Needless to say, there's a fair few logistical complexities when photographing ice cream. After shooting for a vegan ice cream brand for a couple of years now, here are my best tips for running a smooth shoot when you’re capturing ice cream.
Truth in Advertising
This might be obvious, but an important note if you are working on a commercial project: the ice cream you capture has to be the brand’s actual ice cream. It can’t be mashed potato, it can’t be plastic, and it certainly can’t be another brand’s ice cream. This is called truth in advertising.
One instance where you can definitely substitute ice cream for something that won’t melt is if you’re capturing images for your own food blog or for a restaurant’s menu. I captured the below image for a restaurant recently, and the “ice cream” is actually mashed potato.
Arrange for More Ice Cream Than You Think You Need
Make sure the client has multiples of each flavor that you’re photographing. Take into account that more ice cream than you think will become too soft and melted to shoot, especially if you're working in a hot climate or during the summer. Once it’s hit that point, it takes a long time to refreeze to that perfect “scoop-able” consistency again. Get more backup tubs than you think you'll need to be safe.
While deep-freezing the ice cream might sound like a good idea at the outset, colder does not equal better. If you deep-freeze it, the ice cream will be rock solid and take longer to thaw out to the point where it is scoop-able. A regular freezer at 0 degrees will do the job nicely. I can’t speak for all ice cream brands, but in my experience, taking it out for around 10 minutes or so before scooping works well.
If some of the scenes on the shot list require scoops — I’m thinking sundaes, piled-up scoops in bowls, rows of repeating scoops — pre-scoop dollops ahead of time and freeze them in advance on a tray. This way, when it comes to shoot day, you can style the scene and take the scoops out.
Style First, Plate Second
This is best practice for any food shoot, but especially with ice cream. Take all of your test shots without the ice cream in the scene, and when you’re happy with how everything looks, pop it in so that 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 your concern, but if you’re shooting solo, test out your scoops before the shoot. It sounds really easy, but pulling off the perfect scoop takes a bit of practice. Try out different ice cream scoops as well to see which gives you the best shape. I have a range of scoops from flea markets, secondhand finds online, and store bought. If the ice cream is still a little on the frozen side, heat up your scoop using warm water, which will make it easier to scoop.
If you’re shooting for a brand, they’ll likely want shots of both the ice cream and the packaging. It will be useful to have a range of empty tubs that you can shoot without worrying about the ice cream melting inside it. If they’ve got the lid on in the shots, no one will be any wiser. Keep a small water spray on hand to spritz the tubs to give that “just out of the freezer” look.
Texture, Drips, and Pours
Once you’ve scooped out the ice cream, think about how you can take it to the next level visually. Add texture in the form of broken cones, wafers, and toppings, like a drizzle of sauce, smashed nuts, or sprinkles. I love it when the ice cream is just melting and you can get a little dribble of soft ice cream lapping over the edge of a cone or bowl.
Remember to have more ice cream than you need on hand, ask the client to provide empty tubs, pre-scoop frozen dollops, and practice the perfect scoop beforehand. What has your experience been photographing ice cream? I’d love to hear your tips.