How A Recipe Can Inspire Your Image

How A Recipe Can Inspire Your Image

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.

These cookies are made by the hundreds in a grocery store's baking department. They are most likely made a couple hundred at a time and the baker will use scales and a measuring scoop to form the cookie. Their flat and uniform size makes them ideal for stacking in a tower to form a shot.

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.

The final group of cookies are ones that I made using the recipe on the back of bag of chocolate chips.

Notice how these cookies have a circular but varying shape. They look similar, but each cookie has a slightly different texture to it. With these cookies not being perfectly circular, I decided to emphasize their homemade nature by shooting them in a scattered arrangement on a cooling rack.

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 

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Tam Nguyen's picture

I'm beginning to look forward to your Monday posts dude. Looking delish!

i really think that food photography is a difficult... and its hard to became good food photographer just with few web classes...

I always look forward to Taylors posts. I've been shooting people for a long time but not food dishes. I picked up his 3rd ebook (only $5, are you kidding me!?) about using flash to shoot dishes at night since I have a day job. Great info - here is the first shot I took for my wifes food blog after reading it.

Julia Agnes's picture

yummy photos!