In our Food Styling 101 series, Lisa Bolton shares 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. Today she shares tips for food styling chocolate.
Chocolate! Dark, milk, white, chips, cake, cookies, melted, solid or cooked … there are pretty much no limits to how I enjoy eating my chocolate. Food styling chocolate, though, is a whole different ball game.
Chocolate can actually be quite a temperamental product to work with, depending on its form. It's absolutely a balance of both art and science. It's worthwhile to break out the discussion of styling photographing chocolates (like a box of chocolates) and photographing chocolate desserts (pudding, cake, fudge. etc.)
Styling and Photographing Chocolates
The famous quote from the movie Forest Gump rings very true: “Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get.” As the holidays approach, we start to see more and more beautifully crafted and designed chocolates being shared around offices and homes. It's a great time of year to play with those delectable bites, but if you do so you need to follow a few rules.
Avoid Moisture, Heat and Light
First, there are three things chocolates don't respond well to: moisture, heat and direct light. Chocolate requires a cool and dry set. Avoid storing chocolates in the refrigerator as the moisture level is too high. Droplets can start to form on the chocolate and, while you can use a small brush to remove them, often they leave behind white dots that can be difficult to correct even in post-production.
When handling chocolates, consider using gloves if the surface of the chocolate is very smooth. Fingerprints show up tenfold through the lens of a camera. And turn down the heat! If the room is too warm, anytime you handle the chocolate it will tend to dent and that can be a very difficult imperfection to correct.
Composition Challenges of Chocolates
Second, chocolates themselves are using quite small, often not larger than a square inch. This can pose some compositional challenges. In order to capture the detail of the chocolates, there's a high likelihood you'll have to get in quite close, for a tight frame shot. This doesn’t leave room for a lot of compositional creativity.
If you're styling the shot with some external propping, consider the proportions of the props so they're an appropriate scale relative to the size of the chocolates. A simple way to prop chocolates is to leave most of them in the box with perhaps one or three (odd numbers are most appealing) outside the box. Crumpling up the wrapper or paper holder the chocolate comes in and then placing the chocolate back in the wrapper or leaving the wrapper visible in the shot adds a layer of texture while also being compositionally relevant.
Styling and Photographing Chocolate Desserts
The Challenge of Dark Hues
When it comes to styling chocolate desserts, the greatest challenge is the contrast in the dark hue of chocolate against a background. Darker backgrounds do work best for highlighting white chocolate. The opposite is true, in that lighter backgrounds work well for dark chocolate.
If you have a mix of milk and dark chocolate, the easiest solution is to go with a darker backdrop but not darker than the milk chocolate shade. Blue is also a very complementary colour when it comes to styling chocolate and can work great as a hue to select for propping.
Adding Texture and Visual Interest
The best way to break up the darkness of chocolate is to add texture. One way to do this is using a sifter with either icing sugar (confectioner's sugar) or cocoa. If you're looking to maintain a more monochromatic feel to the scene, cocoa is still a darker hue but the contrast in shade and texture provides visual interest in the shot. A dusting of white icing sugar lightens up the shot and provides colour contrast. Large flaked sea salt (if appropriate for the recipe) also has the same effect.
A way to add texture and visual interest to chocolate that's in a more malleable state (like pudding or hot chocolate) is similar to the approach to a dip like hummus: create a swirl and wake. In the case of chocolate pudding, use the back of a spoon to create a swirl swoosh. The light will fill the dips and valleys, creating shadows. The contrast in the different shades helps break up the solid brown of the chocolate.
Embrace the Mess!
Finally, as much as I recommend controlling the environment to preserve the chocolate, sometimes styling it means embracing the mess of the food. In the case of chocolate, a trail of chocolate cake crumbs can provide a path for the eye. Or a chocolate drip down the side of a bowl full of batter can add movement to a still shot.
Chocolate is very universal in its appeal, so it's a great food to have fun with and practice your food styling techniques. And if it doesn’t turn out how you like it, it just means you get to make more chocolate.
- Food Styling Tips: Styling Edible Gifts
- Food Styling: Tips for Hot Beverages
- Food Styling: Styling Cakes For the Camera
Lisa Bolton is a food stylist, recipe developer and creator of beautiful food boards. You can find her work at lisadawnbolton.com. She lives in the Lower Mainland of BC. Her first cookbook, On Boards, (affiliate link) was released by Appetite by Penguin Random House in October 2018. You can reach her on Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest and Facebook.