Top tips for food styling

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I’m sure you’d all agree that when it comes to writing a food blog, photos are really important. They draw you in and entice you into trying out the recipe. But getting the food to look great on the plate can be a real stumbling block for many bloggers.

Fresh from a Food Styling Course at Leiths School of Food and Wine with Sarah Cook from BBC Good Food Magazine, Ren Behan shares her tops tips for developing a more critical eye and how to find your own style.

1. Learn how to be more critical when looking at food photographs, both in magazines and online. Also, you could start to collect a file of food shots that you like, and write a post-it note or a list alongside each photo or recipe with your comments.

For example, think about the following questions –

  • Looking at examples, what do you like a particular photograph and why?
  • Is the food too fussy or the scene too cluttered?
  • Where is the focus and is all of the food in focus?
  • Can you tell what the food actually is?
  • How is the food supposed to look inside? e.g.  If it is a cake, could you cut a slice?
  • What props have been used and what is the style? Has it worked?
  • Does the food look appealing, over-cooked or too dry? Is it freshly cooked?
  • Is it an over-head shot or is it shot from a particular angle?
  • Is it a preparation shot or a serving shot?

2. Start to identify and notice different styles of food photography and pick out the styles you like. For example, Donna Hay is very fresh, clean and un-fussy – you can see a lot of her work online.  David Loftus shoots for Jamie Oliver – his food is simple, not over-styled and rustic. Look through cookery books and see who the food stylists are, can you pick out any that you particularly like?

3. Look through your magazines and notice that they are split into sections each month, for example – Everyday Eating, Seasonal Food, Weekend Cooking, Healthy Recipes – notice the different styles – homely, vintage, basic, clean, fresh, colourful ingredients etc. Which features do you like best and why?

4. Begin to think about how your food will look when photographed.  Think about height, angle, contrasts in texture, colour and shape. Think about the composition – uneven numbers of things are usually more appealing than even. Do you want your food to look ordered or casual? Less is more. Think about your props as well as the food – are you going for a dinner party look, a kid’s party, a picnic…? Shooting in natural light also helps to lift food.

5. Try and arrange some experience of working alongside a photographer and a food stylist on a shoot. Personal style is very important, but watching how a professional works can also be very inspiring.

6. Notice food trends, for example, at the moment, there is a big shift towards vintage kitchenalia, as well as casserole dishes or pots that you might have seen in your kitchens growing up! Raid your mum’s kitchen – mismatched plates or worn/used looking dishes can look more ‘real’ and interesting than new plates. I found a whole drawer of vintage knives and forks at home, unused and all very unique and beautiful. Keep an eye out for unusual items at car boot sales, online or in charity shops.

7. Start a list of places you know where you can get things (out of season and in season) for example – a good butcher, the best place for fresh fruit, the best quality frozen fruit for out of season shoots, as well as unusual ingredients, such as micro herbs, banana leaves, courgette flowers!

8. Start a small took kit. I have one drawer and one cupboard in the kitchen now where I keep interesting or vintage kitchenalia, a lemon zester, a microplane grater, toothpicks, droppers, small scales, ice cream scoop, skewers, paper towels, digital timer, pestle and mortar, funnel…and keep a ‘to buy’ list – blow torch, digital thermometer..!

9. Practice, practice, practice – when plating up, even at home, notice how the food looks on the plate. Could you add a garnish, a spring or two of fresh herbs, a drizzle of sauce (without going too mad!) Pick a dish, such as Greek salad or a trifle and think of interesting ways to present it – could you use a glass jar or a pretty container for the salad for a picnic, could you make individual portions of a dessert rather than one big one?

10. Learn how to pipe icing to make your cake looks prettier (go online and watch videos) or how to make basic decorations. Practice the perfect whipped cream, swirls, dribbles. Cakes can be very stunning and visually appealing. If you are not very good at presentation, keep looking at photographs to inspire you, sift icing sugar or cocoa over the top and find some pretty plates or cake stands!

Sally is the publisher of Foodies100, the UK's largest directory of brilliant UK food and drink blogs and bloggers. Every day of the week, we promote the UK's best and most exciting blogs about food and drink.

Discussion14 Comments

  1. must admit this is one side of my blog I have made efforts to work on in the last few months, still have a lot to learn but certainly better at it than I was a year ago. useful tips here. thanks. going a walk round the car boot tomorrow will have a look

  2. Great tips here. Especially for a relative newbie. It turns out it aint just a point and click excercise. Can definitely see my photos improving. Thanks a bunch!!

    • I think the best thing is not to get so close to the food that you can’t tell what it is! So, stand back a little and see what else is going on around the plate. (Could just be lots of mess, but sometimes that looks good!)

  3. Great advice. I find photographing food so difficult, as our kitchen is quite dark and small, and I’m usually in a hurry since I have a hungry family to feed. I love the idea of keeping a food scrapbook, though! I love cutting out photos from magazines, and I think it could really help me!

    • Hi Katie, yes it helps and I know what you mean about shooting in a hurry – me too! Try and experiment and take a few snaps in daylight (I carry the plate outside sometimes) to notice the difference if you can, perhaps over the hols, even a quick lunch.

  4. Thanks Ren. Photography in general and food styling in particular is my downfall and I know I need to seriously up my gave when it comes to taking pictures for my blog. Doing a bit of studying is a very good idea.

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