Most food stylists, including myself, are chefs whose cooking proficiency is displayed shaping and forming food into its most appealing state. A skillful food stylist turns a two dimensional photograph into a three dimensional dish with mouthwatering appeal for your eyes and nose.
Is It Real or Fake?
We've all heard the urban legends about food styling: mashed potatoes are used instead of ice cream, spray lacquer is used to shine food up, and practically everything is painted with food colouring. But are the stories true? Well, if there is a magic spray or shellac to make food looks great for hours I’d love to know so please let me know 😉
I've been working as a food stylist for nearly 10 years, styling for advertising campaigns, magazine articles, and feature films, and I can tell you straight up that most horror stories about the treatment of food for photo shoots are false. I do show up for work with a tool box (several, in fact) filled with anything from tweezers and syringes to blow torches and heat guns. But this is to make sure that naturally prepared food keeps looking good under unnatural circumstances (i.e. under hot photography lights for hours on end). And besides, “realism" is in when it comes to food styling. So we want that chocolate to ooze and the ice cream to melt a little.
When you go to a fast food chain, what you see on the plate probably won't match what you see in the ad, but that's to be expected, isn't it ? Think about it. When you buy a hamburger at a fast-food chain, the person serving you is getting paid minimum wage and is expected to delivery your order as fast as possible. Its asking a lot for your food to not only be make in only a few minutes but also in a stylistic manner.
When I am hired to make a burger, I owe it to my client to spend as long as I need in order to make that burger look absolutely fabulous and delicious.
Planning Ahead and Taking a Few Extra Minutes
I spend hours sorting through buns to find the perfect one (in the business we call it the "hero"). I make sure the burger is grilled to perfection. Each and every topping for the burger is hand-picked by me and delicately shaped. I may use a spray bottle of water, oil or glycerin to enhance the texture or sheen of the burger, lettuce or tomatoes but this is because food is not meant to be sitting under the intense heat of photography lights for hours.
The real trick is how to use food styling tricks to your advantage at home. Spend an extra 10 minutes preparing your lunch or dinner to shoot for your blog. Choose an appealing table setting. Think about how you are going to lay your food on the plate.
I use principles of design when creating a dish for the camera, giving special consideration to the shape of the food, the direction in which it's laid out, the size of the ingredients and of the overall meal portion, the food's texture and colour, and its nutritional value. I also consider design elements like line, balance, gradation, repetition, contrast, harmony and unity.
For my food styling series of blog posts to come, I’ll let you in on some of my tricks of the trade to help you get the most out of your food blog photos. First up – The Burger.
This article is the first in an exclusive series for FBC by professional Canadian food stylist Adele Hagan (pictured above). She writes on food styling for the Globe and Mail and the LCBO's Food and Drink magazine and has worked as a stylist on commercials, print work and motion pictures like Batman Begins and the first two Harry Potter films. She has also assisted with the 100th birthday cake for Britain's Queen Mum. She graduated with a Grand Diplome from Le Cordon Bleu in cuisine and patisserie. Check out Adele's website and blog and follow her on Twitter @foodstyler