Food Styling For Photographers

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What does a food stylist actually do? When I tell people I am a food stylist I am often met with a puzzled look and asked something along the lines of… “oh cool, so you style food at parties and functions and stuff?”

Two things that surprise people the most when I tell them about my job:

  1. I cook and prepare all of the food myself, from scratch
  2. All of the food is real food that is completely edible afterwards (if a little cold)

Luckily food styling and food photography have moved on from the days of using mashed potato as ice cream and marbles in soup. Fake, over-saturated and heavily-processed images are all too obvious and have lost their appeal. People want to see real food that isn’t too perfect, food that makes them lick their lips and feel hungry, food they feel like they can cook themselves at home.

Here are my top 10 tips:

  1. Food is at its best as soon as it’s ready. Work quickly, don’t leave it hanging around. Food stylists definitely have a few tricks up their sleeves to keep ingredients looking fresh however, trying to create freshness once items have wilted or dried, or having to remove juices or sauces that have soaked into food can be very tricky.
  1. Shoot in stages as the dish is being assembled, before any dressings, garnishes or sauces have been added. Have a look on screen, you always notice things that need changing or moving. Is the angle right? Is the image well balanced? Where should the sauce be added?
  1. Make sure you know the angle you want to shoot from and have thought about your light before the food is ready. Think about the shapes and textures of the food, the elements of the dish you want to showcase and try some test shots first.
  1. Create a feeling of something live happening in the shot, not just a still life. This could be piping hot steam from something freshly cooked or an oozy sauce dripping over a dessert or it could be as simple as something that has had a bite taken out of it.
  1. Natural light is best but make it interesting. Create shadows or pockets of light so your eye naturally moves around the image. Use black boards, reflectors or mirrors if needs be.
  1. Can you tell what it is? I’m a big fan of making the food, dressings, toppings look relevant to the dish. Showcase the individual ingredients to tell a story about the dish. For example if you’re shooting a burger, it’s nice to see a bit of everything in it so if the pickles are hidden by the bun on the top, you may have to pick a couple out and pull them towards the front, and so on.
  1. Use a stylist where possible. There are so many food images nowadays, the best ones come to life because of the carefully selected props and styling as well as the delicious looking food that has been properly prepared and ‘styled’.
  1. Does the image fit your brief? What are you trying to say? If you shooting a brand or product and selling their item using food, make sure the food compliments it and enough of the product is still on show.
  1. Do you want to eat it? Does it look DELICIOUS? Is it cover worthy? Usually, if your first reaction to an image is ‘mmm’ then you know it’s a good one!
  1. Sometimes you have to think outside the box, do whatever it takes to make it work! If that means standing on a table or lying on the ground to get the best shot, or handpicking salad leaves to find the perfect one or even starting over with the presentation of your dish, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.

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