How to style food for photography? Is there a right way, and can there be a wrong way? Depending on who you ask, you might get a variety of answers. I believe there are two integral parts to food styling. The first is knowing how to make the food itself look good for the camera, like making the meatloaf “smile” for the camera. This certainly takes skill, knowledge and experience. In my opinion this isn’t the most fun or exciting thing to talk about. The second part is the actual styling of the photo, which includes, colors, props, and a creative eye. This part of the job is what I live for. When you boil it all down the truth of the matter is … food styling is a creative process.
Like with anything creative, one’s opinion of whether it’s good or bad very subjective to personal opinion. I would say my “style” of food styling is very reflective of my own personal taste and I wouldn’t have it any other way. My home is decorated with all of the things I love, like vintage collectables and shabby chic furniture. Our house has a very relaxed feel about it that comes from everything being a little worn and far from perfect. I love rusty old wood and tarnished spoons just as much as I adore fine vintage china and silver platters. Likewise, I think food can be relaxed and a bit messy like it is in real life. The soup can be spilled and maybe the linen even a bit wrinkled, ahhh… but the detail on the bowl has to be just right. Finding the balance of shabby and chic in styling is what I love the most about what I do. I realize that choosing the right bowl for a photo is just one small part of the creative process but it’s a good place to start. Here are a few things about bowls I’ve learned along the way working as a stylist.
Photograph by Trent Lanz
How many white bowls to I need to have?
A LOT! I might be the wrong person to ask, but since I’m the one giving the advice here – take it with a grain of salt. I believe you need a lot of white bowls. I purchase white bowls in all different shapes and sizes and always in sets of two, three. Okay… sometimes I even buy six, if they are really special! If the bowls are small and you have room to store them, buy six. What I love about white bowls is their versatility, like the perfect little black dress , you can dress them up and down depending on how you style them. Not to mention that almost all food looks great against a clean white background. White bowls photograph lovely by themselves against a colorful fabric (as shown above). I chose the fabric to match the soup and the clean white bowl highlighted the beautiful fall color palette.
Photograph by Trent Lanz
You can change the look of simple white bowls by layering them onto decorative plates (shown above). The bowls themselves are simple and small, but when paired up with the colorful vintage plates they create a stunning look. Layering is another topic, but let’s just say – I love layering colors and textures… I chose the small bowls to go with the brocoli soup because let’s face it, most people don’t want a large bowl of anything green. To add to the overall appeal, I chose the plates to add more life and color to the photo.
Look for plain white bowls with beautiful details around the edge, or bowls with interesting shapes. In the picture above you can see that the slight detail in the rim of the bowl really makes a difference to the overall feel of the picture. I also stacked together two bowls to add yet another layer of interest. In my opinion you can’t have too many white bowls, the more choices you have the better. There is nothing worse than not having the “right style” of bowl when you need it. We will talk about what style of bowl to use next.
What style of bowl should I use?
Yes, bowls come in all kinds of styles! Salad bowls, soup bowls, chowder bowls, Asian style bowls, dip bowls, Ramen bowls … Let’s take a minute to think about this logically. You wouldn’t order a cobb salad off the dinner menu and expect it to come out in a soup bowl – right? Or would you serve your family pasta in a tea-cup. The same logic translates to food styling for photography. Of course there is always room for creative interpretation, but think logically and choose a bowl that is appropriate for the recipe and highlights the food. There is a subtle message your bowl translates about the food that is placed in it. I chose this wide fluted bowl for the strawberry salad for two reasons. Number one, it is a hearty salad for lunch or dinner with farro, nuts, and cheese, so a large bowl/plate is appropriate. Secondly the salad itself is beautiful and the wide bowl gave me enough room to show off all the ingredients.
Photograph by Trent Lanz
These deep white cauldron like bowls scream out “I’m filled with warm-cozy-fill-your-tummy-goodness! They are pictured above with French onion soup, but I think their unique style is also perfect for chili con carne, potato cheese soup, chowder, or even chicken pot pie.
Where is the best place to buy white bowls?
I thought you would never ask! My favorite places to shop for white bowls are the Goodwill, Wal-Mart, Home Goods, Ikea, and Cost Plus World Market.
I would love to hear your thoughts and answer any questions you may have about food styling. Post your questions here or follow me on Facebook to keep the conversation going.