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 Lisa shares food styling tips for soups - the ultimate comfort food during winter's dark and chilly nights.
As we enter into the winter months, there's no better time to tackle food styling soups. Like a warm hug on a dark, chilly night, soups are a staple in our house over the winter. And in our house not only do we eat what I shoot, I shoot what we eat. This means a lot of different bowls and spoons get washed this time of year.
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The Benefits of Soup for Food Photography
Soups are one of my favourite things to shoot for a variety of reasons.
- First, they hold up well over time. This means I can make them the night before and then photograph them the next day. This is highly beneficial in the darker months of winter.
- Second, soups can be showcased in a such a variety of vessels … bowls of any size, mugs, shallow plates or even shot glasses.
- Finally, soups very often require minimal styling beyond a spoon. It's most often obvious to the viewer what the dish is, and soup is an interesting enough subject that as long as you can pull out the heroes in it, it can stand alone quite well.
Different Types of Soup
For this discussion, I've chosen four different soups: a monochromatic creamy soup, a dynamic soup, a brown soup and a broth-based soup.
Shooting monochromatic or smooth creamy soups actually requires the most propping. Because it can often look flat and one dimensional, you need to create height and texture. This can come from garnishes, drizzles or the swirl of the spoon.
Pro Tip: Invert half an apple or potato, or a smaller bowl to fill the space in your serving bowl.
For this Butternut Squash Soup, I created texture through a nut and herb garnish. A pro tip with soups: invert half an apple or potato, or a smaller bowl to fill the space in your serving bowl. This serves two purposes: one, you don’t have to ladle as much soup into the bowl; and two, it helps prevent your garnishes from sinking.
A dynamic soup is one that has a variety of textures and colours. This Italian Wedding Soup has pasta, vegetables and meat, all of different sizes, colours and texture, making it interesting without much propping. But while it can look beautiful on the table, in a photograph it can translate as busy. By giving the eye a place to rest and some intentional lines, the focus on the soup becomes easier and therefore more beautiful.
Pro Tip: Invest in a pair of tweezers for precision placement of soup contents.
For this soup, I relied on some empty space in the frame combined with the angle of the soup spoons and handles to create a path for the eye. Another pro tip: invest in a pair of tweezers like this pair for precision placement of soup contents. I used my tweezers to manipulate the cooked spinach and add the carrots to the exact spots I wanted, without disturbing the soup.
A brown soup can be difficult to photograph because although it has texture, when the colours lack sharp contrast with one another they can fall flat on camera. Many of the tips I provided in last month’s column on styling casseroles can actually apply to brown soups.
Pro Tip: An element of a contrasting fresh nature is critical with brown soup.
For this Sweet Potato Lentil Soup, I rinsed a few spoonfuls of the lentils and sweet potato through a sieve and then gently added them back to the top of the soup. I also shot the frame much tighter to really let the viewer focus in on the lentils, the hero of this dish. An element of a contrasting fresh nature is critical with brown soup. A torn piece of white crusty bread or some gently laid fresh green herbs will draw the eye into a focal point.
With broth-based soup it's difficult to use a bowl filler as it likely will be seen through the broth. This, combined with the challenge of the soup's components sinking to the bottom of the bowl, can make it tricky to style. The easiest solution to this is to use a very shallow, light coloured bowl. You may even consider diluting the broth slightly with water to really make the components of the soup shine through.
Pro Tip: Use an eyedropper to add some bubbles.
For this Turkey Soup, I also increased my ratio of solids to liquids, allowing the solids (noodles, turkey, carrots) to pile up slightly disproportionate to how I would likely serve it. When it came time to shoot with a more accurate broth to noodle ratio, I switched from styling it overhead to styling it at a three-quarters angle with the light creating a shimmer on the broth (Editor's note: see the photo at the top of the article). I also used an eyedropper to add some bubbles.
Pro Tip: Create steam.
One final pro tip for styling soups: creating steam. I tend to shoot all my soups cold; it's just easier and more convenient. That said, if you want to create the look of a hot soup without the heat, three ways to create the look of steam are:
- Cotton balls soaked in water, microwaved and then placed behind the bowl
- A portable steamer or small kettle placed below and behind the soup bowl
- Place a candle behind the bowl, light it and then blow it out just before taking the shot
As we slip into these darker months, it's a great time to practice your soup styling.
- Food Styling: Tips for Styling Pasta Dishes
- How to Food Style Ice Cream and Foods that Melt
- Food Styling: Styling Cakes for the Camera
Lisa Bolton is the creator, writer and photographer behind Food Well Said, her blog about thoughtfully prepared, whole food recipes. She lives in the Lower Mainland of BC and you can reach her on Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest and Facebook.