As the weather heats up, we’re loathe to turn the oven on. Enter, frozen treats: ice cream, popsicles, bombe cakes, frozen bars — we can’t get enough of them. But if you’re in the food photography (or styling) business, frozen foods can be really tricky to capture, as they have a tendency to melt away faster than the snap of a shutter.
So with the clock ticking the moment your beautiful ice cream gets out of the freezer, how do you get the best photograph? Here are some of our best tips for shooting + styling frozen treats:
Sometimes referred to as just ‘mise‘ for short, this French culinary term means “putting in place.” It refers to the set-up chefs arrange before they begin to cook, with all their ingredients and tools set out at arm’s length to ensure minimal delay or interference once they begin preparing a meal.
This is also an essential trick for capturing food photographs. Before you even think of retrieving your frozen food from the freezer, you should have your entire shot already set up. Use a tripod to ensure that your camera is in place and focused, and set up your scene around a stand-in, which is an object roughly the same shape, size, and colour as your food, allowing you to correct the focus and colour balance, so that all you have to do is slide in your hero food before snapping away.
2. Freeze more than just your treats
Even if you have an air-conditioned home, it’s hard to slow the melt of your food once it’s at room temperature. One of the best ways to do this is to freeze anything you’re using to handle, manage, or style your food. Does it need slicing? Freeze the cutting board and knife you’re going to use. Are you shooting onto a bowl or plate? Freeze (or at least refrigerate) those props until they, too, are ice cold.
And sometimes a little realism can be an aesthetic boon (i.e. there’s a reason that so many popsicle shots are styled on a bed of ice). If your food is something that you might serve on ice in real life, doing so for your photograph has the bonus of keeping your dish cooler a little longer, buying you more time to get the perfect snap.
3. The inside scoop on pre-scooping
When shooting and styling ice cream, in particular, the pre-scoop is going to save you. Line a rimless baking sheet or cutting board with parchment paper and freeze it until cool. Scoop as many perfect scoops of ice cream as you can, and transfer them to the prepared sheet. Return the sheet to the freezer and chill until the scoops are frozen solid again. You can use a metal offset spatula to loosen them from the parchment; transfer them in one at a time on set until they’re melted and need replacing with the next scoop. This works just as well for cones as it does for bowls of ice cream.
4. Make more than you need
Professional food stylists are notorious for bringing 5-10 times more food than is needed for a shoot, and although this is usually an unnecessary precaution for at-home food photographers, in the case of frozen treats, it’s essential. If you’re able to, make and freeze 2-3 times what you need for your shot. That means that when your food inevitably starts melting away, you don’t have to worry about running out of product before you’ve nailed your shot. The good news is that all of your leftovers or extras are edible, and will be gone in no time once the shoot is over.
5. Go for the drip
The above tips have all been about how to reduce the speed of your food melting, but the most important thing to note is that the melt is actually essential. Beautifully styled shots of immaculate scoops (or popsicles, or bars) can be charming, but they never capture one’s imagination — or appetite — like a little bit of melt. Drips and (reasonable) mess in a shot are what conjure up memories of the summer’s oppressive heat, and the pure bliss of eating something cold, even as it runs down your arm. So make sure to keep snapping photos while your food melts, because that’s where the story is, and that’s what will have your audience hungry for more.