Food styling is culinary art. It's all about arranging food in a way that looks tasty. Quality food styling requires a lot of knowledge and practice. Before I become a food photographer I had no idea a food stylist is a profession.
You can divide food styling into two types: editorial and advertising. The first type of food stylist, editorial, usually works on a low budget and can style several recipes in a single day for cookbooks or magazines. An editorial food stylist can set up around 5 to 10 recipes per day. Sometimes, the recipes are prepared for the first time, so they require more creativity and improvising and take more time to style.
An advertising food stylist usually works for big brands with a bigger budget, eg. Waitrose or Mark & Spencer. The main purpose of their job is to advertise food. The food must look outstanding, eye-catching and perfectly shot, otherwise, no one will buy it.
Most food photographers are also food stylists, but not all food photographers are good at it, and that's absolutely fine. If you don't feel strong in this field, you can always find someone who's a food stylist and work together. However, it's good to practice and master food styling as this is a great asset to your business.
For the purpose of this article, we will focus on soup styling.
Before you pour soup into a bowl or place food on the plates start with planning your composition by placing bowls, plates and additional props without the food first. This step will help you with a general overview of the final scene. You should be able to imagine how the food will look with the props, backdrop and linens you've chosen.
Try to create a natural scene, imagine sitting by the table in front of your plate and placing your elements around. Take a few sample shots, and check the positioning. If any adjustments are required now is the best time to move plates around the scene. This is also a great practice, to learn composition. If you are 100% sure you have your perfect scene, and the composition you've chosen works great with your story, it's time to add food to your image.
Quality styling can move your food photography to another level. You have to learn and understand the colour palette, all the flavours, what to use as a perfect garnish and what isn't a good choice. Your goal is to create an appetising dish, beautifully composed with a clear message behind it.
Let's finally talk about soup styling. You have a few different types of soups.
Creamy soups are the easiest ones to manage hence ideal for beginners. Cream soups are usually thick, which helps placing the garnish such as sliced vegetables on the surface of the soup. It's easier to drizzle some cream or olive oil on creamy soups. Croutons, vegetable chips, herbs or seeds layered on top are some great elements to use if you want additional texture to your soup.
Sometimes, the garnish is too heavy and doesn't want to stay on top of the soup. I have a solution for a situation like this, you can place for example a few artificial ice cubes underneath and your garnish will be supported. With this little trick, you have a great base for your garnish, and I can assure you, it won't sink.
Watch mine behind the scene video on how to use artificial ice cubes in soup styling.
Soups with a lot of liquid, but also a lot of vegetables inside are also great to style, because, you can put a big amount of veggies inside, to build a great base for garnish. Take a look at my examples. Cold beetroot soup, with a lot of beetroot and chard inside, helped me decorate the soup with fresh cucumber, raddish and egg. Another example could be a mushroom soup which is full of mushrooms so it can be easily garnished with some fried mushroom slices and chives on top.
The last type of soup is noodles. This isn't as easy as cream soup to style. Styling noodles is challenging. What's important to remember is to undercook the noodles. When they are al dente they are easier to shape and style. You can create ribbons, nests or waves with noodles, it depending on the cuisine. For example, chicken noodle soup doesn't need any styling, it's a chicken broth with freely placed noodles, however when you create any kind of soup from Korean or Japanese cuisine, it's good to shape noodles nicely.
When you style a noodle soup use a shallow bowl or when you use a deep, ramen-type bowl place a perfectly fitted saucer inside or a small bowl (upside down) to place the noodles on it. Noodles, won't float, so placing them on that plate will help you to keep them visible. Check my bts for styling the noodles with this method.
You can garnish your soup with a half egg, edamame beans, julienned carrots or cucumber, some sesame seeds or chilli flakes. It depends on the recipe.
When you capture your scene try to experiment with light and compare in which light (side or backlight) your soup looks better. Which light highlights the texture nicer, which composition works smoother and more natural. Which bowl of soup looks tastier?
When it comes to the post-production process make sure your soup is vibrant and tasty. However, if it doesn't look appetising, you can always edit it in Lightroom.
I hope all the tips and hints will help you improve your soup composition and styling. Can't wait to see your creations.
If you have any questions or struggle with any subject, send me a DM on my Instagram or email me. I will do my best to answer and help.