Food Photography – The Secret’s In the Styling

Food Photography

While it’s undoubtedly the most cliché example of all, the way in which fast food joints manage to make cheap burgers look irresistible on menu boards remains the perfect illustration of how important food styling can be. According to the experts at Howard Shooter, quality food photography is something of a 50/50 process where both styling and the actual taking of the shots count in equal measures – you cannot expect to succeed with one without the other. But at the same time, it tends to be the styling element that’s more often than not underestimated in its complexity.

After all – how difficult can it be to give a dish a bit of a makeover?

Well, the simple answer is very difficult indeed – just think back to the last time you were in a restaurant and the pictures in the menu turned your stomach. Even when the food is delicious, making it look good on a photograph is a wholly different story. And what’s more, there are certain tips and tricks used across the industry that you either know or you don’t – which is precisely why it’s in your best interests to take into account the secrets divulged below:

1 – Always Cook a Little Under

First of all, while it’s fair to say that most people aren’t what you’d call blown away by food that’s somewhat undercooked, the same cannot be said for quality food photography. It’s perhaps the single most popular trick among industry types – undercook the food slightly and not only does it look better, but it’s much easier to arrange and play around with. For an illustration of this, try blasting a spear of asparagus in boiling water for 30 seconds and compare this one to a piece that’s fully cooked. One is ultra-bright and robust, the other is slightly faded and floppy…enough said.

2 – Accept No Flaws

In terms of having an eye for details, you absolutely must be a perfectionist when it comes to food styling or you are wasting your time. The reason being that when the end-viewer sets eyes on the picture, chances are they’re going to factor in every last detail of it across the board. All of which means that if and when there’s even a minute imperfection somewhere, the impact of the images as a whole (and your reputation to boot!) will take a severe knock.

3 – Use Cool or Cold Food

Tray taking an above-angle shot of a steaming hot dish from the oven and you’ll find out in a heartbeat why professionals tend to use cool or even cold food instead. But it’s not just about avoiding any steam, as while hot food tends to be more liquid, more pliable and generally less rigid, cold food can be vastly easier to position into any shape you like.

4 – Glaze or Grease-Up

Here’s another easy-to-try experiment to illustrate one of the key rules to follow. Take a steak, cook it any way you like, let it go cold with the rest of the bits on the plate and take a photograph of it. Next, brush the same steak with a little oil and take a second photograph. When you’re done, put these two photographs side by side and see how many people would pick the shiny-glazed steak over the other…chances are it will be 100%. It’s a bit like adding the illusion of juiciness and moisture to anything appropriate – call it creative licence for this line of work!

5 – Embellish Realistically

With most foods, drinks and ingredients, there are ways and means to embellish their glory that are unique to them alone. For example, it’s one thing to show a lump of mozzarella, but show the same lump either being slowly melted or perhaps being drizzled with olive oil and it suddenly becomes damn near irresistible. Think about when and how the subject is at its most appealing, then try and capture it this way.

6 – Be Wary of 2D

Some dishes are naturally two-dimensional – take a bowl of soup of a flatbread pizza for example. However, in both instances you can add a third dimension to your images simply by adding perhaps some croutons, a spring of fresh herbs or really anything else that adds some depth. Rest assured, the results will be transformed by doing so.

7 – Shoot While Cooking

Last but not least, there are so many instances in which the cooking and preparation process of the dish looks more visually appetising than the final result ever could. So really, it’s in your best interests to consider pre- and mid-cooking shots whenever going about a cooked dish, just to see what jumps off the page best of all.

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