I am a food stylist and am passionate about cooking most any cuisine. A stylist’s job is to make the food look good on the table or for a photo shoot. Many people who post pictures of their creations on Instagram or Facebook should take a tip from me. If the food doesn’t look pretty and appetizing, then who cares? Pay attention to placement according to shape, color, and size and you can’t go wrong. How you group different items on a platter can make a huge difference. Eye appeal is the job of the stylist and it is something you can learn to do. The basics of art composition come into play when arranging anything culinary.
The largest item usually goes in the center with smaller things around it. It is important not to pile the dish too high if it is supposed to be a professional image. The brightest color should be next to a darker one in your order of preference. A mixture of hues makes a plate look balanced. All one color, such as brown, will not photograph well. You want to light everything well to show variances in texture and tone. Having the right lighting is key to the stylist’s process. You can use them to shoot other subjects such as people as well. Lopsided lights will cast shadows and obscure some of the food. Most stylists aren’t seeking a mood, at least not often. If they are working on a commercial or movie, that is a different matter. They may have to reflect the scene’s emotional tones.
You can work by trial and error or use the skills you have acquired from experience. Recently I had to wing it when shooting some barbecue fare. The client wanted the food to look masculine and I thought about how I could accomplish that without props. I deliberated what kind of props and thought of tools, beer cans, a football, a helmet, and a small gun safe like these. I tried each item to see which looked best. Each one created a different mood. I opted for the gun safe as it was small but imposing, had a nice smooth texture that contrasted well with the food, and was square in shape. Most of the items in the composition were round so it was a perfect pairing. The gun safe was not heavy which made it easy to carry from the car. I had borrowed it from a friend.
I made sure that she emptied it of its one pistol contents. She normally kept it locked under her bed. I wanted it unlocked so I could try it out with the door open and then closed to see what made for the best photograph. Without the gun, it lost its message. I thought of asking my friend to bring the gun unloaded, of course, which she promptly did in a half hour. It definitely brought out the masculine nature of the image. I used a steak, baked potato, and vegetables as they are a traditional “manly” combination.