Food styling can take place in the production kitchen and in front of the camera. How do you know when and where to style your food? The answer will depend on what food you are shooting. For food with long shelf lives, like cupcakes, the dish will generally be camera ready when it leaves the kitchen. If the dish involves a sauce and a variety of garnishes, the styling will occur both in the kitchen and in front of the camera. Here is a behind the scenes look at a dish that involves styling in both locations: The Meatball Sandwich.
The base of the meatball sandwich consists of bread, provolone cheese slices and meatballs. These items can all be styled in the kitchen. If you are doing your own styling, I suggest that you figure out your lighting and camera settings before you begin styling. If you are working with a food stylist, have your lighting and camera settings figured out before they leave the kitchen and come to set.
The next two shots were taken in the kitchen so please excuse the unflattering light.
To add the meatballs, first remove them from the sauce that they were cooking in. Second, let the meatballs drain on a plate. I will add the sauce to the sandwich when it is in front of the camera. Third, place the meatballs in the roll between the slices of cheese. When placing the meatballs, I wanted to equally space them and have the roundest parts of the meatballs facing out. Once all the rolls were filled with meatballs, I places the tray of sandwiches into the oven for a few minutes to melt the cheese onto the bread. The sandwiches are now ready to go in front of the camera and have their styling completed. This part of the styling can be done away from the camera, because the dry meatballs on the cheese will hold longer than the wet sauce. Sauce will generally spread across the food they are added to. Moving the dish with sauce applied will cause this spreading to happen even faster. To keep the sauce in its desired place, wait until you are in front of the camera.
Every food will be a little bit different when it comes to how it is styled, but remember that the styling will happen either in front of the camera or in a kitchen. Spreading sauces and garnishes are two things that will effect this.
Here are a few more things to keep in mind when you are figuring where your food will be styled: your set and shooting location may determine where the styling is done. If you don't have a kitchen on site, you will have to bring the food already prepared to set, or do the styling on set. If you are shooting in a restaurant, a Chef may wait to add a delicate garnish or a sprinkling of seasoning at the end. If there is a long distance between kitchen and set, it may be easier to do the styling in front of the camera. When working with a food stylist, always have a conversation about what will be styled in front of the camera and what will be done ahead of time in a kitchen. Clear communication will prevent any confusion and help ensure that your desired shot is captured!
Here is the lighting set-up. It consisted of one light with a foamboard reflector.
Want to learn more about food photography and styling? Check out issues 1-5 of photographing FOOD.