Styling is a fun part of food photography and you do not need to be a professional food or prop stylist to incorporate some easy, simple styling tips and concepts into your own food photography. In today’s Food Photography 101 Tips post, I’m going to talk about adding easy, simple food styling embellishments and elements to your images that you most likely already have at your fingertips or can learn to start looking for. Small embellishments bring elements of style and surprise to your imagery, elevating the overall image. In my own photography, I follow a pretty simple rule, KISS (keep it simple stupid.) I tend to gravitate towards a cleaner, less is more, graphic image/set. That’s not to say I haven’t composed scenes with lots going on, but keep in mind the more elements you introduce into your shot, the more you will need to consider balance and composition within your frame. When done well, you will end up with a dynamic image full of beautiful composition, balance, color, and movement.
If you missed the first post, “Food Photography 101 Tips ~ Start with the Light” just hop over here. If you’re still practicing with some of those fundamentals, go ahead and add some of what I’ll share today into those shots as well.
Before I talk about any styling, I want to talk about the thought process behind a shoot. Whenever I begin to think about what it is I’m wanting to photograph, I immediately consider things like: what feel do I want this image to convey, what season will it speak of, do I want it to have a darker or lighter mood/look, what natural elements already go with my food subject, is if for my own personal use or do I need to consider a clients perspective and/or elements, is it a beauty shot or part of a story, is it for my blog…..in short, what is my story. Those of you who have heard me speak, attended my workshops or have been through a mentoring session with me, have heard me drive this point home as it does a few important things. First, it leads to making specific decisions about your shoot, which guides you when selecting props, surfaces, backgrounds, etc. If you don’t have a plan, you’re more likely to be all over the place, wasting time and not having what you need to successfully convey your concept during your photo shoot. Be as prepared as possible.
I’ve grouped the examples below together with the approach and elements I used in styling them. You’ll see that I use the same concepts over and over again. You will also notice how I have combined some of the concepts together within the groups. This is an image heavy post as it’s more about showing you examples, than technical explanations.
First up, have you considered incorporating hands and body parts as styled elements in your composition? You should. The human element adds a very real, tangible, and personal connection to your image. If you’re photographing at home, grab your child, husband/wife or a neighbor. If you’re photographing in a restaurant or the like, borrow a server, or even the chef him or herself. Take notice of what people are wearing and play it up, being mindful that it works with your story.
The next group of images show how powerful what it is you use to show your food in or on can be. I’m forever looking for unusual shaped vessels, colors, textures. Let those elements become part of the beauty of the image. Think graphically, think color blocks, think patterns. Don’t be afraid to be unconventional, turn things upside down, sideways, use a great floor, no matter how ‘wrong’ it may seem. Play up shapes against each other. Look for colors or existing location offerings that push your image that extra inch. This can be especially helpful when shooting on location and you may not have been able to scout beforehand. Investigate everything potentially available to you. Push yourself to visualize outside the box. It’s a much more interesting world over there!
Herbs, baby, herbs. Most everything looks (and most definitely tastes) better embellished with fresh herbs as well as being one of the simplest ways to style up your shot. Consider their shapes and textures, mix them up, use masses or just a sprinkling.
Sometimes doing nothing more than grouping your like food in quantities is one of the most impactful ways to style food. Here you will need to pay special attention to the graphic composition within the frame. Sometimes, happy accidents – as far as how the food initially lands, rules.
This is a fun one: Paper, twine, ribbon.
The last one I’m going to share today is simply using your finished, scraped, eaten, cooked foods as a styling tool. There is beauty in these scenarios and a great way to wrap up a post. One of my very favorite images is of the compost bowl. Totally unplanned, but when I looked down at it after breakfast one day, all I saw was beauty. I did not alter a thing. Every element was as added. A beautiful composition that, to me, were in the remains.
I hope you found these examples helpful in showing that the very simplest of embellishments and objects, whether hand selected, borrowed or found, can be easily incorporated into your photographs. All are mostly readily available, adding a styled element to your finished imagery.
Something you may also find along the way, is that the individual elements, locations, surfaces, vessels, etc. which you choose will be of your own personal taste, style and aesthetic. That’s what sets all of our work apart….our own individuality and style, which derives from our own experiences, journeys, likes and dislikes. If you don’t know yours yet, you will begin to discover it the more you photograph, fine tune your photography and see the patterns emerge in the elements that speak to your likes. Before you know it, everything you photograph will bear your signature style, your voice.
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