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A Moment in Time: Food Styling 101

What makes a great photo? Food isn’t easy to photograph well. It’s less about the food itself, and more about the moment you create with the food.

Think like this: the goal is to create a scene, even spark an emotion in your audience. When they see your banana bread, they might remember baking with their grandma. They might imagine a romantic candlelit dinner at their favorite Italian restaurant with their significant other.

The goal is to create a moment. Food is just the vehicle we use to get there.

You might think editing and equipment is the answer, but that’s only part of the equation. You can use a simple camera to create great content.¬†How can you build intrigue through your photographs, and create distinction in a saturated world of content?

Food styling. It’s an art. It’s more intuitive and creative than technical, so I invite you to play around. Arrange your food on the plate in unexpected ways. Add garnishes you might not think of using. You want to think about creating a scene, or a moment: it’s all about creating context around your food.

Here’s a few considerations, or rules of thumb, to get you started:

1. Food goes ugly fast.

You can create a beautiful stir fry, but if the sauce settles into the rice when you pour it over the food, it goes ugly quick. The sauce disappears to the bottom of the plate, and the meal looks drab. Try drizzling your sauce on the side of the plate just to create intrigue. If you’re serving mac and cheese, serve it hot to get the steam in your photograph.

Vegan Mushroom Bibimbap

2. Props can elevate the scene.

Keep this simple. Keep a “prop box” in your photographing area. You can include linens, one set of silverware, and an interesting looking knife or a pair of chopsticks. You’d be surprised how simply adding props to your food photography can help create intrigue.

Food Styling
Romanesco Stir Fry

3. Make your food look “lived in”.

You might think your food needs to look perfect, but often it’s the opposite. Playing with your food a bit can have great benefits. People are more drawn to art that is messy and real rather than perfect. If you’re photographing a sandwich, maybe take a bite of it. Add the ingredients that you cooked with, too: if you’re making healthy muffins, sprinkle some blueberries around the scene to create that consistent story.

Dinkelbrot Bread with Chia Jam

4. Have a dedicated workspace.

Just like you have your work desk set up and organized with all the materials you need, you also need a dedicated place to create beautiful food photography. It doesn’t have to be a fancy undertaking, and it can even be mobile. When I first starting food styling, I had a tiny rickety side table that I would move under the window in my living room every afternoon to take photos. I used a black binder to block out some of the light, and would tape paper on the windows as a natural filter. Work with what you have, but make sure that space is near a natural light source and is an environment that you want to spend time in.

What are your questions about food styling?


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