bring your hands together for vintage party stylist & baker, anna hogbin
Anna’s the owner of Mama Bear’s Kitchen and has a huge passion for desserts and vintage party styling. I truly ENVY her vintage cake stand collection *swoon*.
One of the best things I love about Anna’s work is her ability to style and capture stunning photographs of her desserts. They don’t just ‘look pretty’ – they tell a story and engage the viewer (trust me, there’s a difference).
In today’s value-packed interview, Anna shares some incredible tips for food styling and photography, so you can take your photos to the NEXT LEVEL.
Now that’s what I’m talking about!
Anna hasn’t held anything back, so grab a coffee and settle in for a jam-packed reading session. Enjoy the read!
I’d love to hear more about your back story – how did you come into baking and creating dessert tables? Did you always have an interest in baking?
I have been baking since I became a young bride almost 27 years ago. My kitchen is my absolute favourite place to be, the hub of our very busy home. For years I would whip up batches of muffins for visitors or try out old Women’s Weekly cake recipes.
It wasn’t until the digital age emerged that baking, decorating, photography and styling became an art form and cobbling plates and cake stands full of home baked goods together turned into dessert tables. As a lover of presentation, I embraced this new trend wholeheartedly.
It ignited a passion within me, bringing together my creative interests in baking, styling and photography. My eldest daughter suggested I start a blog to share my recipes and dessert tables, so eventually, Mama Bear’s Kitchen was born.
Your dessert tables and photo stylings are all vintage influenced. Where do you find your inspiration?
Around the same time I started my blog in 2011, I also developed an interest in vintage collectables. I quickly noticed how fabulous they looked on my themed dessert tables, making them stand out from the crowd. I have always loved old things, preloved items with a silent history. Quickly my collections grew into cake stands, milk glass dishes, vintage tins, old suitcases, linen and much more.
As my collections grew, so did my dessert tables. I offered to host friends baby showers, tea parties and occasional weddings. I also began to create elaborate birthday parties for my own children. I find inspiration largely from my vintage props, beautiful flowers, retro fabric, bright colours or beauty in the natural world around me.
Why is photo styling so important?
Presentation and styling make all the difference. They can transform an average pot luck table of cakes into a breathtaking dessert table, or an ordinary cupcake into a mouth watering masterpiece. Well thought out styling showcases the hero, or dessert, to make it look as good as possible. It helps create a story or theme, drawing the viewer into the scene. It is also a reflection of your personal style, an extension of the creativity of your baking talent.
What are some big Do’s and Don’ts when it comes to styling for photographs?
The definition of art is “the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination…producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.”
Styling and photographing cakes is an art form which creates a powerful emotional connection with the viewer. Each artist will have different ideas on what looks good in a photo and what elements should be avoided. There are many general guidelines for styling that can be helpful, for example; don’t overcrowd the shot, keep props minimal, don’t use too much colour, only use props that are relevant to the hero etc.
Upon reflection, I have come to see that my own personal style often ignores these ‘rules!’. There are however, some do’s and don’ts that I highly recommend:
Invest in a few good props
Including a killer cake stand or two, and one or two good quality backdrops. You can make your own with timber and paint, but there are also a lot of great vinyl backdrops available that will take your photos to the next level. Hunt around op shops for tarnished silverware, unusual tableware, linens and plates. Just make sure you don’t use shiny items which will bring too much reflection to your photos.
Be yourself and have confidence in your own personal style
Even if its is different from what everyone else is doing. I am not a minimalist by nature and never will be. With 9 children, my whole life is one of over the top excesses!! I actually prefer a more cluttered look in my photo styling, because I love to tell a story with my images and include unique and quirky vintage pieces, flowers and bright colours. I create to satisfy my own passion, not to please Pinterest. Stick to what you love and your natural style will follow. Which brings me to my next point…
Find your own style
We are all drawn to something. Modern clean lines, neutral colours, gritty textures, intense colour, pastels. Take a look around your home or the clothes you have put on today and you will see your style.
Practice, practice, practice
This is one of the best pieces of advice I have ever heard about finding your own style. Don’t panic if you aren’t sure what your particular style might look like when you shoot photos of your cakes. If you just keep practicing, over time you will naturally be drawn to certain styling elements that you love. Your personality will eventually shine through. Go with your instinct of what you think looks good, even if it is not current trend.
Glean from others, but don’t compare.
We live in a world where technical perfection is the expected norm. Spending hours scrolling through photos taken by bakers and photographers who are often full time bloggers with assistants, can be very discouraging, to say the least. I can’t tell you how often I have felt like giving up because my work isn’t good enough or not of the standard I see everywhere around me. Nowadays I refuse to compare myself to better artists.
My motto is this…'”Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can”.
I am a busy Mum with very little time to invest in my passion, so I choose to be content with whatever I can do, whenever I can do it. I will keep improving if I simply keep practising!
In saying this, however, there is a place for gleaning inspiration. One helpful tip is to create a Pinterest board of cake styling photos that appeal to you, but remember to ask yourself why you like each shot and why you don’t like others. What elements of the photograph draw your attention? Do you prefer dark and moody shots? Light and airy photos with clean lines? Do you like action shots? Or photos with flowers? This will help you establish your own tastes and style. Just make sure you spend more time creating than scrolling!
I love that your photos engage the viewer and tell a story. Could you give us some insight into your process? Are there certain elements you need think about first?
To quote you Amber – from your freebie Five Expert Tips For Creating Pinterest-Worthy Cakes – one of the best ways to style your cakes well is to “Plan for Success”. It takes time to think through all of the elements that bring together a next level styled cake shot.
Even after I have planned my shoot, which involves deciding on the type of look I am after, choosing backdrops and props, buying any suitable flowers and baking and decorating the cake, it still takes me about three hours to photograph the cake. The point being, plan as much as you can beforehand, so when your cake is ready, you have everything set to go, and most importantly, an idea of what you want the shot to look like.
My mind is constantly full of styled shoots I want to do. It can be a combination of cake flavours I want to try, or a cute vintage prop I have that sparks an idea in my mind. I have often bought a bunch of exquisite flowers, baked a cake and styled an entire shoot just to
show off their beauty!
Here’s some helpful tips:
- Find inspiration. Spend time thinking about how you want to style your cake and take down notes or create a picture board of ideas.
- Decide what look you are after. Dark and moody, light and bright or whimsical and rustic? This will affect what props you need.
- Choose a suitable back drop and bottom drop that enhances your theme.
- Choose props. Start with a gorgeous cake stand and some linen, fabric, paper or rustic wood to create texture. Add a vase of flowers in background, or a jar of lemon curd or caramel (don’t forget to make it drip!) Aim to include around 3 – 4 props.
- Add ingredients. This adds interest to your photo as well as show your viewer what is in your cake. If you have made a peanut butter cake, for example, scoop some of the nuttiest peanut butter you can buy into a small glass jar, pop in a vintage teaspoon and scatter a few raw nuts in front of it. Don’t be bound by this idea though, I often use unrelated items in my photos.
- Set up your shoot exactly how you want it before getting the cake out of the fridge. If you live in Australia, then there is a high chance you live with heat! I always make sure I have set up every detail before bringing the cake out at the last minute. It can take a while to get into the rhythm of photographing a cake, and you don’t want it to melt before you are done.
- Move things around. I would have to say, pretty much every time I do a shoot, my best photos are the last ones I have taken. I will shoot with my initial set up for a while, then look at it with fresh eyes to see what I can move around. Bring props into the foreground, or take the flowers out of the vase and lie them at the base of the cake stand? Have a fiddle and try something new. Put the cake back in the fridge while you do this if you need to
What camera angles or shots would you recommend to create more interest or catch peoples eye?
There are a few standard angles that work really well for photographing cakes. A good front shot will showcase your decorative details, but you can also lift the camera to a 3/4 angle which will give viewers a glimpse of the top as well.
One of my favourite ways to photograph cakes is actually with an overhead, or flat lay angle. It allows for a lot of creativity and can be quite dramatic. One tip is to place the cake toward one side of the
shot, so some of it is out of the frame.
For those who struggle to know ‘what works’, what’s an easy styling idea that people could implement effortlessly to take their photo to the next level?
- Use layers to give depth and visual interest to your image. A loosely folded napkin poking out from a rustic bread board, or a piece of crumpled newspaper underneath your muffins will break up any stark contrast and bring depth to the photo. Try to use two or three layers.
- Adding flowers also adds a splash of colour, brings warmth to the image and helps your cake to shine.
- Leave some negative space (or empty space) in your photo to give the viewer a place to rest the eyes.
- Bring props into the fore and background to create dimension. Use depth of field to blur the background prop and sit a muffin or cake slice in the opposite front corner to give the idea that the viewer has stumbled upon an activity (eating cake) or scene. This helps to tell a story with your image.
Thanks so much Amber for giving me an opportunity to share my passion with your readers. Make sure you all relax, have fun and get busy creating!
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