If you’re a food blogger looking to improve your food styling for photography or a photographer who wants to take a better food photo, then this article is for you. These food styling tips will help you get the most from your food photography with visually appealing food images you can be proud of.
Let me start by saying food styling is an art and profession all on its own. And many food photographers work with a professional food stylist to achieve high-quality commercial shots seen in advertising. But as a photographer of food, it’s handy to learn some of the techniques used by stylists to create beautiful food images. So these are some of the food styling tips I’ve picked up over the many years I’ve worked as a professional commercial and food photographer.
Small Plates Create a Big Photography Impact
This food styling tip is all about making sure you use the right size plate for the dish you want to photograph. Many chefs in top restaurants present their food on large plates. And this is because it looks appetizing to eat but it just won’t photograph well. As a photographer, you’ll be left with too much empty space in the photo. Instead, choose a smaller size serving dish to help make the food look generous on the plate.
I often use a side plate for this purpose. This food styling tip does a number of things. Firstly it makes the food on the plate look like a generous portion. It focuses the attention on the food and it also makes the styling easier as there is less food to style.
And this is a great time to address the best plate color for food photography. As the food is the hero of the photo, neutral colors work best. White is a popular choice to help the food pop from the plate and not distract the attention of the viewer.
White is also the easiest plate color to use for beginner photographers and food stylists because of its simplicity.
Care should be taken with patterned plates because they can easily distract from the food. And because of this, patterned plates are best avoided for beginners. Master the basics first and then play with patterns and color.
Basic Food Photography Props
Using food photography props is a useful tool for creating the story behind the food. Think about where the food comes from and the story the food is telling.
Are you photographing a breakfast or dinner dish? A small jug of milk or a glass of orange juice for a breakfast shot helps the narrative. It establishes the breakfast scene and helps tell the viewer exactly what they are seeing.
A simple piece of cutlery or a sprinkle of food from the dish strategically placed on the shooting surface rather than the dish itself. For example, a few herb leaves provides enough interest without distracting the viewer from the main focus of the food. And often less is more. So start by adding just one prop, take your photo, review it and then add another prop until you have the perfect balance between the star of the show, the food, and the supporting acts, your props.
A basic food photography prop is a tea towel or table cloth strategically draped to create an additional level of interest and visual texture without distracting from the food. They can be placed off to the side of the image or under the food to help make your food photography appealing.
Food Photography Styling With Color
Careful selection of the serving wear color, the shooting surface and the props help to make a dish stand out. But this can be a fine balance, get it wrong and you could end up with a kaleidoscopic of color and a food image with no focus (pun intended).
On the other hand, as a photographer, you don’t want everything to be the one color or you’ll end up with a flat and unappealing food image. Instead, think about your complementary colors and stick with variations of them.
For example, in the image of the drink below, red and green are complementary colors and they work here because the red drink is the hero while the green color from the lime is secondary. A good tip here is to work with shades of color rather than solid blocks. In this image, the red is not a bright, solid red but rather a muted red which stops this drink photo from looking like a celebration of Christmas.
Styling with fresh herbs and vegetables helps bring color and life to food photography. But remember the tip previously about using props, add one element at a time, take your shoot and then add the next prop to see the effect. If the prop visually adds to the photo, keep it but if it detracts then leave it off. Sometimes less is more in food photography.
Food Styling Trick to Make Sauce Look Good
Styling saucy foods such as pasta and curries can be tricky when all the ingredients blend in together. Think Massaman curry for example. That spicy curry dish can photograph as a mushy brown mess.
So to fix this problem, I pull out an ingredient or two and feature them on top of the dish to help the viewer understand what they’re seeing. I even go so far as to wash the ingredient clean first, for example, a piece of meat or a vegetable, before using a small brush to paint back on some of the sauce to be exactly where I want it to be.
The job of any food photographer is to make the food look as appealing as it should. Viewers should want to reach in and pluck that piece of cake right out of the photograph to eat. And knowing some food styling tips will help you do that.