Food Photography/Styling Tips

So I’m working on a small photography project involving food and documenting it. Despite my years as a small fishy in the small ego (napoleon) filled industry, I have never ever done any food related photography. I really feel like not doing something with food (which I like) is missing out!

Models, fashion and food aren’t usually a trio concept that works. Especially when the models are involved with the food (including my teenage/early 20s modelling career).

While my blog readers know I love all things artist; I recently had a hard time getting a big project off the ground. I don’t want to jinx this project (unlike the last time I’ve tried to do my creative outlets) and I feel talking about it might not make it come true. Which is a shame because this project could be really good for me and also make me some money (which would make SO happy because he doesn’t like bitchy dumbass models anymore than I do).

Luckily the only attention whore for this photography shoot is food and it doesn’t say dumb shit or talk back (or take selfies of itself when it isn’t supposed to be….who reads a signed contract now days BAH!) So naturally I turned to Dr. Google to learn about food photography and styling.

What I’ve Learned About Food Styling (directly quoted from my sources below):

  • Always remember that food styling is about FOOD. The focus should be on the food and about making your readers drool on their keyboards.
  • Whenever I conceptualise a new dish, I of course, think about the recipe first but immediately after I start thinking about the styling and photography. Most recipes will dictate the mood. It’s important to establish the mood for your dish beforehand so you can get all your props and surfaces together before you’re ready to shoot.
  • Darker shadows usually suit wintery/comfort foods better while using a reflector to diffuse shadows work better on the lighter recipes.
  • What is the most delicious part of this dish and how can I emphasize that?
  • I like to think about this even before I step food in the kitchen, so I can begin to set up my shot or at least envision how I’d like it to look and feel. Things might change once I actually start snapping away, but it helps to have a starting point.
  • Showing steps in the cooking process including chopping, in the pot or in process helps people understand the final image. Show one shot before, and one after it’s cooked or step by step images. This works well for things that just don’t look all that great cooked.
  • If it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. Break the set down and start again; you’ll probably bring in a few elements from your previous composition, but often it’s good to re-approach an idea from a different angle.
  • A bit of mess adds charm and can make a recipe more approachable to the viewer; sometimes rigid perfection makes the prospect of re-creating a dish oneself feel like a daunting one.
  • When taking still-life pictures of fruit & veg a few misty bursts of water with an atomizer (Muji have a good selection) can transform a shot. Subjects that looked a bit lifeless will appear as if they’ve been plucked from a crisp, dewy garden.
  • Once you have the chosen dish in mind, I think it’s important to firstly determine what scene/mood you are after. Ask yourself a series of questions.
    • Vintage
    • Modern
    • Combination of both?
    • Rustic
    • Just plain simple (no props-just a cooked dish)

    Step back and again ask yourself.

    • Does the dish fit in with those guidelines?
    • Do the colours work well or is there a clash?
    • Is there any or not enough texture?
    • How will my lighting set up affect the final shot?

  • Choosing your angle can make or break a food photo. Firstly, let me say that I photograph ALL of my recipes from every possible angle.
  • As you begin to create a mental image of how you want your photos to look, start intentionally considering the setup and resources you have available. Where will you shoot this? On what surface? What direction will the light be? What props and linens will you use? You may need to experiment with a few different options.
  • Telling a story gives the photo depth, allowing you to make an intimate and unique connection with your audience.
  • Out of time/too tired for any styling. If you just want to cook and quickly photograph your dish without worrying about “styling” I have some some friendly advice for you too. Consider adding “something” (related to the dish…of course!) to the background of your scene to “bulk” it up a little.

  • When you style food, it can often drown on a huge big dinner plate. If you, for instance, are styling fish cakes. Putting 3 fish cakes on a dinner plate (like you might when you are serving dinner for your family) would make the fish cakes look teeny tiny and rather insipid. But style them on a smaller plate with a lemon wedge, some fresh herbs and perhaps even a little bowl of dipping sauce ON the plate, will make the plate look full and abundant. The same goes with bowls.
  • Where will your subject be in the frame? In a sea of food photographs on blogs and Pinterest, it’s nice to break up the normal patterns with something a little unexpected. It can also be helpful if you don’t particularly like the appearance of the subject.
  • Something else useful to composing your image is the rule of thirds, which is better explained here. Remember though that there should be no actual rules in photography, just guidelines and methods to get your brain thinking!
  • Your eyes are typically met with a larger shot that encompasses all the elements of the food.
  • Would your subject look best on a smooth, sleek, simple marble background or a rustic, ragged, distressed wood background? What about linens? Something smooth just to break up the composition like an ivory napkin? Or how about something more unpolished and shabby like a scrap of burlap or a crumbled piece of parchment paper? Once you become more aware of how textures enhance or distract from your subject, it will become easier to know what your shot needs.
  • The goal in food photography for blogging purposes is often to capture and enhance the best natural qualities of the food. Sometimes if your composition isn’t that great you can compensate with beautiful colors.
  • I prefer props that are relatively neutral in color so as not to distract from the food. Also, stay away from really shiny props. Round shapes are easier to work with than square. Smaller bowls and plates are also easier to work with.
  • Check them over closely and be ruthless when you buy our vegetables.
  • Backlight is key to texture and making it appetizing looking. This will also allow any steam to show up in the image.  Steam or smoke will show up prominently when lit from behind.
  • Simple plates, cutlery, etc. and raw ingredients make great extra props.
  • It is certainly not easy to have a dark background, sometimes dark food, dark props and create a picture abundant with light and texture.  And don’t forget that the ultimate goal is delicious looking food!
  • Its easy to want to conform to the naysayers, simply to make the harsh feedback stop.
  • Through playing with my food I have learnt what I like and what I don’t like in creating food photos. By being adventurous I’ve formed a style of my own, even though I think it’s constantly evolving. In some photos I have a lot of props and elements, in others the only thing in the photo is the finished dish. My blog is my space to play, create and have fun. If I feel like changing the style of my photos completely, I can. It might not work but who cares? As long as you’re having fun, change your style as much as you can and embrace new techniques. You’ll soon find the style that suits you best and then you can polish it and perfect it.
  • Also, don’t disregard actions (photoshop) or presets (lightroom).  While we should also strive to get the perfect shot in the camera, a little editing can go a long way!