Saturday, October 27, 2012

How to Style Food Photos

I am quite sure I'm not the only one that finds it difficult to take good pictures of food. It's tricky business!  But if you have a blog and want to do posts about recipes and food then you end up taking pictures (sometimes okay and sometimes crappy) of food to illustrate your post. Your goal is to make the food look mouth-watering, to make everyone drool a little, to make it look so irresistible that we all want to take a bite.  Not an easy task.

I think one of the keys to making the food look good is the styling.  Of course it is important to get the angle and lighting and focus correct, but I've also been noticing how much the backgrounds in food photography matters.  The colour of the dish, the type of table or tablecloth, and the props all help to set the feeling and mood of the photograph.  I'm one to analyze, so these are my observations:

The first step is to decide what type of mood you want your photo to evoke.  Some foods lend themselves to certain looks.  For example, a hearty stew looks fantastic in an earthenware bowl while a delicate pastry looks pretty on a bone china plate.  There are other foods, though, that the mood depends entirely on what you as the photographer want.  For example, a slice of quick bread would look equally good styled on an earthy rustic bread board or a refined china tea service - it all depends on how you envision the look. Have a look at the quick bread in the photos below and you will see what I mean.  The pictures have completely different moods - one is more elegant and formal and one is more rustic and informal - yet they are both great photos.
Delish (on left) and BHG (on right)
Once you have narrowed down the mood of your photo then it is time to make some other decisions, like what type of dishes to use, the background, and any props to be included in the photo.

The first decision to be made is what type of dish should be used to put the food in.  Pure white dishes are by far the most common - the benefit, of course, is that the food is the star attraction.   

What Katie Ate

While white is wonderful, coloured dishes can compliment the food and provide an interesting ambiance.

Skinny Taste

Black dishes have the benefit of being a neutral and setting a dark moody ambiance.

Smitten Kitchen

While most of the photos I looked at had dishes with no pattern on them, if the dishes were patterned they usually had an all-over design that related to the food in terms of colour or where the food came from.

Cannelle et Vanille

Next to white, the most common type of dish to display food on was rustic pottery or earthenware dishes - they give a lovely homey charm to the photo.

Style at Home

Wooden platters, bowls, or cutting boards were also popular as they allow the food to be spread out while providing a rustic organic setting.

Style at Home

I've also seen lots of photos where the food is simply left in the pan it was cooked in or arranged on cooling racks.

Kiss My Spatula
The next most important decision is what to use as the background.  The most effective photos have simple backgrounds.  I found there was a wide variety of backgrounds used, but some of the more popular ones included white planks, 

Ribbon and Circus
wooden tables or boards,

A Sweet Spoonful

or a variety of table linens.

Ribbon and Circus
Once you have the dishes selected and a simple background then you need to consider what kind of props (if any) you will use to style the photos.  One of the most common ways to style a food photo was to include a towel or serviette to add a bit of texture, colour, or pattern (or all three). In addition sometimes other dishes and cutlery were also used to compliment the arrangement.

Martha Stewart

Often a few of the ingredients from the recipe were arranged in the photo to add interest and draw the eye to the finished product.


Similarly, sometimes crumbs from the bread or muffins itself were scattered artfully around.

Cook Your Dream
There you have it - my not-so-expert observations on styling food to take enticing photographs.  Now I'm off to give these ideas a try.

To read other tips about food photography, check this post.

By the way, if the photos make you hungry you can click on the source under each photo to find the recipe.

Linked to Weekend Bloggy Reading at Serenity Now


  1. This is something I am terrible at....I don't have a lot of variety in my plates and serving pieces because I collect only one thing. Plus I never get the angles right....
    This is a great post. There is a blog you would love, Grace. Do you read White on Rice couple blog? They style food for a living, and their photos are amazing. I painted my roses in the Bell jar from their blog!


  2. great job, Grace! Love all the info you packed in here.

    What happened to the days when your neighbour came over, liked your muffins and you threw a recipe card at them with some writing scrawled across it?

  3. Great info here Grace...I find that I am enjoying food photography more and more all the time. I am the most unlikely person to even have tried it too. :o) Happy Sunday!

  4. Hi Grace,
    Great post lots of great photos and helpful information. I look forward to see what you have come up with!
    All the Best,

  5. Thanks to this Grace!!! It was inspiring and totally useful. I surely can forget my diet at the moment seeing these amazing photos… Thanks for sharing! I’m looking forward to any update or new post…