What do you picture when you hear the words "Chocolate Chip Cookies?" Is it a soft, round, light brown cookie with loads of chocolate chips? Or is it a crunchier darker brown cookie perfect for dipping in milk? Above are all examples of chocolate chip cookies. Is one of them a better picture that the other? That depends on the purpose of your image. If your client is expecting the cookies to look like the image splashing in the milk, then they won't be happy with the other two images.
When shooting food, it is important to have an idea of how the recipe will affect the look of the final dish. These three images are all chocolate chip cookies, but they each were made with a different recipe. The ingredients and cooking method used in these recipes will give each cookie different looks and physical characteristics. These unique physical characteristics of the cookie were what influenced the picture I took with each. Let's take a look at cookies that were made by the bakery department of a Grocery Store.
This next cookie is a mass-produced kind found in your convenience store.
They are made by a machine and produced thousands at a time. They need to stay fresh inside of a vacum sealed package for months and will use a recipe that allows for this. Their crunchy texture makes them perfect for dipping in milk! Their uniform shape allowed me to easily create a composite out of image A and B.
All of these cookies have different physical characteristics due to their recipe. If a chocolate chip cookie has more brown sugar that you expected, it will come out darker in color. If you use self-rising flour instead of all-purpose flour, the cookie will rise a different amount. If you use shortening as opposed to all natural butter, the cookie's shape and texture will be different. Before starting a food shoot, it is important to have you, your client, and food stylist all on the same page about what the final dish is going to look like. An unsuccessful cookbook image is one where the final recipe looks nothing like dish when the consumer makes it.
Try experimenting with different recipes and see how you can use the physical characteristics to influence you image. And that's the way the cookie crumbles.
For more information on how these cookies were lit and other food photography tutorials check out issues 1-4 of photographing FOOD