As I ‘play with my food’ I have discovered the difficulty of presenting dishes and capturing the deliciousness of a meal within a photograph. This is where food stylists and food photographers come in. These roles are very different from simply uploading a photograph or your lunch, which I must admit I am guilty of. Even taking a quick snap of your dinner for Instagram is never as easy as it seems.
The pictures of food that we see in cookbooks, magazines, advertisements and menus that make our mouths water, have all been specifically styled and photographed. In some cases a food stylist will also be the food photographer however, the majority of the time these are two separate roles. Therefore I have decided to first delve into the role of a food stylist. It’s an idea I have grown to love yet I believe my idea is still very blurred. So here goes.
A food stylist basically prepares the food ready for it’s photo shoot. This will obviously include sourcing and cooking the food required, making sure ingredients are fresh and cooked to perfection on the day, or least cooked to visual perfection. I have heard there are many tricks food stylists have to achieve this, but we will come to that later on. The other requirements of a food stylist include selecting the surrounding accessories, such as crockery, tablecloths and table decorations, and displaying these. Then after having prepared the food, one must display it beautifully around said accessories and work with the photographer tweaking any details throughout the shoot. From this description the job seems to require both cookery skills and an artistic eye. Because of this is seems most food stylists start of working in dining establishments or take cookery courses to learn the skills they need, and then move on to assisting on shoots. In an interview with the Guardian, food stylist, Annie Hudson, talks of how she started of her career when she says,
“For most of the next year I did lots of assisting, because that is the way to learn. When you are assisting you help with the food prep, do all the washing up, and unpacking and packing up of food. You are on standby for the stylist if they need something mid-photo, you make coffee for everyone, and act as a runner and help sweep the floor at the end of the day. You just watch everybody the whole time and soak it all up like a sponge. It’s hard work, but a fantastic way to learn.” (Hudson, 2014)
Hudson believes that cookery skills are crucial for any food stylists. One needs to be prepared to work with all ingredients and be confident enough to fix a mess when things go wrong. Therefore, it seems I need to spend a lot more time developing my culinary skills.
The tricks of the food styling trade, which I mentioned earlier, have always fascinated me. Individuals use the most unusual (and sometimes shocking) processes to create something that looks so perfect. I have enjoyed researching these, and have included some of my favorites below.
- Skewers, toothpicks and even putty are used to help keep food upright
- Soap is added to make bubbles in drinks or egg whites for example
- Wood stain or shoe polish can be used to give chickens and turkeys that golden brown finish
- White glue is substituted for milk to avoid soggy cereal
Although these seem fun, such extreme measures don’t always need to be taken to achieve beautiful looking food. Keeping in mind the following areas and making the appropriate creative decisions will help to improve any food photography.
- Good lighting is required, natural light works wonders
- Photograph food from a variety of angles, focusing on in the most important features and framing the shot
- Work quickly and capture the food at it’s best
- Add colour to the set, in the form of a napkin or a sprinkle of herbs
- Keep portion sizes small
- Make the dish look natural, leave crumbs or accidental drizzles
- Add texture and points of interest with unlikely props
I think these points are split between the responsibility of a food stylist and a food photographer. And perhaps my skills and previous experience lead me more towards photography out of these two. However, I will venture into this industry with the intention to improve my skills in both.