5 tips for better food photos from a P.E.I. food stylist
'It's OK to be messy — this makes the shot more realistic and approachable'
You know it's going to be delicious, and you want others to know it too — so you snap a shot of a meal you made, or one you've ordered at a restaurant, and post it to Facebook or Instagram. Or maybe you're a chef and you want folks to come try your fabulous new dish, so you upload a photo to Twitter.
Sometimes the food looks amazing, and other times — downright unappetizing, dull or greasy.
"We eat with our eyes before the food reaches our mouths, so each ingredient needs to be prepared and presented with that in mind," said P.E.I. food stylist and product developer Jennifer Bryant from Canada's Smartest Kitchen, a food product development centre in Charlottetown. She shared here tips on styling and taking better food photos.
"People are catching on that it's not great to have mediocre photos, especially when you're promoting a food product," she said.
You may have heard tales of stylists using shellac, petroleum jelly or other non-edibles to style food — not Bryant, who said she uses salt, pepper or a touch of olive oil to make a steak look juicy or a fry look crispy.
"The closest thing to what we could fake would be shortening in place of ice cream, so it's not melting on the set under the hot studio lights!" she said.
Saucy, stylish mussels
For this story, Bryant styled a bowl of mussels in korma sauce — P.E.I. seafood is her favourite thing to style — and explained her process.
She took each mussel in its shell from the pot, making sure it was plump and filled the shell. No broken or empty shells or stringy mussel beards!
Placing mussels with the meat facing toward the camera is important, she said, so the dish doesn't look like just a plate of shells, but she ensured they were not too perfectly placed.
Pick a "hero" to place in a prominent spot in your shot, she advises — like a focal point when creating a bouquet. With mussels, Bryant said she picks the largest, plumpest mussel she can find — sometimes even placing a large mussel in a smaller shell to make it look more impressive.
She then brushed on more korma sauce to add shine and colour to the shells, wiping away drips with a towel.
Bryant garnished the dish with a bright green sprig of cilantro — "Add that extra little detail that's going to draw the eye into the shot," she said, while using only natural garnishes.
1. Keep the background clean
Choose an uncluttered background for your photos, without disturbing others at your table if you are dining out.
Great contrast can create a great food picture — take advantage of white space and splashes of colour, Bryant said.
Set the tone by using a splash of ingredients or a utensil as a prop that fits the theme to create a specific atmosphere.
2. Get close
Macro shots can show off the textural and colourful detail of your dish. Today's smartphone cameras have great macro capabilities.
3. Sit by the window
If your goal is to capture that hero shot at your favourite brunch, sit by a window to get the best natural lighting for your photo.
4. Adjust the white balance
Hey burger lovers! Here's what Bryant has to say about getting a great shot of of your triple cheeseburger or roast chicken: warm it up.
"Meat is best shot in warm tones — bluish tones can make it look unappetizing. Most social media apps have quick fixes for tone adjustment," she said.
5. Don't over-style
If the food is from a restaurant, chefs may be insulted if you re-style their plate — just take the best photo you can, Bryant advises.
If it's something you've made yourself, Bryant advises, go for it — but don't overdo it.
Berries should appear as though they've just fallen out of the container onto the kitchen table, or the fries freshly dumped out of the fryer basket and served. "It's OK to be messy — this makes the shot more realistic and approachable," Bryant said.
'On the world stage'
Bryant styles food for clients across P.E.I., helping them develop recipes then taking the dishes into the studio and working with a photographer to take tasty-looking photos.
"We have such great products here on P.E.I. and it's nice to be able to showcase them on the world stage," Bryant said.
"It takes a lot of patience and time, but it's worth it," she concluded.
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