The Secrets of Food Styling in Food Photography

Professional food stylists and food photographers can always tell when a food photo has been styled or not. In some cases, Instagram food accounts have learned some of the tricks to make their food shots look amazing. Most of the food photography on Freepik has been styled especially for graphic designers to use on their projects.

There are two very distinct categories of food styling. One is for print or film advertisements, where the food needs to look perfect and not necessarily exact to reality. The other is editorial; for magazines and cookbooks where the food needs to look real and appetizing. 

If you like posting photos of food on Instagram, some of these little secrets might help make your images better.

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What is a professional food stylist?

The people who style the food for either situation are called professional food stylists and some have their own preference for how they like to work. A professional food stylist is in charge of making the food in photos look amazing and perfectly delectable. Some prefer the realness of magazine and recipe book food photography while others like doing advertisements where the creative license is a bit wider.

Most food stylists, especially the ones who work with magazines, are also cooks or chefs themselves. In some cases, the food stylist will style a celebrity chef’s dish for an editorial shoot. The food stylists for advertisement have to know different skills for making look better than real. Additionally, there are food stylists who specialize only on styling drinks, or ice cream or just produce for supermarket sales catalogs. 

You could say that food stylists are magicians of food manipulation. They are masters at making any type of food look amazing. Through many years of work in the field, they know all the tricks to make things work with the camera. For example, if a sauce according to the recipe is watery and not noticeable by the camera, the food stylist will work their magic and make the sauce look amazing.

Most people already know how ice cream is sometimes made from colored mashed potatoes, but that is not always the case.  For example, for an ice cream commercial where someone has to bite into a Cornetto ice cream cone, the food stylist will check through boxes of factory-made ice creams looking for the perfect one. Then during filming, they will give the actor a new one every time and will probably fix little details like the fudge or peanuts on top.Close-up of hamburger on chopping board

What tools to food stylists use?

In order to get food looking delicious, food stylists have a whole set of tools to help them. The most common items in their tool kit are tweezers, pairing knives, brushes, q-tips, spray bottles, substances like glycerin, glue, and natural dyes. Some might even carry handy props like glass beads or small wooden blocks for giving food height. These little props are hidden inside the food creating an illusion for the camera. These are some of the food styling tools and their uses. 

Tweezers: For manipulating food gently, moving things around without disturbing the rest of the composition.

Pairing knives: For cutting small pieces of the food without destroying anything in the process.

Q-tips: Cotton swabs are used to clean up tiny liquid spills which look bad. They are also used moist to clean up small crumbs. 

Toothpicks: Toothpicks can help keep some foods in place. For example in a hamburger, toothpicks hold the lettuce, cheese, and tomato right on the edges so they look amazing for the camera.

Spray Bottles: Spray bottles have lots of uses, but basically it’s for making things look moist or glistening. The bottles generally have olive oil, pure water, or a mixture of glycerin and water. The last one is for spraying on glasses and bottles to look like condensation, a very practical tool for beer commercials.

A Heating tool: There are a couple of different heating tools; one is a long hot stick to mimic grill lines and others which have different levels of heat or fire to melt or caramelize things on the spot.

Natural dyes: Different colors of natural dyes are used for different things. Some are used to mimic wine, tea, and other beverages. Others are used to paint on meats to look more evenly cooked. 

Food stylists usually have a large collection of these in their toolbox and a small selection in their set bag, which they have on them at all times as the photos are being taken.


What about the plates and cutlery?

In some cases, like small photoshoots, the food stylist is also the prop stylist. The prop stylist is the one in charge of the plates, cutlery, and accessories to complement the food. In larger-scale productions, the prop stylist is a completely different role. Food stylist and prop stylist need to work together in unison to create the perfect set up.


Are you a photographer who shoots food? Did you know some of these tricks? Let us know in the comments if you think we missed something of you’d like to know more!