As a food stylist, my job is to make food look beautiful and delicious and to entice the viewer into either buying the food (advertisements, packaging, menus) or make the food (cookbooks, recipes). There are many ways that I do this but I am going to share with you my top 5 favorites:
1. Use white plates. While you know the saying “every rule is meant to be broken” certainly would apply here, I believe a fail safe rule to show off your beautiful food is to plate it against white. White dishes provide a neutral background and set the scene for your food to be the “star”. And white dishes come in so many shapes and sizes you could easily vary that in order to get different looks without compromising your gorgeous food with a busy plate or serving dish.
2. Vary the focus within your photograph. A sharp focused “sweet spot” on your food highlights that area and draws attention to it. It is the first thing someone will see when they look at your food photograph (at least that is what we aim for). By letting backgrounds get a bit blurry (or really out of focus) it becomes less important and less visually interesting to the viewer. Even letting part of the food or plate lose focus helps to draw the viewer to that one highlighted area which becomes your focal point, selling point and delicious draw of attention.
3. Make a little mess. A few crumbs, a drip of sauce, a spill, melty cheese dripping, a bite out of your food, a messy prep area….you know what I am talking about. This is the human element that draws the viewer in and helps to tell the story. Suddenly the viewer feels like they are there with you preparing or eating that food. Messes evoke feeling, mood, atmosphere. But you also must know where that fine line is. Too messy can look unappetizing or like a big mess that may make the viewer uncomfortable or not hungry for your food anymore. Suddenly they are thinking about cleaning it up instead of eating it.
4. Topping it off. Many foods need a little “something” to top it off to make it shine. Something like when Emeri Lagasse hits his food with that one special ingredient and yells “BAM!” Some foods need it to push them from mediocre to incredible. You know the feeling when you look at a food photo and it is good but something is missing? It’s that “BAM!”, that focal point, that accent that puts it over the edge. It could be a beautiful fresh herb garnish or a drip of sauce running down the side of the casserole dish or a spoon that frames the bowl nicely. It could be as simple as bringing out one tomato in your salad in a way that makes it look so enticing and juicy and red and ripe that it becomes the star. Sometimes it takes some experimentation on set to figure out what is missing.
5. Great lighting. It takes beautiful light and beautiful food to make a beautiful food photograph. Period. One without the other is only half as good as it could be. That’s why I lOVE the food photographers I work with. I fondly refer to them as “Masters of light”. Now, I know many of my readers are food bloggers like myself or serious amateur photographers who love food. My suggestion would be to start out with a light kit that is easy to set up and use. For my blog photos I use CowboyStudio 2275 Watt Digital Video Continuous Softbox Lighting Kit/Boom Set. Since it is continuous light and not strobe, I use it for both video and still photography. I love how portable, easy, and inexpensive it is to use.