Hey friends, this topic is one that I absolutely love and am super passionate about: how to style food for food photography! Believe it or not, arranging your ingredients in such a way to create a gorgeous food photo is SO much harder than it looks.
There is actually alot of psychology and strategic planning that goes on behind the scenes, and it takes work to make a drool-worthy photo. So, let me help you out a little and show you how I style food for food photography! Let’s dig in, shall we?
Planning Your Set Up
Every food photographer is different; some plan out every single detail before they even get their camera out of the bag. They might even draw a quick sketch of the complete vision they have in mind for the photo, drawing where every single chocolate chip will land or the exact angle a plate will be placed at.
Truthfully I myself have never worked that way, I’ve never drawn a sketch for food photography (however, I have done it for wedding cakes before–which was super helpful!). Like I said, every food photographer is different and we all work better in different ways, we just gotta find what works best for us!
Gather Inspiration From Pinterest
Even though I’m not type-A extreme, I do plan how I’m going to style food for food photography to a certain extent. One of the first things I do is hop on Pinterest and gather inspiration from what other food photographers are doing.
I even created a board on Pinterest called “Food Photography Inspiration” for this very purpose!
I definitely don’t copy their exact styling to a T, because not only is that weird, wrong, and takes the fun out of everything, but how does that help you create your own personal style?
What I AM doing however, is asking myself questions like these:
Why am I so attracted to this photo?
Why am I not attracted to this photo?
What are the angles that work for this particular food I’m going to photograph?
What colours of props or backgrounds would compliment the colors in my food?
Answer those questions the next time you’re gathering inspiration and with time you’ll begin to develop your own personal food photography style! 🙂
Plan Before You Go To The Grocery Store!
Let’s say I’m going to make blueberry cupcakes. Before I even make them, while I’m at the grocery store I’m already envisioning and dreaming up how I want these cupcakes to look in my photos. I know that I want fresh blueberries scattered throughout, and maybe even pouring out of a bowl. So I know that I need to buy more blueberries than what is called for in the recipe.
We plan ahead because now that the cupcakes are baked, cooled down, piped with frosting, my tripod and camera are all set up, and–because I’m a natural-light food photographer–the lighting is at it’s gorgeous prime time of the day…the LAST thing I have time for is going to the grocery store to pick up blueberries because I forgot to plan ahead and make sure that I had enough for the shoot.
(Another reason I wouldn’t want to leave the house is because normally I shoot in my frumpiest clothes, my hair all up in its frizzy glory, and probably with no bra on either. TMI? 😛 )
Planning your shoot ahead of time has so many advantages and can really make you save time and prevent stress while you’re in the middle of your shoot and your precious natural light is disappearing.
Leaving Room for Inspiration To Kick-In
When I style food for food photography, what I have learned over these past few years is that some of my best moments are the unplanned ones. The same is true in any aspect of life–some of the most spontaneous, unplanned events are the memories that we hold onto for the rest of our lives!
I enjoy planning and obviously realize the benefits that come with planning, but I also can’t find it in me and my personality to plan every little thing and not leave any room for spontaneous creativity. This would take all the fun out of food photography for me!
I’m all about spontaneous-in-the-moment-unplanned-bursts-of-inspiration. Honestly, even this blog post is a result of that–as I was editing photos I realized it’d be cool to write a blog post all about how I styled this particular shoot. And now I’m just SO excited to be sharing this with you guys!! 😀
A Visual Walk-Through of How I Style Food for Food Photography
The shoot I have decided to share with you guys is from my Banana Oat Chocolate Chunk Muffins shoot! RECIPE HERE!
As you look scroll through the photos below, you will see prime examples of how I as a food photographer plan about 50% of my shoot, and leave the remaining 50% up to spontaneous-in-the-moment-unplanned-bursts-of-inspiration (most of the time).
Planning The Initial Set-Up
I knew WHERE I wanted to take the photo.
Since moving out of our apartment in the US to our parents house in Canada (temporarily, guys haha!), it’s been life-changing for my photos because our apartment only had east-facing windows. But here inside of my parents house this window is north-facing making the lighting SO much better for my food photography!
I knew what time I wanted to take the photo at.
Therefore, I baked these muffins early in the morning so that by 12 pm they’d be cooled down and ready for photographing during prime natural-lighting time! (I also did all of my grocery shopping the day before this shoot!)
I knew what backdrops I wanted to use.
Desserts that have alot of dark brown tones to them, like chocolate cake or in this case muffins with dark chocolate chunks look really good either against a light pink, light blue or a white background. So I set up my white foam core boards from Dollarama (Canada) or Dollar Tree (US) that I got for like $1 a piece.
Deciding What The Focal Point of Your Photo Is.
What do you want to be the star of your food photo? In this case, I want the star of my food photo to be these Banana Oat Chocolate Chunk Muffins. So I set the muffin tin down and realized I needed more texture in the photo.
So first I laid down white parchment paper (to protect my cheap-o boards from food).
Then I laid down a white towel that I found in my mom’s kitchen (hope she doesn’t mind I used it haha!). I love working with towels and linens because they add lots of lines and shadows to a photo! Believe me, it takes a few tries before you can get the towel to lay exactly how you like it. (Food photographers am I right?!)
I loved the lines that the metal cooling rack brought to this photo so I placed the muffin tin on top of that. Of course, I could have removed the muffins from the tin but rustic muffin tins look SO good in photos you guys! Plus, it gives the illusion that I JUST took them out of the hot oven. * Drool *
Also, take note that the muffin tin is angled different then the cooling rack and the towel.
Accenting The Food Photo With Only Related Ingredients
One piece of advice that I took with me from culinary school was that when it came to beautiful plating, you should only garnish your plate with ingredients that were actually in the recipe. You wouldn’t garnish a dill salmon dish with a spring of rosemary–that wouldn’t make sense.
The same can be said for how to style food for food photography, I’m not going to scatter strawberries all around my Banana Oat Chocolate Chunk Muffins because they’re completely unrelated! If anything that’s just plain deceptive.
Make A Mental List Of The Ingredients Used In The Recipe
Let’s see, for these muffins I used:
- cane sugar
- baking powder
- baking soda
- chocolate chunks
- chocolate chips
- avocado oil
The Science Behind Food Photography
I strive for my food photography to show the viewer what flavours they can expect to taste when they bite into these muffins. I mean, you eat with your eyes right? This is what I was alluding to earlier when I said that there’s psychology and science behind food photography.
This is why right before putting my muffins in the oven, I go through my list of ingredients that I used and choose the most delicious ones to sprinkle on top of each of the muffins.
As you can see in the photos I went with chopped walnuts, oats, and gorgeous chocolate chunks. Being able to see these toppings (especially when the chocolate chunks gets all melty and shiny) literally makes you start to salivate.
I ALWAYS do this with cookies too, like my Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookies with Chocolate Chunks and M&Ms–it makes the cookies way more photogenic!
Begin Accenting With The Largest Ingredients First
I’ve seen food stylists use egg shells in their photos and I’ve always wanted to try it for myself. I must say, I love how it looks!
So as you can see I also added some bars of chocolate, large walnut pieces, a whole banana, and banana peel. This is a great start and a great foundation for us to add the finishing touches to the photo, because right now it’s lookin’ a little staged and bland.
Add In Small Props and Smaller Ingredients
BAM! A few dashes of oatmeal around the subject always does the trick and I always love the look of vintage teaspoons in photos. I also broke up the large chunk of chocolate to create smaller chunks and pieces and scattered them throughout.
Notice I didn’t just do separate piles of ingredients, I combined the ingredients throughout to add little sections of textures and colours.
There’s a blank space on the right hand side that’s really bothering me so that needs something there!
Add Movement To The Photo
There, I added some oatmeal along that right side AND I tilted one of the muffins onto its side. It was lookin’ a little too uniform so I spruced it up a little. This also allows the viewer to see what the side of the muffin looks like, along with the tops! It’s a win win.
Get The Viewers’ Imagination Going!
Sometimes as a food photographer, you just get hungry and NEED to eat, so I took a muffin. Haha, jokes. For me it’s actually the opposite–when I spend so many hours baking, styling, and photographing a dessert, eating it is like the last thing I want to do. Probably because I’ve already eaten it with my eyes?
(However I know that for breakfast the following day, I’ll be ALL over these muffins with my morning coffee!)
Removing one of the muffins from the tin is a great food styling tactic because it not only adds variety to the photo but it triggers the imagination of the viewer. The viewer gets the impression that the missing muffin couldn’t sit around too long on the cooling rack before needing to be devoured. That’s how delicious these muffins must be, right?! Right. 😉
Symmetry and uniformity is great and all, but sometimes it’s nice to spice things up a little.
Show How Versatile The Recipe Is
SURPRISE! There’s mini muffins TOO! Some are in the tin, some are sitting up right and some are on their side. I think this adds a little fun to the photo and shows the viewer the variety of the recipe. Wow, I can even make mini muffins with this recipe too!
Make It Look “Lived In” But Still Composed
The other photo was lookin’ a little crowded, so I removed the three mini muffins from the tin, left the bottom right tin empty, and flipped the muffin on the left side of the tin onto its side.
When was taking Foodtography school and creating a mood board to help me find what my personal style was, I realized I was drawn to food photos that looked “lived in”. What I mean by this is using the photo above as our example, it looks like these muffins were taken out of the oven not too long ago, and that while they were sitting on the cooling rack to cool, somebody just couldn’t wait to grab one and eat it.
Because of the cracked egg shell, the banana peel, and the measuring spoon, ect, it looks like these were just baked and this person didn’t have time to clean up their workspace before taking the muffins out of the oven. It gives it that homemade appeal–it looks lived in, but not terribly crowded or messy either. It’s composed. 🙂
Now You Know How To Style Food For Food Photography!
I hope you enjoyed this blog post all about how to style food for food photography. I seriously love sharing what I’ve learned with you guys! With years of practice I’ve found my own personal way of styling food, and now it’s your turn!
Let me know in the comments below what you thought, and if I should perhaps write more of these food photography blog posts?
Thanks so much guys! Happy baking.