Food styling and food stylists from the perspective of a food photographer.

If you want to learn as much as possible about food styling, you might want to know what a food photographer thinks about food styling and food stylists.  Just remember, this will only be one perspective, and a biased one at that.

As a food photographer, I really don’t get to touch the food very much.  Every once in a while, when the stylist isn’t looking, I might reach in and tweak something or another, but that’s it.  The food stylist’s job is to prepare the food to its best advantage for the photo.  The food photographer’s job is to compose the shot, choose perspective, lens and lighting.  Just remember that the food photographer and food stylist are there as a team to do one main thing, make the client happy.  The stylist and photographer need to work together as efficiently as possible to please the client and to do this as quickly as possibly.  That doesn’t mean that the team can’t go above and beyond the call of duty in order to produce a shot better than the client’s wishes.  Just remember that time is money and if the client is happy, he or she may consider you wasting money if you spend too much time on one shot when the client wants to move on to the next one.

Food Styling - Dos and don'ts

Here are a couple things that you can do as a food stylist that would be greatly appreciated by your teammate, the food photographer.

Arrive well before the client. Nothing starts a day off as badly as when part of your team shows up late to a shoot.  This means the stylist, the photo assistant, and yes even the photographer.  The day starts of under a lot of pressure and usually goes straight to hell after that.  The client knows for a fact that he is spending a whole lot of money and wants to see the day progress as efficiently as possible.  It’s his nickel, so we’re here to give him (or her) want he (or she) wants.

Unless the photographer specifically asks you not to make a stand-in, do it. You may think that you are saving time by not making a stand-in, but more times than not, you will be wasting time and creating a situation that will end up with a poorer final food photograph.  The reason is…  A photographer makes decisions about his composition and lighting based on what the food item looks like. When I say stand-in , I mean food that looks as much as possible to the hero, including size, shape, surface texture. If he has nothing to practice on, he can’t make vital decisions until the hero food hits the set.  And then, the time required to compensate for what he thought it was going to look like, may take longer that the life of the food.  Not only that, it makes the photographer look bad to the client.  And believe me, photographers really don’t like that.  And it may show the next time the photographer is involved in the food stylist selection process.

During your days chit-chat with the client, make it a point NOT to talk about other photographers.  Whether it’s good or bad, photographers don’t like it when you talk about their competition in front of clients.  Maybe we’re all just a little insecure, I don’t know.  I do know that I really hope it when a stylist mentions another photographer in front of the client.  When the client leaves, sure go ahead.  Most photographers love to hear gossip just as much as anyone else in this world, just be careful of what you say.  If you say the wrong kind of things, the photographer may wonder just what you say about him behind HIS (or her) back.

Compliment him (or her) on the way out the door.  I know this sounds kind of shallow, but photographers are in a field where their egos are dependent on the subjective interpretation of their work.  Everyone likes an “attaboy” once in a while and people tend to like people that let you know that they admire you in some way.  It’s only human nature and besides, what can it hurt?  Who knows, he may even give you an “attaboy” too.

P o r t f o l i o: These images are from Michael's portfolio. Click on any one of them to take you to see his on-line food photographer's portfolio.