One of the most difficult things about food photography is the food styling. If your food doesn’t look good, then it doesn’t matter what kind of equipment or light you have, your shot isn’t going to look good.
Here are 10 easy food styling tips that will help your food photography.
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Table of Contents
1. Keep Your Food Looking Fresh
No matter where you are in the world, there are products that are made to stop food from oxidizing. Oxidation of food makes the food look brown. It’s a natural thing that happens with certain foods.
Accent is just straight up MSG (Monosodium Glutamate). I have a lot of issues with MSG in our foods, however, for food photography I look at it like any other chemical. I won’t eat it, but it is amazing at stopping food from browning. So yes, I still have Accent in my food photography kitchen (never in my home kitchen). MSG is also known as a “flavor enhancer”, that apparently make millions of people sick. Enough said. Do not eat the food that you soak in Accent.
Ball’s Fruit Fresh is a massive dose of vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid), which does the same thing as Accent.
What I do when trying to make food last on set is I will make a concoction of 2 tablespoons Accent (or Fruit Fresh) with 1 cup of water. I will soak the food, or pour the concoction on top of the food that needs to last.
For example, with the artichokes below – I took two shallow bowls with a little bit of my Accent/water solution, cut the artichokes and immediately placed the cut halves cut side down into the solution and let them soak for about 20 minutes. Artichokes normally oxidize instantly, but these artichokes lasted for several hours!
You can see in the stem of the artichoke, the oxidation is starting, probably because I was so concerned about the main interior, I didn’t make sure the stems were soaking in the solution.
2. Use Props For Your Food
This is what I call Blue Goo. Actually it is called Loctite Fun-Tak Mounting Putty. This stuff is sticky and will actually stick to a lot of foods.
Many times when shooting food items, they will not naturally want to stay in certain positions for the photos. That is when you bring in Fun Tak. We use this all the time to prop things up on set.
It gets tricky placing the Fun Tak so that the camera lens does not see it. You have to fiddle with it to get the food in the position that you like, and not see the Fun Tak from camera.
This is a shot of me shooting some strawberries for Pinkberry Frozen Yogurt. We always did lots of ingredient shots of the produce they used for their yogurts.
3. Straight Pins and T-Pins
In the image above, see the little metal heads of the straight pins that are holding down the strawberry top? We use straight pins all the time to tuck in the food and keep it in certain positions. It’s all about manipulating the food to get the images that you want.
T-Pins are great for securing food to make sure it will not move. For a burger, if your tomato is not the perfect diameter for the burger, you can split a tomato, spread it, then secure it with T-pins.
Sometimes straight pins won’t be enough to hold the food, so that is when you need T-Pins.
4. Kitchen Bouquet
Kitchen Bouquet is normally used as a browning agent for gravy and sauces. It has been around since the 50’s. It is a mixture of caramelized color with some vegetable flavoring. Every country has their own version of this. I have to say that Kitchen Bouquet is a staple in every professional food photography studio. We use it for all kinds of things.
See that glass of wine above? Yeah, that’s not wine. That is a tiny bit Kitchen Bouquet mixed with water. Gross!!! Looks just like white wine though. My good friend and prop stylist Amy Paliwoda coined the phrase Magical Chardonnay.
We also use Kitchen Bouquet to “brown” poultry by painting it on the poultry with a mixture of KB with water and seasoning.
When making poultry for food photos, you actually have to undercook it, then use KB, seasoning, and a kitchen torch, to make it look like it was roasted longer.
The chicken above would kill someone if they ate it – seriously. It was only cooked for about 5-10 minutes, then set out to cool down, then painted with KB and seasoning. It’s a bio hazard at this point but it will look awesome in photos, though it’s not edible any more.
My point is the KB can be used to brown all kinds of things, toast, croissants, any kind of animal protein, you get the idea.
5. Kitchen Torch
The kitchen torch can be used for so many things. I know that it can be scary at first figuring out how to use a torch. Once you get comfortable with it, it will become one of your most common tools. Please, PRACTICE first before using it on your perfectly styled food. Practice on a piece of toast and also some chicken or something more dense, to learn how much you can apply before it gets too dark.
Once you get the hang of it, it’s really like painting a darker color onto your food.
#5. Fake Ice
Fake ice is also one of those things that everyone will need eventually when doing food photography. I have a small collection of fake ice.
You need to know that there are two kinds of fake ice. If you plan on doing high end liquor photography, you will need to spend some cash and get the beautiful hand made acrylic cubes that are about $40-$50 for each cube, AND it’s expected that you have that on hand as a photographer.
The second kind of fake ice is what I use, the regular acrylic ice for a lot less, which is called display ice. I do not do liquor ads, or the special affects image called Splashing photography.
This image below is using my regular acrylic ice. When liquid is on the display ice, it helps to make it look more realistic. I have fake shards in two sizes and fake cubes in one size.
#6. Fake Condensation
The image above with the three drinks is also showing another food styling trick with beverages, fake condensation.
Because I am using fake ice cubes, the beverages are not actually cold. I am making it look cold by using fake condensation on the glasses. This can take some time to learn how to do. I have a process that I do for each glass.
I put a base coat on the glass, which is usually some kind of dulling spray. This will give the fake condensation something to hold onto.
Then I use what’s called Aqua Gel on top of the dulling spray to get the big drips and rivers of condensation down the glass that will never move once I place them on the glass.
Which brings me to my next food styling trick, Glycerin.
Glycerin is another staple in food photography and beverage photography. We use it on beverages and on foods when trying to keep them looking juicy.
We use it with a brush directly on some foods, like a steak. Then we’ll dilute it down with water in a spray bottle to spritz on our foods to keep them fresh looking.
Glycerin is a clear odorless liquid that is often used in soaps and pharmaceuticals. Lots of your skin moisturizers have glycerin. It feels oily but is actually water based. It is often used as a sweetener in the food industry and is non toxic.
Glycerin will not evaporate so when used with some water, it can be sprayed onto items to keep them fresh or to look like condensation that will not evaporate. Very handy I must say.
#8 Cooking Spray
Every country has their own version of cooking sprays. Cooking sprays can do several things in food photography. They can put a coating on food before cooking that will help the food cook evenly and get a really nice color. It will also stop the food from sticking to the pan.
In the US, the food stylist use Original Pam and also Butter Flavored Pam. The Butter Flavored Pam helps with getting a golden color on foods.
Please keep in mind, these tips and trick are for getting your food to look its best, we are not taking taste or flavor into consideration.
With professional food photography, it’s all about what will make the food look awesome, not what it will taste like.
So those of your that are trying to use your food photography subjects for dinner, this will be a challenge for you because the food might not taste so great after it has been properly styled. This is a huge shift for a lot of food bloggers.
In the 80’s and 90’s, we called this Poly Sorb. In our photography world, it’s a type of fake shaved ice. Its real purpose is to absorb water, lots of it. My original source in Los Angeles has closed, so I found another source in the US that shooters buy from.
That is Poly-Sorb on the plate – doesn’t it look EXACTLY like the ice you would get in a frozen margarita??? It’s amazing stuff actually. You only need a tiny amount, with a little bit of water, and it turns into the plastic, jelly like substance.
The place that supplies it now is called M2 Polymer Technologies Inc., and the product is called Waste Lock 770. Just get the smallest amount, as it will last forever. You can use it for a shaved ice base, like a seafood spread, and for “frozen” drinks.
#10 Scotch Guard
This is something you probably haven’t heard of before. Scotch Guard is amazing at creating a shield, a protective barrier between your food and some sort of liquid. I call it a food shellac – where the food has a coating on it that won’t allow anything to penetrate it.
Take these pancakes for example. They were hosed down with Scotch Guard. Normally pancake syrup would just soak right into the pancake making a very dark area where the syrup would soak in. When you hose the pancake down with Scotch Guard, the syrup just flows right off the pancake, making a beautiful, smooth syrup surface.
Yeah, it’s weird, but it works like a charm! These two pancake shots would not look like this if it wasn’t for Scotch Guard.
OK my friends, there you have it. Some strange and hopefully helpful food styling techniques that you can easily use in your food photos.
I have a lot more food styling techniques in my food photography ebook. So make sure to get your copy today.
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