Food Photography and Styling: A Beginner’s Guide by Chef Alice
If you’ve ever heard the term, you may have heard some pretty weird stories about what happens behind the scenes in the professional world of food photography. Replacing mash potato for ice-cream, PVA glue for milk and stuffing toilet tissue into chickens to ‘fill them out’.
We think a little differently round here. Nothing you see in our pictures is fake. We believe that there’s no reason why food shouldn’t look beautiful just as it is, that’s all natural baby. But that’s not to say there aren’t a few things to consider when assembling the perfect plateful. Here are my tips to great, honest food styling to make the most of what a dish already has. And remember, rules are made to be broken… For every one of these tips, there’s probably a brilliantly styled recipe shot out there that does the exact opposite of what’s recommended!
A smaller, elegant plate of food looks prettier than a huge groaning one, reminiscent of a prison canteen. The camera doesn’t like big portions, it can make your final photo look clumsy as the proportions go all out of whack. Go easy, you can always go back for more!
Stuck in the middle!
Spoon your scran into middle of your plate. Imagine there is a circle in the centre, leaving about a thumbs-length boarder. Build the food within it. If there are separate components (e.g. steak, mash and veg.) push them all together as one. You want to frame your dish, much like a painting. In art school we were taught that ‘what you leave out is as important as what you put on’ the canvas. Same goes for food, a little negative space breathes elegance.
Plates, bowls, cutting boards… whatever you choose, go matt rather than glossy. Much like a makeup artist would powder up their model, we want a nice matt surface to shelve that shine.
Your starting point for colour is always the food itself. What’s the foods predominant colour? Does it need a little helping hand from a jazzy tablecloth, or is it vibrant enough to stand alone? If it’s orange, it’s best to plate it on something that isn’t….orange. For simple reason, that the background will detract from the food – and we need the food to be doing all the talking!
Can you feel it?
I always get teased about my fondness for greaseproof paper. But it photographs really well. Experiment with different background surfaces, including wooden boards, different kinds of papers (try wallpaper) and even rusty metal surfaces, which can photograph beautifully. Ugly surfaces can often photograph really well. Don’t be afraid to use patterns too…
Keep it real!
Be real and don’t be afraid of a little mess. Spoon into that mac’ and cheese and leave the cheesy spoon to the side. Allow a dribble to run down the side of your burger. These little mishaps are styling gold and we salute them. Remember, this isn’t a restaurant. The main thing about the styling food is that you want it to look as tempting and realistic as possible.
If your plate of food is kind of unidentifiable, (think brown curries and stews) then you can do two clever things:
1. Show what went into the dish around the plate – spices, vegetables, etc.
2. Lift said vegetables from the finished dish, give them a wee wash and place them back on to the dish…thus revealing their identity. Giving your vegetables a bath…yep that’s just another daily occurrence on a Gousto food shoot day. Ahhhh, life.
Just gimme the light!
Natural light is absolutely key to a good foody pic. Open those blinds! Pull back the curtains, throw open the patio doors, embrace the wonder that is the sky!
Try and get as close to a window as you can. Natural light exposes all, and crisp, clear food is what good pictures are all about. You want the photo to feel like you can reach out and take a bite, almost forgetting that the camera is there at all. Natural light picks up the colours that a flash won’t. It’ll help you avoid those weird, yellowy tinges reminiscent of an old curry house takeaway menu.
What’s the story?
Set the scene for your food. Consider anything and everything that’s in the shot. Plates, table, glasses, dog, your nan’s old slippers….they all contribute. Is this cosy winter comfort food or a quick, Asian noodle dish? Let your audience know by revealing the tools you used to get there!
Do the mess around!
Don’t be afraid to leave little clues about to show how you got to the end (finished dish). A smattering of herbs, or a dusting of flour to in the background to tell us how it began. Everyone loves a story, it makes for a more emotional connection with the food.
Don’tplay with your food!
Forget that old phrase. Go forth and play. If you don’t have a suitable table setting or the perfect background, use your hands to cup the bowl, or sit that cereal on a window ledge, even pop it on the lawn. Let go, play around and have fun, it will show in the pictures that you’ve enjoyed yourself.
The right angle
There’s been a real trend for overhead in recent years. We’re kind of ….over it. Again, this comes down to the dish. If you’re shooting a burger from overhead, you’ll only see the top of the bun. We want a nice side-angle so we can check out those sweet layers. Likewise, a salad may benefit from being shot as if you were looking down on it, so you can see the different components.
You can hurry love!
Work quickly when taking pictures of food. A wilting plate of salad doesn’t stay fresh forever. And meats tend to dry out as they cool down. Make confident decisions. Food demands action, especially when wilting herbs are concerned.
– To keep things fresh, keep soft herbs in cold water, it’ll revive them for their close up.
– You can use a water mister to spray onto the food if it looks a little dry.
– A drizzle of olive oil can keep things glossy looking – especially on pasta dishes.
We want to see these tips in action – share your perfectly styled dish from this week’s menu tagged with #GoustoStyle and we’ll repost our favourites!