Needless to say, there are some logistical complications when it comes to ice cream photography. After shooting for a vegan ice cream brand for several years now, here are my best tips for making a smooth shoot when you’re shooting ice cream.
Truth in advertising
This may be obvious, but an important note if you’re working on a commercial project: the ice cream you shoot must be the actual brand’s ice cream. It can’t be mashed potatoes, it can’t be gooey, and it certainly can’t be another brand’s ice cream. This is called truth in advertising.
One example where you can definitely replace ice cream with something that won’t melt is if you’re photographing for your own food blog or for a restaurant’s menu. I recently captured the image below for a restaurant and the “ice cream” is actually mashed potatoes.
Arrange to have more ice cream than you think
Make sure the client has a variety of flavors that you are photographing. Note that more ice cream than you think will turn out to be too soft and melted to shoot, especially if you’re working in a hot climate or during the summer. Once it reaches that point, it takes a long time to re-freeze to the perfect “scoopable” consistency. Get more spare tubs than you think to be on the safe side.
Don’t deep freeze
While freezing ice cream may be a good idea in the first place, colder isn’t better. If you deep freeze, the ice cream will be solid and take longer to thaw to a scoopable level. A regular freezer at 0 degrees will do the job just fine. I can’t speak for all brands of ice cream, but in my experience, taking it out about 10 minutes before scooping is fine.
If some of the scenes on the shot list call for spoons – I’m thinking pancakes, spoons piled up in bowls, repeated scoops of spoons – scoop up the dollies first and leave them on the tray first. This way, when it’s time to shoot, you can style the set and take out the spoons.
Style first, plate second
This is the best for any food shoot, but especially with ice cream. Take all of your test shots without the cream in the scene and when you’re happy with how everything looks, include it so you have the maximum amount of time to shoot before it melts.
The Perfect Scoop
If you have a food stylist on set, this won’t be a concern for you, but if you’re shooting solo, try on your stuff before shooting. It sounds really easy, but getting a perfect newsletter takes a bit of practice. Try different creams to see which gives you the best shape. I have a wide variety of spoons from flea markets, secondhand items found online and bought in stores. If the ice cream is still a bit on the frozen side, heat the spoon with warm water, this will make it easier to scoop the ice cream.
If you’re shooting for a brand, they’ll likely want to shoot both the ice cream and the packaging. It helps if you have a bunch of empty tubs that you can spin without worrying about the ice cream melting inside it. If they had turned the lid on during the scenes, no one would have been wiser. Keep a small water sprayer on hand to spray the tubs with water for a “just out of the freezer” look.
Texture, drip and powder
Once you’ve scooped up the ice cream, think about how you can take it to the next level visually. Add texture in the form of broken cones, sponge cakes, and toppings, such as a splash of sauce, smashed nuts, or sprinkles. I love it when the ice cream has just melted and you can get a little bit of soft frosting on the rim of the cone or bowl.
Remember to have more ice cream on hand than you need, ask customers to provide empty containers, scoop frozen dolls pre-shoveled, and practice the perfect scoop beforehand. What is your experience with ice cream photography? I want to hear your advice.