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What is a Food Stylist?



I talked about Food photography in my last blog, how I wanted to try it out. I see it a lot on social media: family and friends who’d share their dinner on Facebook, or an Instagram post of a dish at a restaurant, and all sorts of food pictures. Some are obviously just a quick snapshot with your cell phone, sharing the dish, with someone mentioning that they just checked into their favorite restaurant. But I notice that others have taken a more SERIOUS approach, going beyond just whipping out your cell phone and taking a quick selfie of your food.

These food stylists actually take the time and effort to get the right overhead lighting, the right composition with the food, uniformed colors and create some decent works of art:

Not only did I discover that Food Photography is actually it’s own little niche or ‘micro-niche’ within the world of photography – but that it even goes so far as to having a category called Food Styling Photography.

This is actually the first time that I’ve heard of this term. When I think of the term ‘food stylist’, the first image that comes to my mind is an individual who’s actually styling the food.

Isn’t that profound?

I find myself thinking about other types of stylists, like hair stylists. A hair stylist doesn’t just style your hair, they do everything else, from fixing it, cutting it, washing, and combing it. So I would imagine that the food photographer would be someone who takes this title seriously, going way beyond just placing the food on a plate and gesturing to the photographer that it’s ready.


What is Food Styling Photography?

The food photographer isn’t the only one behind those mouth-watering, salivating food photos that always catch my attention in magazine ads, coupons in the mail, or commercials. It’s also the food stylist’s job. They’re the ones who need to create the food and dishes in these ads, making the dishes look as appealing, and enticing as possible to lure me in.

I have to admit – whatever secret techniques or tricks they’re applying to these meals – they’re working on me! If an ad or image of a juicy hamburger and ice cold soda can lure me off the couch to run out and grab a fast food meal, then I know for sure that they did their job!


Duties of Food Stylist

Though I would assume that the primary goal of a food stylist would be styling and arranging the food. But as I dug deeper, I discovered that these stylists must work closely with the photographer to make sure that the food looks as good on camera as it does under any normal conditions.

When you think about it, the food needs to look good for the camera. When I think about one of my all time favorite foods – the hamburger – what are some of the most appealing things that strike my taste buds right away? I’m thinking about fresh, clean looking lettuce, thick juicy tomatoes, beef patties – perhaps flame broiled, melted cheese, crispy bacon, between a couple of fluffy, sesame seed buns. This is the same image that would tempt me time and time again in a television commercial between my favorite shows when I was young. Or even a magazine ad, or one of those sets of fast food coupons that would come in the mail or between the Sunday Newspaper.

I can thank the food stylist for this effect. Before the photographer can begin shooting, the stylist has to arrive early and use their array of skills and equipment to manipulate the food so that it looks just as appealing – and sometimes even BETTER – than it does when it arrives at your table.

They have an array of tricks and gadgets in their arsenal, going far beyond what I could hope to achieve using Photoshop. In fact – I was quite surprised by some of the items that go into pulling this off : paint, vaseline, nail polish, corn syrup, glue, scissors, tweezers, sharpies, etc. It reminds me more of an arts & craft project than an actual dish!

Obviously, now that I’ve taken a peek behind the curtain – it doesn’t seem as appealing as it did before. I assume that once the shoot is done, the food is inedible – but serves the purpose for the advertising company.

BUT – with that being said – the end product is still strong enough to get the message across to my taste buds!



Why is a food Stylist so important when it comes to Food Photography?

Unlike the rest of us who take casual pictures of our lunch to post on Instagram or Facebook or just food photographers in general, Food Stylists are regularly spending their time playing with their food. (Something I already had plenty of experience with as a toddler!)

Not only do they work with cooks or chefs, but they would also need to have their own culinary skills, from pre-cooking any items, washing, slicing, dicing, and every other step that goes into preparing a dish. In fact, most food stylists know a lot more about food than you think. Some start off as chefs, having gone through the proper training, with some sort of degree and training from culinary or a trade school.

Now it’s starting to make more sense, how involved they need to be in the entire process of preparing a dish, paying attention to every small detail that will not only make the dish turn out right, but look great too.

And of course, having some knowledge in photography is an added benefit. For it’s not just the details in the food, but how to make sure to get the best side of the dish on camera. What colors would work best? What about the proper lighting? How’s the overall composition? Even if the food stylist works with a photographer, I believe that having some understanding of depth of field, light and shadows, aperture, and other areas can also be beneficial.



What are your thoughts on Food Photography or the role of a Food Stylist? Do you take food selfies often? Are you a photographer involved with Food Photography? I would love to hear from you!




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