Shooting dark photos and editing |

It’s been five years now that we give food photography workshops and in that period of time a lot of things changed. More and more people are getting into food photography and I’ve noticed that their also more people wanting to shoot dark photographs. And let’s face it: it is a thing right? I love the dark and dramatic too, even though I never started out that way. Possibly because I had no idea how to do it.

Shooting dark part I

I wrote the first post on shooting darker photos years ago and it is still attracting a lot of people to this day. Mostly due to pinterest I think but I thought it was time to create a second one on the all important part of editing your dark photos after the shoot.

While I am a strong believer in creating the best possible photo IN camera and not after I do also think that darker images profit more of some post-editing. Especially when you use daylight and just need to increase the dramatic a bit after the shot. Having said that: you can really make a light photo into a dark one unless you’re a photoshop wonderboy- or girl. I’m certainly not, so I try and avoid Photoshop as much as possible (something to work on for sure!)

I do my editing in Lightroom so I will explain how I work the shot from start to finish, but most editing programs will have similar options so just try and see if you can find where to do it in your program if you do not have Lightroom. If you want to get Lightroom you have the option to buy here or to get a subscription at Adobe (including Photoshop) here.

The topic of today’s foodphotography tip is this lovely bundt cake (recipe is all the way down at the bottom) that we shot about a month ago during a blog shoot. We wanted to make it dark and dramatic and add some action with the icing sugar.

Shooting dark photos and editing |

Getting the setting right first: unedited photo

Shoot the finished product first

I won’t be going into how we shot it in this post or it will get way too long but most important with these type of photos is to make sure you have the setup and a photo without action first. If not you risk ruining everything by dumping sugar on it which is hard to remove later. Once you know you have it nailed move on to the next part.

Shooting dark and editing |

Before and after editing

As you can clearly see in the before and after screenshot above is that the right photo is a bit more dramatic and focuses the attention much more on the icing sugar and on the cake itself. Which is – in the end – what you want. For adding a bit of drama to a dark shot I love using the clarity setting in Lightroom. The clarity setting changes the midtones in an image and enhances the contrast to it. That also means that it won’t work on every image. I almost never use it on lighter images as it gives a weird effect. I’ll go into that in more detail in a later post. For now you can see that it does work here.

Lightroom settings

As you can see I have the Dutch version of Lightroom but I think it is rather self explanatory if you have the English version but just to be clear I have the translation and the settings below too:

  • Contrast +22
  • Blacks (zwarte tinten) -20 – this makes the dark areas somewhat darker. Be careful not to over use or you will end up with no details in the right area of the cake. The background is fine to have darker but you want some detail on the right side of the cake
  • Clarity (helderheid) +71 – Now this greatly affects the cake and the surface of the shot. It will vary on each image you shoot so always check what it does or does not do.
  • Vignette amount -41 (making the edges of the image darker. This gives it a subtle ring around the image, focusing the attention even more on the cake itself. You can adjust the roundness of the vignette in the same area too.
Shooting dark photos |

Same settings on the secondshot

Prefer a more natural look?

Of course not everyone might want a look as dramatic as this, so I made another version of the shot as well. As you can see below there is quite a difference in look and feel between the first shot and the second one on the right.

More subtle editing on left, darker on right

I think the right image is more dramatic which was the look I was going for but the one on the left is pretty usable too. It’s just a different look. Settings for the left shot are below

Shooting dark foodphotos |

Lightroom settings for the left photo

  • Exposure (belichting) +0,75
  • Contrast +22
  • Highlights (hooglichten) -68
  • Whites (witte tinten) +10
  • Blacks (zwarte tinten) -40
  • Clarity (helderheid) = neutral
  • Vibrance (Levendigheid) +21
  • Saturation (verzadiging) -3

So you can see there are various ways of enhancing your image to whatever mood and look you want. If you have any questions feel free to leave them here below!

Image settings on all images is:

ISO 1600 (as I wanted to capture the movement of the icing sugar), Shutterspeed 1/80s at f4.0. Canon EOS 5D mark IV 100mm 2.8 macrolens.

Shooting dark photos and editing |
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Chocolate hazelnut bundt cake

I used a 3 liter bundt tin for this cake. Letting the cake cool before turning out is essential to getting it out in one piece! Do not be too impatient!
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 40 minutes
Total Time: 50 minutes


  • 300 gram self raising flour
  • 220 gram sugar
  • 3 tbsp cacao
  • 185 gram butter unsalted melted
  • 310 ml yogurt
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 100 gram hazelnuts chopped
  • 75 gram almonds roasted and chopped
  • icing sugar to serve


  • Preheat the oven to 180˚C. Make sure you grease the tin with melted butter in every nook and cranny and dust with a little flour, Tap out all the excess flour and set aside.
  • Add the selfraising flour, sugar, cacaopowder and salt together in a bowl and mix.
  • In another bowl mix the yogurt, eggs and vanilla. Whisk and than add to the dry ingredients
  • Add the melted butter as the last ingredient and stir through until smooth
  • Add your chopped nuts, briefly mix and pour into your bundt tin
  • Bake in the oven for 40 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean when inserted. Leave to stand for 10 minutes before turning out onto a cooling rack


The nutritional values above are calculated per portion. The details are based on standard nutritional tables and do not constitute a professional nutritional advice.

Did you make this recipe?Mention @simoneskitchen or tag #simoneskitchen!


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