(HOW TO) Take Creative Food Pictures and Become a Natural Food Stylist!

With practice, food styling your food pictures like a professional food stylist, will supercharge your photography skills for the better!

As a visual artist, I pull inspiration from so many different sources:

  • The written word
  • Billboard signs
  • Lyrics from songs

There are ideas to be taken from everything in your life.

In fact, as soon as I opened up the daily devotional book my Dad gave me, today’s message related directly to business, using food as a central theme.

I love food, I love photography and I love business.

Relating the three, from a perspective that I understand and can put into practice, is what excites me about food photography!

Food Pictures: Getting Net-Breaking Results For Your Photography Business

Are you looking for Net-Breaking results in your Food Photography?

Here’s a story we can use and put into practice in our photography business:

The Bible tells us: “Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize it was Jesus. He called out to them,’Friends, haven’t you any fish?’ ‘No’, they answered.

He said,’Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.’ When they did, they were unable to haul the net in, because of the large number of fish. Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter,’It is the Lord!'”

Is your business failing?

Is your back to the wall financially?

Look at Peter; he’d fished all night and caught nothing. He was tired and discouraged, just like you. Then Jesus started talking to him, even though Peter didn’t recognize him at that point.

And Jesus gave him an instruction that didn’t seem to make sense. “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.”

Peter may have thought: “Lord, respectfully speaking, you may know a lot about preaching but you don’t know much about fishing! If the fish aren’t biting on the right side of the boat, they certainly aren’t biting on the left side.”

When you ask God for a miracle, He may give you an instruction that doesn’t gel with your thinking. And when he tells you to do something different from what you’ve always done, it’ll take you out of your comfort zone, surface your fears, and stretch your faith.

But if you obey Him, you’ll end up with net-breaking results. And when it happens you’ll say like Peter,”It is the Lord at work in my life!” So, business person, listen to Jesus!

I love parables likes these. It helps me think of my photography business in a different way. It reminds me that there are no limits in how well ANY photographer can do in business.

Despite the hefty cost of equipment or any perception of there being a lack of demand for food photos, there is always a way to make your dream a reality.

To me, food pictures land in a category of their own, but most closely to product photography. You’re shooting something that doesn’t move or talk.

Food won’t get bored of you testing out different ideas for food pictures.

Or taking hours in the food styling setup, just to practice getting the PERFECT shot.

It can be a dream to have the luxury of simply shooting a great image.

Not having to deal with any outside or added distractions other types of photography can bring, is pure boredom for some photographers and pure heaven for others.

Listen to how well Food Photographer William Brinson explains his love for food pictures and notice his minimal (yet effective) food photography lighting setup:

A Beautiful Food Styling Story

Whether it’s for a celebration or a sad moment in our lives, food unites and brings us together.

Anyone in the world can relate to:

  • a smile
  • a laugh
  • and food!

They are all universal languages we can share in similar ways.

Learning how to become a better food photographer from a food stylist, is a great way to “up your game” and beef up your portfolio with beautiful food photography.

In fact, having a food stylist on set during your photo shoots (not just online training), is a smart choice as well.

The more professionals you have with you, helping to create that memorable image, the better.

…but if you’re a lone star, there are plenty of tips you can use to get started on your journey to better food styling.

Food Stylist Lillian Kang makes 4 points in this video that resonated with me:

  • As a food stylist, MANY doors may open for you. Like… critiquing recipes and blogging. (Note: You can always insert your favorite food photo or two, to create a content rich article on your blog.)
  • It may be cliche, but it’s TRUE! When you focus on being the BEST at what you do, the money will come.
  • Even if your career takes 5 years to nurture, taking the uneasy plunge is a risk, but pays back ten-fold.
  • Having a family AND having a career is a challenge, but it’s DEFINITELY doable!

Food Styling 101

If you take the time to learn what it takes to work with (or think like) a food stylist, your food photography will improve dramatically!

Once I started collaborating with professionals, my understanding on how to take food pictures grew immensely.

From famous food photographers to the professional food stylist living in the studio down the street from your house…

Whoever you learn from, your portfolio will be night and day, to NOT working with the PRO’s.

I used to always want to do everything myself and you surely can.

…but when you have more than one person looking at even the simplest details, ideas will flow and create an environment that can’t help but produce better images.

Like for instance, food photography lighting may sound like an easy enough task, but you’ll want to master the art of it before taking on serious projects or submitting them to food stock photography websites 🙂

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Ultimately, with food photography, you’re telling a story. So when photographing food, you want the final image to be artistic and inviting!

If you can take photos of food that make you hungry, invites memories or even makes you think you can smell the food, MISSION ACCOMPLISHED.

You’re selling emotion. Food is VERY emotional and there’s something about the way food moves, that every person can relate to.

Food is 3 dimensional art. If it feels real and feels like you can literally touch it, you’re delivering a job well done.

You need to build the narrative and tell the story of:

  • making the food
  • the childhood memories it brings
  • the soundtrack you hear when food is being made

Can you think of any other important things that help sell food in a photograph?

A Food Stylist Is A Storyteller

You don’t have to own the most expensive photography equipment or shoot in an elaborate photography studio to be successful.

Pick up what you have and find out EVERY POSSIBLE way you can get a great photograph out of it.

What I love about photography is that you don’t have to give yourself restrictions based on what you DON’T have.

Improvise, build things yourself and as your camera bag grows along with your experience, your style and portfolio will also grow.

B and H, Creative Live, AdoramaTV…

These companies consistently record video lectures that are SO informative.

This one is focused on the Lighting and Composition in food styling. It’s worth the watch!

I can never stress enough how important your job is as a photographer. We are storytellers, so every image we capture should evoke a meaning and a story to tell.

Food photography is a great way to express your photography talent.

The phenomenon of cooking shows has continuously grown. In fact, the less time we cook for ourselves, the more time we spend watching food being cooked.

…but I think some of it can also ignite an excitement to want to cook and experiment more.

Believe it or not… cooking relieves us from the act of chewing and chewing and chewing 🙂

Think about raw vegetables.

Just look at primates who spend half of their waking hours… CHEWING!

In addition to our chewing time being cut down, cooking is an act of generosity and love that stems deep within us.

We all connect memories with food and your images can help people remember those fond feelings.

The History of Food, For Better Food Styling…

Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation is a 2013 book by Michael Pollan.

It details Pollan’s attempt to learn how to cook several different foods, including barbecue pork, bread and cheese.

He said he wanted to further his culinary education to better feed his family and connect with his teenage son.

In Cooked, Pollan asserts that cooking helped modern man evolve and become culturally sophisticated.

The book is divided into four sections:

  1. Earth
  2. Air
  3. Fire
  4. Water

He details how each is an influence to the cooking process.

Using these 4 elements in your food photography is a great way to experiment and add life to your food pictures!

Since cooking transforms food and shapes our world, why not allow your images to spread that message?

Harvard Primatologist, Richard Wrangham, developed a theory that cooking lead to us becoming human.

He expressed that,

It’s a natural thing for us. Which makes us different than any other species. Cooking allows for less chewing. Humans are poorly adapted to chewing anything too rigorous. We may all die if we lost fire to cook raw food.

We’ve lost touch with how food gets to our plate, but to ignite people’s appreciation for it through photography, is a thrilling idea!

How can you incorporate the history of food into your food styling, for a more unique approach to food photography?

Equipment for Great Food Pictures

food stytling for food pictures

As with photography, you can spend a few hundred dollars OR thousands of dollars, building your equipment list.

It all depends on the brand you choose, your budget of course and how you want to build for the future.

Cameras:

So what is the best camera for food photography?

I personally like shooting with DSLR’s so that I have a wealth of lenses to choose from. Full frame bodies like the Nikon D800 or Canon 5D Mark III are the two that come to mind.

However, there are much more affordable full frame options if you’re just getting started.

Lenses:

There are things I look for when investing in lenses, but many photographers wonder what the best lens for food photography is.

Well… The type of lens you use for each food photo shoot will depend on your subject matter.

I’ll use a wider lens (17-35mm) if I’m shooting in a restaurant, both for the ambience as well as their larger table spreads.

A 100mm macro lens would be my next top choice. Something to always have near.

I’ll use a 50mm lens for images I’m trying to capture with smaller items on the table.

Lighting:

If I have the luxury, natural light looks fantastic on food photography. Actually, natural light has many advantages for photography in general.

Natural lighting from a window is ideal, but you can always use one single artificial light to create the same look.

Continuous light is my other recommendation, especially if you plan on shooting video on set. It’s bright enough to get great video footage as well as beautiful still shots.

I shoot with Profoto’s when I use strobes, whether it’s food or people or products. If you’re on a larger set that requires a lot of light, the Profoto D1 Air is something to look into or if you can find Profoto Compact 600x’s for a steal, those are also a good investment.

A battery powered flash is both easy to travel with and can also work with your strobes. They’re a great addition to your camera bag.

Lighting Modifiers:

If you’re using continuos lighting or light coming from a window, you can soften that light by using a scrim with a diffuser.

Otherwise, softboxes are my go-to modifier when it comes to lighting for food photography.

Why?

A softbox will create the look of natural light. Soft and directional. Perfect for showcasing your food.

You can find portable and collapsable ones for both your battery flashes as well as your strobes.

MORE GOODIES, in addition to the basics:

  • Tripod
  • Remote release for your camera (so you don’t HAVE to be behind your camera the entire time)
  • White balance and/or color checker card
  • Clamps to help hold things up if you don’t have an assistant

Food Photography Tutorial:

Learning Food Styling for better Food Pictures

If food photography is a route you want to seriously consider, I suggest learning from the best!

The best food photographers ALSO teach others how to take pictures of food.

Rob Grimm is one of my favorite food photographers who explains food photography techniques in a way that will motivate you and clearly help you understand the potential in professional food photography.

With the correct tools, practice in compositing and lighting, you’ll be adding professional images to your portfolio quickly.

Photography tips and secrets from a photographer that’s had YEARS of experience is the best way to learn any type of photography.

…but if you’re not in photography school or you don’t have direct access to a professional to learn from, Rob’s online class is worth considering.

He’ll discuss the following in more detail:

  • Gear
  • Lighting
  • Composition
  • Style
  • On Location Kit

From taking pictures of food to food photography props, any inside knowledge from professionals will only increase your knowledge as a photographer.

You’ll become better equipped to create stellar images and build the confidence in creating the same images for your clients.

Rob’s course is a complete guide to food photography.

Seeing the evolution from experimentation to a fully formed idea and then the final product is a lot of work, but Rob’s team has put together a fantastic tutorial capturing all of this.

Some of the lessons are free to watch as well. I always like to try before I buy 🙂

Below are a few videos I found from Rob’s website.

Audio Podcast

Interactive Guide for iBooks

Retouching Videos

Photo Shoot Videos

With continual practice, the right equipment and having a never ending attitude toward becoming the BEST food photographer in town, your portfolio will be day and night 12 months from today.

Will you challenge yourself?

Will you invest in the right tools and education so you can create the best food photography portfolio anyone has seen?

Start with what you have, build your equipment list over time and wake up a year from today with people wanting to book your time with a stellar portfolio to back you up!

Whether you become a food stylist yourself or leave food styling to someone that specializes in it, your food pictures will enhance dramatically and make you a more skilled, marketable food photographer.

5 Comments

  1. Joseph Scott
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