Over the weekend I attended the Shellharbour Village Craft Fair and purchased a few items which will feature in upcoming home cooking blog entries. I hope to share them with you soon. I have been photographing food for years but only recently have I started to style the food I photograph. I have been looking at food photos in magazines for years but never really absorbed the amount of detail in each photo and the story or theme being communicated which make the food look more attractive and professionally photographed.
One of my favourite food photographers on flickr is Latartinegourmande and Bea has a website latartinegourmande.com. Recently she wrote an article on Food Styling and Food Photography which I found inspiring (as always) and prompted me to realise that if I had to make a choice between food photographer and food stylist I would definitely choose photography.
Unfortunately since I don’t have a food stylist to make the food look great (other than in restaurant reviews, with the work being done by chefs) I will need to continue with my feeble attempts at food styling until I was lucky enough to be assigned a food stylist on a paid food photography job. I have to admit I am enjoying the search for props and looking at presentation and colours is quite a tasty challenge. I’ve never gone to the extremes used by professional food stylists as outlined in the Choice Magazine writes an article on Food Styling.
Regular roast chook dries up, shrinks and browns unevenly. And while it may smell great at the dining table, it looks pretty unappealing in a photo… How to style it: First decide on the chook’s best angle — in this shoot, the stylists consulted the photographer and his assistant and the raw chook’s credentials were discussed at some length. Then the skin at the foot and neck ends is trimmed and sewn in place. It’s carefully trussed, firmly stuffed with paper and oven-cooked for about twenty minutes to ‘set’ the flesh. The skin is ‘cooked’ to brown crispiness using a coat of soy sauce and paprika and a heat gun. A coat of oil makes it look hot and juicy. In our shot a skin graft has even been used to get a pasty area near the wing looking perfect. The result: Plump, juicy, perfect roast chicken.
It makes me sad to think that there are magazines in Australia that still use this method and feel the need to go to such extremes to make a chicken look tasty but then I remember the times I have photographed roast chickens in the past and they were never as appetising as those in glossy magazines. Now I know why 🙁
The article included a photo of a food stylist’s kit and it caused my stomach to drop. PVC glue to replace milk in cereal shots; gravy browning or soy sauce to give that cooked meat look; cardboard or plastic to keep a hamburger from flopping under the weight of the meat and tomato; hairspray to make cake look glossy and appealing; coloured mash potato to imitate icecream; fabric protector to keep the maple syrup from soaking into the pancakes and pinned berries; soft wax drops painted with sauce for effect for desserts; a coat of glycerine for glossy seafood; liquid glucose to make noodles for a ‘hot, fresh look’; motor oil in place of maple syrup; cutting holes in cheese for the perfect swiss cheese look; injecting mashed potato under the skin of a chicken leg to give it a perfect shape. Wow! That’s a lot of work. And we wonder why the product on the box or up on menus in fast food restaurants rarely resemble the products actually purchased.
I am proud to say that I have never doctored up any of the food that I have photographed. The most I have done is re-arrange food on a plate and stolen garnish off one dish in a Thai restaurant to complement another. The original serving was ghastly so I did the best I could whilst working against the clock of the food going cold, much to the chagrin of my family who were hungry and waiting to eat.
Homock Talay – Red curry Seafood with coconut milk and thai herbs as served by Windang Thai Gardens Restauran
Any steam you see is real, the lighting usually natural and I try to sit my party close to the window or natural light source whenever possible. I will be working on my food styling in terms of arrangement, props and lighting but promise not to try and sell mutton dressed up as lamb. It might be the prettiest mutton you’ve ever seen, perched on a bed of garlic mashed potatoes with some age defying colour schemes but I wouldn’t go as far as a spray tan to recover its days of youth. If there is soy sauce used then it is for flavour purposes alone.
And if there are any readers out there who live in the Illawarra (or willing to travel) and would like to build up a food styling portfolio and work with me for free until then, please get in contact. I am also able to travel to you if necessary.
Alternatively, if you are a restaurant that wants to work on some photos for a menu or website, advertising or other project, do feel free to contact me. I’d love to do more to develop my food photography portfolio and one day achieve the goal of getting paid to take photos of mouthwatering food and every journey starts with the first step. I am not ashamed to say that I will work for food or barter 🙂