There’s a huge mythology about photographing ice cream. When people ask me what I do and I admit to being a food photographer their next comment is usually something about it ‘not being real of course’! I have given up being surprised at this response and answer with what has become an almost standard spiel:
Food for photography is always real nowadays – it’s much more difficult to make models of food than to make the real thing! Where modelled food is used it’s in movies where there are issues of continuity and they use hot lights.
I remember one of the first food photographers I worked with was considered the King of Icecream photography in the 1970s (and perhaps even the 80s) and he used to use substitutes for ice cream, like mashed potato or even lard – obviously less of problem in black and white but even when working in colour he used to make the home economist construct these disgusting concoctions. I never really liked his style of photography but I was so junior then that I though I must be missing something and that if everyone thought these stiff unnatural shots were good then I should learn to love them! I’m proud to report that I never did, and when I got to choose which photographers to work with I was able to find more sympathetic people who actually liked food and wanted to show it as it was!
When I switched careers and moved to behind the camera I gradually did more and more food photography but it still took me little while to dare to tackle ice cream as a subject. So much was made of how fast it would melt and how difficult it was to get any definition in it. Eventually a job came that I couldn’t avoid and confronting my fears I found they were groundless! Icecream is just another sort of food with one proviso – you need to shoot it fast!
The classic way to prepare icecream for photography is using an icecream scoop to make balls from the tub and to arrange them on a baking sheet which you put into a specially extra cold freezer to harden further. The balls can then be arranged as desired giving a little more time for the food stylist to do her work. This works well but there is a problem with frost developing on the surface and you only get a moment to work before it appears as little water crystals and then another moment as it disappears again!
The shot above was done in the way I like best – it was scooped from the tub and plonked straight into the pre-chilled cups, and put down in fromt of me. Obviously I had the right lens on the camera and had designed the shot with some empty cups first but other than that it fulfilled my favourite precept for food photography – that the chosen shot should look like your first glimpse of something delicious!