One of the most common assumptions about food photography is that hardcore food styling techniques must be involved to make dishes more visually appealing. In fact, there are professional food stylists who will employ all sorts of techniques to transform a dish into an inedible, yet highly photo-worthy subject. However, food styling techniques can also be very simple and accessible. Below is a list of common household items that can also help you out on your next food photography shoot.
For Keeping Food Clean
It’s pretty much inevitable that a plate of food will have quite a few moving parts that can easily fall out of place. While the Spot Healing Brush in Photoshop can make crumbs or blemishes disappear in post-production, it’s best to remove those bits and pieces from the dish before your shot is taken. This is where a pair of tweezers comes in. Use them to rearrange food on a plate or reach down into a deep glass or bowl to make adjustments.
Besides being used to soak up pools of excessive liquid that might gather on a dish, cotton balls are also great for propping up food. Stuff one or two behind a piece of food to give it some leverage and height. Since they’re small and absorbent, the cotton balls can easily hide and blend into a dish so it’s not obvious they’re being used.
Serving a similar purpose to tweezers and cotton balls, Q-tips (cotton swabs) are important for small touch ups. Use them dry or dipped into some rubbing alcohol to remove small blemishes from a dish and you’ll save yourself some valuable time in post-production. Which leads me to my next point…
Throughout a food photography shoot, your props and gear are bound to come into contact with some morsels of food. Bring a small bottle of rubbing alcohol to keep your gear clean, and even consider keeping some hand sanitizer nearby to clean your hands after rearranging plates of food.
Highly absorbent paper towels
If it’s not already obvious, all of the food styling tools listed thus far have to do with cleaning and touching up dishes before they’re photographed. This tool is the last of the cleaning sort and is useful not only for wiping dirty hands after styling, but also for absorbing liquid from juicy meats, iced drinks, or other plates of food that are a touch too wet.
For Keeping Food Fresh
One of the biggest challenges for food photographers is to shoot dishes while they still look appetizing and edible. These tools will help restore shine and luster to dishes to imply freshness.
Nonstick cooking spray
Restore a bit of shininess to a dish and help it reflect light better by adding a bit of nonstick cooking spray. Be very careful, however, as a spray that is too strong might dishevel parts of your dish.
Spray bottle filled with water
This serves the same purpose as the nonstick cooking spray, but in a slightly more controllable manner as you can often shift the nozzle of a spray bottle to emit a smaller or larger stream of water.
When you need ultimate control over liquid application, it’s best to use an eye-dropper instead of a spray bottle or nonstick cooking spray.
For Applying Creative Touches
After using the above tools to perfect the details of your photo subject, it’s time to focus on two other factors that can take your photo to the next level; light control, and selecting a creative background.
Tin foil (or a large metal baking sheet)
Depending on your preferred camera tools, you may already have a reflector in your food photography kit. If you don’t have a reflector, you can use a sheet of tin foil or a metal baking sheet. If you use tin foil, you have the added bonus of being able to use smaller pieces and mold them.
Baking parchment paper
In photography, baking parchment paper can serve a couple of purposes.
First, it can be used as a cheap alternative to a diffuser (light modifier) to soften the light aimed at your subject. Simply tape a sheet of parchment paper to a window where sunlight is shining through. The resulting light will soften considerably, reducing the shadows and glare on your food subject.
Another way to utilize parchment paper is as a photography background or surface. Try plain parchment paper for a white surface, or the brown version for a different color option.
Since we’re on the subject of photography surfaces, gift wrap is another affordable option for shooting food against creative backdrops. Cutting boards, tabletops, and placemats are also popular options, but they can be pricey and take up lots of room to store. Gift wrap, on the other hand, is plentiful with a variety of colors and textures to choose from.
Over to You
Do you have any simple food styling tips or tricks to share? Let me know in the comments below!