I think you AGREE with me that food styling tips should NOT only say:
“Make it pretty!”
“It should be mouthwatering!”
Thanks! Great tips. Really helpful indeed. 🙄
I’m sorry if I’m being arrogant. However, I found myself wondering: “Are there any new food styling tips that I ALREADY DON’T know?!”
Ultimate guide: Something new!?
Here’s the DEAL: It bothered me and I decided to do my own research to find 37 food styling tips/ food styling tools.
Therefore, some of the tips here are the ones I have discovered over the years. Still, there are some tips I found online and because of that, I link to those sites. Above all, I found it quite confusing since food composition & food styling is smashed together. Still, in this post, I mainly concentrate on the food styling hacks for photography.
Food Styling vs Makeup?!
Do you think that food photography is fake? Well, I like to compare it with makeup. People all around the world still take care of them and use some makeup, right? Seems like I sometimes think that food photography and styling is quite similar. It’s all about personal preferences and depends on how much makeup you like to use? 😉
First of all, I have to remind you that I’m a simple girl who has a simple food blog. The food you can see in my blog is always edible.
Fake + Chemicals: No, thanks!
I need to repeat myself. I’m a simple home cook & girl. 😅 Therefore, I prefer natural makeup in my everyday life. The same goes for my food photography “makeup”.
I DON’T USE fake* “food” such as …
- white glue instead of milk
- shoe polish & other weird food styling dirty tricks
- deodorant for frosty grapes
- make a raw turkey that is covered with the clue
- engine oil instead of maple syrup 🙄
- glucose syrup
- cardboard inside the cake – what?!
- liquid soap to create foam
- mashed potatoes inside of ice cream
- shaving cream inside of the whipped cream
- paper stuffed chicken
- wax sauces
I’m not saying that it’s terrible. Just saying that I don’t use these kinds of tricks. I prefer basic & real food styling “tricks”. Still, you can read between the lines ….
KEEP SCROLLING: TYPICAL INTERNET DISCLAIMER
I have to remind you that food styling is one of the things that is very subjective and everybody have their preferences and style. Think of it like fashion or interior design. Some people like some jeans or hats others don’t like them. Some people like some curtains or chairs others don’t. In the end, all you would like to do is to develop your style that makes you happy. These food styling tips & tricks are my personal preferences.
Confused: Food styling vs. Composition?
My vocabulary* for this post:
#1: Food photography composition = guiding the viewer’s eye on the image
#2: Food composition = guiding the viewer’s eye on the food itself
#3: Food photography styling = making it mouthwatering, delicious & beautiful on the image
#4: Food styling = making the food itself mouthwatering, delicious & beautiful
*You can read more about this topic here.
“Encouragement” 123: How I learn food photography & food styling?
Artistic mind: It doesn’t come naturally to me.
Even when you don’t feel like you have an artistic mind, then I can tell you that I don’t have that spirit as well. However, I believe we just have to find our creative side. Every one of us has the creative mind that needs to be discovered. Some might have it more than others.
News: We have the magical Internet 😍
Thank you! Nowadays there are so many places where I can learn about photography & food styling. All I need to do is go to Google or Youtube, and I can find thousands of tutorials for free. Yes, that’s right!? FOR FREE!
Of course, you still need a connection. Blablablaa … BUT in Estonia, we still have free WIFI in many places. That’s why I consider it free. 🙄
I’m still learning …
Over the years of practicing food photography almost every day, I can say that I have made some progress. However, I like to think that I’m at the beginning of my journey and I still have so much to learn. As you can see in the image from 2015, my food styling “skill” isn’t the best if we are going to be polite.
It’s a journey, and I like to think that I’m at the beginning of mine. All I need to do is to enjoy the process.
Where do I take cheap & affordable courses?
However, sometimes I like to take some cheap 10 dollars Udemy courses. Why? Time! Most free videos aren’t organized. Time is valuable for all of us, and I wish I would have taken those courses earlier. I have just learned basic photography and some editing from there.
FINALLY: My 33 food styling tips, tricks & hacks
#1 Learning: Read Images
What do I do?
I created a Pinterest food photography group board (sweet, savory, colorful, white & dark) together with other amazing food bloggers/ food photographers:
- The Little Plantation
- Two Loves Studio
- Christiann Koepke
- The Simple Green
- Unconventional Baker
- Rainbow Nourishments
- Viola Minerva
- Frosting & Fettuccine
- That’s Sage
- The Culinary Jumble
- Pancake Planet
- Love is in my Tummy
- Also The Crumbs Please
- Todd Beltz
- The Foodscape
- Julie Villamizar
- Deluscious Bites
I hope I mentioned every amazing photographer who has joined. Let me know if I missed someone.
Inspiration Boards: Details from different Images
I might see some details for example from 20 different images. Without noticing, I might use some of these ideas together in one image. For that reason, I find it quite hard to keep track of my inspiration.
Who knows how it works … Most of the time I like to do a digital detox. Therefore, I like to go to nature or do a quick workout to gather some inspiration (my post about creative boost here).
Inspiration & My Copying Fear: How I try to avoid it?
Still, I’m always afraid that I will start copying others. I already see thousands of images on Instagram & Pinterest where I might “steal” some styling ideas.
That’s why I like to gather some inspiration in different areas. Therefore, sometimes the ideas just come straight in the kitchen & spending some time in nature. For my food photography, I usually read general photography and I avoid food photography blogs.
#2 Broken record: Repeat Elements
Yes, I’m a broken record and I like to repeat the elements I try to make a clear statement by repeating certain aspects again and again. I can create patterns and so much more interest by doing that.
#3 Make a mess: Food Spills
The classic example here is breadcrumbs on the table or other food spills on the table. The idea is to put something from real life to the image.
#4 Not DIRTY: Keep your Eyes on Details
I have that tendency to forget details while I make my mess. Ups. Quite often I discover it later while I’m editing. However, that’s not a good solution. That’s why I started to shoot tethered to pay attention to my details.
There’s a big difference between making a mess and making it dirty. I have to practice that one for sure since I do find those “mistakes”. 🙄
#5 Build Layers: Napkins & Towels
I try to create some depth & interest with layers. My favorite ways are to use napkins, towels & different plates.
#6 “Fake” Makeup !? 🤔
Do you think that food photography is fake? As I mentioned before, I like to compare it with makeup. 🙈 People all around the world still take care of them and use some makeup, right? 👄 It’s all about personal preferences and depends on how much makeup you like to use? I still prefer to garnish my food.
Savory food examples: seeds, nuts, black pepper, chili flakes, salt flakes, green leaves, avocado or vegetable flowers, lemon & lime.
Sweet food examples: powdered sugar, coconut, salt flakes, seeds, nut butter, flowers, nuts, chocolate, cocoa nibs, cocoa powder, cinnamon, fruit & berries, edible flowers, mint or other herbs.
#7 Cosmetic Bag: Tweezers
Yes! I’m not only using it for my eyebrows. 😅 That’s why my only excuse here is that I’m still working with the small object, right?! ;
#8 Back to school: Ruler
That’s right. Sometimes I do measure the distance between items (I found that tip here);
#9 “Artist” Tools: Brushes
Dust backdrop, manipulate sauces & other liquids;
#10 Toolkit: Sharp Knife?
Yes, mostly for cakes & sandwiches since I’m addicted. Furthermore, I also use water and a napkin to get clean cuts.
#11 Toolkit: Oil?
Sometimes I’m slow, and I hide my mistakes with oil to get some freshness. No, it’s not engine oil. My go-to oil is always extra virgin olive oil.
#12 Toolkit: Blowtorch
Brown edges: bread vs. meat. I read about this tips here, and I have tried to use this one for few times.
#13 Toolkit: Toothpicks
Yes! I use that for sandwiches! It doesn’t stay together naturally. 😅 For this turmeric bread, I used toothpicks.
#14 Toolkit: Spray bottle with water?
Keep it fresh? Well, here’s the problem. Sometimes I can waste too much time on my photo shoots. For that reason, the food starts to look bad.
My solution? Cold water.
#15 Ice Cream Struggle & Dry ice? My solution?
Well, I fish I could use dry ice some day. However, that sounds a little bit too much right now. That’s why my solution is scooping ice cream before serving.
Tray + water: “Pre-scoop”
What do I mean? I scoop ice cream on a tray & put it into the freezer. Once I’m ready to shoot, then the ice cream is already frozen again. In that way, it stays cool for a longer time.
I learned this “trick” while I worked in the kitchen in Australia. Above all, we LITERALLY had to serve hundreds of ice cream scoops for a special dinner.
For that reason, I pre-scooped ice cream with a wet ice cream scoop for at least one hour straight. Great practice. 😅 After that, the ice cream scoops went into the freezer, and it was easier to serve it later.
#16 White plates? Old-school?
If I look at some food photography from the 90-s, then almost all the food was served on a white plate. The obvious reason is that food photographers want to make sure that the food shines, not the tableware.
Look at my post about color palette & how I use Adobe Color Wheel here.
#17 Take a bite
I think you get it. No need to explain how I take a bite …
#18 Lift it up: Weird dirty tricks?
Example: I put extra salad leaves to lift the food up. No, I don’t use tampons for that like here! I still like to eat my food.
#19 Plating tricks: No cat videos for me
When people like to watch cat videos on Youtube, then I prefer to watch piping bags & plating tricks. A great example here.
#20 Grill marks? No paint, thanks
Somewhere I saw how food stylist use paint to make grill marks. Again, I’m a simple girl who has a simple food blog. Therefore, I prefer to eat all the food you can see on my blog …
#20 Fresh fruit? Water trick
Cold water + lemon = keep the fruit fresh for a longer time
#21 Lemon zest? Keep it Pretty
Hot water + paper towel = Makes sure that the lemon zest will look great for a longer time.
Just cover your lemon zest with hot water on a strainer. Also, dry with a paper towel.
#22 Grandmothers Treasures: Unique Props
I like to choose neutral colors or look for rustic & interesting tableware or cutlery. Also, I love to choose some forks and knives that aren’t shiny. As a result, my best prop collection is from my grandmother. Thank you!
#23 Shopping “Diva” 123: Quality Control
Sometimes I might be a diva when I’m in the supermarket. Seriously, it’s probably quite annoying. 🙄 However, I try to keep my mouth shut and avoid facial grimaces. Still, I try to use the best ingredient for my photography.
My BIGGEST CHALLENGE is always finding the perfect AVOCADO. Sometimes it just goes brown, and it’s not good in any case. No questions asked.
#24 Wet Napkin: Quality Control
I try to keep my fresh herbs and other greens in a wet paper towel. Yes, learned this trick again when I worked in the kitchen in Australia.
#25 Match the Colors: Use Color Wheel Color Theory
I try to use neutral backgrounds such as white, grey, brown, grey and black. Well … now, most of the time I use grey since it’s my favorite. As a result, I like to choose my color palette for food photography between monochromatic, analogous, triad, complementary, compound or shades.
#26 Storytelling Cliche: Invite People
Photography is all about storytelling. Blablabla … I’m sure we all know that.
However, it’s true, and I can’t ignore that. Sometimes there are just the simple things that bring everything to life. Quite often I can tell the story by merely adding a human element to the image. As a result, those little details will always make a difference.
When I look at the image where I can see hands, then I feel like those are my hands, and I grab the food.
#27 Negative Space: Look for Gaps!
Leave some room for the viewer. When the image is too crowded, then usually I feel like I don’t know where should I look. Therefore, concentrate on the gaps between and around the main subject.
Think of it like you are styling an expensive house. Probably you are not going to put the house full of furniture so that you can’t even move around there. For that reason, leave some room for the viewer so that he or she can move around in the “house”. I need some “breathing room”.
#28 Texture: Get People’s Interest
Create patterns to get people’s interest. It’s one of my favorite things to do to get some more contrast within the texture & different light itself. I like to use my DIY floor tiles, MDF board or napkins to get some texture.
#28 Food inside the dish: Show it
I tend to FORGET SIMPLE things. For real. As a result, I sometimes overthink and make things too complicated. Still, it should not be like that all the time.
Sometimes simple things are the best ones. Therefore, I like to place some food next to the dish to create some (hopefully) more exciting scene.
#29 Run for Life: Be Prepared
Yes, food doesn’t run away. BUT it goes off, and I have to be quick. Seriously, sometimes it’s a challenge. Especially, when I shoot some frozen berries or ice cream or in my case, it’s nice cream. That’s why I try to prepare the scene before I start making the nice cream.
#30 Limit food: Less is More
When I have “finished” styling, then I like to start taking things away. Quite often I like to tell myself that less food on the plate is always better. Sometimes I love to limit myself with 3-5 props.
Also, check my post about 20 props you already (might) have at home here.
#31 Food Styling Sketches
I have heard that some photographers draw their vision on paper. I’m quite sure that it helps them to come clear with their ideas. However, I don’t use this technique very often since my drawing skill isn’t the best one.
Still, I remember when I was still in uni most of the time when the lectures were boring, then I started to make food styling sketches… Probably, I should start practicing it again.
#33 Styling for camera
I try to decide my angle before you start styling. For me, there are five main angles: overhead, 45-degree, 30-degree, straight on shot + creative angle.
Check my post about my 5 favorite angles here.
As a result, I try to use the tripod. I put my tripod in one place, and then I start styling.
#32 Signature Styling: Details
This one here is powerful! It’s one of the best tools to make sure you stand out from the crowd!
The solution for your signature is simple, but a bit crystal-clear … so all you have to do is use some props or backdrops often … until people recognize your signature!
What’s mine? It seems like I have no idea! However, somehow people tell me that my signature food styling is grey backdrops, vintage silver ware & dry flowers (roses).
One day I made a gift for my friends. Since I had no idea how to decorate it, then used these dry roses. Above all, every second friend told me that these are my FOOD FLOWERS. Maybe that’s my signature?! 🙄
In contrast, I still love green leaves & seeds as well.
#33 Shiny silverware? A reflection & Glare Headache
I even don’t like to use the dulling spray to avoid shiny silverware such as here. Maybe one day I might change my mind. However, right now I feel like the circular polarizing filter works fine with all the glare & reflection issues.
#34 The only fake thing I use …
Okay, you got me! I know I said I don’t use fake things. Still, there’s one exception. Yes, it’s FAKE ICE ….
#35 Don’t overthink: Use props you already have
#36 Don’t compare yourself with others
I love to have a digital detox to boost my creative side. We live in a time when it’s quite easy to feel overwhelmed with information. Especially, when your work is online, and you almost always look at your screen. It might be hard to concentrate or get new creative ideas.
You might start comparing yourself to others and feel bad. Sometimes I might think that everything has already been photographed and there isn’t a point for you to do that. However, I like to tell myself that there’s always something. Therefore, I just have to find it.
Yes, I’m running out of ideas to get the final #37 tip! 😅 I don’t like the number 36 that much.
However, in my case, the comfort zone is a serious problem. Above all, sometimes I wanna do my job quickly, and I don’t experiment enough.
Note for me: Take a long breath. Furthermore, make that extra effort to create some more ideas and explore some food styling tips.
Classical Comment Begging 123 🙄
If this post was helpful, then please leave a comment below or tag me on Instagram @healthylauracom or another platform. As a result, it helps me to create better content.
Leave YOUR website link below. I would love to see your photography or ideas!
Some more references:
 Medium. Ramya Menon. The Beginners Guide to Composition in Food Photography: How to Transform your Food Photos from Good to Bloody Beautiful. (31.10.2018).
 Photography Life. What is Composition in Photography? (11.09.2018).