Beginner styling tips to elevate your food photography

Roberta Dall'AlbaMacro & Close-up30 May 20234 min read
CreateYourLight Theme 5 "Food Photography" asset

Italian food photographer Roberta Dall’Alba on experimenting with food styling and shooting irresistible food

To caputure food which looks good enough to eat start by studying daylight. This is an excellent exercise if you’re a photography enthusiast and still learning. As a professional photographer you’re probably already familiar with how light behaves during the day, but it’s still a fun game.

 

Choose one spot of your house (or studio) where you have enough natural light coming through your window, then choose a subject. In my case, some beautiful organic Sicilian tomatoes. Take a photo of your subject at different hours (preferably morning, midday and afternoon) and ideally in the same spot. Then analyse what’s changed i.e. is the light warmer or cooler? When were your shadows longer or shorter? Which light gave the mood you wanted?

 

Keep it simple: a frosted cupcake for example is not the ideal subject, since you should keep it in the fridge while waiting for the next photo to be captured.

 

I shot these three photos in the morning, midday and afternoon, with diffused natural light. Can you spot the differences, especially the shadows and highlights? In this case the only adjustment is the saturation of the tomatoes. Exposure, shadows and highlights are unedited.

Roberta Dall'Alba
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Step outside of your comfort zone and experiment

Experiment with new styles, moods and lenses. I must confess I have a comfort zone when it comes to photographing food: I have a love for baked food (buns, pizza, bread…) and I adore orange/yellow tones which are known for giving us a sense of warmth and happiness.

 

To maintain a certain level of creativity sometimes you have to force yourself out of your comfort zone and experiment. If you usually shoot light and bright photos, then try a moodier scene. If you love shooting sweets, then try savoury! If you’re scared of soups because they don’t look appealing, then make a soup and have fun styling it.

 

For this shot below (right) I decided to use my NIKKOR 24-70mm f/4 S lens and use a wider focal length (40mm), almost the exact opposite of what I usually do.

 

Have fun with food styling

I was not born a food photographer — my love of food came first, then my blog. I’m used to doing everything from A to Z, including concepting and preparation of the recipe, prop styling, food styling, photography, editing, etc.

 

However, most food photographers “only” photograph food. It seems pretty obvious since you’re a photographer, right? Many photographers often work with other people, like food stylists, but since that’s not always possible, now is the best time to practise food styling. The web is a great source of inspiration: pick your favourite photographers/food stylists and look at what they’re doing and have fun styling food! Remember it’s about making it look as appetising as it is beautiful by playing with texture, colours, shapes and, of course, light.

 

In the photo below (left) is a simple and minimal breakfast scene made cute with a bit of food styling.

CreateYourLight Theme 5 "Food Photography" asset
CreateYourLight Theme 5 "Food Photography" asset
Participate in food photography challenges

This is my favourite! I’ve always loved a challenge and I can’t stress enough how important they are to stay creative. The photographer hosting the challenge chooses a theme i.e. shooting different kinds of food with different moods or different composition rules; shooting with artificial or natural light or diffused/undiffused. Challenges always force me to go beyond what I usually do and think outside the box.

 

Binge-read cookbooks and magazines

If you usually look for inspiration on Pinterest or online then try switching to print. Cookbooks and magazines are an amazing source of inspiration so why not indulge and “binge-leaf” through them to see what you find. It’s even better if your favourite food photographers contributed!

 

Choose an ingredient and…snap!

You don’t need many ingredients to take an amazing picture. To stay creative and, again, think outside the box, just choose one ingredient and think how you can enhance its beauty using light. What do you find exciting about it? Is it the colour, texture, or maybe its shape? How can you bring out its uniqueness? You may think chocolate always looks always appealing (which is kind of true!), but it can also look dull. Try to emphasise the different shades of brown, the shape, or texture. I had so much fun shooting the below! For this image below, I specifically chose the NIKKOR Z 24-70mm f/4 S because I could experiment with a variety of focal lengths as I wasn’t completely sure what my final image was going to look like.

CreateYourLight Theme 5 "Food Photography" asset
CreateYourLight Theme 5 "Food Photography" asset
Study

As photographers we should never stop being curious. Even if you’ve been doing this job for a decade, it doesn’t mean you have to stop reading articles, books, watching videos and taking courses. Studying can have a positive impact on your creativity. Books always provide food for thought. You will always find something stimulating that will make you quickly close the book and go to your studio/kitchen to shoot!

 

Cook!

I love cooking and testing recipes, but not all food photographers do. Why not start now? Don’t worry, you don’t have to make a three-layered cake. Start with a simple dish: toast. You can make it look SO yummy. It’s all in the styling!

CreateYourLight Theme 5 "Food Photography" asset

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