Food Styling Tips
So I think without any further ado we'll talk about food styling now. Um food styling really is about how you manipulate food to fit your camera, set your camera setup, meaning, not always is it as simple as okay. I made dinner. Let's play it and shoot it. Okay, sometimes it's about creating exactly what you want for the camera. Now, that doesn't mean it has to be fake, it doesn't mean it has to be anything weird, it just has to be um carefully thought out and crafted. So when I say, when I talk about food styling, not really talk about building the plate, um Now obviously food styling can take other turns and twists like something like this where the food itself is being manipulated in a way to kind of create an image. Um the challenge here was to make peeps. So it's an iconic kind of thing in America with these little marshmallow chick ease and trying to make them look. Obviously these were bunny peeps. Not the classic chick peeps, but um trying to make them was really challenging. S...
o, but using the process of the food, the way we were going to style the food was the better option for this particular shot. Plus I thought it was cute to start with. So why not? These kind of dishes? This is was actually part of the same story and I wrote a little article about it afterwards, where I talked about the idea that something like this tart took three days to make and to get it absolutely perfect. It was done in a french in a french culinary like classic style. The dough was made us a very specific way, it had to be chilled, a very specific way. Every element of this was so carefully thought out. Every one of those um raspberries were soaked in ice water for probably an hour before I hand picked each one to put in the bowl to put in there. I mean the crafting of food for camera is so very different than what you do for um just to eat. And the idea is selection is a really big part of that. Your food styling really begins at the market. Um you, you should, if you're serious about making really beautiful images, you need to hand pick everything you're going to put in your photos and that's where the shopping and and the and the chopping comes in because if you are allowing someone else to pick or you're just ordering online or whatever it might be, you might not get it what you want, you may get raspberries that are smashed or you might get, you know, things that are wilted or not as beautiful as you would like them or you want to pick out exactly the right size artichoke. So hand, being able to hand select everything you do with the food is a good beginning and if you're gonna put the kind of time that you, that's like say something like this takes. Um you're only gonna get one shot at it. Then of course there's the dishes that have absolutely no uh rules about them, like this was a pie to start, and it was really kind of more like um like a cobbler. It ended up being more like a cobbler and it didn't come out of the pan really that well. Um but the idea is that any time you have the option of throwing ice cream on top of anything, I mean you have you have a great opportunity because the ice cream in and of itself is something that we relate to, Its sometimes beautiful, sometimes it's got that whole kind of emotional element attached to it, but the melting aspect of it is something that's really nice um and this is more like we're in the process of eating it. So the styling of this was really more about, okay, this is a mess, I don't know how I'm going to get this out of the pan, put it on the plate and perfect a scoop to make it look right, So I wing, you know, you wing it and you go, okay, well, would this look like if I was gonna, if I was in the process of eating it or if it was more like a cobbler and I got it right on the plate, but if you notice, look at the edges of the plate, there's no mess, it's clean, there's no smudges. All of this is part of food styling. If you look at the way, fine restaurants deliver food. There's an expediter, right? And the expediter is in charge of checking every single plate before it goes out on the floor. And what does he do? He checks the garnish, he wipes the plate, he makes sure everything looks the way it's supposed to look. That inner composition is perfect before it hits the florida, chefs head's going to explode. This is crackers on a black table. That is the element. This is the ultimate of food styling is that there is nothing else in this picture but food. So understanding the shapes and the colors and the textures that are available to you in the food, making sure that you understand that you can use those things like an artist like, like this is your palette to create that you have opportunities because sometimes you're stuck with a dog. There's just nothing you can do with it. Can we put jelly on it? No. Can you put butter on it? No. Can we do anything with it? No. Okay, what do we do with it? So you create same thing here is that this was also again, you get the opportunity to experiment. So we had to shoot and I did the classic shot with tomato sauce and the dipping and I did all that. And then I said, I want to do something different. Let's see what happens. So I did this and they published it. They ignored all the traditional stuff and they published this one. So again, you got to take risks and take chances and trust your artistic instinct. Sometimes somebody would look at that picture and what is he thinking? But the idea is that at least you're thinking, you know, you're not following the mold, You're not just falling in line and doing what every other photographer does and every other stylist does. You're creating something your own. Okay. We talk a little bit and we've probably seen this shot now 500 times online and everywhere else. But this is a really good example of that whole idea of what do you do with monochromatic and how do you not compete with the food when you talk about styling? Um, but also the choices that you make the soup wasn't going to change no matter what you did, it was going to look the same. But playing it properly. No drips. You haven't even perfect circle sitting in the bowl, there's nothing leaping up or whatever. It's pretty, it's pretty round. But choosing those, choosing the garnish and choosing the strawberries carefully by hand, inspecting every piece of it because it's going to live forever on in that picture. And if it's not right, it's not gonna, it's not gonna live forever. I'm gonna walk over for a second and I'm gonna talk to you about one particular thing that I do at every photo shoot. So we keep a lot of these in the studio and the first thing we do when we get back from the shopping or five, you know, whatever the assistance and myself, we fill metal bowls with ice and then we fill them all with cold water and all of the herbs and any of the kind of vegetables that are sensitive to cold will be thrown in there and that, you know like, like mint is the worst. Mint is so difficult to work with. And the minute you cut into it, it bruises the minute it sits out too long it wilts. So everything goes right into ice baths and it sits there until we're ready to use it. And it's one of those key things that is really important when it comes to the the small elements of food styling. Because if you don't um take care of those small little details, then the whole shot is kind of out, you've done a nice composition, you've picked a great plate. The soup looks good, it's in the bowl, you garnish it and the mint leafs gotta bend in it, right or you can't find a mint leaf because you're plucking through them, you soak them in the water, they absorb a little water, they flatten out, they lose their creases, they stay fresh. That works for any of the sensitive like herbs and vegetables or whatever. It's just, it's a great, it's a great method. But yeah, I mean that's one of those, those kind of key things that you remember to do as soon as you get back from the market. And if you're gonna shoot that day, and if you're not the other one, that's really good is you wash your you wash your vegetables and then wrap them in paper towels and stuff them in in um the blocks because they they stay fresh and moist and then there's less air so they don't go bad. That only lasts for a little while though. You can't do that for very long. But the idea is that they will stay fresher that way if you're not gonna use them right away. Okay. The food itself, you know, again, this goes to why we hand select everything that we do and this happens with this particular dish happens before and after. Because now we hand select what we're going to cook and then we pick it after it's cooked. To make sure we get the best ones. And in the in the business we call that the hero. So when you're in a, when you're in a setting where there's mm something that has to be photographed, there's there's everything else. And then there's the Hero, the hero is the one that gets selected to be photographed. So if you hear that terminology, when you're talking, especially in um in an advertising setting, I was doing a shoot where we had five £1000 of cheese on set in refrigerators lining the walls of the studio And there was one Chest out of like 10 and it had hero printed on the front of it and no one could go near that thing. That's where the perfect cheese was. Because they went through £5,000 of cheese to find the best wheels focus. It was a thing about big wheels of cheese. So they put him in that cabinet and they have big sign on a hero do not open. But that's essentially that's the, that's the thing is that when you find the piece that you want to photograph, if it's the piece of asparagus or two wheel of cheese or if it's a sandwich or whatever that's been built to perfection. That's your hero, you protect it with your life. You know, you box out like a basketball player keep away from the table because that's the one that's gonna make your shot for sure. You need to understand your heroes. So these are, you know, again with these leafy greens and, and eggs are a blessing and a curse in photography because you saw earlier that there are a couple of eggs shots that can be really beautiful. And then we had the poached egg shot that can be really hard. And we also had the brownie shot that can be really hard. But also any time you have to combine dark and light on the same plate, it can be really difficult exposure wise and also, you know when it comes to styling because you have all of this contrasting stuff on there. And the idea is to try to give them as much separation as possible between the darks delights and the, and the, and the meat and the mid tones. All right. So I put this in the tough foods category because not because it's hard to take a picture of it, but the idea of it is something that is disturbing for people. And I think as a food photographer and as a food stylist, you need to be mindful of the fact that people are sensitive to certain things about food, both positively and negatively and raw meat is definitely one of those things that some people can't wait to get at and some people might be completely freaked out by. So what I try to do in those situations is create images that stand alone from the actual idea of food. This is um, this was something that ran and I think it was la cucina italiana just recently and it really excited me to take this picture because it was sort of like, well what am I gonna do with raw meat. Oh, I know exactly what I want to do with raw meat. I wanna, I wanna flex a little muscle here because they're giving me an opportunity to do a little bit of still life and you know, I forget that that's raw meat when I'm looking at it because I look at the lighting and I look at the texture and I look at the composition and I almost forget it's raw meat. So I think I kind of gives you something else to focus on, rather than just the idea that it's a slab of, you know, porterhouse on a on a stone.