform for chocolate lovers to come and get inspired ! I always mention the site on my FB page and people who visit, love it here ( just like me ).


I don't have any samples of tabletop work - I do very little of it. Early on in my career I first-assisted for two of the best in NYC, one who specialized in architectural models. I realized that my interests in photography lay elsewhere, but I absorbed a lot about the techniques.

You can see some of my very recent work at my personal web site,

This is an excellent topic!  Funny how sometimes people are thinking the same thing?  I was JUST about to post something along these exact same lines. 

One item that has become indispensable in my lighting repertoire is a diffuser.  It makes photographing shiny objects a lot easier by putting it between your light source and product. 

Another item I now can't live without is a color card.  It makes setting your white point so much easier, and from that you can make all your pictures look very similar, as far as color is concerned.

Also, for the vast majority of my pictures I use a tripod and slower shutter speeds.  This lets me play around with the aperture (and therefore depth of field).

Clay, one thing I don't see mentioned much are lighting angles... what are the recommended or standard angles and how many light sources should on use or food photography (as a general and not ironclad rule?)

There are no recommended standard angles for food or for the number of light sources.

Often, there is a very large softbox (diffused light source) which is designed to mimic a natural (i.e., sun coming through a high north window) light source. Lamps/flash are preferred by many studio photographers because the color temperature and output is consistent throughout a shoot. Flash units are often used because they generate less heat - useful when photographing food. In the architectural model work we did in the studio it was almost all hot lights.

Now you have ambient overall lighting covered. The next questions are how big is what you're shooting and what to do you want to emphasize? So, there's generally at least one "key" light that is "flagged" (to keep the light off parts of the scene you don't want illuminated). Instead of another light, depending on the effect you're looking for, you might have one or more "bounce" cards that take the ambient light and reflect it into the scene to reduce contrast.

As I alluded to earlier, if you don't have a view camera so that you can really master depth of field effects, you want to stop down as far as you can and make sure that everything in the scene is tack sharp. Then you can go back into Photoshop (or similar) and add the depth-of-field focus effects after, if desirable.

I agree with you that use a standardized reference color target makes an enormous amount of sense, as is using a white card to set white balance - especially when you are shooting film. These days, however, the auto-correct feature in many programs these days is so good that it'll take care of 95% of situations. Without a recognizable iconic color in the scene (we used to shoot a Kodak box on the first frame of every roll for this purpose) then the most important things in the image (technically):

a) no motion from the camera
b) tack-sharp focus, at least on the key element(s) of the scene
c) a pure black (RGB 0,0,0) somewhere in the scene
d) a pure white (RGB 255,255,255) somewhere in the scene
e) clean whites (i.e., whites without a noticeable color cast)

Of course, any or all of these "rules" can be broken - if and when you know what you're doing and WHY you're breaking them.

Thank-you Clay!

I'm not sure how to achieve c,d and e, but will keep this in mind, I guess it all has to do with getting the right exposure ( and white balance? ). I seem to have the best luck with natural light so I'm going to stick with that for a while, then try for some more atmospheric shots... we shall see what happens.


I wonder if milk chocolate might be easier to work, I usually photograph dark but I do have contrast issues.


Have a great weekend, and thanks again for all of your help



Thanks for the reply,

What kind of diffuser do you use? good point about the color card. I found this website you might enjoy, she has a lot of good info on food photography for the beginner her photos are beautiful and very inspiring. Although, she doesn't mention photographing chocolate specifically, I'm going to try some of her ideas and see how successful I am.


My first project is just getting the camera off auto! Very excited about learning all of this, who knows... maybe I'll start a blog of my progress ( or just post on this one ).  I know how I want the photos to look ( drippy, sexy, provocative and delicious! ), just need to figure out the technical side. So here I go !

I work with a professional photographer for our photos. He uses diffused lighting from various angles. It takes about 2-3 hours to get set-up, but once the lighting is right, the results are great. Good luck.


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