As a food photographer you are busy working to learn many skills. You’ll need to learn how to use your camera and all of its settings, how to control light, how to stabilize your shot, and most likely how to run a business as well. However, possibly most important of all those skills is food styling.
Many food photographers wear multiple hats and play the role of chef, stylist, and photographer. This is very common amongst food bloggers and influencers. What might be surprising to some is that food styling is an occupation in and of itself for some people. You can learn to be a full time food stylist as a career path.
Of course, that is a whole other topic for another article. In this article we’ll discuss what food styling is in general and why it is important to food photographers.
What Is Food Styling?
If you are new to the world of food photography you may be asking “what is food styling?”. Food styling is the process of staging food to look as attractive and appealing as possible for photography or video. There are many ways of styling food, some elaborate and some minimalistic. Each artist will have their own unique way of styling their food.
For most styles, however, a variety of food props and backdrops will be used to set the best possible scene to stage the food. Many food photographers will also have a styling toolkit to use when plating food. Things like tweezers, spray bottles, and paint brushes are all common for food styling.
Why Is Food Styling Important For Food Photography
They say we eat with our eyes first, so the food must look tasty if we want to entice the viewer. Food styling is extremely important to food photography because there is little point in taking amazing photos of food if the food doesn’t look delicious and inviting.
Without food styling, a photo of food may be without composition or a clear focal point. Styling food can take a plain looking dish and make it a masterpiece. With food styling you can tell a story and highlight the ingredients and flavors you want to relay to the viewer.
Is Food Styling An Art?
Yes, food styling is most definitely an art form. It requires learning, patience, and practice, but most importantly it requires talent. That is not to say you cannot learn to become an excellent food stylist if you are not particularly talented. Although, the more artistic talent you possess going into the learning process the more likely you are to be truly successful and enjoy the work.
As fancy and fun as it sounds, it is work. There are lots of challenges you have to overcome when dealing with food and making it look good. Many foods wilt, melt, discolor, or otherwise deteriorate very quickly, and that is only one of the challenges.
See this post to if you want to learn about more challenges you may face and how to overcome them: Why Is Food Photography So Difficult?
Why Is Food Styling A Trend?
You may have noticed a buzz around food photography and food styling lately. Everyone seems to know a food blogger or food business owner. So what is so trendy about making food look good right now?
Well, we are in the digital age where individuals and businesses need to appear visually online and in media to get noticed. Everything seems to be moving digital and that includes cookbooks, advertising, public relations, and business storefronts. For that reason, businesses and brands can no longer get away with not having an online presence, and for that they need quality photos.
The future of the trend seems to be moving decidedly towards all video, like it or not. As a photographer myself, I don’t particularly like it, but it would seem we can’t fight it. The future will certainly require more and more competitive mediums of digital art. Food styling for video is sure to be an important part of that.
What Techniques Do Food Stylists Need To Learn?
There are many skills and techniques to learn as a food stylist. Some are more crucial than others to making the most appealing food images. No need to get overwhelmed in the beginning by diving deeply into all of these. A brief understanding is enough to help you get going and practicing.
I believe that experience is the best teacher so take these tips with a grain of salt and know that rules are meant to be broken sometimes.
Here are some techniques in food styling you’ll want to get familiar with. This is not an extensive list, but these skills will help you master food styling.
When styling different foods you’ll be dealing with a variety of colors and shades. A basic understanding of color theory can be really helpful to make your photos look balanced and appealing.
Color theory is all about how different colors evoke different emotions when we look at them apart or together. Being conscious about what colors you are combining can take your photos to a much higher level. Some colors are complimentary to each other and cause the viewer to feel excited, peaceful, curious, or even hungry. You can use color theory when choosing backgrounds and props for staging food to find the best pairings.
Composition is another technique that can be learned and mastered to help a food stylist become an expert. Composition is the arranging of elements and props in your photo to draw the eye right where you want it to go.
You may have heard of “The Rule Of Thirds”. This rule is just one example of a common composition guideline. It’s one of those rules meant to be broken for sure. It is helpful for beginners to learn better composition but certainly not a law.
You can learn more about food photography composition online if you’d like to dig deeper into the subject.
Adding dimension to your photos by stacking dishes or layering linins can add a lot of interest to your final images. Trays, plates, bowls, place settings, napkins, and more. These things can all be stacked in a tasteful way to add depth without distracting from the food.
That’s the key, you don’t want to use bright colored dishes or lots of patterns or you will lose focus on what the shot is about. Try using earthy tones and neutral colored dishes for layering.
Motion in food styling can mean many different things. You can achieve motion in a literal sense by including hands or people in the way you style a shot. You have probably seen photos of a drink being held or a sauce being poured. These shots can be beautiful.
You can also add motion to a photo in a more figurative way by the way you set up your dishes and cloths. Staggering plates and bowls in certain patterns can add the sense of motion without anything actually moving.
Food styling is a very valuable skill in a food photographer’s toolbelt. It can truly transform a photo from mediocre to incredible just by understanding a few principles and adding some interesting props and backdrops.
The best food stylists are the ones who practice often and break all the rules to decide which ones are worth following.