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 salads.
With the holidays behind us, everyone's looking to lighten things up. After a season of cheeses and meats and treats galore, it's no coincidence that salads are one of the most searched items in January. Although everyone wants to add more greens to their diet, in order to stand out it's timely to give your salad a facelift.
How Do I Make My Salad Stand Out?
There are three keys to making your salads stand out on camera:
- start with the best ingredients
- choose the best serving dish or vessel
- go easy with the dressing
These tips will help your salad stand out in a sea of greens at the start of this new year.
Use the Best Ingredients
The first step in styling a salad starts when you're shopping for the ingredients. Styling a salad requires that each component looks its best. You want to go through all the elements of your salad and ensure the ones that will be prominent on camera are the best of the bunch.
Placing the Ingredients
From there, the next step is to layer in the ingredients from largest to smallest. Large lettuce leaves are the first to go down and then the last are small finishing components.
As you place the components, do so deliberately in such a way that each element is visible. This may mean alternating components.
Create Visual Interest with Shapes
Also consider slicing each component differently. For example, instead of cutting tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers all into little cubes, try slicing the tomatoes into large wedges, the cucumbers into ribbons and the peppers into long strips. The variety creates visual interest in the salad.
Hold Back A Few Extras
As a final note on ingredients, make sure to have some extra that you can use to style outside the plate. Once you have your salad plated you may wish to style the shot with a board of partially cut tomatoes, for example, or some leftover herb stems. Holding back some of the special components of the salad puts the focus on them.
What's the Best Serving Dish to Showcase a Salad?
Avoid Using A Salad Bowl When Styling A Salad For The Camera
The second technique that helps your salad shine is to actually get it out of the salad bowl.
A bowl's great for tossing the salad or for serving up the family on a busy weeknight, but it does nothing to highlight all the beautiful components. The problem with a bowl is three-fold.
- First, most often what happens is all the heavy items end up falling to the bottom, which means the ratio of lighter components (like greens) to heavier components (like tomatoes or nuts) is unbalanced.
- Second, rarely is the bowl heaping so there's not a lot of room for layers and height. If you think of a bowl of popcorn, there's a heaping mound that builds up above the rim of the bowl. With the rare exception of something like a very hearty potato salad, a bowl doesn't highlight the best parts of a typical green salad.
- And finally, the high sides of a bowl are going to cast shadows onto the salad, making it difficult to light.
What's The Best Serving Dish For A Salad?
The best vessel for a salad is a plate or very shallow bowl with a slight lip or edge.
In the case of a salad with a lot of greens, you want to layer your ingredients. Start with the greens first, then layer on each additional component in an intentional manner. What makes a salad pop is being able to reveal all the different elements: the vegetables, cheeses, nuts, seed, herbs, et cetera.
Using a plate or shallow bowl allows you to play with different light sources without having to deal with heavy shadows.
What About the Salad Dressing?
The third and probably most important component to styling a salad is the dressing, or rather lack of dressing.
How much dressing you apply and when can make or break your shot.
PRO TIP: I always suggest capturing some shots with the dressing on the side to begin.
Dressing wilts more delicate greens quickly. By having it on the side you have more time to play around with styling the shot. A small dish, mason jar, gravy boat or even egg cup can be cute vessels for a dressing shot.
Once you're ready to dress the salad, err on the light side. A little goes a long way in creating just a slight sheen on the greens. For the purposes of the photography, the entire salad doesn’t have to be dressed, just some of the more prominent leaves. Often I use a mister with oil just to give the salad a slight sheen and the appearance that it's been fully dressed.
This approach really applies to salads that are heavy with greens. A bean or potato salad can hold up to heavier dressings.
Other Types of Salads
Finally, a note about other salads. As much as January often means lighter, greens-prominent salads, it's worth mentioning the styling of denser salads like egg, chicken, potato or tuna.
The challenge with these salads is that they tend to lack texture or colour. There's a “mushiness” to them that can make them difficult to style. The key to making these salads look as tasty as they are lies in focusing on the serving dishes and adding colour.
Most of these salads are served on greens or breads. In this case, ensure that when you apply tuna salad, for instance, to bread you don't spread it quite to the edges. Rather, ensure some bread is showing through.
Or if you're serving a dense salad without a vessel, make sure it's is heavily garnished with greens or the scene is propped with some of the whole ingredients on the side.
Let's Style Some Salads!
Grab a plate, a spiralizer and just a little dressing and start the new year off right with some salads that look as amazing as they are good for you. Tag your salad pics with #FBCigers and we might feature them on our Instagram feed!
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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.