Food styling and baking have always been a passion of mine. Growing up I would spend hours pouring over recipe books in awe of the styling and the captures that sat next to mouthwatering recipes. I am no chef nor am I any good at actual cooking but baking has always been easy for me. Along with baking came my passion for setting the scene and styling my creations to share with all of you. At first it started off with just one or two finished photos of my baking but quickly became an obsession with props, angles, and lighting. I have had so many readers ask me for advice on how I style and photograph my food for my blog. Half the time, I used just my iPhone to capture my baking creations and I know everyone wants to hear that it’s because of a nice, fancy expensive camera but it’s just practice. I STILL need lots and lots of practice and playing around with props and lighting for my photographs before I will ever be completely satisfied with them. Someday I would love to be a food photographer for a magazine or cookbook but until then I will keep practicing and sharing them on LTM.
So I thought I would share with you all my here top 5 tips for food styling, in my opinion, as I said I am no professional but this is what works for me.
1. Set the scene before you bake or cook
I usually think first of the ingredients of a recipe, the color palette of that recipe, and what props I would like to used for the photo. I set up a little space whether it’s on the floor, counter, dining room table or on a piece of white card stock paper. This is your background so I choose wisely and then starting building up from there. Think of the color of your baked or cooked recipe, if it’s orange soup use a blue bowl as they are opposite on the color wheel and will pop in the photo. I then choose a platter or a plate to serve said recipe on accordingly. Then I think in terms of what my recipe is and other props I could use. Flowers are a great prop with food. If it’s a brownie possibly a miniature glass of milk and a straw in the background. If it’s soup possibly soup spoons, napkins and bread & butter to the side. Your props are endless and you can use anything around the house as props. But I get an idea of what I want the end result to look like and set the scene so that whatever is coming out of the oven or off the stove, I already have things set up to start snapping and rearranging.
For example, this Neapolitan Yogurt Popsicles I set the scene with popsicle sticks and empty containers and used an old scarf as my background on the counter. I had it right up to the window to use the natural lighting. I always snap a few photos for each step of the way even if I don’t ever use them in my blog posts. It’s great practice and helps you decide what setting on your camera is good for the lighting and scene in front of you.
2. Snap photos in the process
The second step, snap photos as you bake and cook. You can make some amazing captures while mixing batter in a bowl, or cutting up the ingredients for your recipe. Sometimes recipes are complex and it helps to have various photographs of each step so your reader knows what you are asking them to do. Other times, these ‘captures in process’ turn out to be your best photos!
For example, this photo is from my Flaky Apple Cinnamon Squares recipe. I love the flour on the coutner top and the cut apples and seeds to the side. It also shows my readers how I want them to cut and assemble the squares before baking.
This is another example, as my easy Lemon & Salmon in tin foil is stacked on top of each other before I close the tin foil all the way. This shows the readers what to do but I also think it looks lovely with the green and yellow popping from the salmon color below.
My last example is with my Cheesy Bacon Twists, which are so delicious but I preferred some of the before photos to show the ingredients off. It’s hard to see the brown sugar, rosemary and grated cheese on these after they are baked even though you can very much taste them, readers want to see what they will be getting as an end result. This helps them taste it through sight.
3. Use everything around you to style your photo
The word “prop” really just means anything around you. As I mentioned earlier flowers are great to add to any photo. Using whole pieces of the ingredients of a recipe is a prime prop, like a whole apple next to my apple squares above or a whole pepper next to a recipe that may have some diced peppers inside it. If it’s a meal, set the table for two and take a whole scene. It doesn’t have to stop at just one plate or one bowl. If it’s a treat take an action shot with one of your children taking a bite or reaching across the table for it. Hands and people are great props in food styling. Use your home accessories for props. A book, a postcard that has words on it, a pen if it’s a biscuit and coffee type post. Maybe you are in the middle of writing a postcard to someone and have your coffee and baked goody next to it. Styling food is so fun because you get to use your imagination to no end.
For example, in my Butternut Squash Soup recipe post, I set the table for two and had two bowls and spoons set out as if I was having a nice lunch with someone. Below I added a mini glass of milk and some bread and butter to set the scene. Think of your food styling as a scene to something and envision what that scene looks like. I try all sorts of variations and styles for each recipe.
Another example is my Fizzy Lemon Cocktail recipe which was a favorite shoot of mine. I used everything in the recipe as backdrops and accessories to the photo. From the shaker, whole lemons, to sugar in the shot glass. It’s cocktail hour and I am setting the whole scene not just focusing on the actual cocktails but they are very much the focal point still. Even close ups of how I iced the rim of the glass was shared.
Another example is in my Raisin Croissant Pudding post I added flowers from my mother’s garden. I had the sauce and whole croissants set to the side to show you what’s in the recipe along side it’s finished product and a big spoon. Spoon, forks, spatulas, and graters; any kitchen gadget you use for that particular recipe is great for photo props. A flour sifter is a common one to use too. Try to buy miniature versions of these as they tend to fit better in the frame. I have numerous small dishes, miniature cups and utensils. Even the cocktail glasses above are miniature size but appear normal size in the photo.
4. Take photos from various angles and lighting
My best advice is check your lighting and angles before and while you are photographing. I always try to turn off any lights in the room and use all natural light which means you need big windows or to be as close to the window as possible. My house is murder for lighting too so I also have to use a light reflector to help bounce the natural light back onto the scene so I don’t have shadows. Unless that’s the look you want, some people are amazing at gorgeous shadow effects on food styling. I haven’t got there yet, more practice and advice on that at a later date. But for now for bright and airy photos I use the window and light reflectors. You can get them on amazon so cheap. Or even just use a tin foil wrapped around a piece of cardboard. Either way, I pull a table straight up to the window and wait for the best natural light of the day to set my scenes. You don’t want direct sun as it changes the lighting and colors of your photos. Overcast but bright days are best. I love using different angles too. I always start off straight overhead looking down onto my scene, then I take photos at a 45 degree angle from all sides, zooming in and out of the scene and moving props around as I go, until I am happy. Then lastly, I take a few looking straight across the scene and zooming into only corners and pieces of the scene to capture the detail. Maybe a close up of the spoon, or a shot glass or a bite taken out of the recipe.
Like I did here, this is straight overhead looking down at my Fruit Puff Pastry Tart. I have used flowers and powdered sugar on parchment paper to set the scene behind it.
Another example is looking almost straight across at my Balsamic Watermelon Salad recipe. The grass in the background made it appear like a picnic on a hot summer’s day. It helps set the scene for me. This is harder to do indoors as you usually have something in the background that isn’t a good backdrop or doesn’t help set the scene that may distract from your actual recipe. Always look beyond and behind your immediate focal points so that it is free of clutter or anything unrelated to the recipe.
This is an example of forty-five degree angle shot from my Blackcurrant Croissant Cheese Cake recipe. It’s focusing on the detail and cutting the background and the sides off so you have to stare right into the delicious berries and pie filling. This is probably the most popular and most common shots in magazine that I see. It always seems to be my favorite shots in my own food styling too.
5. Take a bite, cut a slice, scoop it
I also recommend getting involved with your photos. Test out your creations, take a bite, cut a slice or two, or scoop it and use that as your captures. Put those props to work for you in your photos. If it’s soup put your spoon in the bowl and then set it on the side of the bowl so you can see the dirty spoon. Don’t be afraid to make a mess of your scene too. Spread flour or sugar at the side of your recipe, or have sauce dripping off the plate onto the table. It gives it detail and makes you interact more with the scene. Have a hand in the photo, holding the fork with food on the end and the finish product in the background blurred out. The options are endless. Make your photos work for you too!
Here, I scooped out a spoon full of my Blackcurrant Cheesecake Homemade Ice Cream in the ice cream scooper and set it on a cutting board so you could see all the ingredients in the ice cream. Then I grated some chocolate and left some whole pieces next to it to create a mouthwatering effect for this capture.
Another example of this is cutting a slice out of my Lucky Charms Cake. I wanted to show that there was a layer of frosting and marshmallows in the middle of the cake. It also shows how deep and tall the cake is with a slice cut out. Sometimes putting a slice on a plate next to the cake is a great capture. You can focus on the slice with the main cake in the background using the actual cake as a prop too.
The beauty of food styling and photography is there is no wrong or right way. We all take photos differently and with different devices it’s just playing around to find your style and what works for you. I hope you have enjoyed my tips and what I do when styling my recipes. If you love to style food photos, I would love to hear what you do and if you do things differently than I do. Please comment below.
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