In part one and part two of the series we started the discussion on food photography with how to see more creatively and a discussion of the elements and principles of design. In part three professional prop stylist Paula Walters shared her tips on how to choose the right props for your images.
Today Tami Hardeman, an Atlanta, Georgia-based food stylist who works on both film and print for clients like McDonalds, Olive Garden and Coca-Cola, as well as editorial clients, answers your questions on food styling.
She started her blog, Running With Tweezers , six years ago and was recently named as one of the 50 Best Food Sites by the UK’s The Independent. You can find some of her professional work atwww.tamihardeman.com. You can also follow her via Facebook and Twitter. Welcome Tami!
You asked and Tami’s answered what you most wanted to know about food styling.
1. Is there any specific equipment that food bloggers should pick up for styling at home?
For the person at home who wants basic tools to have on hand for light styling, here is a short list of things I recommend people have:
- q-tips (for cleaning rims and insides of plates/bowls)
- small scissors
- a set of basic plastic handled paint brushes (with wood handled brushes, the paint on the handles tends to chip off which can happen in your food)
- tweezers (for poking and pulling – think of them as skinnier fingers)
- some clear oil like vegetable or canola for making food glisten
- small ramekins for things like oil/water/glass cleaner (for those plates which are NOT going directly to the table)
- a small spritzer/atomizer (the kind you get at a beauty supply or drugstore) for spritzing salads or the outside of bottles/glasses
- small squeeze bottles for applying sauce or drizzles.
2. Any tips for making food look it’s best in natural light?
Natural light is the best way to make food look most appetizing. However, if you’re talking about the harsh shadows that the sun can cause on food, that’s more photography than it is styling. Diffusing light is a way to take the harshness off and still have soft daylight. Plate to Pixel from Helene over at Tartelette is a great resource in book form for photography for bloggers.
3. How do you style food with a natural look, without making it look like it’s been too styled? How do you get to that perfect place between “not enough” and “too much” styling?
This all comes through practice and knowing the voice of your blog/photos and who your audience is.
Each blog and each photo is different – the highly styled photos of Mowielicious touch a different audience than say Ree’s photos over at Pioneer Woman. All of them are beautiful and they all have merit and there is an audience for all of them. You’ll know when you start getting your hands dirty. One thing I can say is…practice, practice, practice. You’ll start knowing and being intuitive and you’ll be able to stop before its “too overdone”.
4. Are there any differences when styling for messier mood shots?
For shots on my blog, I tend to do a “cleaner” version and then mess it up in stages. That perfectly twirled pile of pasta gets a fork in it and a twirl.
Honestly, I think the best way to make dish look properly messy and lived in is to eat it…or approximate eating it as much as you can. When I post things on my blog, it tends to be stuff that I make to eat myself so the “eaten & messy” look is a no-brainer – I love taking shots of the plates when they’re on my lunch table or in the window sill that I tend to sit in in my kitchen.
5. How do you style “ugly” food such as soups, stews, curries and sauces?
I wish there was a magic answer to give you that would instantly make brown food more attractive. Unfortunately, there isn’t one.
For things such as stews, one good trick is to cook some of the vegetable/non-meat items separately or pull some of them out before they’re completely done. Let’s use beef stew, for example: taking out (or cooking separately) some of the carrots and potatoes will allow them to have more defined texture. Then, you can place them into your dish and brush a bit of sauce on them so they look “integrated” into the plate without losing all their character and color.
Outside of that, choose light colored plates or bowls….and choose some fresh herbs or a dollop of sour cream (on chili or the like) or a spoon of couscous to lighten up the dish. I’ve done an entire styling post about “brown foods”, which you can find here:
6. How do you make “boring” foods that are all one color such as rice, pudding, white food, pureed soup and dips look attractive? How can we shoot white food without losing its texture?
Garnish, garnish, garnish…or make it pretty with interesting plateware.
Some recipes, while they taste good, are inherently flat and uninteresting, visually. Things like pudding or rice pudding need some texture so creating texture in the dollops is always helpful. Beyond that, sprinkle things with chopped herbs, powdered sugar, a bit of cinnamon, chopped chocolate – cue to something complimentary in the dish and try to distract the eye from the boring-ness of it.
You could also make it more interesting by the plating – a really interesting vessel to serve it in. Place the spoon in the bowl or cup. Use different ways of serving to jazz it up. There are no rules that says it has to be served in a bowl – put the pudding in a small jar with the spoon in it. Multiples of those kinds of things are always nice & add interest to a boring looking dish. I tackled egg salad in a styling discussion that I presented at BlogHer Food, which you can find here.
7. How do you style foods that need to be shot very hot or very cold and that cool or melt quickly?
I wish I had an easy answer to give you – some magic spell – that would allow you to reverse the laws of nature and science and all and transport us to a land where cheese never congeals and ice cream always stays firm. However, there is no such thing. Time, patience, practice and extra product is really the only way to get the shots you want.
Try different cheeses on pizzas until you find one that doesn’t get greasy or translucent as quickly – unfortunately, those are usually cheeses with lots of artificial stuff in them.
For ice cream, scooping your scoops ahead of time and setting them on a plate or baking sheet will let them set up and buy you some extra time in front of the camera – just use an off-set spatula to lift them into the dish and start snapping photos. You could also harden them on dry ice but that’s getting into professional grade stuff there.
Ice cream and cheese & cheese pulls are tough stuff even for stylists so don’t be hard on yourself. Just be patient and practice a bunch.
8. How do you approach styling a salad to make sure that the ingredients look fresh and don’t wilt once the dressing is added? When do you add the dressing and how?
When I style a salad, I look at the recipe and decide whether the dressing is important or the salad ingredients themselves should be the focus.
If the most interesting thing about the salad is the dressing, I’ll either brush the leaves with a bit of the dressing or toss them – once the dressing is on, though…you’re on the clock and there isn’t a magic solution besides shooting quickly – an example of a post on my blog is here.
If the salad is more about the ingredients and the dressing is simple or a common recipe, I won’t bother dressing the greens. I might put it in a small bowl off to the side or in the background – most people know about a balsamic vinaigrette so I give them credit for knowing what it looks like and I focus on the beautiful fresh produce…or I just give the salad a bit of a spritz with a small spritzer to show moisture for an example see my post here.
9. Are there any specific tips for cake and pastry styling to show the viewer both the finished product along with what the inside looks like?
I don’t really bake a lot in my “real life” so there aren’t a lot of pies & cakes on my blog. When I’ve done pies and such for photoshoots (I’ve done frozen pie packaging & slices on lifts, etc), there is a lot of construction involved that would render them not edible to people.
The simple fact is that a fruit pie is going to slump if you bake it and then cut it. You’d have to shoot it cold and place in the fruit to try to keep the crust propped up. Pies and cakes are comfort food and the audience reading the blog post or recipe knows that…and its more about the emotional connection and the crave of the flavors.
For layer cakes and such, I think Rosie over at Sweetapolita does a great job of playing with height and angles with her whole cakes and cake pieces.
10. How do you know what garnishes to include for a dish and where to place them?
My basic rule about garnishes is that they should be edible. I have never, ever understood inedible garnishes.
The garnishes should cue to something in the dish or be a complimentary flavor. For things like soups, garnishes are a good way to cue to the flavor profile of the soup and give some dimension to pureed soups for an example see here. As a personal preference, I think that parsley sprigs and such on the side of a plate (or the old school carved vegetable garnishes) are a little dated…and if you’re not using it to distract from the brownness of the food…makes your plates look a little behind the times.
11. What are the best ways to style layered sandwiches so that the filling appears visible and everything stays in place while you are photographing it?
I have an entire styling post dedicated to styling layered sandwiches – it’s a long one so be prepared! You can find it here:
Thank you Tami for sharing your secrets for styling “food that pleases the eye as much as the palate!” For more great tips on food styling please visit Tami’s blog: Running With Tweezers.
(Writing, styling and photography submitted for this post by Tami Hardeman, all rights reserved 2011.)
Read Part 3 of the Language of Food Photography | Prop Styling with Paula Walters
What are some of your favorite foods to photograph?