If you’re going to stand out in the food blogging world, the images you create of food need to be a visual feast. This means investing in decent camera equipment, but also learning about the art of food styling. As a food writer and blogger, I’ve picked up lots of brilliant food styling tips over the years so thought it’d be useful to pull them together in a handy blog post.
Give your shots a professional edge by using background boards. Food stylists will hire them in for photo shoots from prop houses, but bloggers have a tighter budget so tend to make their own at home. I went to a local reclamation yard and dug out some old painted floorboards which we (well my husband tbh) then nailed onto a piece of MDF and cut out a handle so I could easily move it around the kitchen without getting splinters! Old doors and gates work well – look for interesting textures and colours as they will photograph really well.
Other ideas for simple home-made photography backgrounds:
- floor tiles
- laminate flooring
- craft paper
- beaten up baking trays
- greaseproof paper
If you’re not the DIY type then you can also buy ready-made photography backgrounds at websites like Photoboards – the advantage of these are you can achieve the look of materials like marble and wood without any of the bulk. If you want to go for the real deal and have the budget then head over to Food Photography Props who make them to order.
Shooting in natural daylight is the easiest way to make beautiful food photography – especially if you don’t want to be faffing around with artificial lighting. So set your background boards up next to a window and your food will get that lovely light glow. I set my board up on a stool next to the kitchen window and use the side of my stainless steel fridge as a background which helps reflect the light even more. Stay away from beaming direct sunlight though, that’s way too much! Hang a white sheet or a thick net curtain over the window to diffuse the sun if needs be.
Tell the story and set the scene. Think about how your recipe would be eaten or created and use that as a starting point for your image. Add interest with hands and untensils to bring the scene to life. For example if you’re photographing a batch of cookies, you could reflect the baking process with the cookies on a cooling rack, have utensils in shot like wooden spoons, spatulas and a sieve for dusting icing sugar. Or if you wanted to show how a cake was going to be eaten, you could set up an afternoon tea scene with pretty crockery, napkins and flowers.
You don’t need to spend a fortune. Boot sales, markets and charity shops are brilliant places to find vintage crockery, cutlery and pots and pans. Organise them in labelled boxes so you can keep track of them.
Fabric can really lift a picture – napkins, tablecloths, tea towels. Experiment with crumpling, folding, layering until you get just the right look. There’s a lot of fiddling around with food styling, but you get there in the end!
This is where your dish sits in the picture and how you position the props. The basic thing to remember here is the rule of thirds. Imagine you’ve split your picture into 9 squares – you don’t want your subject to be slap bang in the middle, it’s more pleasing to the eye if it’s just off centre and only occupying about 75% of the space. You want the eye to be naturally drawn to the subject of the image.
Shoot from all angles – overhead, 45 degree, straight on – experimenting to see which makes the food look the best. If you’re doing a busy table scene then overhead will work best, and if you’ve got stacked up food like burgers or tall cakes or drinks, then straight-on will really show it off. You just have to keep playing around.
Always buy more than you need – you don’t want to run out half way through your shoot!
Get the best most perfect looking ones you can find – shabby looking produce is not going to make people want to share your recipe on Pinterest!
Use extra ingredients to dress your shot. If the composition is looking a bit bare then scatter some of the ingredients around. This could be a few crumbs from the bread, a bowl of strawberries when you’ve made jam, or a bunch of herbs in a jam jar. Just keep adding things until you’re happy. You can always take them away again if it starts to look too busy.
Think it all through and plan it before you make it – that way you’ll make sure you’ve got everthing you need to hand. Once the dish is ready and you start assembling the shot, you often only have a limited window of time when the food looks its best before it starts to dry out/go limp/go cold etc. This means you’ve got to act quickly and it’s absolutely crucial to have everything you need within reach. You might want to photograph the making of the dish in stages, so make a note of this so you don’t leave anything out.
Get the right kit
Professional food stylists have proper tool kits filled with everything they might need to primp and preen the food on set. Here are some of the things they’re likely to have on board:
- Spray bottles with water and/or oil – to spritz on food to make it look more fresh, liven up salads, give cooked meat a bit of gloss
- Mini sieve – a dusting of icing sugar makes desserts look super attractive on camera
- Tweezers – for adjusting ingredients within a dish to the perfect position
- Kitchen blow torch – for melting cheese
- Grouting tools – for smoothing icing on cakes
- Hacksaw – for cutting through meat
Tricks of the trade
- Chopped herbs brighten up brown/orange food so are great for soups, stews, curries and casseroles
- Spray salad with water, and meat with oil to freshen them up
- Use Elmlea for whipped cream shots – it holds its shape better and is impossible to over whip
- Cracked black pepper is great for breaking up lots of white in a shot – for example with cheese or mashed potoatoes
Food Styling Courses
If you want to fully immerse yourself in the world of food styling, I really recommend signing up for a hands-on course where you get to practice it alongside a profesional
- Leiths School of Food & Wine – Food Styling course of six evening classes currently led by Jayne Cross
- Le Cordon Bleu – Three Day Workshop on food photography and styling
- Creative Live – Story on a Plate: Food Photography & Styling Online Course
Food Styling Books
Here are some great food styling reads to put on your wish list
- Plate to Pixel: Digital Food Photography & Styling by Helene Dujardin
- Food Styling: The Art of Preparing Food For The Camera by Delores Custer
What are YOUR favourite food styling tips? Have you done a course in food styling? We’d love to hear from you!