We have another great article on Food Styling for the Holidays, and this one was written by Julia from imagelicious. Julia is a blogger, food styling expert and food product photographer. She wrote a cookbook: The Ultimate One Pan Oven Cookbook and food styling book: Ultimate Guide to Food Styling.
If food styling usually stresses you out, then food styling during the holiday season will be the opposite! It is fun and immensely satisfying creating little holiday photo vignettes when there's magic in the air.
During regular months, food styling usually relies on supportive ingredients and props. For example, salad could be styled with ingredients used to make the salad around the scene. Food styling for pasta will benefit from the addition of condiments such as olive oil, cheese, pepper flakes, as well as bread. Plate of pancakes will look beautiful with some fruits and coffee in the background. But what about more difficult dishes, such as shepherds pie, or sandwich, or a plate of cheese puffs? Styling those requires a bit more ingenuity. You may need to add a few extra plates, glasses, bottles, maybe some plants around, forks, knives, napkins, flowers.
Food styling during the holidays, however, is easy and relaxing. Just add a few themed props and you are all set, no need to wonder what else could fill the empty space on the set.
You may choose to go all out with Christmas props. If so, you have a lot of choices. I buy most of my Christmas props at Dollarama and Walmart, but I also keep my eyes open in other stores as well. I've gotten beautiful pieces from Superstore and Winners also. Check out clearance aisles after the holidays to get props with good discounts.
As with any kind of food styling, try to go for smaller items. Look for Christmas decorations that could be used in a variety of ways. Plaid is really popular right now, so I look for small plaid tree decorations, napkins, and ribbons.
Fake greenery works wonderful in the background. Try to find some that don't look obviously fake and plastic and this way you can have them fully in focus as well.
Bigger decorations, such as full size wreaths, may not work well but could still be used in the corners of the frame if only a bit is visible.
Red and green colour combination is mostly associated with Christmas colours, so it's easy to find decorations in those tones. You can add some red or green napkins and plates as well.
For the top down or 3/4 shots, position the props around the main plate. Props don't need to be fully in frame. Sometimes it works better if they are only hinted about in the corners.
For the straight-on angles, props could be positioned behind the main plate. For this angle, it's better to use taller props so that they are visible behind the main subject of the photo. Candles, vases with greenery, bowls with Christmas balls, etc.
Wooden and Natural Props
Another popular Holiday trend right now is natural and wooden decorations. Those usually have very few bright colours and are mostly natural beige and brown.
Dollarama sells many wooden cutouts in various holiday shapes, such as deer, Christmas tree, snowflakes, etc. Those could be scattered around the scene beautifully.
Craft paper tree decorative balls and shapes are making a come back as well. They can be purchased at various stores, such as Winners, or there are many tutorials online how to make them. They work great to add an organic and vintage feel to the photo.
You can use some fake presents wrapped in brown craft paper and tied with jute. These can be stacked in the background for the straight-on angle or positioned around the main plate for the top down angle. Wooden little houses or toys, ornaments, and burlap also work beautifully in holiday photos.
You don't need to fully embrace colourful Christmas decorations to set a beautiful holiday mood. Gold and/or silver are gorgeous and festive. Gold painted pinecones, table confetti, tree decorations - they all look beautiful and elegant. Same goes for silver props. Combine those with matching plates and cutlery and you get a magazine-worthy look.
Don't forget the snowy white and icy blue colours. Whites and blues are often associated with cold and winter. Add some fluffy knits and sweaters to the scene to create the feeling of coziness and warmth. A scarf or a hat next to a mug of hot chocolate or coffee will create the feeling of coming inside from a cold winter day.
If you are photographing some kind of dessert, then a sprinkling of icing sugar will make the photo look snowy and beautiful.
Fairy Lights and Sparklers
One of my favourite way of adding that holiday whimsy into photos is to add twinkle lights or fairy lights into the background. You really don't need any other holiday decor even, just a few fairy lights will transform a regular image into something magical.
Fairy lights could be multi-coloured to recreate the childhood memories of Christmas decorations. Or you can choose to use pure white or gold fairy lights that are popular right now.
To create that beautiful blurry lights effect for the straight-on photos, position the lights as far behind the main subject as possible and open your lens aperture as wide as it can go.
Sparklers are so fun during the holidays, so lighting a few in the background of a photo will instantly transform a regular image into a celebration. If you capture a few photos while the sparkler is burning, then it is easy to combine those into a simple stop motion animation.
Fir Tree Branches
Real fir tree branches are the easiest way to create a holiday mood in the photo. A little jar in the background with a few branches or some of them just scattered around the scene on the surface will instantly create Christmas mood.
I like positioning some branches really close to the lens so that they get blurry and out of focus, thus creating a sense of a mystery in the image. For the top down photos, sometimes it's fun to create a "looking through the branches" photos.
Holiday month is the time when you can easily add ingredients around the scene that would not normally work outside of the season.
Cranberries are a good example. Raw fresh cranberries on their own are too sour to eat. You would probably never add them as a topping to pancakes. However, during the month of December, adding cranberries to a plate puts the viewer into the holiday mood.
Same goes for such ingredients as cloves, rosemary, oranges, cinnamon, candy canes. I often add these around the scene to set the mood.
Cranberries look beautiful when they are cut up, there's a star pattern inside them, so I like using a few whole cranberries as well as some cut up cranberries when decorating with them. For drinks, you can freeze cranberries, orange zest, and a few pieces of rosemary in ice cubes, these ice cubes will look beautiful when added into cocktails or even just water.
I love adding clementines in the background of winter photos as I always associate that fruit with winter. Stick a few cloves into the orange and you'll get some beautiful textures as well.
Don't forget that human element is a powerful food styling technique. A person can hold a cup, reach for a cookie, pick up a fork - all those actions can create a feel of participation in the photo.
Make sure that the clothes the model wears work well in the scene. If you are photographing a cup of hot chocolate, have the model wear a thick cozy sweater to hold the cup. Red sleeves will work great in a photo with the traditional Christmas decorations. Sparkly silver or gold sleeves will look beautiful in festive New Year celebration photos.
How to style
Once you figured out what props to use, just follow the same guidelines of food styling that you normally would. Position the props around the main plate based on your preferred composition and style. Instead of the usual food styling elements, like plates, cups, bottles, ingredients, just put your holiday props of choice. Layers and framing are some of the most common food styling techniques, so use Christmas napkins and plates to add layers, and frame the main subject with various other holiday decorations. Use festive ingredients around and on top of the plates.
For me, Christmas is magical and nostalgic, so I love using vintage and distressed props, dark wooden surfaces, brown boards, kraft paper and so on. Regardless of your photography style or mood you are trying to achieve, styling for the holiday season is about whimsy and magic. So, get a few fairy lights and red glittery balls, and start decorating!
- Food Styling: How to Decorate a Cake
- Food Styling Tips: Styling Chocolate
- Holiday Styling Tip: Cookie Cakes