A good assistant is an attribute in any career and it’s no different for a Food Stylist.
My favorite assistants help me stay sane and they also ensure that I have what I need to turn out great work for my clients. There are many qualities that I consider necessary to fill the role of being a top-notch food styling assistant.
Firstly, they keep me organized amidst the chaos. A Food Stylist is part of a creative team, and creative teams can get messy and chaotic, regardless of what they are creating. Throw in the fact that the team I’m part of always works with food and…wow. Chaos is guaranteed. A good assistant is able to almost read my mind and anticipate what I need ahead of time. That plus being organized themselves is a double whammy of what keeps the chaos at bay. They’re organized, they keep me organized and life on the food photo shoot is as calm as it can possibly be.
Another thing that makes a food styling assistant a big asset, is when they truly partner with me. As my sidekick, they are always there, always on call and can quickly jump in to help with whatever I need. From running and retrieving my tools, to finding me odds and ends that I need while I’m busy putting finishing touches on the food, they seamlessly move in and out of the line of duty to do whatever needs to be done. They are also always there to clean up the mess I make!
The most important trait of a good assistant, is of course, that they love their job. When they do, that always shows in their enthusiasm and hard work. Food styling can be stressful and often requires shopping and work errands after already putting in a twelve hour day. My best assistants manage to maintain a cheerful attitude and never complain about work that needs to be done after the work is done.
Have you considered becoming a food stylist’s assistant? Or maybe you are already? My new ebook “How to be A Kick-Ass Food Styling Assistant” was just published. This is the ultimate guide for not only how to become a food styling assistant but how to excel as one and be in super high demand. You can get a copy here.
Most people wouldn’t hear “drippy”, “ooey-gooey” and “mess” about food and think, “Yum. Give me more of that!” However, food styling, as I’ve mentioned before, is FUN and one of the reasons it’s fun, is that you get to be messy, you get to be drippy and ooey and gooey. In fact, it’s part of the job and an important one at that!
Food has to look more than just edible in pictures, it needs to look mouth- watering delicious. One of the tricks every food stylist knows, is that slighty “messy” food will do this. Pay attention the next time you are looking at photographs of food. You’ll find that an “imperfect” looking food item is what creates the anticipation of tasting perfection!
For example, a drip of ketchup oozing down over the bottom of a hamburger bun or melty cheese hanging and dribbling over the side of that sandwich says, “I can’t be contained because I’m bursting with flavor!” These kind of images are beautiful in the world of food styling and are a key element in creating a, “Gimme some of that” reactions.
Crumbs on plates, slithering melted chocolate, butter slightly dripping from a fresh croissant are all good signs that you’re doing well in creating a delicious looking food photo. In most careers, being a little messy doesn’t exactly win you praise but in food styling, it helps you stand out in the best way possible!
What are some of your favorite photos of drippy, messy, ooey-gooey food? I’d love to know! Interested in knowing more about how you can create your own world of delectable looking food? Stay tuned for my food styling workshops. Sign up on my workshops page to be one of the first to know when they are announced.
Do you use real food in advertising photography? I get asked that question a lot!
You want to know a secret? In the world of food styling, in almost all instances, the food in the photograph is real.
Yes, that’s right. The food you see in those glossy pictures is usually real, not fake as a lot of people suspect.
Why is that? Wouldn’t it be easier to use fake food for things that melt and drip or go hot when you need them to be cold or cold when you need them to be hot? And isn’t fake food just prettier?
One reason real food is used, is that when you are advertising food items, it’s actually a requirement that the food that is being photographed and sold is the food that a consumer would actually purchase. This is part of the Truth In Advertising laws regulated by the Federal Trade Commission and just another reason why a good food stylist on any photo shoot is a must. These laws are strict.
It takes a pro to keep real ice cream frozen and looking nice and neat in a cone or bowl so that it doesn’t become a gloppy mess of liquid. And how about that hot and juicy cheeseburger? No one would want to buy that after an hour of sitting and going cold. Even if you think it still looks “good enough” to photograph, that coldness shows up on your final camera image and looks just plain yucky.
There are a few occasions where “fake” food is okay to use. For example, the food item that is being advertised must be real but supporting food might be fake at times. A good example of this, is if a client is selling a waffle cone, then the ice cream that is scooped into it isn’t being advertised. In that case, I would use fake ice cream (and I make a killer fake ice cream!) because the truth is in the accurate representation of the cone. Then I can have a stress free shot taking my time with making everything look pretty without worrying about melting ice cream. Yay!
Another approved use of fake food is faux ice cubes in a drink (unless we are selling the ice cubes), produce that is used as background prop for a plated dish or that cherry on top of the sundae if you are advertising the ice cream. As long as the food being advertised for sale and consumption is the real deal, it’s okay to fake some of the rest. But before faking something I always ask myself, is there a reason to do that? Are peaches out of season and you need a basket of peaches in the background? Will that ice cream sundae look better if we use fake ice cream and can work with it for an hour on set for an advertisement for whipping cream? Are there no apple leaves on the trees right now so you substitute a rose leaf which is very similar? There is always a good reason to use fake if we must. It’s not just for fun…although it can be fun!
Lastly, the other truth we must show is portion size and the proper amount of each ingredient. For instance, if we are shooting a 1/4 lb. burger that is being put in a print advertisement, that 1/4 lb. burger I make must weigh exactly 1/4lb. And if we are photographing a pizza for an advertisement that contains 4 oz. of pepperoni, 2 oz. of green pepper and 2 oz. of onion, I need to weigh out all those ingredients and make sure the toppings are accurately represented. These weights will be provided to me from the food company I am working with on most occasions. Sometimes I am given a proportion ratio. Say I have a bowl of mixed frozen vegetables, there will be many of the vegetables not visible because they are at the bottom of the bowl. In this case I will “eyeball” a ratio that I am given: 20% carrots, 40% zucchini, 30% cauliflower, 10% red pepper. It’s a little looser because much of the product is not seen but you do want your customers to get a feel for what’s in the bag.
So, food styling can be a little tricky and full of rules (who knew!). And yes, we make food look absolutely delicious so people want to buy it. But, I can also tell you that a professional food stylist like myself knows the guidelines and would never mislead a consumer with fake or inaccurate representations of the food they are buying. I am there to make the real deal as beautiful and mouth watering as possible.
Now, you know!
Playing with your food when you’re young is a given but what about doing that as a respectable grown-up? Even more, what about getting paid to do that while using the skills you learned in, oh, say kindergarten? Guess what? That’s how I spend my days!
Yes, food styling is a very grown up job. You have to think quickly on your feet, have a certain set of skills and expertise and the hours can be long. However, it’s incredibly fun and as long as you obey the rules of the kindergarten room, you’ll be just fine. Let me explain just a few similarities.
Being a food stylist means you’re going to be part of a creative team so you have to be polite and play well with others. Of course your opinion is expected but you don’t want to hog the floor time with incessant chatter and you need to be able to collaborate with others, even if you have different opinions. In kindergarten, it was, “How do we build the best block tower?” In food styling, it’s, “How do we create the best food photograph?” Same but different. It’s everyone’s project or it’s no one’s project. That’s an important distinction.
Something else that’s equally important in kindergarten and in the world of food styling is knowing that creative expression is good thing! While kids instinctively know this and create without fear of judgment, as a food stylist, we can be a little more guarded. Our work is constantly critiqued and adjusted according to art director’s, photographer’s and food company’s opinions. Well, I say take down the guard rails and just go for it! Embracing your inner child and getting wildly creative is extremely important in food styling. Dip into the finger paints, get out your glue stick and get to it! Everyone will thank you. The KEY is to not become so attached to your “work of food art” that you are not open to what others think and say. It is, after all, about the team! And no one is criticizing you. Don’t take it personally. You need to be a strong person to keep unattached!
There’s more kindergarten lessons to come so if you’re wondering what else your inner five year old can carry over into the world of food styling, stay tuned for my next blog! And if you want to join me for my webinar on May 5th I am going to show YOU what’s in my food styling bag of tricks. It will be fun and informative and just like playing in kindergarten of course!
I am super excited to announce my first product going into the brand new Food Styling Store on May 5th, 2015. It is my food styling basic kit. And for one lucky person I am giving away this tool kit that pairs well with my “What’s in my Food Styling Kit“ webinar. Each kit contains a handy tool caddy with 35+ items to help you style and photograph your beautiful food!
On May 5th this kit will sell for $227 and has a retail value of over $300! Imagine how amazing your food could look if you were super organized and had all the right tools for making YOUR food look delicious and beautiful!
Don’t forget to register for my first webinar on May 5th! It’s only $27 and I will take you on a tour through my professional food styling kit. I offer tips and advice on making gorgeous food using all the right tools. Space is very limited so sign up now!
Fun ice cubes? Oh….yes!! I found these great ice cube trays that make long slender ice cubes that fit into water bottles. I love my water super cold and have had the frustration of a warm bottle of water that I want to cool down fast. Obviously regular ice cubes won’t fit into the small opening of a water bottle so these trays make the perfect size cubes to fit any water bottles. What I came up with is a way to naturally flavor the cubes to add a little fun color and yummy taste for those days that I am bored with plain water.
I started with organic oranges and my favorite citrus zester tool. First I removed the orange zest in long strips and wrapped them around a straw to make them curly. I let them set on the straw for a minute or two while I made the next piece of zest. I then dropped them into the ice cube trays. Make sure to use oranges with a thinner skin as the zest will curl much easier.
Next I cut the skin off of a lemon. Because the peel on this lemon was thick I found that this method would be easier than trying to use the zester. After cutting off the skin, I cut as much of the white pith off of the strips as possible to make them more flexible. I then wrapped the strips around the straw and let them sit a for a few minutes then placed them in the ice cube tray.
I then added water to the trays and put in the freezer overnight.
The results are not only tasty but really pretty!
Telling people you’re a “food stylist” results in everything from confused looks to blank stares to hearing, “That sounds really fun. What do you do exactly?”
Food stylists do a lot and I like to think of myself and others who do this for a living as “food artists”. Just as any artist creates a work of beauty, food stylists do the same thing, only with food instead of clay, marble or a canvas. They turn food into art so people want to buy it. Food stylists are artists who encourage sales!
So what exactly does a food stylist DO?
As mentioned above, creating a body of work that is all about food that is beautiful to look at is the primary role of a food stylist. We are hired by photographers, advertising agencies, food companies and restaurants to make food look beautiful for still and motion photography. Pictures in magazines, photographs on packaging, television commercials, gorgeous looking food on a menu are all items that are extremely important because customers make buying decisions based on how appealing the food looks in photos. A good photographer is definitely needed to make great food photos but the food stylist is the other part of that necessary equation. Think of a food stylist as the hair and makeup person for the food. Kind of a funny visual but this is really what happens.
Food stylists grocery shop in a way that is a bit like a scavenger hunt. We look for perfect pretty buns or apples or delicate herbs for garnish. We look for green tomatoes in winter, candy canes in summer and strawberries with stems in January. We are resourceful to say the least. Magicians at times. Never letting our clients know the tall buildings we had to climb or little old lady’s garden we needed to pilfer. Food stylists cook and bake, often under pressure and sometimes with a make shift stove or hot plate depending on the location. We are experts in all types of food preparation. We are food scientists too. We need to know (quickly) why that sauce isn’t thickening and why that bread dough isn’t rising and what to do about it. We need to know if that cheese sauce is thick enough to hold the perfect drip but not so thin that it will run all the way down the wedge of lasagna on camera. Food stylists are also thrill seekers…adrenaline junkies….a little cray-cray as I like to say. We must do all of this plate twirling and fry pan flipping while 8 people are watching us and the clock and are worried about budgets and time and end results. We FEEL the heat (yes pun intended) but we don’t let it show. We smile and are efficient and sometimes perfectionists and most of all, we love what we do.
The other thing a food stylist does is work with the entire creative team (anywhere from 3 to 12 people) to create an end product that is ultimately able to be used to sell food products, books, and magazines. The idea of team work is the key ingredient. We are hired to create with food someone else’s vision. Not our own. There is a team of marketing and sales, creative direction, management, branding, and kitchen or food representation, R&D, and photography. At the end of the day, everyone must be happy with the resulting food image. The goal of our food photos are to get customers to take the next step. Sometimes this is to purchase the actual food, and sometimes it’s to purchase the venue in which the food is highlighted. An example of this would be cooking magazines or cookbooks. Food stylists create works of art and beauty so that customers want to buy. We can’t forget this. It’s art with purpose.
So there you have it. Now you know what a food stylist does!
I am so happy you have joined me for the launch of my new food styling mentoring website! This website has been “in the making” for 2 years. I first came up with the idea several years ago when I began getting many emails from people who want to become food stylists but don’t know how. unfortunately, there are not many resources out there for learning the art of food styling.
During the last 20 years of working as a professional food stylist I have learned so much and I really feel it is time for me to share what I know and help the next generation of food stylists not only learn the tricks and techniques of food styling but how to work in a photo studio on a food shoot and how to run a successful business. You need the skills, the business knowledge as well as a good plan for breaking into this business. I would love to coach those who have a passion for making food look beautiful for photography. It truly is an exciting, rewarding and lucrative career.
I also know that there are many food bloggers out there who are looking to work on their food styling skills so they can make their food look amazing for their blog posts. The food blogging business is different from a career in food styling for advertising but the principles of food styling cross over to each career path. I am excited to share my knowledge from the commercial food styling world with food bloggers to help them achieve their dreams too.
So, I am ready to share with you what I learned these last 20 years and super excited to meet you! Feel free to sign up for my free 15 minute consultation here so I can help you develop your path to a career in food styling or food blogging.
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.