An inside look at the day of a food stylist

An inside look at the day of a food stylist


You're probably wondering what a food stylist actually does. Well, have you ever considered why the burgers, sandwiches and pastas always look so good in promotional advertisements? A lot of big fast food outlets have the budget to afford various advertisements and other types of promotion. Whether it's a television ad, a YouTube advertisement or just a simple billboard, the reason why advertised food always looks so good is because of the behind-the-scenes work of a food stylist. A food stylist plates and styles food in a way that makes it aesthetically pleasing. They work with photographers and chefs to ensure that the food looks as good as possible.

This artifice might make you a bit cynical about the big fast food chains and push you towards cooking your own quick yet wholesome food from HelloFresh at home with services that deliver the ingredients straight to your door.

Regardless, food stylists have a big role to play in the food and dining industry. Let's take a look at the daily life of a food stylist and explore how they found their way into the food styling profession.

Where does it all begin?

Naturally, a lot of new food stylists started out in the food industry, either at cooking school or in a culinary-related tertiary course. They started off cleaning kitchens and preparing food, which gave them good first-hand experience for use in branching out into food design and styling. Others started out in other fields, such as journalism or writing, where they learned how to evaluate and write about different cuisines and food types. Some were food critics before they became food stylists. While there is no set path, a lot of food stylists have had some experience in the food industry before getting started.

The morning

Food stylists are responsible for the preliminary preparation that goes into the dish. Often morning work consists of gathering the necessary ingredients to prepare for the final dish or pre-cooking any elements. This is nowhere near as glamorous as the final product. A food stylist needs to know the recipe inside and out to ensure that execution is as quick as possible.

The afternoon

This is where a lot of the hard work comes into play. All the ingredients have been gathered and some of the elements have been pre-cooked to save time. Now it's about transforming those ingredients so that they are camera ready. During this stage, the food stylist will often work with the photographer and other promotional professionals in choosing the best props for the photo shoot. This will include things like what plates will be used, if any cutlery will feature in the shot or any sauces will be included with the main dish.

Depending on the nature of the shot and food, some dishes only require minimal changes, whereas others will require more substantial work. Frozen foods can be difficult since it can be hard to highlight its texture and so it must be thawed before it looks appealing through the lens of a camera. Moreover, there is a real art to arranging foods and dishes so they look perfect in promotional materials.

Food photographers will often use lining papers to add texture to the plate or use strong contrast backgrounds to draw the viewer's attention to the dish. Burgers will often be shot from one angle, while its contents are allowed to spill over naturally to reinforce the apparent size of the dish. A lot of food stylists will look to emphasise the natural beauty of the food, which may mean showing the food cooking in nice crockery or stainless steel pans.

The evening

By the time the end of the day comes round, all of the photos should have been taken, though some small post-production adjustments might be required. This could include artificially adding small bread crumbs on the plate or splattering sauce on chips. Every food stylist has their own style and method, while different food requires different methods of photography. However, there are some tips a lot of food stylists will live by; don't clutter the table with unnecessary items, don't use direct light and make sure you use quality post-production photo editing tools. These photo editing tools can be used to increase the exposure, saturation and contrast of the image, which can all go a long way in making the final image look as professional as possible.