Tools of the Trade – The Role of Food Styling Props

As a food stylist, I generally work alongside several industry associates including commercial food photographers, brand managers, art directors and/or or creative designers. Every project is a custom experience and a collaborative effort, focused on delivering the intended results for my client.

My experiences over the years have involved planning, coordinating and managing food styling photo shoots for a variety of different mediums including print materials, books, magazines, websites, videos and TV.

One of the most important aspects of any “shoot” is the overall ‘look’ or creative theme, which is dictated by a number of factors including the following:

  • The client’s objectives – how is this food being marketed and to whom?
  • The type of food being styled and photographed – are there limitations to consider when planning the project?
  • Personal style – my own perspective on how everything should be arranged and presented. I pride myself on always bringing a fresh perspective to every project.
  • Industry trends - Prominent trends in food photography often play a role in coordinating a shoot and I’m always current with the latest and greatest in the industry.

Although not all food stylists hand select their props….I’m one who does. For me food styling and prop styling go hand in hand.

When planning a photo shoot, sometimes the food serves as the primary inspiration and sometimes the perfect prop element will help set the stage. Regardless, the characteristics of the food are always the key elements that I focus on.

As a general rule, I always make a point of familiarizing myself with the food I’m styling as far ahead of the shoot date as possible. The important elements I always consider are texture, colour, consistency and volume.

Another important consideration for me has always been adhering to the “less is more approach”. I’ve never been a fan of incorporating too many props into a particular food shot, or anything else that ultimately distracts from the primary focus of the food itself. Props should be used to enhance the product shot but never overcomplicate it.

Props can be used to effectively convey a seasonal theme and/or for special occasions. They can also suggest a casual or formal setting and be used to help reveal a recipe’s ingredients, authenticity or style of preparation.

Props can include a variety of different items such as dishware, glassware, serving pieces, cooking tools, linen, baskets and cookware. Sometimes, rustic tabletops such as cutting boards, marble slabs or surfaces made from stone, glass and metal sheeting will set the look. For other projects, props such as culinary paper, cheese clothe and butchers twine can help bring it all together. Often fresh herbs, flowers or other food items will add the right touch. As a food stylist, it’s always my job to make sure that I’m adding the perfect prop to enhance the presentation of the the food and complete the shoot.

Every food project requires a well-planned production strategy including: understanding the client objectives, appreciating the food characteristics, visualizing the best props to enhance the overall presentation and analyzing the venue with the photographer to ensure optimum lighting and product placement.

Food photography is an organic and evolutionary process. I always come prepared with extra props and backup ideas allowing for those times when the photo shoot takes a slight change in direction. Often, the best results come from being able to adapt, on set, as the product shoot evolves. As a food stylist, I not only appreciate this, I also prepare for it.

Great food styling requires incredible patience, an eye for detail and a true love and understanding of food. I’m always prepared to make this commitment for my clients.