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Instructional Series – Photo 4 | Oatmeal Cookies in a Cup

Oatmeal Cookies

Today we have a simple photo of an oatmeal cookie stack. We’ll discuss how it was planned and lit using minimal equipment and a lot of soft light.

This photo has been selling well for me, but it’s also a very simple shot with minimal fuss for me as the cookies are store-bought and the lighting setup was very simple as well.


An advantage of using store-bought food items, particularly dry goods, is that you can have several “hero” subjects to choose from. You can just open several packs of the same item and pick the best one for the shot. There’s a lot less cooking, food prepping, and styling involved, which is good for most beginners and photographers who can’t cook.

For the record, those are Marks & Spencer’s oatmeal cookies. I love M&S food stuff.

The preparation

I selected the best cookies out of two packs that we bought. I initially picked 8 pieces, but they’re still not “tall” enough for the stack. I didn’t want the cookies to stand on its own so I’ve decided to put it in a wide-mouthed mug.

Unfortunately, the cookies were too wide to fit the bottom 1/3 of the mug, so instead of stacking cookies all the way to the base, I cut a piece of thin styro board to fit the midsection diameter of the cup. With that piece of styro in place, the inner base of the cup is lifted up by almost two inches, where the cup’s inner walls can fit a full-sized cookie nicely.

By lifting the base up, I only need about 4-6 cookies to get the height I wanted, which is about two inches ABOVE the rim of the cup.

For the props, I just used some new table napkins. The green napkin was wrapped around a thin cardboard so it’ll retain its shape even when the cup is placed on top of it.

The base brown cloth was another table napkin but I couldn’t get the big crease off by ironing or steaming, unfortunately. It’s an eye-sore, but I didn’t have another sample to work with.

I like using an ironing board as a base in many cases for still-life shots. First, their height is adjustable. Second, they’re light and lengthy. Lastly, the surface is padded, so the items placed on top doesn’t move as much when nudged accidentally.

The lighting

The lighting was surprisingly simple. Utilizing natural window light as my primary backlight, with side and frontal fill from an on-cam flash and a silver reflector, respectively.


The window light is diffused with an opaque diffuser (scrim) to soften the light. This light reveals the texture on the flat surfaces of the cookie while casting soft shadows in between each cookie stack.

Primary frontal fill was placed to the left of the cookies, provided by an on-cam flash fired towards a nearby white wall. The purpose of this fill is to “scrape” the front edges of the cookies to show texture on those parts, as well as brightening the white cup’s face from the side.

Secondary fill was provided by a silver reflector to the camera’s right. The purpose of this fill was simply to fill in shadows slightly.

EXIF: 50mm at 1/13 sec, f/3.2, ISO 200 – Tripod mounted. Flash at 1/64 manual.

Post-processing involved cropping and sharpening only.

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