What’s a meals stylist and why you want one for meals pictures


Image this: you’re engaged on a photograph shoot for Ben & Jerry’s, however the Chunky Monkey is beginning to soften, and also you haven’t even begun photographing it. Very like some other mannequin, meals typically wants particular consideration in an effort to look its finest. That’s the place a meals stylist is available in.

A photograph from John Vallsshoot for Alden’s Ice Cream styled by Ashley Marti

Meals stylists possess the expertise and experience required to make meals look scrumptious. Given this core duty, a meals stylist will normally possess a background within the culinary arts, by means of both skilled {qualifications} or self-education. 

Relying on the scope of the undertaking, the stylist might management something from deciding on components to plating and styling the dish. Stylists make sure the meals seems to be camera-ready for every click on of the shutter.

What are the Duties of a Meals Stylist?

When selecting knowledgeable meals stylist, it’s useful to concentrate on the distinction between a stylist who focuses on editorial vs. promoting work. An promoting meals stylist is primarily involved with styling meals with the intention of promoting the merchandise to a shopper. That is in distinction to the editorial meals stylist, who makes use of meals and props to inform a narrative.

Along with styling, some additionally deal with recipe improvement and cooking, making them specialists in a selected class. With a considerable amount of data surrounding a selected meals merchandise, some meals stylists make their very own recipe stand-ins. Ice cream, for example, is likely one of the hardest meals to fashion on account of its speedy melting level and consistency, and solely essentially the most knowledgeable palms know find out how to form it appropriately and preserve it for the shoot.

Stylists are normally provided with a surplus of components, and tasked with making a picture-perfect unfold. With a purpose to make the meals seem that method, meals stylists make use of a complete host of methods to deceive the senses. 

Meals Styling Methods 

  • Reinforce components with paints and dips for a extra vibrant look.
    • Drop greens in water or vinegar
    • Paint components with a glaze to offer a shiny look
  • Make use of props and supplies to protect a meals’s type and construction. For instance,
    • Toothpicks to carry stacks of fruits collectively
    • Tweezers to rearrange sesame seeds on a hamburger bun
    • Wax to maintain components caught to at least one one other 
  • Make the most of look-alike substitutes to take care of a contemporary look extra constantly for longer stretches of time. For instance,
    • Mashed potatoes and lard for ice cream
    • Painted grill traces on a uncommon steak
    • Elmer’s glue and water to recreate milk for splashy picture shoots 
    • Faux ice cubes which can be unaffected by room temperature
    • Dried glue to resemble crumbles 
    • Bubbles to make drinks look fizzy or frothy 

Whereas these methods stay helpful, the business has been transferring in direction of extra genuine imagery, leading to stylists utilizing extra “actual” components and emphasizing imperfections. Typically, the methods are extra generally deployed in promoting pictures, whereas editorial pictures tends to remain true to the components as they’re. Nevertheless, the underside line is that the “methods” are being deployed much less typically these days. 

Working with a Meals Stylist 

The Venture Pitch

Having a meals stylist’s identify connected to a undertaking pitch or remedy can impress potential purchasers that rather more. A meals stylist’s portfolio and consumer checklist perform as further promoting factors, they usually may very well be the distinction in a extremely aggressive bidding course of.

Most international manufacturers preserve a roster of vetted meals stylists, people that they’d work with time and again in a heartbeat. These stylists are intimately conversant in a model’s tips, recognizing the do’s and don’ts by means of expertise. They’re undoubted belongings to a photographer, as they perceive a model’s aesthetic higher than most. 

For photographers who’re embarking on a undertaking with a big model, it may be helpful to inquire if the model has a most well-liked stylist, or if the model wish to see stylist suggestions. This may be introduced up in the course of the preliminary artistic name. Working with a model’s go-to stylist streamlines the artistic course of, and the top end result has a higher probability of being aligned with consumer expectations. Fairly merely, these meals stylists are a type of insider data, eliminating the necessity for trial and error on picture shoots.

Meals Styling Workflow 

A meals stylist’s degree of involvement on a photograph shoot is decided by the dimensions of the undertaking. Nashville-based stylist Whitney Kemp broke down the numerous paths she may tackle an project. 

The dimensions of the job significantly influences how selections and workflow are selected every job. On a really massive job, I typically work together little or no with the precise consumer, however slightly get data by means of the producers and product improvement (PD) particular person for the consumer. Whereas on a smaller job, I’d even textual content the consumer immediately concerning particular particulars previous to and in the course of the job. One other component that decides the workflow could be decided by who hires me.  At occasions I’m employed by the company, different occasions by the photographer, and different occasions I’m employed immediately by the consumer.  Relying on who truly hires me, I defer to their preferences. 

Nevertheless, Whitney supplied a tough define of her traditional workflow on a meals picture shoot. 

  • Obtain the recipes and shot checklist, then evaluation them for any questions.
  • Have a pre-production name with the photographer/company/producer/director and all different departments to get a plan in place and have any questions answered. 
  • Make prep lists and grocery lists. 
  • Work intently with the product improvement particular person for the consumer throughout prep day and ensure the meals is ready as required by the recipe. 
  • On taking pictures days:
    • Work along with her crew to separate time and tasks between the kitchen and on-set, guaranteeing all the things is prepared as scheduled.
    • Contain the PD particular person as a lot as potential to ensure the meals taken to set is appropriate. That is essential to staying on schedule and avoiding errors that price money and time.
Whitney Kemp on-set throughout a current project

New Orleans-based meals stylist Martha Torres dove just a little deeper into the subject of ingredient purchases for various kinds of productions. 

If it’s a recipe-based undertaking, we’d ideally get recipes prematurely to see what’s realistically wanted for creating the “hero” for the digicam within the required amount. If it’s a meals producer’s product, they’ll ship the components to the studio or the prep kitchen location prematurely, with enter from the meals stylist on the amount. Buying will be accomplished by means of Instacart or on-line ordering for fundamental components and expendables. For extra necessary components, that’s both myself or an skilled assistant doing the buying.

Personally, I like to buy as you generally discover one thing on the grocery or farmers market that’s distinctive or early in season that may unexpectedly work for plating or background. Serendipity occurs…. like coming throughout a vendor on the farmers market who has past fantastic old-style wood flats of blueberries or strawberries, which you need to use for components, meals props, background, AND set design.

For last-minute on-set glitches, a manufacturing assistant within the meals styling division would deal with the purchases. 

Skillset and Specialization

Selecting the best stylists for the shoot will be tough, so to provide us some perception, Cincinnati-based photographer Teri Campbell shared how he makes his picks. 

Generally the selection is extra about what the stylist excels at, or focuses on. Or possibly the undertaking is extra concerning the artwork and fewer concerning the science. After we are taking pictures photographs that shall be used on packaging, we should be very exact with the measurements and particulars. Nevertheless, if we’re taking pictures a sandwich for Ziploc, it’s extra necessary that the sandwich seems to be stunning.

Teamwork and Collaboration

Teamwork is crucial to the success of the shoot, which is why Teri suggests testing out a meals stylist earlier than reserving them. This can assist you to establish the stylist’s strengths and weaknesses whereas evaluating the chemistry on set. 

On the similar time, getting contained in the meals stylist’s head will be helpful in determining the very best technique for collaboration. We requested stylist Barrett Washburne to share a number of of his private tips.

The very first thing is to be ready. Be sure to’ve gone by means of every recipe/shot and bought or introduced all the things you may presumably want. It’s additionally necessary to anticipate the wants of a consumer – there are such a lot of issues they might ask for on a shoot. Pondering forward will prevent quite a lot of time (and assistant journeys to the shop).

Meals stylist Barrett Washburne engaged on set with photographer David Malosh

Secondly, keep calm and adapt effortlessly to any state of affairs. You’ll have spent half-hour arranging a plate, however as soon as it’s on set, it might not work for the shot. Swallow your delight and do it once more (even when it was excellent the primary time). Nobody likes a diva on set, and being tough gained’t get you employed once more. Have faith in your skills and share your opinion, however know when to put off. Keep in mind that this can be a crew sport!

Meals stylist Barrett Washburne and assistant Lauren Radel

I ALWAYS work with an assistant…a great assistant is a necessity! They are often readying the components of the following dish if you are on set, ensuring all the things seems to be excellent. An important assistant is aware of how you want issues accomplished and precisely what level to take issues to…so all I’ve to do is put all of it collectively. THANKFULLY in addition they do all my dishes!

Meals Stylist vs Prop Stylist

Moreover having an assistant readily available, meals stylists work with prop stylists as effectively. Prop stylists are chargeable for selecting gadgets similar to plates, bowls, utensils, and different props wanted for a meals shoot. Barrett expanded on the significance of this counterpart. 

More often than not, I’ve a prop stylist on set. Normally, all of us go over the recipes the morning of the shoot and pick what is going to work finest for every shot — I all the time say it’s a crew sport! Sometimes we’ll shoot in a studio that can be a prop home, and I’ll choose props with the photographer (if there isn’t a lot price range). I a lot favor when there’s a prop stylist on set, although, as a result of it makes all the things lots simpler — they’re so proficient in what they do. It’s simply as beneficial to have a great prop stylist as it’s to have a great photographer and meals stylist!

The price range in the end determines the presence of a prop stylist, and as Whitney highlighted, this distinguishes industrial assignments from editorial ones. 

On most industrial jobs, there’s a separation between props and meals styling. I see props as all the things on the set besides the precise meals being featured by the consumer.  The prop stylist is to offer me with clear plates which can be digicam able to put meals on. On a really massive job, they’d even be chargeable for taking these plates and cleansing them, after I’ve eliminated the meals.  As for “prop meals,” similar to background bowls and baskets of fruit, props is definitely chargeable for these, however I’m chargeable for contemporary cues to accent the dishes we’re that includes, similar to some berries surrounding a drink, or some spices/herbs to indicate the patron what’s within the dish. On smaller editorial jobs, I typically deal with tabletop props and meals styling, normally with an assistant or two. 

Martha continuously works within the video area on commercials and options. She described how a meals stylist’s working situations are completely different on movement tasks in comparison with picture shoots. 

Doing movie work is method completely different than print. Meals styling in movie works below the Property Grasp, who has others of their division or within the general Artwork Division resourcing props. The Property Grasp is a part of the Artwork Division, below the purview of the Artwork Director on a movie crew. Meals stylists don’t cope with most props, apart from getting “meals props” for on-set visuals. 

Meals styling works intently with the Prop Grasp prematurely to find out wants, e.g. 10 Pantone 279 or related 6.5” diameter plates for Scene 4. If meals styling is caring for each the “hero” & BG (background) meals, we could have manufacturing assistants devoted to operating BG gadgets from the kitchen/rig to the set and again. Everyone seems to be on walkies and in communication indirectly. Logistically, movie could be very completely different than a photograph shoot.

For both print or movie, if there’s a “chef” (actual or actor) on digicam, meals styling will most frequently useful resource the set design props for the “chef.” Meals styling has extra experience, e.g. understanding which kind of whisk could be wanted.

Price of a Meals Stylist

You’re most likely questioning how a lot it might price to rent a meals stylist in your subsequent picture shoot. For non-metro areas, meals stylists cost a mean of $600-$900 a day, and for giant metro areas like New York, meals stylists can command $1,000-$1,500/day. If a meals stylist is represented by an company, you’ll be able to add a further 20% of their day price as an agent fee. 

As most issues go, a meals stylist’s pay on promoting jobs shall be way more than these within the editorial area. Greater units that contain extra work demand larger charges of pay. 

Ignore Meals Stylists at Your Personal Peril

Meals styling is a mixture of artwork and science that goes past the mere preparation and presentation of meals. Whereas the scope of a stylist’s position can range relying on the undertaking, their data and bag of methods are indispensable to the success of a photograph shoot. Get rid of them, and your melted cheese on a pizza might seem like white viscous tendrils, whereas your salad that wanted some dressing might seem as if it’s doused in gasoline. Neither situation is interesting in any method, and the one one who may forestall it might be the meals stylist.

Concerning the Authors

Bryan Sheffield is a photographer born and raised in NYC, however has lived in in 4 different states. He acquired a BFA in pictures from The Faculty of the Museum of Tremendous Arts, Boston. All through Bryan’s profession his love for artistic planning of detailed productions has led him to idea, plan, and execute pictures and productions for publications, manufacturers, and companies everywhere in the world. You’ll discover extra of his work on his web site and join with him by means of LinkedIn.

Sankha Wanigasekara graduated from Drexel College with a level in Leisure & Arts Administration. Since 2017, he’s labored at Great Machine as each researcher and publicist, at present writing and modifying quite a lot of articles within the publicity division. You will discover extra of his work on Medium and join with him by means of LinkedIn. This text was initially revealed right here and shared with permission.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here