Food photography styling


I sat in front of the computer for a very long time thinking about how to start this post. One question kept my mind distracted. Why are you writing these posts about food photography and why did you start the Food Photographers Club? After some thinking I believe I found the answer.

I’ve loved photography since the first time I took my dad’s camera (a Minolta from the late 70’s) and started shooting landscapes many years ago. In all these years I have learned a little here and there about photography in general. Lately I’ve learned a big deal about digital photography and food photography. I am no expert by any means. But I want to share the few things I know with the food blogging community.

When I started this blog almost 2 years ago my photographs were horrible. I looked up to the food blogs that had amazing food pictures and tried to understand and copy their work. I also did some research and asked questions around. Thankfully, there was always somebody willing to help and share their knowledge. Now that I feel comfortable enough with food photography I want to give some of that back to the community via this blog and the Food Photographers Club.

I understand the frustration of not knowing why my pictures don’t look like the ones in the magazines, books or some food blogs. Or the frustration of having pictures rejected by some of the popular food porn sites. Oh! I was there so many times and whenever somebody talked about it I felt like the food blogging community needed a place to talk about it and learn from our mistakes.I guess those were my main reasons to start these venues to talk about photography.

But that is way too much nonsense talk. Let’s move on to the real reason of this post. We already talked about some of your camera’s features, lighting and white balance. There are several paths we can take from here, but today I want to talk about styling. I am not the most qualified person to talk about styling. I still have a lot of trouble when it comes to making my food look pretty for the shots, but here are some things that have worked for me (and a few others that I’ve seen work very well for other people):

  1. Vibrant and contrasting colors. This is something I still have trouble with. However, I’ve learned to focus on the food. Use a plate that highlights your food and doesn’t take attention from it. If you are serving a dark color dish, use a light color plate and vice versa. Use garnishing to contrast the color of your food, white (cheese, cream, apple slices), red (tomatoes, peppers) and green (herbs, green onions, peppers) always work great.
  2. Fresh produce. This could be part of the last point. There’s nothing more photogenic in food photography than fresh produce. When you add a slice of a vibrant red tomato to a salad or sandwich this will complement the shot beautifully. Same goes with other herbs, vegetables and fruits. Are you shooting a glass of lemonade? Include a slice of fresh lemon somewhere in your shot and see it come alive.
  3. Props. I personally don’t use props much. I like to focus mainly on the food and its colors, but there are a lot of photographers out there that make use of props beautifully to complement their pictures. Just look at Peter’s and Helen’s blogs. Props should complement your shot and not being the main focus. Unless, of course, you want the prop to be the focus.
  4. Backgrounds. As props, backgrounds should complement the shot and not be distracting. There are a lot of things you can use as a background. I like to use white construction paper, placemats  and different colors of fabric. You can take several shots with different backgrounds and chose the one that works well with your dish.
  5. Get close. This isn’t technically part of food styling, but sometimes when you are not happy with how your food looks on the plate the best thing to do is to get close and focus in a small part of the dish (See the second picture below). This will make the viewer focus their attention on the detail and not the plating in general.

I tried to use these pointers with the following salad. This is a very simple but colorful salad, roasted beets and carrots with rosemary. I served it on a white plate over lettuce leaves and garnish it with almonds, queso fresco and rosemary. I am not very happy with the result and I’ll try again. Tell me what you think:

salad3 salad2 salad1

And now, if you are game, I want you to try something similar. For this Food Photographers Club Assignment I want you to style a salad for a shot. The salad doesn’t have to be complicated, but it should be presented in a beautiful and appetizing way. Please visit the forum and share your pictures, experiences and pointers with the community. We’d also love to hear your opinions about the other participants’ entries. You can enter as many salads as you want. In a couple of weeks I will post here all the entries for this assignment. I hope to see you all over there!

Happy shooting!


  • Ben, even your “non-sense” talk is inspirational. 🙂 I’ve been paying attention to the pointers you’ve given, such as the closeups. It really does make a difference in the photo. Peter and Helen’s photographs are exceptional, quite professional looking. Kudos to them…and you. I’m still trying to figure out the white balance stuff. I’ve gone over my manual 50 times and have ended up rather confused. Will keep trying though, just for you! :p

    ps: Happy almost birthday.

  • Hey Ben! Thanks for the shout out! Also, thanks for the great tips regarding styling. It’s an area that still drives me insane! But my prop collection hasn’t stopped growing either. It’s funny because I’m writing a blog post soon about my inspiration and what triggered it. Cheers!

  • So your photography prowess has been validated. Congrats on taking the best photography in the Royal Foodie Joust. This was an interesting post. To my eye photos #2 and #3 are better than #1 and #2 is more artistic. I’m going to give this challenge a try. Thanks for continuing with the club.

  • Thanks for the post. Love when you talk about photography. Thanks!

  • Thanks for the post. Love when you talk about photography. Thanks!
    P.S. – Sorry, forgot to tell you great post!

  • Hi Ben, great post, you are so kind and generous sharing your experience and tips with us. I have enjoyed very much reading it. I never learnt or really like photography until I bought this Canon G9 that I found out the lens of a camera is so important and can make a difference. Now I am addicted to taking food photos. No one can start eating until I have finished my food porn : )

  • This is fabulous advice. I’m a HORRIBLE food photographer and reallyyy want to learn. But I don’t have the time patience to learn all the skill, so this simple advice helps!

  • This is no nonsense.. the best part of your pictures are the colors you use.. very attractive & appetizing..

    BTW.. Wish you a Very Very Happy Birthday!! i know it’s tomorrow but not sure i will get time to log on ..Enjoy in style:-D

  • I’m hopeless with anything artistic. I’m seriously un-gifted! My only creativity comes in the kitchen, but don’t ask me to plate anything, I have no fine motor skills or sensibility. My frind takes all my photos, so I’ll be sure to forward this post to her.
    Thanks for the wonderful tips, you clearly don’t lack any talent and I’m so glad you share your knowledge 🙂

  • Thanks for the very interesting post Ben but I hardly find any time lately with guests. I hope to have time soon and come and read your post again and see if I can participate. I have, however, made my ice cream and hope to post it soon. Happy Birthday again my friend.

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