Sugar Dot Surveys Recap: Cookie Photography

 

Thank you all for participating in the most recent questionnaire in my Sugar Dot Surveys series. In this one, I asked you questions about cookie photography. I was curious about the effort that you put into your cookie photography, the outcome of your efforts, and any tips you might have to share.

I teach cookie decorating and business classes. I share my knowledge with students, but always let them know that my way is just ONE way to do things. I encourage my students to join sites like Cookie Connection and groups on social media, so that they can get many opinions and learn a variety of methods to do what we do. This latest survey once again shows that we are all unique in our cookie ways. There’s an incredible amount to learn from our community.

At the time this post was written, 157 of you had responded to the survey. About half of you have been decorating cookies for more than three years.

The majority of those interviewed (56%) consider themselves to be "so-so" cookie photographers. Just 24% consider themselves to be "quite good", and a surprisingly large number (19%) consider their photography skills to be "horrible". Sounds like most of us feel that there's much room for improvement!

The vast majority of us (84%) "rush through", spending an hour or less photographing a cookie set. This question was actually somewhat controversial. I, and some others with whom I spoke, consider an hour spent on photography to be a substantial amount of time to devote to capturing a single set. Many thought 15 minutes on a cookie set would be closer to "rushing". Just 16% of respondents spend more than one hour per set on photography, though there were some people on the extreme end who can spend several hours.

[EDITOR'S NOTE: My bad! I was the one who added the "rush through" descriptor to that question. Rest assured, I wasn't intending any value judgment - if people get great photos in an hour or less, more power to them! I just don't . . . I struggle with propping and lighting and focus . . . you name it! So it's customary for me to take a full day or more on each set to get shots that I think are passable. I also take different photos of the same set for my blog, my YouTube channel, my social media pages, and also my stencil partner's site, and, because those platforms all require slightly different photo specs, I'm bound to take more time than someone shooting solely for one platform. That all being said, it's interesting to note that those who take more time (more than an hour) on their photos do tend to consider themselves better photographers than those who spend less than an hour. 44% of the former group consider themselves "quite good", whereas only 21% of the latter group said the same of themselves. For the record, I put myself in the "so-so" camp. Now, back to Dotty! ~JMU]

About a third of you (29%) dislike or hate photographing your cookies. So many of you talked about feelings of frustration and discouragement. Struggling with lighting seems to be the number one difficulty. Many struggle with creatively staging (or styling) their photos and having the time to achieve better final results. These difficulties and the unsatisfactory final photos are the reasons many dislike the whole process.

Interestingly, some of you use the process and the final photos as a tool to mark your decorating progress. Some use them as a learning tool for decorating - to see mistakes and think about how to improve the next time. Some find the photos rewarding when looking at the finished cookies that they worked so hard on. And, of course, those with businesses use the photos as marketing tools to help sell their cookies, classes, or other products and services.

christy tolliver
Some items used to stage (or style) photo shoots. Photo by Christy Tolliver of Cookies Made 4 You.

How creative do we get with props? I suppose the answer depends on how one defines "creative"! But, regardless, about half of us (47%) "sometimes" get creative with props, and 45% of us "never" get creative! Only 8% said they "always" get creative. This result is not surprising considering the amount of time most of us spend on photography.

Those who do get creative with props do so with different backdrops (scrapbooking or art paper, ready-made vinyl sheets, trays, baskets, fabric, platters, and so on). Many will find/purchase props that go with the theme or holiday of the cookies. Looking for prop ideas that involve everyday items you might already have? Some suggestions included sprinkles, books, plants, jewelry, ribbon, lace, flowers, confetti, napkins, coffee mugs, silverware, toys, picture frames, and even icing bags.

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Cookie photo setup. Photo by Sofiya of inst_shadow.

Most of us (81%) use our mobile phone cameras for cookie shoots. A mere 4% of those interviewed use a digital camera in fully manual mode, meaning that they actively control shutter speed, aperture, exposure, and focus. While lighting is one of the things that causes us the most heartache in the photo process, ironically, more than half of us (53%) don't use supplemental lights, reflectors, or any other kind of tool to try to control lighting! However, many do capitalize on natural light by shooting near windows or going outside.

The majority of us (66%) never watermark our photos, which leaves me wondering why?! I'm always preaching to my students to watermark. *Putting on my teacher role.* Once you post your cookie photos to the web, you never know where they'll go - in an email, pinned to Pinterest, shared on Instagram . . . And, often, photos get shared without any accompanying link. If you don't mark your photos, viewers will have no idea who made those exquisite cookies! If someone would like to order, you want them coming to YOU, not showing that photo to someone else to copy. *End of lecture.*

sofiya 2
Finished cookie photo from above setup. Photo by Sofiya of inst_shadow.

I asked if you all do anything to make your photos consistent with your branding (or to distinguish your cookies as uniquely yours). Most of you do not, but there were some very interesting responses about how some people do this! They included: always laying out cookies/not stacking them; putting solid borders around photos; lifestyle-styling (i.e., placing cookies in an actual setting for an event/occasion); using the same background from photo to photo; placing a bitten cookie in the shot; and holding one cookie in front of the entire set.

Finally, I asked if you all had any photography tips to share. Boy, did you! There were some great ones! Here are a few:

"Never take a photograph with the light facing the camera." @ale.capurro

"Use natural light whenever possible, and arrange things symmetrically. I often make cookie sets with individual cookie designs in threes, because they are easy to arrange right, left, and center in a photo." @Bakerloo Station

"The more casual, the better. I've found the less I fuss, the better it is." @ChristyT

"I like to plan everything as a square photo. It seems to post best online." @Cookie Me This ~ Heidi

"Don't use the flash, use props that fit the cookie theme, and don't overdo it. Cookies always should be the focus." @GinkgoWerkstatt

"Shoot in raw mode and get well acquainted with professional photo-editing software (like Photoshop); this way, you can edit down to the pixel and correct photo-taking errors (exposure, shadows, white balance) much better than you can otherwise." @Julia M. Usher

"Take pictures from a low angle and you will avoid strange shadows or glare when photographing in natural light, particularly if it is somewhat dark in the room." @Mia P

"Learn by looking at cookies you like from other artists." @Stephanie A

"Only use natural light. If that means making extra cookies so you can wait until the timing works for a good photo, do it." @guest

"One thing I have done is place small objects on the underside of cookies to tip them slightly so they aren’t laying flat on a platter." @guest

And one final piece of advice from @Terry H.: "Use a professional? ". LOL.

To wrap this up, it seems that most of us are unhappy with both the photography process and our final photos. Many don't put in a whole lot of time and effort on staging, lighting, and photographing (myself included!). Do we not put in the time because of the poor results, or are the poor results due to the lack of time and effort? Is it a vicious cycle? Our busy days and needing to get cookies out our doors are often to blame for the lack of time we spend.

Can we get motivated and set aside more time to work on achieving photo results that we can be proud of? Are there any tips that you've learned here that you might implement? Quite a few for me!

[EDITOR'S NOTE: Given that most of us aren't completely satisfied with our photo results and don't feel we've got control over key variables, like lighting, I'd posit that it might be useful to look beyond this community for tips and guidance as well! Here's an article that lists the top seven online food photography courses, and while I can't personally vouch for Food Photography School or the lineup of photo courses on Bluprint, I am very intrigued by their offerings and plan to start exploring some of them for myself. Again, back to Dotty! ~JMU]

Thank you for participating in this survey and allowing us to learn from YOU. The survey covered more than I can recap here, so if you took it, you can go back at any time to see the results for each question. If you haven't yet taken it, please do so! It will be open and capturing new responses in perpetuity! Once you take it, all of the survey results will reveal in the same place!

Until next time,
Dotty Raleigh
Sugar Dot Cookies

Dotty Raleigh is the owner of Sugar Dot Cookies, which began in 2013 with custom cookie orders, and has since grown to include decorating classes and cookie parties. In 2018, Dotty began teaching a series of online classes called Cookies as Business and providing business e-books, which cover everything from finding the optimum shop location and workflow management to pricing and packaging cookies. Dotty loves sharing her years of experience and encouraging those just getting started in their own cookie businesses. Please visit Dotty's Cookie Connection member profile and Facebook and Instagram pages.

Photo credit: Dotty Raleigh

Note: Sugar Dot Surveys is a bimonthly Cookie Connection survey/blog feature designed to foster experience-sharing and identify best business and decorating practices. Dotty starts by posting a survey every other month about a specific cookie practice, tool, or technique, and concludes with a recap of responses aimed at helping everyone learn and grow. This article expresses the views of the author, and not necessarily those of this site, its owners, its administrators, or its employees. To read all of Dotty's past Sugar Dot Surveys recaps, click here. And to see all of her surveys, click here.

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