How to Take a Good Picture of Pie

With the Best Pie Bakeoff in session, I wanted to pass on a few tips on taking a good picture of pie (or tart) since photos are one of the requirements to enter the contest.

Because so many people now cook with a camera around their necks (and eat with one in their laps) we encourage readers to send in photos with their questions and require them to do so for contests. Many are wonderful, but some could use help. Whether or not you plan to participate in the Bakeoff, I thought a little Pie Photography 101 might be useful.

By the way, I learned most of these tips from my mother, who is a food stylist and did the styling for my book. Thanks, Mom.

A few tips for any pie photo:
• Set the scene: is it a classic apple pie? Then maybe a stainless steel counter-top and a modern fork isn't the look you're going for. Is is a svelte chocolate tart? Maybe then you should include dressier props like an elegant fork or a fancy espresso cup to the side.
• Think a lot about propping. Baking your pie in an attractive pie plate makes a difference. Consider the plate and fork if you're showing a slice. Consider showing textiles like a napkin, tablecloth, or a hot pad. A pair of hands showing a whole baked pie makes a great picture. A body is a prop, too. Perhaps the cook is wearing a fun apron.
• Blue/greens bring out the warm golden tones of crust. This is easily achieved with props.
• Lighting is so important. Unless it's night or raining, it's almost always better to shoot in natural light outdoors. I live in a fourth floor walk-up and shoot a lot on my fire escape, so be creative. Never use the flash unless you have a professional set-up and know what you're doing. The photo above of my Hazelnut Meringue Tart was taken outdoors.
• Always stabilize your camera. If you don't have a tripod, just balance your camera on something: a wine glass, a stack of books or magazines (see Faith at the top of the post) etc.
• Brush a little water or a 1:1 mixture of water and clear corn syrup over fruit just before shooting for juiciness as in the strawberry tart above.
• Fresh out of the oven is usually best.

For pie pieces and whole pies with a piece removed:
• Shoot from a low angle when you want to emphasize the filling as in the Chocolate Cherry Tart (above left.)
• Don't let the filling spread over the entire lower crust, i.e. be sure you see the texture of the bottom crust in the picture.
• Crumbs, flakes, dribbles and smears are warm and friendly and yummy. Don't try to be too sanitized.
• Prop up the back edge of pie (if not showing in photo) with wads of paper towels (food stylists use mashed potatoes!) to keep it from collapsing.
• Try shooting from unexpected like from the point of the slice straight back (as in the Pecan Tart above) or from the backside.

For whole pies:
• Use cut outs on double-crust pies so filling can be seen, as in the blueberry pie image, upper right.
• Shoot from a high angle in most cases, as seen in the Apricot Galette (upper left) and the Pecan Pie, (lower left.)
• Don't feel you have to show the entire whole pie. It can "creep" into the shot from the side (as in the free form apple tart, lower right), top (as in the Pecan Pie, lower left), or bottom (as in the Blueberry Pie, upper right.) In this case, consider adding other props (server, plate, textile etc.), or for a more modern look, empty space or a simple textile.
• If edges break, they can be "glued" back in with Vaseline or clear cake gel. Use a toothpick or tweezers to handle the broken bits.

Food Photography Tips for Newbies
Good Question: Best Camera for Food Photography
Ten Tastiest Food Photography Tips

(Images: Chocolate Cherry, Strawberry, and Pecan Tarts from John Kelly Photography, Blueberry Pie from flickr member thebittenword licensed under Creative Commons, Pecan Pie image via flickr member museinthecity licensed under Creative Commons, everything else by Sara Kate Gillingham-Ryan)