How to Be Your Own Food Stylist, According to Experts


A few minutes on Instagram is all you need to see that just about everyone is a food photographer these days. From dreamy whipped coffee drinks to fluffy and ombre-colored cloud bread, the social media platform is overflowing with breathtaking videos, boomerangs and snaps of food. If you've struggled to get the perfect shot, fret not! We asked a dozen food stylists to reveal some of their insider tips and tricks for making camera-ready dishes and drinks. Here's what they had to share.

Photograph by Ralph Smith

Photograph by Ralph Smith

Break Out the Cooking Spray

Food looks best when it’s just out of the oven. If yours is starting to cool,
try a quick spritz of cooking spray. It breathes life back into a cold steak, dry pasta or solidified macaroni and cheese and creates that hot and juicy look we all want.

— Barrett Washburne, @bwashbu

Photo by: Photograph by Shanika @ Orchids + Sweet Tea

Photograph by Shanika @ Orchids + Sweet Tea

Stack Your Food High

I’m a big believer in creating height without a lot of manipulation. For this shot, I used the protruding pecans to secure the cookies in a pyramid — it took a few tries! Sometimes I use tools like toothpicks or a foundation of appetizer plates.

— Shanika Graham-White, @orchidsnsweettea_

Photo by: Photograph by Sarah Crawford

Photograph by Sarah Crawford

Get a Clean Slice

My mom always slices cakes with a butter knife and it drives me crazy (love you, Mumma!). For the cleanest cut on any baked good, run a sharp, thin chef’s knife under hot water, wipe it off with a paper towel, then slice. Clean your knife in between each slice.

— Sarah Crawford, @bromabakery

Photo by: Photograph by Iain Bagwell

Photograph by Iain Bagwell

Think in Threes

Two of anything looks like a pair of eyes, so it’s better, when showing multiple dishes, to go with three. Plus, using three plates or bowls allows you to cover more real estate on a wider shot, which is more visually interesting and creates the sense that people are eating together.

— D’mytrek Brown, @dbrownfoodstyle

Photo by: Photograph by Ify Ogbue

Photograph by Ify Ogbue

Give Coffee Some Motion

The perfect coffee swirl can occur by surprise, so capturing it may take a few tries. Add milk or cream slowly, allowing movement to build through the drink, and take a few photos in quick succession as the cream mixes to give yourself options to choose from.

— Ify Ogbue, @ify.yani

Photo by: Photograph by Kana Okada

Photograph by Kana Okada

Shock Your Pasta

For pasta shots, cook noodles until they are flexible but still al dente, then shock them with cool water. Also, dilute the sauce a bit so the coated noodles don’t look gloppy. Then spoon on extra sauce right before shooting.

— Rebecca Jurkevich, @rebeccajurkevich

Photo by: Photograph by Benjamina Ebuehi

Photograph by Benjamina Ebuehi

Thicken Your Drizzles

To create drips on cakes, make the glaze or icing a little thicker than usual. If it’s too thin, you’ll have a harder time controlling the flow. And use a teaspoon to apply drizzles along the edges of the cake first before filling out the middle.

— Benjamina Ebuehi, @bakedbybenji

Photo by: Photograph by Andrew Purcell

Photograph by Andrew Purcell

Dress Salad at the Last Second

Don’t dress salad before plating it. Instead, gently toss with your hands and make any final tweaks, then drizzle the dressing on right before shooting. Little bits of dressing and oil always look nice on the plate or caught in the leaves.

Carrie Purcell, @carrieannpurcell

Photo by: Photograph by Julie Lee

Photograph by Julie Lee

Balance Your Cheese Board

When styling larger serving platters or trays, try to use food and props in a variety of shapes and sizes to keep the composition interesting. Start with the largest items to anchor the arrangement. Once it feels balanced, fill in the gaps with the smaller items.

— Julie Lee, @julieskitchen

Photo by: Photograph by Marcus Nilsson

Photograph by Marcus Nilsson

Pre-Scoop Your Ice Cream

In the old days, stylists used to make fake ice cream from Crisco and food coloring, but now we rely on real ice cream. At the studio, we use dry ice to keep everything extra cold, but at home you can freeze scoops in advance to firm them up before you shoot.

— Jamie Kimm, @jamiekimm

Photo by: Photograph by Johnny Miller

Photograph by Johnny Miller

Whip Cream By Hand

Most recipes tell you to use a stand mixer to whip heavy cream, but that method will almost always over-whip it. Instead, whip by hand (add a touch of confectioners’ sugar for stability) to create a pliable consistency for the perfect swoops.

— Christine Albano, @chrisalb14

Photo by: Photograph by Jenn Davis

Photograph by Jenn Davis

Use Crystal-Clear Ice

Ice tends to have cloudy spots, so I often use fake ice made of acrylic to style drinks. If you’d rather use real ice (understandable!), freeze distilled water in silicone molds — this will create clearer cubes than you’d get from the tap.

— Jenn Davis, @twocupsflour

Photo Credits:

Steak: Ralph Smith. Cookies: Shanika @ Orchids + Sweet Tea. Cake: Sarah Crawford. Banh Mi Bowl: Iain Bagwell. Iced Coffee: Ify Ogbue. Pasta: Kana Okada.

Cake Glaze: Benjamina Ebuehi. Salad: Andrew Purcell. Cheese Board: Julie Lee. Cake with Ice Cream: Marcus Nilsson. White Cake: Johnny Miller. Cocktail: Jenn Davis

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