Sprout Marketing | How to DIY Food Styling
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How to DIY Food Styling

How to DIY Food Styling

How to DIY Food Styling

Food Styling is a beautiful thing: it tells the story of a meal being shared, the anticipation of a dish that has been lovingly prepared and served up.  When done properly, food photography leaves the reader with an insatiable appetite… Done poorly, it can drive away a potential sale – despite the quality, effort and workmanship that product represents.

Here are some tips to help you master the art of food styling and photography.  


Food photography begins and ends with lighting: a dish, no matter how delicious will look terrible in poor lighting.  While the converse can also be true: a normally unappetising meal could be made to look top notch with effective lighting (and a bit of clever styling too). 


There are 2 types of lighting at your disposal: natural and artificial.  I am a natural light photographer, harnessing natural sunlight during my shoots.  Other photographers will make use of studio lighting that offers a bit more flexibility when it comes to scheduling in a shoot.  Your camera will invariably have a built in flash although I strongly suggest disabling this, as it is not the most ideal source of light.  

Natural light is also free – the best option when you don’t have a big budget.  Studio lighting is expensive and cumbersome: while it affords you flexibility in terms of when you can shoot, it also has it’s limitations when moving around a space to photograph. 

To go the natural sunlight route, you’ll need to prepare your workspace.  Find a large, wide window where natural light is available in abundance.  Never shoot in direct sunlight unless it enhances the final image you want to portray (for example using it to create shadows or shafts of light over the dish) and never shoot at night as your photos will turn out grainy and underexposed.  Determine the best times to shoot: when the light coming through the window is bright but not direct.  Depending on which way it faces, this could be in the morning or afternoon. 

Next, use baking paper or a sheer curtain to create a filter on the window: it softens the light coming through and creates a beautiful texture you cannot achieve through artificial lighting.  Reflectors will be handy when needing to bounce the light onto the back of your set up: a piece of white card or polystyrene board will do the trick. 

Below (or adjacent to) this window, you will want to position your workspace – a table top or even the floor could work.

The Rule of Thirds:  (“screenshot” image)

If you’ve ever taken a photography class, you’ll have heard of the rule of thirds.  If this is the first time you’ve come across this concept, I’m about to break it down for you: it is the easiest trick I can teach you to up your photography game. To create interest in your photograph, avoid putting the hero dish in the center of the image.  Rather place it off center to enhance the intrigue and “drama”.  Most digital cameras will come with a grid functionality, allowing you to shoot using the grid as a guide. 

In the below image, I have used this rule of thirds to indicate the ideal positioning for this loaf of bread. 

Rules for taking pictures of food

Angles: (the pancake image would be a good one to use here – “food 10” as well as the angles screenshot I’ve attached in Wetransfer)

You will also need to consider the angle you shoot your dish at.  Is an aerial view the best way to capture your subject, or would a straight on approach be better?  There are also angles in between which could also be used – it all comes down to the product type.  I shoot at all the angles and then decide later in editing which viewpoint delivers the greatest impact.

It is important to note that certain dishes suit certain angles best: a stack of pancakes for example are best shown straight on, allowing the viewer to see all of the layers.  A pizza will look best from an aerial perspective, showing it’s scale, shape and toppings.  I like to take shots of cocktails at a 45° and 75° angle because it affords me the opportunity to show the garnish at the top of it as well as the bottom of the glass to represent end use. 


Now we’re getting into the fun part of food styling and photography: texture.  A hero dish could look a bit boring simply placed on a white background.  Texture helps to give the image a bit of depth and added perspective.

Texture covers a wide range of sensory aids: from plush sheepskin rugs and leafy plants to fruit slices and starchy linens.  These props are used to enhance the story rather than make it.  Your hero should always be the stand out focus of the piece, while the elements you add as texture should contribute to the story you’re telling your audience. 

I especially love the use of flowers and linens – they amplify the colour palette I’ve selected while softening the overall image. 


You will find your home is a rich source of key textures – you just need to look around to find them.  Bring the outdoors indoors with a bit of foliage, use a table cloth as a backdrop or a vintage tray to add some glamour and drama. 


Layering is another element that you can employ to add interest and intrigue to your photography.  I would recommend using a minimum of 2 or 3 layers when building up your concept – but ensure that the pieces you choose to do so are relevant and appropriate to the image your crafting. 

When I am building a shot for a dinner setting for example, here are the layers I would use:

Table linen or cloth (plain)

Napkin (with a print – I am a big fan of stripes)

Crockery: including a fork and knife or chopsticks


Flowers or Foliage

Consider the colour palette you want to achieve, as well as the tone of voice.  They will be integral to the decisions you make when matching props and products together.  Incorporate texture into your layers for impact and appeal.  In this image, I’ve decided to bring out the red of the chillis by incorporating a red and white striped tea towel.  I then use the black bowl, chopsticks and wooden cutting board to offset the stark white of the table top beneath it.  

Backgrounds & Props: 

Start a library of props and backgrounds to keep your imagery looking fresh.  Maintain the same visual collateral for a particular range or collection of products to create cohesion. 

Sourcing your props doesn’t need to be an expensive exercise – thrift stores are a great starting point. 

Backgrounds require a bit more work to get right.  Get a large piece of MDF and apply either a coat of paint (sample pots from your local hardware store are perfect for this and cost effective) or vinyl sheets.  Change them out when you more on to a new concept, season or dish.  I have a collection of old pallets that I’ve painted and stained in more generic finishes.  These have come in really handy, especially as table tops for my food and homewares shoots.


Be aware that your background can have a drastic effect on the look and feel you are wanting to achieve, so ensure you give it ample thought and consideration before dressing the set.

These tips should see you well on your way to nailing your food photography – were there any tips in here that particularly stood out to you?  let us know below!  And of course, if you need any help or guidance when it comes to food photography, get in touch! info@shoutandco.com

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