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 tips for the ever-popular casserole — comforting, flavourful, easy … but challenging to style!
Casseroles are the nemesis of so many food bloggers and photographers. There's no denying the tantalizing aroma in the house as a casserole bakes, or the ease of being able to set it and forget it when it comes to busy weeknight meals. Casseroles are one of the most searched recipe types, but the way all the beautiful flavours and textures meld together is exactly what can make it so difficult to style. It's hard to not end up with just one big mushy scoop on a plate.
This month I'm focusing on how to food style your favourite casserole for the camera.
The Casserole Challenge
The challenge with casseroles is twofold. One, it's baked in a slow cooker or a rimmed baking dish, making anything but a flat lay shot more difficult. Second, the interest often comes in what's inside the casserole but, unlike a cake or a pizza, it can be hard to get a nice clean scoop.
I demonstrated this in last month's Tips for Styling Pasta, but it's worth repeating: consider capturing the ingredients before they go into the oven. You can also read more about how to approach this in my column on Tips for Styling Raw Ingredients.
Props for Pops
While I always think props should be secondary to the food, and that you can really use what you have, casseroles may be the one exception to that. If possible, move away from the glass casserole dishes. Effective yes, but when it comes to styling, a solid colour baking pan is going to give you beautiful contrast.
There tends to be a lot of colours and textures with a casserole and if you can contrast those against a solid white, black or coloured pan, the food is going to pop. Home goods stores or thrift stores are great places to find inexpensive solid colour casserole dishes. Cast iron pans are also great for styling casseroles.
Perspective: Sitting Down to the Dish or Tight
I'm partial to styling from the perspective and distance of someone sitting down to the dish. My preference is to allow for room for two or three plates, or some raw ingredients that when composed create a scene. This is in contrast to stylists and photographers who prefer to shoot tight, quite close to the subject.
Neither approach is right or wrong, just a personal preference. For casseroles, especially if you're creating a series of photographs, the latter style can actually work very well for showing the inside of the casserole.
In the kale and mushroom casserole at the very top of the post, I've moved in close. I took out a piece of mushroom and kale, wiped it off gently with a piece of paper towel and placed it back on the serving spoon. This makes it easier to identify as opposed to when it's covered in the rice and sauce. The only props are a piece of cheesecloth and the serving spoon. In a series of photos, this image posted after an image of the casserole intact tells the story well.
Showing Off the Inside
Another way to style a casserole and show off the inside is to reserve a small amount of extra casserole when you're making it and display it next to the intact casserole.
For this tuna casserole, I served the reserved portion in a similar cast iron dish so the reader can get an indication of what lies beneath the panko parmesan crust. This approach also works well because it allows you to retain the casserole intact if you're going to serve it at a later date (or give it away to friends) without a big scoop taken out!
Anytime you can style movement into a shot, do it!
Anytime you can style movement into a shot, do it! In the case of the meatball parmesan I wanted to capture the stringy mozzarella cheese.
To style this, I made sure to plan the scene with a stand-in by using a similar pan and setting up the shot so when it came out of the oven I was ready. While you can’t really see what's inside the casserole, the reader still gets the full effect as they see the meatball coming out. If you can't capture the long stringy cheese in motion, propping up the contents of the casserole on a fork works just as well.
When it comes to having arms in the picture, make sure to never cut them off at the joint (knuckle, wrist or elbow). By cropping the photo mid-hand, the eye knows there's an arm attached. Cropped at the wrist, the eye isn’t so sure.
Making Your Casserole Rise to the Top
Despite all the casserole recipes available on the internet and sharing sites like Pinterest, there are very few that stand out as beautifully styled. With photography and styling such a large part of getting noticed, there's a huge opportunity to have your recipe rise to top and really pop by applying some intentional styling techniques when it comes to casseroles.
- 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.