STYLE THE SHOT
Make sure your subject looks good enough to eat
Building an interesting composition lies in a spectrum of approaches, with food styling at one end and photojournalism at the other. You can either create the exact scene you want from scratch using props and styling, or you can look for moments within a scene that already exists in the real world. The best results often come from somewhere in between the two.
Styling is a dedicated skill. On a commercial shoot the stylist can actually earn more than the photographer. Stylists supply their props and ideas, and typically the concept of the overall shoot rests most heavily in their hands. The photographer will have to take their lead, manipulate the light to their advantage, and ensure that the final scene is technically competent.
As a photographer it is a joy to work with a good stylist, because they carry so much of the creative load. With the stylist preparing the scene, this will then enable you to devote your attention to the task of finding the ideal composition. For one person to achieve both photography and styling can be demanding, as your brain is jumping between two tasks and
you may not be able to successfully complete either to satisfaction.
When shooting on location it’s important to consider how much of the original character from the restaurant or kitchen you want to pull through into the images. Photojournalism style dictates that you reveal the nature of your subject, while styling is an attempt to create it through art. In practice there is always a degree of both.
I like to ‘shoot around the scene’ when I visit a location. I ask the staff to set tables as they would for guests, and to present dishes with wines poured. I want to see how they present their work. With a fully dressed table I then start to look for moments within the scene. I seek out a hero and dig out compositions that pull through multiple elements. And then I might start styling the table a little. Not a lot, but a little. I make adjustments, I remove distractions, and I add layers to the background.
I do this with location shoots, and when working with a stylist in the studio. Bringing these two approaches together yields diversity in the images you collect, and opens the door to innovative compositions that are unexpectedly rewarding.
“Consider how much of the original character from the restaurant or kitchen you want to pull through into