When considering the general food styling of an image, there are actually two main objectives to accomplish for a shot to be complete. One is to style the food product itself and the other is to style the shot itself. Styling the food involves preparing the food and making it look tasty enough to want to eat. For this, one benefits from an interest and background in cooking and by having some general knowledge of a kitchen’s workings and also a general understanding of different types of food products. To accomplish the other part of styling, the dressing of the set, one benefits from having an artistic eye and a natural ability to understand the basic elements of composition and design. The two sides can be completed by one person but there are also times in a professional setting where individuals are selected to do either one or the other, most commonly referred to as being either a food stylist or a prop stylist.
Placing props within a shot and considering the shot as a whole composition is a very important aspect of successful food photography. I believe the two main goals of propping a shot should be: 1. To compliment and support the main subject of the shot. 2. To assist in telling ‘the story’ of a food photo. Essentially, propping a shot fills in the holes of the composition as well as fills in the holes of the story. Knowing the basic elements of a composition will benefit someone trying to prop an image as well as having a good sense and natural ability towards tasteful design. I think it should also be mentioned that ‘restraint’ can be one of the better concepts to hone in on when practicing propping. Get Zen with it…less is more. Too often, shots can quickly become crowded, forced, or too evenly or perfectly spaced out. Good propping is a skill to be practiced and worked on. Try to be mindful of images that you naturally tend to like and then specifically ask yourself ‘how is it propped?’
the story begins…consider how propping is used in the images below to differentiate between breakfast at a country diner and breakfast at a cafe…
Here are a few basic tips, tricks, methods and concepts to help get you thinking about propping. (Again…just the basics…there are many others that are much more skilled than myself at propping but as I stated before…it’s something we all need to ‘work at’)
The addition of something as simple as chopsticks or a knife can help create visual appeal, following compositional principles of Line and Shape, as well as fill in some gaps in the story…Asian restaurant?…Fresh cut pie?…
By adding weight to empty spaces, propping can be used to support the main subject.
Visual interest is added by objects being out of focus and background propping can effect light by either casting a shadow or creating specular highlights to help build contrast within the image.
This can be effective by supporting a color scheme of the over all image or repeating a color from the plate in the background. Again the goal should be to support and highlight the main focus.
At times ‘propping’ doesn’t necessarily involve the addition of another element. By just being mindful of compositional elements and selecting the right spot for your dish can help a food photo. These images were all shot on location at restaurants where I found table surfaces that helped to support and accentuate the texture, color, and shapes of the food on the plate…happy accidents or a honed eye?
Take a look around this site and other sites, especially Pinterest or Instagram for other food photos and for the ones that really speak to your liking, stop and consider how they are propped and how the composition is accentuated by the propping. Also, practice looking a images you ‘don’t’ like and make note of what it is about the propping that can change to make it better. Heck, if you don’t like any of the images in this post because of the propping then come tell me…we carry all our comments and conversations on our Facebook and Twitter pages.