30+ food styling tips to take your food photography to the next level

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There are many things that come together to create good food photography: your photography skills, good use of the light, some cooking knowledge. But one of the most important skill is one that is often overlooked: your food styling skills can make or break an image. If you want to get started with food photography without have to read a whole book about it (416 pages packed full of super useful tips… Just saying, in case you need something to read next.), here are over 30 tips to help you style and shoot food for drool worthy images:

1/ Choose small plates and bowls. Food just looks better when there a small amount of carefully chosen pieces as opposed to a mound of food. They will however look quite lost if you use regular size dinner plates, so make sure to use salad plates and small bowls. When styling food, smaller props in general work best as well.

30+ food styling tips - food photography - Frenchly Photography

2/ Use fresh ingredients. They can actually been used as props and placed directly on the backdrop. They will bring an element of freshness to your images and create the feeling that the food was just prepared, and they will also give taste and flavor hints to the viewer and help him image what the dish tastes like.

3/ To create depth and add interest to your images, make sure to use layers. You can for example lay a napkin, then a plate, then a small bowl with your smoothie and fruits on top. That’s 5 layers!! Look at your favorite food photographers and notice how they constantly use layers in their work.

4/ Garnish is the perfect layer. If you want to add interest and draw attention to your food, use garnish. You can add fruits on top of the smoothie bowl, and even coconut flakes on top of the fruits for yet another layer. Or sprinkle parsley on top of your stew, pepper on top of your egg, confectioner’s sugar or sprinkles on your cupcakes. You get the idea.

5/ Napkins. They are probably my favorite food styling prop. I usually choose napkins made of linen because I just love the way they fold. I have a {large} selection of napkins in different colors that I use regularly. I like to place them close to the light source where I find they create the most contrast and texture. They can be quite difficult to tame and I have had shoots where I spent more time trying the fold the napkin in a nice way than styling the food itself!!

30+ food styling tips - food photography - Frenchly Photography

6/ Backdrops. If you are just starting out and on a tight budget, there are a lot of things you can find around your house to use as backdrops. Tablecloths, linens, baking sheets, trays, parchment paper, paper bags, wallpaper, ceramic tiles, stick on tiles, the list goes on. You can also purchase really beautiful vinyl backdrops for a range of prices or even make them yourself!

7/ Cutlery is a crucial tool in your food styling arsenal as it really helps defining the feel of your image. Think about it: if you choose to use your grandma’s vintage silverware, your image will tell a very different story than if you decided to use modern minimalist ones. The placement of the silverware is just as important and can give the viewer an insight into who is eating this meal and possibly where they are: an image with classic silverware placed neatly on a white folded napkin tells the story of an upscale dinner or even a fancy restaurant, while a stack of simple forks criss crossed on the table will evoke a more relaxed, at home setting. 

8/ Textures. This is a very important part of your image. You can use different textures to create an interesting image: like mixing the smoothness of a napkin with the spikiness (it’s a word, right?) of a meringue. You can add even more texture by sprinkling rose petals on your set. Or you can focus on the texture of one item with a macro shot.

9/ Crumbs and spills. I love to add crumbs, spills, sprinkles and general mess to my images. I find it gives them a “lived in” feeling that tells the viewer that there is actually someone in the picture that just finished making the dish or is about to eat it. 

10/ Fake ice cubes. Get them on online right now, and keep them in your food styling kit, they are a life saver! How many time did you make the perfect soup only to find out that there isn’t quite enough to fill the bowl you chose to use? Or made a beautiful smoothie bowl only to find that the bananas just won’t stop sinking… Place the fake ice cubes at the bottom of your bowl to make it look fuller or to hold the toppings on your smoothie bowls, amongst many other uses!

11/ Use makeup sponges (the little wedges ones). I know this one sounds weird, but I actually use them all the time. You can use them to prop a bowl that is not quite straight or even wedge them in the back of your burger to keep it from sagging. They are inexpensive, washable and you can cut them to any size you need!

12/ Take a bite! In the same spirit as the crumbs and spills, taking a bite of a cookie will add a human element to your images. Plus, hey, you get to eat the cookie!

13/ Create fake droplets with water and glycerin. There is nothing that says fresh more than droplets on a glass of iced tea or on a fresh fruit. To create perfect droplets, mix half water and half vegetable glycerin in a spray bottle and keep it in your food styling kit!

30+ food styling tips for food photography - Frenchly Photography

14/ Stay away from busy patterns. When you choose your backdrops and props, stay away from busy patterns. They will distract the viewer from the real subject: the food!

15/ Cut fruits and vegetables in different shapes. For example if you are using lemons in your image, make sure to get several lemons and cut one in slices, one in wedges and one in halves. Then use all those shapes in your shot for added interest.

30+ food styling tips for food photography - Frenchly Photography

16/ Be aware of the color temperature of your images. Light has a color temperature and can appear more blue or more yellow depending on the time of the day. Be mindful of it when you shoot and edit. In general terms, blue temperature creates a feeling of freshness, while yellow temperature creates a feeling of comfort, coziness.

17/ Garnishes – Yes, again. Figure out a few garnishes that keep for a long time that and work with your cooking style and always have them on hand. It could be things like sprinkles or powdered sugar if you are a baker, lemon and cheese if you cook mostly Mediterranean food. Mine are garlic and thyme (fresh or dried) as it keeps for very long and work well for styling most French dishes.

18/ Garnishes – (do you see a pattern here?) Grow your own herbs so you always have garnishes on hand. I have planters at home with parsley, thyme, rosemary, basil and mint so I always have extra garnishes if I need.

30+ food styling tips for food photography - Frenchly Photography

19/ Undercook your dishes – Food will look better if it is slightly undercook: it will keep more moisture and avoid looking dry or mushy. Make sure to get it out of the heat a few minutes before it’s due. You can always cook it more later when it’s time to eat – I do actually eat and feed my family with most of the food I cook for the shoots 🙂

20/ Choose fruits and veggies a little under ripe. Don’t look for the perfectly ripe avocado for your shoot! Select one that is a little under ripe, so that it will keep a better shape and be easier to manipulate without turning to guacamole in seconds…

21/ Start putting together your very own food styling kit – Keep a container with all those useful styling tools we talked about (fake ice cubes, makeup sponges, spray bottle) and also scissors, knife, q-tips, etc.

22/ Use color theory when choosing your props to make sure they compliment the food well. If you are not familiar with it, you can find some quick classes on skillshare or use a simple tool like Adobe Kuler  

23/ Plan your shoot. It is important that you go into your shoot knowing what the image you want to create will look like, what props and garnish (again! it’s an obsession…) you will be using. If you need some tips on how to plan a shoot, check out my previous blog post.

24/ Get inspired (but don’t steal). When I am brainstorming food styling for a shoot, I usually spend a good amount of time on Pinterest and Instagram to gather ideas and inspiration. I will create a {secret} board or Instagram collection for that particular shoot and will start saving images. That doesn’t mean that I am looking for an image to replicate: for example, I will save an image because I like the way the stylist folded the napkin, or the color combinations, or a type of plate they used. Then I will I will pull the elements from the different images to create a new image altogether.

25/ Use a tripod / shoot tethered. This one is critical. You need to be able to see the image on a larger screen and make adjustments to your food styling as you shoot while keeping the same angle. I use a manfrotto tripod that I love but there are some solid tripods for a reasonable price if you are just starting and tethering only requires a cable and an editing software, which I an hoping you have 🙂

26/ Choose your angle. You will not shoot a pizza and a burger using the same angle. A burger shot from the top is less than interesting and unless there is a lot (and I mean a lot) of topings on your pizza, a straight on shot isn’t gonna do it. Think about what angle would best highlight your food when you are planning your shoot. A very popular angle is the overhead, check out my tips to successfully shoot and food flat lay here.

30+ food styling tips for food photography - Frenchly Photography

27/ Buy extra ingredients. There is always an avocado that is too soft or an apple that went brown and needs to be refreshed. You don’t want to have to make a grocery run in the middle of your shoot, so make sure you buy extra ingredients so that you have everything you need on hand.

28/ Study the light. Even more important than the food you shoot is the light you use to shoot is with. Shooting pictures is ultimately not as much about the food as the way the light is shaping it. Once I understood that, I was able to create much more beautiful images, and you can too. My favorite resource to lear to see light is the Art of Light by Rachel Korinek.

29/ Group items in odd numbers. When placing props or food on your set, follow the rule of odds. Our brain equates even numbers to complete groups and tends to ignore them, while odd numbers will create a more interesting and dynamic composition.

30/ Smaller fruits. When shopping and choosing your ingredients for food styling, choose smaller fruits and berries. You will be able to fit more in your frame without overwhelming the viewer with very big items, and they will not compete with your main food for attention.

31/ Less is more. If your image doesn’t work and you are not quite sure why, before adding yet another prop, remove one, maybe two, and see if it works. Often times we use too many items and they end up competing with each other and create chaos. Remove the unnecessary props and work on the composition before adding more props.

32/ Editing is key. I cannot stress enough how much my images improved when I finally learn to properly edit them. Learn to use Lightroom to its fullest but also learn to know and see what is missing from your image and can transform it from a good image to a great one.

I hope these tips are going to help you create scroll stopping images every single time! If you want to learn more about food photography, check out my favorite online resources for food photography.

I would love to hear from you, let me know in the comment which tip you think is the most useful, or share your own tips with me!!