Blackcurrant cheesecake, 6 ways to style cake - a personal food styling and cake photography challenge!

July 17, 2019

I don't know about you but I struggle with cake styling.  I think its because I don't like triangles, and when you cut out a piece of cake and take it away from the rest of the cake you're left with a pacman face.  I just can't stop looking at it in a cake shot, it's all I can see!

SO.  I decided to set myself a challenge of shooting a cake overhead.  I'm avoiding the pacman issue by only shooting it whole and then divided in pieces and repeated, without the rest of the cake in the shot.  I'm looking to some of my instagram faves for inspo and pushing myself to do a light, colourful and dark version for each set up.

Here's what I created, why I did what I did and how I feel about each image!  Please do comment your feedback below and let me know what cake styling challenges you face or how you've overcome them in your own food photography :)


Blackcurrant cheesecake food styling, look 1

So the first style of shot I did was my go to style I guess, brightly lit with back/side indirect natural light from my big patio windows so I get a lot of wrap-around light (see BTS shots further down for my lighting/set up).

I wanted to keep it very clean and purely abut the colours in the cake so used a soft grey backdrop edited slightly green to set the pink off.

I say this is my go-to-style - I like to use 3-5 different sized circles in a fluid, asymmetric flow through the image, using colours and props to support but not overwhelm the subject.

I like the way the cake looks in this image, and the props are cute but it does feel a bit flat with everything on the same level and not much difference in the light across the backdrop.

What do you think?


cake food styling blackcurrant cheesecake stylist photography backdrops backgounrds flatlay papers 7

Shot on the Slay backdrop 


Blackcurrant cheesecake food styling, look 2

For my second look I wanted to play with the depth of field and bring in more colour, as part of the challenge I wanted to set myself was working with more bright colours that compliment the colours in the food.  

My preferred ways to style with colour are often playing with different tones/shades of the same colour or bringing in a mix of patterns in the same or similar colour - I think this gives a relaxed style while still tapping into the pleasing look repetition gives.  I think in food styling where we want to food to shine, using too many colours can throw the focus off what we want to be the hero of the shot, the food, and can be a bit confusing or hectic on the eye.

I've just recently started collecting delft and willow plates and I thought these would work well with the pink, especially knocked out of focus so the pattern is soft and not competing for attention.

I used a cake stand to lift the cheesecake towards the camera - fortunately I had a white one just the right size - but a plate raised by a small bowl or even saucer/pinch pot can work just as well overhead or straight on if they match the plate!

I REALLY like this image.  I think it feels modern and stylish even with antique ceramics as they sit well on the backdrop and the drop in focus makes it feel more edgy.  It really keeps the attention on the cake too.


Blackcurrant cheesecake food styling cake photography stylist backdrop background

Shot on the Kai backdrop


Blackcurrant cheesecake food styling, look 3

I've gone really simple with this look, using a bold and gritty backdrop you wouldn't necessarily think of for cake styling.  But I like it!

I've used a large pewter platter to frame the cake further, giving it more substance and separation from the backdrop, adding layers and shadows without overcomplicating the arrangement.

Can you guess which Instagram lovely I was channelling for this one? Comment below!


Shot on the Drip backdrop 


Blackcurrant cheesecake food styling, look 4

For my first of the cake wedge images I’ve gone light and cleaner again, trying to use lots of repetition with five pieces of cake.

I'm disappointed with this image.  So much so I don't want to share it! And I probably spent the most time on it :(

Oh well, lessons learnt!  I wanted it to be bright but dramatic, with strong shadows and vibrant pieces of cake, but I don't think the backdrop or plates lend themselves to that.

And it feels flat.  Aaaargh!  Oh well, onwards.... 

Shot on the Slay backdrop 

The glamorous side! This is my usual place to shoot until around 3pm at the moment when the sun comes around the back of the house and it gets too bright with direct sunlight.  

You can see I've used a sheet of foam board to mask off the top corner as it was too bright on the light backdrop.  (If I'd have used a dark sheet of card it would have been too dark - sometimes blocking with white is enough!)

Then the foam board to the left is bouncing light back in and softening the shadows - but I wish I'd removed it to get stronger shadows and more contrast and difference across the backdrop!


Blackcurrant cheesecake food styling, look 5

For my bright colours look using the cut wedges of cheesecake I've gone tonal but also brought in a purple dish as I wanted a darker element to match the depth of the blackcurrants.  I think it works well and the spoon with pink jam on it helps lift the area which could have been too strong and dominating if left entirely in shadow inside.

I prefer using only 3 wedges of cake as we can get closer and see more detail, I also like how the pink sits on the dark green Denby plates - love that colour combo!  I think the props look lovely on the blue/teal Kai backdrop.

This is a bit busier than my usual style but it's been a good exercise for me - I like the idea of layering slightly different sized plates up to add an extra frame like I did on the central plate just to create a more obvious hero and mix the sizes up a bit.


Shot on the Kai backdrop.

I did take the light bouncing card away on this set up and you can see how high I raised the central plate to get it closer to the camera and overlapping the dishes next to it.


Blackcurrant cheesecake food styling, look 6

I love this one, yeeeey!

The colours pop, its vibrant but edgy, good contrast, a bit moody.  The only things I would change would be to redo the creme fresh - not looking too fresh! And maybe add some more blackcurrants left centre but hey I sell photography backdrops so negative space works for me!

I really like that the backdrop has some warm tones among the cool blues, I think that works really nicely as a base for the pink.  What do you think? I can see this being the most popular on Instagram!


Shot on the Wander backdrop


I hope you've found this interesting and have some inspiration for your own cake styling!

I think my next challenge will be a tall cake or food item shot from the front with a vertical backdrop behind.  I steer away from this in my own photography as it requires a more complicated set up but it feels good to push myself and learn, so maybe one day I will take up the challenge! 

The recipe by the way is a Blackcurrant and Lime Cheesecake from Delicious magazine - it should have had toasted coconut flakes in the biscuit base but I swapped these out for Ginger Nut biscuits (50/50 ginger nuts and digestives). It was D-LISH - sweet enough without losing the tang of the blackcurrants and zing of the lime.

Please let me know what you think below!

Sophie xx


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Charlotte mountain

Charlotte mountain said:

Hmmm… maybe in the style of David Loftus as he doesn’t normally have too many props but just a fantastic looking background.
Love them all… even the one you don’t!


Danika said:

Each n every styling is awesome n totally different Sophie…. n 3rd one I guess I inspired by @supergolden88


Danika said:

Each n every styling is awesome n totally different Sophie…. n 3rd one I guess I inspired by @supergolden88

Sophie Purser

Sophie Purser said:

Thanks for your comments Charlotte and Danika!

I am inspired by David Loftus you are right but I wasn’t channeling him here, although the person who’s style I was thinking of is also inspired by David and has worked with him. And you’re right, David has lots of gorgeous backdrops, some of them from this very store!

I am also inspired by Lucy @supergolden88 Danika, but again not for that third shot. Lucy does much cleverer set ups than me I think as she is a ‘proper photographer’ unlike me who is still learning!

The style I was channeling is moody but vibrant, always graphic and simple in its shapes, letting the food shine, most often overhead – he’s certainly a master of his craft. Any ideas now? 🧐😘


Doaa said:

My guess is Sarah_fel!


Doaa said:

My guess is Sarah_fel! And cakes scare the bejeezus out of me. Definitely up for the challenge! Sigh! Now to learn to decently Frost one!


Emer said:

I’m voting for Edd Kimber, the Boy Who Bakes. He’s a master at the whole “oh this little thing I just happened to throw artfully together that definitely tastes as good as it looks”.


Maria said:

I love your experiment! All images set different mood! It’s either Matt Armendariz or William Meppem I love their photography and their images always gorgeous!☺️

Natalie Dacre

Natalie Dacre said:

These images are beautiful Sophie – as always. I love looks 3&6 the most.

Is it reflective of Matt Inwood’s style?

Natalie x

Sophie Purser

Sophie Purser said:

Thanks again for entering and your kind feedback everyone! None of the above sorry, but again very influential and talented people you’re mentioning!

Right I’m not going to comment further and hopefully you will see my comments on here and Instagram and figure out who it is so you can have another guess to be entered to win!

Thanks again for checking out this blog, I’m glad it’s been an interesting read for you :)

Priya Joshi

Priya Joshi said:

David Loftus comes to mind?!? They all look great 😁

Charlotte Mountain

Charlotte Mountain said:

Well I was going to guess klara_and_ida but you’ve said they’re a he! So maybe Matt Innwood :) I did one of his master classes and his are often darker and focus on the food.
Yummy cheesecake.


Danika said:

Sophie I think it’s John Whaite


Harrie said:

Catherine Frawley?

Sophie Purser

Sophie Purser said:

correction One comment so far is correct!


Katia said:

Loved this post, I think the flatlay you didn’t like might be affected by white plates that have no texture, they need either another sizes between them or a bit more colour in between – light blue for example. Otherwise maybe more negative space if you d push plates to the side :) Amazing how many moods can be created with a choice of different backdrops :)
My guess for inspiration of one of he styled images will be Matt Inwood, someone else said :) Or maybe the little plantation

Chloe Edges

Chloe Edges said:

My guess is Matt Inwood. His styling and lighting is pukka. I’ve also never heard about pacman cake before. But now you mention it, I’ll never unsee it!

Charlotte Mountain

Charlotte Mountain said:

Ok so final guess of Edd Kimber, @theboywhobakes now as it reminds me of one of his pie shots from overhead on rusted backgrounds. He does do a lot of side on but either way, I’d eat any of it!

Maria Blackstone

Maria Blackstone said:

I think you’ve been influenced here by the wonderful Matt Inwood.

Wonderful shots and styling here Sophie – gorgeous lighting, and to die for cheesecake 💓


Sarah-Lou said:

I love the third pic! It’s stunning, the cheesecake really pops!
I quite like the look of the creme fraiche too, it’s nice to have things not looking so perfect sometimes so they look like they’re really being eaten x


Sarah-Lou said:

After much browsing, I’m going to settle with Matt Inwood


Danika said:

Sophie is it @shivesh17


Danika said:

May be Matt Inwood…..


Sandra said:

It has a whiff of David Loftus about it. I wish that cheesecake was right in front of me now!

Matt Inwood

Matt Inwood said:

Very flattered to be in among the guesses here. And to inspire any of your work, Sophie. Know that it’s more than mutual, and that your gorgeous backgrounds are so often a starting or confirming part of many of my shots. x

Sophie Purser

Sophie Purser said:

Thank you so much for all the comments, guesses and feedback everyone! Some lovely comparisons and ideas to take forward.

I think I know what I need to do to improve the look I was after on shot 3 – get an actual photography light! Natural light is beautiful but when you want a certain look it has it’s limitations and when shooting a series or recipes its so hard to get a consistent light/contrast/vibrancy and cohesive look when at the mercy of natural daylight.

But then I shoot at home and do I really want a massive light box in my sitting room/studio? Maybe some Lightroom lessons would be more my thing! Food for thought anyway.

Thanks again, I’ll definitely be doing another personal food styling challenge soon, when I realise what I am shying away from I will catch that thought and make myself confront the issue! It’s actually really satisfying once you get past the procrastination and self doubt :D

Thanks again, Soph xx

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