Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Food styling 101

I was recently invited by ace food blogger and friend Kavita Favelle to a food styling workshop called Baked In Style organised by Neff. Kavita (better known as Kavey) writes the brilliant Kavey Eats blog. As a food blogger, I was excited by the prospect of learning what appeared to me to be an arcane art. Long have I admired the styled photos I’ve seen in cookbooks and food magazines, wondering how they get their results.

Neff in conjunction with Currys PC World organised for the workshop to happen at Atelier des Chefs in London’s St Pauls area. So it was on a drizzly Autumnal day that I and my fellow food bloggers arrived for our class. 

We watched a demonstration by Atelier des Chefs’ Chef Fabrizio (Or Chef Fab, as he likes to be known) who showed us how to make a hazelnut torte. The torte, designed to be a dessert for cooks to make as part of a dinner party, was full of Autumnal ingredients and indulgence, perfect as the nights draw in. 

We split up into small teams of four after the demonstration to make our own cakes, before thinking about food photography and food styling. 

Our tutor on the subject of food photography and food styling was Carole, AKA Madamoiselle Poirot. Carole is a professional photographer, food styler and influencer who also has her own food blog. She had brought her DSLR, tripod and computer so that we could see how she used her camera settings instantly.

I confess I do not use a DSLR camera for my food photography. I fear kitchen accidents, and when cooking in my kitchen, the conditions are not well suited to good food photography. Also, I like to eat the product of my handiwork, so waiting around to set up the perfect picture while food is getting cold seems an unnecessary sacrifice to make. I’m a food blogger BECAUSE I love food!

Many of my fellow bloggers confessed to using a DSLR set to “auto”. Carole wanted to encourage us to explore the other settings for better results. In particular, she advised us, depth of focus was our friend. Carole advised that a tripod was an easy and simple way to avoid camera shake and to extend exposure time. In the Autumn and Winter, she explained, the shutter speed has to come down to avoid dark and gloomy photos. As the rain poured from grey skies over St Pauls, we could see what she meant!

Carole’s food styling tips are useful not just for food bloggers, but for food instagrammers too.

Undercook some items slightly so they don't look mushy, particularly vegetables which are prone to discolouration when cooked.

Balance is important in an image, using either a symmetrical (similar composition on each side, with left reflecting the right) or an asymmetrical balance.

Use shapes to guide the eye around the picture, using radial balance. They eyes like to circle around a picture, so place elements in a circle, allowing the viewer the opportunity to “read” the picture all the way around.

Texture can be used in place of vivid colour to form the image, contrasting flat with rough.

Movement can help bring interest to your picture. Perhaps the cutting of a cake or the serving up onto plates.

Have a “box of tricks”; props you can use to put together images. Mismatched plates, vintage cooking implements. 

Think about echoing the natural ingredients used in the dish with flowers or foliage. Flowers add colour or seasonality and are generally inexpensive.

When bringing together the elements in an image, consider the colours and whether they clash. Much like art students do, use a colour wheel. Pick colours which are next to each other; analogue colours. Generally the three colours closest to each other will go together. Or alternatively, those opposite each other. The only exception is Mother Nature; colours put together by nature will always work.

Tell a story with your picture, be guided by season, ingredients, the process of making the dish.

If needed, neutrally coloured fabric is highly effective to add movement or softness. Swathes of fabric folded and draped can help give your image “movement” or “focus” as discussed above.

We then had a go at putting Carole’s tips into action.

Thank you very much Carole Poirot for such a fascinating insight into food styling. Your explanations and illustrations were so clear and helpful. You have a way of demystifying this subject in a friendly and accessible way. I had a very enjoyable day. 
Snigdha attended this event organise by Neff and Currys PC World as a guest of Kavita Favelle. Snigdha has received no incentive, financial or otherwise for writing this blog post.


  1. Ooh lovely photos! Was a really useful and interesting session!

    1. Dear Kavey,
      Thank you so much! It was a great session, and it was fabulous baking with you!