In our Food Styling 101 series, Lisa Bolton offers up food styling tips for conveying the stories you want your food to tell. Her advice will help you create food photography that entices readers to make your recipes and read your articles. This month she shares her tips on how to food style raw ingredients - an often overlooked component of your recipe!
The majority of food styling for recipe creators and bloggers is concentrated on the final product. The props have been selected, the backgrounds and garnishes are prepared already and waiting for when the crispy chicken comes off the grill or the cake triumphantly emerges from the oven.
An often overlooked chapter in the story of food styling is how to style recipe ingredients: the components of your recipe before they're transformed. So much time is spent in styling the finished product and making sure all the props, tablescapes and garnishes are just so, that sometimes we can miss the beauty that's right before us, in its natural state.
Reasons to Style & Photograph Raw Ingredients
Taking the time to shoot a few of the raw ingredients before you transform them serves several purposes.
- Practice — First, it simply makes for a great practice opportunity to get behind a lens and manipulate food to enhance its natural beauty — with the added bonus of not having to fuss over the details that come in securing the money shot.
- Content —Second, it gives you more content for your own personal portfolio. These raw ingredient shots can be used as teaser posts leading up to the main reveal, giving you more mileage for your efforts. They can also act as your own personal "stock" photo collection. I've pulled out old shots of tomatoes and herbs and used them to enhance a piece of new content. I've also sold pictures of fruits and vegetables to companies looking for a particular varietal. The more output you can harness from one photo shoot, the more you can leverage at a later date.
- Connection — And finally, raw ingredient shots are important because they connect with the reader. What's the best part of a home renovation show? The before and after shots! By capturing the raw ingredients and applying minimal styling, you're helping your readers understand volumes about how the item was supposed to look before it was manipulated.
I take a very minimalist approach to food styling raw ingredients. It doesn't mean the shots aren’t carefully thought out, it just means I'm not adding a lot of extra bells and whistles to the storytelling side of the image.
Raw ingredient food styling can be broken down into three main categories:
- One single ingredient, or several ingredients in the same family.
- A collection of ingredients going into the recipe.
- The ingredients in a state of transformation.
Before you make the first cut, take a moment to capture some of the most beautiful components going into your recipe. Be simple but intentional. Here are some tricks to styling different categories of raw ingredients.
Food Styling Raw Meat
With no grill marks, char or sauce, raw meat can be tricky. And then there's the contamination factor, so you don’t want to be moving it around a lot.
For chicken, keep it on the board or the cooking surface and try shooting it in black and white. When shooting red meat, season it first and come in close. Large salt flakes and coarse ground pepper will pop against a marbled, red flesh.
Food Styling Fruits and Vegetables
Mother nature’s finest bring out some of the most beautiful colours and look best when they resemble what they looked like at the farm.
Leave any green tops on and don’t scrub off all the dirt. Add the human element with some hands holding the tops like they were freshly plucked from the garden. Natural lighting on a natural surface are two things that make food styling raw ingredients much easier.
Food Styling Eggs
Eggs are a perfect food to practice food styling with because they have so many great looks in the raw. If you have access to farm fresh eggs, being able to capture the different hues is always a bonus. Some ideas on how to capture raw eggs:
- Shooting them in the carton
- Shooting some cracked and some whole
- Overhead of yolks in bowl, with eggs shells on the side.
The Best Styling Prop
Sheet pans are the best prop!
Sheet pans are my favourite way to style a collection of raw ingredients. It's actually a page taken right out of restaurant cooking. Grabbing a sheet pan to collect all your ingredients from the different parts of the kitchen is an efficient way to get what you need.
At home, I stay organized by keeping all the elements of a recipe on a sheet pan with the added bonus of getting a pretty composed picture. It also makes a perfect before and after shot for your readers when placed next to the complete hero shot.
Capturing the Transformation
Raw ingredients can also be captured halfway through the process: when they're not quite in their original state but not quite cooked. Pasta dough and cake batters are perfect for this shot. Some things to try are:
- As you're adding dry ingredients, add them side by side, not all on top so you can capture a picture and each added ingredient can be visually distinct.
- Raw pasta dough on a messy flour covered board needs no styling. An overhead shot of the yolks in the hole of the flour or of the raw fresh pasta will be perfect.
- Grated cheese has great height before it melts. Snap a shot of the beautiful texture and dimension it displays before it hits the heat.
Sometimes the best images come before the food is cooked. Shooting and styling raw ingredients is perfect practice to hone in on your food styling skills. The more you shoot the more you’ll begin to notice the organic beauty that's a natural part of the process of cooking.
- Food Styling: Styling Cakes for the Camera
- Food Photography: Styling and Photographing Cookies
- Food Styling: The Burger
Lisa Bolton is the creator, writer and photographer behind Food Well Said, her blog about bringing thoughtfully prepared, whole food recipes. She lives in the Lower Mainland of BC and you can reach her on Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest and Facebook.