My top 5 food styling tips: Give your food photography a style glow up

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If you’re a well-seasoned food photographer or a food blogger with a love for beautiful food photography, you’ll agree that to make food look irresistible and appetizing, you’ll need to style it in a way it looks like you want to bite into the screen right away 😊.

Since I believe food styling is one of the crucial elements of eye-stopping food photography,
I prepared a short, fun, and resourceful article, packed with only the juiciest tips for styling spell bounding food scenes.

You see, there are a lot of good food photographers out there,
but you’re here to wow people and evolve your craft to be crazy good, aren’t you?

Well, in some funny way, food photography is just like a pair of jeans:
you don’t want them to be just okay and say ‘These’ll do just fine’.
You want them to be the *perfect* fit for you, with just the right shade of blue, the ideal length, and to shape you in the most delicious way possible.

If you’re asking: ‘How the heck can I make my food photography fit my artistic style,
just like my favorite pair of jeans fit my legs?’
, keep on reading.

How to make your food photography style fresh and exciting

If you feel like you’re lacking freshness in your current food photography,
seeking new ideas to make you feel excited about your work or
you’re just trying to improve overall food styling skills, you’ll benefit from this article.

As a food stylist, I’m going to share my best 5 food styling tips,
since I know how much these skills improve any food picture.

I’m feeling my purpose so much through helping creatives like you and
contributing to your food photography style glow-up.

If you’re a food blogger, who just dipped her toes into the world of taking beautiful and artistic food photos, then this article, packed with only the best tips will feel like a day at the sunny beach after the weeks of rain.

Before we dive deeper into this article and start with tangible tips, I’d like to point out that food photography skills and overall style can be improved with many techniques:

  • Shaping the light
  • Exploring new photoshoot locations.
  • Buying new gear.
  • Developing outstanding food styling skills
  • Refreshing editing style or even using presets
  • Investing your time into learning composition principles
  • Trying to shoot outside and more.

What are the most important food styling skills

Style the moment in time

In the early beginnings of my food photography and food styling career, one of the first lessons I received from advanced stylists was: food styling is never only about the food and ingredients.

Take a look around, create the scene, and conjure up the moment in which people feel invited to sit down and take a bite.

Embrace the change and welcome the growth

I bet you agree with me as I say change and evolution are needed to keep your artistic expression interesting. Art is inventing something new, so you are constantly in pursuit of something new.

Welcoming the mindset of accepting and embracing change is, in my opinion, the secret ingredient that keeps my work exciting. So why not give your food photography a style glow-up just before the new season hits?

‘Change and evolution is the only constant in our work.’

Be curious and play

And the last skill is to play around and be a student of nature. If you’re a member of my newsletter community, you’ll confirm when I say ‘Learning by doing!’ is my mantra which I share regularly. Food styling encourages you to get curious, and playful, to get knowledgeable about food, to pick fresh flowers, and study the basic behavior of ingredients.

This is why I love food styling so much: there is no prescription for it.
It’s a process of discovering, inventing, and exploring nature.

Top 5 tips for food styling for photography

1. Choose just a few styling props

Do you first think about the prop, when you hear someone talking about food styling?
As much as styling is never just about the props, they are still one of the most important elements of the scene.

Of course, food and its elements are meant to be the main star on the frame,
just like Lady Gaga is the star of her performance crew on the stage.
But just like her insanely talented dancers surrounding Gaga and making performances evoke emotions in her fans, props in the food photography set are telling the story about the dish
and moments while enjoying this food.

Storytelling with props

Carefully selected props are making a huge difference in the look & feel of the dish.
They elevate food picture into a storytelling moment,
where the observer can interpret the story, transport themselves to that table
and feel the emotions, connected to their memories of sharing food with loved ones.

Maybe it’s just a:

  • wrinkled baking sheet under the galette that is telling us about the simplicity of the moment,
  • maybe a vintage plate with a floral ornament or
  • a modern marble chop board with a minimalistic message.

Start with a backdrop

The base of every styling is a choice of backdrop according to the color and texture.
From the wooden rustic desk, a playful terrazzo stone, or a piece of linen fabric,
backdrops will set the overall mood of the set.

Keeping this in mind, I can assure you it is very important to set a good backdrop choice
for a specific theme or dish.

If you’re a beginner, try using more neutral colors and textures of backdrops,
which are versatile and easy to work with (pale grey, beige, stone color).

My main tip here would be: to trust your gut, lean into your idea, and play around with elements until it works for you. Keep your inner critic active and don’t be afraid to re-evaluate what works and what doesn’t.

I know, I know, you have all the things set up, but if you’re not vibing with a certain backdrop and it doesn’t work with the overall mood of the scene, don’t hesitate to change it.
It will blow your mind how quickly you’ll get the different vibe of the setup with a change of backdrop. With just such a simple change, the table styling session becomes a limitless playground.

If you’re noticing you need some new backdrops to have more variety at hand, check out my backdrop shop and glow up your style.

Prop and tableware collection

I have so many (too many 😊) props, but I use a certain selection of props most of the time.
I have a box with all selected props that I like or that I found very useful in my styling.

As an overly enthusiastic props collector, I can assure you that you don’t have to own all props of the word to make a good styling. You just need a few right ones.
Observe yourself working and write down what you’re missing.

For example, I noticed that I would need a few more vintage forks, like old, but not too ornamental. So next time when I see an antique store or a flea market, I know exactly what to look for.
Of course, I’m always open to any good piece I find spontaneously, but I have learned to buy smart.  

Besides your ‘golden classics’ it’s always good to have a selection of ‘extra’ props for special themes food and seasons of the year.

And by extra, I mean unique and outstanding. It could be a special color, it could be a unique shape or it could be for a very special occasion, for example, if you are making a Thanksgiving-themed table you would use the prettiest cake stand. Or an Asian dish that is not on your daily menu, but it’s good to have a proper bowl and a pair of chopsticks.

The props collection should be also navigated by your style. When you get the feel of your overall style or if you’re trying a new style you admire in others, be careful to not overuse the elements of it. For example, if you’re in love with vintage style I don’t recommend you to use all the vintage props, because it could be too much at one point. Use a piece or two then maybe incorporate and soften with a napkin, or a simple glass. You don’t have to stick with one style all the time. If you are ready to shake things up, please try and mix and explore styles. Why not!?

2. Texture in food styling

I know, nothing new, we all know we need more texture (do I see you nodding and saying ‘Yes, yes, I know that already’ 😊?). But do you really seek texture enough in your creative process?

What do I mean by that Kristina?’ you might ask.

Well, my friend, I don’t want you to hurry to your prop closet and gather one linen napkin, a wooden desk, a stone holder, and a rustic fork, just because everywhere is written that for good styling you need a variety of textures.

I’m gonna chat with you about the textures which are enriching our stylings and also
catch the viewer’s feelings about the certain food.
Yes, seeking the textures in food is what we’re aiming for!

How to combine the textures?

This is a very important question that we need to ask ourselves when creating a styling.

You see, not all the textures are good for all the dishes.
For example, if you are making focaccia then you would search for a roughly platted linen tablecloth to express a homemade feel and comfort food vibe.

If you are presenting a Pavlova cake on a delicate sophisticated cake stand, you would search for a piece of satin fabric. Something light and gentle to express the elegance and fragile qualities of the dessert.

Food textures

As I mentioned before, the observation of food and knowing its characteristics is very important, to know what types of textures we are looking for and how to combine them in one styling.

Have you ever looked really closely at a salad plate and counted its textures?

Ok, it’s a funny exercise and let’s do it together.

burrata tomato salad

I see:

  • juicy tomatoes
  • creamy burrata
  • crunchy toasted baguette
  • fresh and firm peas
  • the silkiness of olive oil
  • grittiness of pepper
  • stone tiles

All these textures in one freakin’ simple salad?
But because of all these micro textures, you see it as appealing and it evokes your taste buds.

Light catchers

There are a few textures that are just stunning when light hits on the right spot.

For example:

  • honey drizzle,
  • candle smoke,
  • olive oil drops,
  • soup steam,
  • fluffy meringue,
  • chocolate ganache.

Observe your dish or ingredients and I bet you’ll enter into a very magical world.

I also like to sprinkle on some tiny ground herbs or spices or flowers around as a cozy feel, because this move is a part of my messy and complex stylings. Or you will likely see a few drops of olive oil on the surface, like ‘oops’, but it’s intentional ‘oops’ 😊.

Attention to the details

Add texture with fragrant seasonal herbs. For example, basil leaves have a tender and delicate texture with a smooth and waxy feel, while sage leaves have a firmer and more robust texture with a slightly velvety surface.

See? Details matter.

3. How to slay the layering in food styling

Layers are here to make your food look inviting, three-dimensional, abundant, and complex. It’s like undressing the dish with your eyes! Nobody wants to eat or make a recipe from a picture of a flat withered salad or a dry-looking sponge cake.

Remember, layers are your best friends!

Layers on food

When we spoke earlier about texture and we found at least seven different textures in one simple-looking salad that also count as layers. The salad looks rich and flavourful because of the textures and also because of the way it was presented.

When you are creating layering on the dish, have in mind a few important aspects:

Freshness and quality of the ingredients
The produce you’re integrating into a dish should look ripe and firm.
By that, I don’t mean a perfectly polished tomato without any scratches.
If you are like me, you are also on a mission of capturing perfectly imperfect things. 

Shapes
There is more than just one way to cut an orange.
Play with different cuttings: triangles, slices, peeled oranges, hexagonal slices, etc.
This could truly be a game-changer for you.

Size
Use a diversity of components size on the dish: bigger, smaller, cut in halves, sprinkled tiny pieces, gritted bigger pieces. All these variations will start to enrich your stylings.

Rotation
You can also achieve the layering effect with the rotation of the elements.
The light these elements catch will show out differently and it will bring a new dynamic to the dish.

Layers on the table styling

Similar to the layering of the dish itself, you have to pay attention to the layers around it.

In the narrow dish shot, you may see a perfectly baked pretzel bun with all the details on top, but on the wider scene, you can ask yourself what is my story to tell.

For example:

  • pumpkin, because it represents buns in a shape of a pumpkin and the fall season
  • dry leaves are also a sign of a fall season
  • coarse salt, brush, and scissors are all part of the process story
  • chair and table cloth are giving us a bit of extra out-of-frame story, that it’s an actual table there, it gives us a real vision of the presentation
  • my hand with a detailed sleeve

All these layers can be dispersed around the pumpkin pretzel buns and they support this styling.

4. Color Palette Magic

As a graphic designer and a photographer, I pay a lot of attention to color choice.

No matter how pretty your new yellow plate is and as much as you would like to use it right now (the temptation of a new toy is real!), leave it out of the setup if the color doesn’t go along with the dish. Just like I advised you before, when we’re talking about the backdrops, change the mismatching element. Period 😊. You will use it next time or plan a dish that will perfectly fit that plate.

Colors play a crucial role in food photography as they can evoke emotions, set the mood, and enhance the overall visual appeal of the dish. Observe your color choices and learn from others. Get inspired, practice, and learn.

If you aren’t natural with the color combination, help yourself with:

Color wheel by Adobe

This will help you explore and organize your thoughts around building a great color scheme.
You will learn which basic color combos are analogous, monochromatic, or complementary.

Pinterest

I’m not saying you to copy the stylings and buy the exact plates I am using,
but you can just get the idea of which colors work and which don’t.
Keep practicing and you’ll learn.

Choosing a color palette

When you are choosing the color scheme of your styling, there are a few pointers:

  • What is the nature of the dish? Is it a fresh and vibrant salad, hot and cozy tea, or dark rich chocolate cake?
  • Embrace the season. Keep in mind the seasonal colors, they are all so beautiful and they all got their turn in a year.
  • Is your style calming or vibrant? Rustic or modern?
  • And also what do I have at home and what can I work with? Meaning backdrops and props.


Efficiency at food styling

Efficiency in food styling is crucial for producing high-quality results
while optimizing time and resources.

Being efficient allows you to:

  • work smoothly,
  • meet deadlines, and
  • maintain a consistent level of quality in your food-styling projects.

Either for a client or for your personal project in the home studio.

This skill was one of the main things I got so many compliments for,
at my latest 3-day food commercial shooting for an international client.
I was hired as a head food stylist and I can’t wait to tell you more about it!

Planning the work process

It’s a very important part of the food styling process and it can save you many hours.
When you are planning a simple photoshoot for yourself make sure that you:

  • Fill in this free workflow planning worksheet
  • Have a vision or a mood board on your phone.
  • Do you know exactly what kind of frames you need, photos, video clips, horizontal, vertical
  • Keep a selection of props and backdrops in mind or maybe you can just put a selection near the teable, just to be prepared.
  • Buy all the ingredients or even bake/cook the dish the day before, if that’s possible.
  • Think about details like herbs, spices, small bowls, a bottle of oil, dressing, ect.
    Prepare in advance as much as you can.
  • Check your gear, SD cards, and batteries (you wouldn’t believe how many times I forgot about it😊).

Smooth workflow tips

I’m also sharing a few tricks which I developed to work smoothly like butter:

  • Clean up your studio space so you can feel good and start from scratch.
  • Make space to put things or set a small table next to the setup.
  • I usually have a place in my studio where I have these small bowls, already containing herbs, salts, and peppers, because I constantly use them and I would lose a lot of time going to the kitchen, searching for herbs, shifting from a glass container to the tiny bowl and the back again. I have a few of my favorites always on hand.
  • I also have some nuts always on the hand. Like I got nice pistachios and I save them for quite a long time in a zip bag or something. I also have chopped pistachios, nice green ones, and shells for the styling. Do you get the idea? Same with walnuts or almonds. All you have to do it to organize them nicely in Ikea zip-lock bags or small jars.
  • If I know I will shoot veggies for a client this week and veggies stay with me I can actually plan how to use those veggies in a variety of recipes. It will be a hard-working day, but on the other hand, it’s a good way to save some costs on the ingredients.

Article summary

There are many way to improve your food photography style.

My favorite way to develope, evolve and freshen up my food photography is trgouh giving my food styling a seasonal glow up.

If you’re ready to give you food styling skills a style glow-up, this article was hopefull helpful for you.

You’ve learned my top 5 food styling tips:

  • Finding and combining textures of food
  • Seeking and incorporating layers on food
  • Working with color Palette
  • Efficient planning of styling process
  • Smooth workflow practice

Let me know if these tips were helpful and tag me with @storyonaplate_kristinasmodila
when you’ll incorporate these tips into your future stying sessions.

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