Philly-based writer, food stylist, and current WHC student answers your pressing questions about food photography.
Taking photos of your food seems easy enough, right? You point your fancy phone and snap away, sometimes, you even use fancy filters. But, do your photos look like the ones shown above? My guess is that you’ve used every filter available, but still can’t get that perfect photo. We’re here to help!
I’ve teamed up with Lisa Hecht, a Philly-based writer, food stylist, and current Walnut Hill College Culinary student, to answer some basic questions regarding the fundamentals of composition, lighting, prop selection, and what you can do to get your photos to look like they came from the pages of Bon Appétit magazine.
( All photo credit to Lisa Hecht who we featured in last week’s Feel-Good Friday Newsletter)
What are the best props to use for food styling? Give us your TOP 5:
Props are an essential part of food styling, they need to elevate and complement the food you are shooting. The props that I use for photoshoots aren’t necessarily things that I use in my kitchen every day.
To start you need a background to shoot on. Most of us might take photographs on our kitchen counters or at the table we are eating at, but space and lighting can be a big issue in this scenario. Ideally, you want a surface that can be moved around like a cutting board or a piece of marble.
At Replica Surfaces, they sell boards that mimic surfaces like wood, tile, and stone that can be used as backdrops. Until you are ready to make this investment, I would just look for things you have around the house. Currently, these are my favorite props to use for food styling.
My TOP 5 Food Styling Props:
- An old wooden crate that I found at a flea market
- Walnut cutting board
- Dish towels – different colors, patterns, and textures
- Vintage flatware, including my set of wood and brass cutlery
- Small plates and bowls with simple designs and shapes
Why are “composition” and “framing” so important?
How to compose a great photograph is extremely important because it tells the viewer what to focus on in the image. Keep in mind that your subject does not always have to been in the center of your frame. You might spend a lot of time styling your shoot, but you still need to consider what angle you want to shoot from. Some things to consider when composing a photograph are how the viewers eyes are going to move around the image.
To start you want to have a contrast between the subject and the background. Also think about pattern, symmetry, and repetition. Consider how diagonal or directional lines can lead you into the picture and how framing devices such as trays or plates can help outline your subject. Most importantly, spend time looking at other people’s photographs and try to mimic what they do. Pinterest is a great source for professional food photography.
What’s the best lighting to use for that perfect photo?
Without a doubt, natural light is the best light for food photography. I try to do most of my shoots by the window in my living room where I have a nice stream of natural light coming through. When I shoot in places like my kitchen or dining room, the overhead lights often create a glare or strong reflections on the food and props which I don’t like.
Filters – Yes or No?
If shooting with your phone, then absolutely yes! You should always edit the photos you take. This might mean using the contrast and brightness tools on your phone or using one of the built-in filters. Consider if you want the image to look warm or cool. Do you want the color in the image to be highly saturated or naturalistic? Find the aesthetic that works for you.
Does the equipment matter?
Yes, it does. Ideally, if you plan to go into this profession, you will be shooting with a DSLR camera with a 50 mm lens and probably have a macro lens for close-up shots. If you are shooting with your smartphone, then the quality of your phone still matters. I’m currently shooting with an Apple iPhone 6 Plus but when I see images being shot with an iPhone 11, I can see the difference in quality right away.
Best Apps for photo editing?
Most professional photographers I know use Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Lightroom to edit their photos.
Is all food photogenic or are there some foods to avoid?
Not all food is photogenic but there are always ways that you can make it look better. Think about if you had to photograph a bowl of oatmeal. It is mushy, has little contrast, and looks bland. However, if you topped it with fresh berries, chopped nuts, maple syrup, and sprinkled cinnamon on top, then that boring bowl of oatmeal just became a lot more appetizing. Adding garnishes is a way to add color and texture to what could possibly be an unappealing dish.
Should I have a separate account for my food photography?
If you plan to use your Instagram account as a portfolio for your food photography, then having a separate account will depend on what kind of photos you normally like to post. I currently use my personal account to post all my food photos. This means that if I apply for a food styling job, I feel comfortable sharing my handle with a future employer. However, if my page focused more on images of my personal life and family, then I would absolutely have a separate account.
So, there you have it folks – real advice from a real-world food stylist. Do yourselves a favor and check out Lisa’s Instagram account where she shares some truly inspiring food photography.
Hey, everyone! This week, I wanted to share something that I like to make at home on a fairly regular basis and a recipe to use it in. Mushrooms are one of my all-time favorite foods, and I think that they make a great substitute for meat. They’re packed full of protein, fiber, and an immune-boosting antioxidant called selenium. I love the flavor that each different type of mushroom has, and they’re all different! Some of my favorites include shimeji, morel, maitake, oyster, and enoki. When caramelized, they have an incredibly nutty and rich flavor that adds depth to any dish. They’re pretty much one of the best foods ever, spoken by a completely unbiased individual… ????
I think that mushrooms are also beautiful to look at, and for this reason and a few others, I like them to be recognizable in a dish. I rarely cut mushrooms unless they are of the larger variety and cannot be torn. I always tear the mushrooms previously mentioned, and I always save the ends for stock and soup! Because mushrooms are so incredibly versatile, I really like to keep some already cooked off in my fridge for salads, pasta, or whatever we’ve got a hankering for. One of my favorite preparations for these fungi is to caramelize them in brown butter. They turn out to be incredible little flavor bombs that you can add to any dish. You could absolutely substitute out butter for a preferred cooking fat to get the same lovely color. This is as simple as cutting a few knobs of butter onto a sheet pan, browning the butter in the oven, and mixing your cut mushrooms with some salt for seasoning into the brown butter. Once they’re all coated, roast them in the oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit until they’re well fragrant and golden brown.
One recipe that I’ve developed to use these in is my take on spaghetti ai funghi. Mushrooms that have been browned lend themselves nicely to a cream sauce or something that will push the rich flavor forward. The recipe is very simple, but in the video I have included, I used a red wine jus I made from chicken stock (not necessary, but it’s what I had). Using regular chicken stock works perfectly well for this recipe and is usually what I do. It is also perfectly fine in this recipe to brown the mushrooms in a pan first and then build your sauce from there.
- ¼ lb. enoki mushrooms
- ¼ lb. shimeji mushrooms
- ¼ lb. oyster mushrooms
- 8 oz. dry spaghetti
- 1/3 cup chicken stock
- ¾ cup heavy cream
- Fresh cracked black pepper to taste
- Parsley (I toasted mine for a little texture)
- 1 tbsp. butter
- 1 egg yolk
- Salt a large pot of water and bring to a boil.
- Prepare your mushrooms by tearing them apart.
- Brown the butter in a sauté pan and add the mushrooms.
- Once the mushrooms are tender and caramelized, deglaze with chicken stock.
- Reduce the chicken stock down until it becomes syrupy and add the heavy cream.
- Reduce the heavy cream until it just starts to thicken and coats the back of a spoon.
- Cook your spaghetti to al dente and add to the cream sauce with a splash of pasta water.
- Separate one egg, store the whites, and keep the yolk out.
- Once the pasta is coated with sauce, season to taste with salt, cracked black pepper, and parsley.
- Finish the dish while still hot by stirring in an egg yolk. (The residual heat cooks the yolk without turning it solid.)
When I first started making this recipe, I was in love. It’s a fairly simple dish to make and it tastes so luxurious. You really don’t need a lot of it to fill you up, and it has an outstanding roasted mushroom flavor. I like to go heavy on the cracked black pepper because it adds a nice spice to the very rich dish. I hope that this has inspired you to cook with mushrooms more and maybe even try them as a substitute in your favorite meat dish. I guarantee you’ll be surprised at just how flavorful they are! Thank you for reading and happy cooking!
Hey, everyone! This week’s blog post is the first collaboration post we’ve done on here! A fellow student leader, Meghan Young, wrote a piece that I think totally captures the idea of what this blog is all about. What better way to kick off a collaboration than with a gameday post? It’s always fun having people over to watch sports, whether it’s football, basketball, soccer, you name it! Once you’ve gotten everyone together, the question of what to eat and drink always arises. Planning can really elevate the gameday experience, and in this post, we’re going to share some recipes that are perfect for groups of people!
One recipe that I’ll often make at home is chicken dip. It is so incredibly easy to put together and is usually a hit once it’s done. Buffalo chicken dip is a classic, but I like to put my own twist on chicken dip. I recently discovered a barbeque sauce that goes beautifully with chicken and thought, why not make dip with this? Thus, my barbeque chicken dip was born. Something fun about this recipe is that you can really substitute in any favorite sauce for barbeque and it will work just as well. I find that sweeter sauce doesn’t work as well for this dip based solely on the fact that I don’t like my savory foods to be too sweet. There really aren’t a ton of ingredients in this dip, which makes it very user friendly.
- 1 rotisserie chicken
- 2 cups barbeque sauce
- 1 pound cream cheese
- ½ cup sour cream
- 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
- 1 cup spring onion
- Shred rotisserie chicken with hands or forks.
- Warm barbeque sauce in a pan, and add softened cream cheese and sour cream.
- Mix in chicken and three fourths of the shredded cheese and spring onions.
- Once combined, taste and adjust seasoning, if necessary.
- Spoon into a 10-inch skillet, and top with the remaining cheese.
- Bake in a low oven until heated through and bubbling.
- *OPTIONAL* Broil on high until cheese gets bubbly and brown on top.
- Garnish with remaining spring onions, and serve with chips.
I hope you all enjoy this recipe as much as I do! Whenever it’s movie night or I know people will be coming over, I throw this together and it’s always a hit. Remember that you can really make any kind of chicken dip, and you should definitely experiment with flavors! Thank you for reading!
Hey, everyone! This week, I wanted to share something that I have been making quite a lot of recently. Ever since I was younger, I have absolutely loved pita bread. Whether it’s stuffed full of falafel or dipped in hummus, I can’t get enough. Ever since I stumbled upon a great recipe developed by Paul Hollywood, I’ve been making it all the time! I make quite a lot of hummus at home, and it’s fantastic to have a scratch-made lunch of pita, hummus, and salad. I think that working with this recipe has taught me a lot about proving dough and the process of making flatbread. I also learned a lot from a friend of mine here at school, who is incredible at making Mediterranean food. I’m still trying to perfect my pita, but I’ve had a ton of fun with the process of making it and learning how to get the perfect pocket.
I have tried a few different ways of making pita bread, but I have definitely found that the oven works best. When first making pitas in class, I tried making them on the back of a very hot cast iron pan. I would flip them halfway through, and the results were pretty decent. However, the pitas were never evenly colored, even though they had nice pockets. After doing some research, I found that my only other option really was an oven. A deck oven would definitely be the best choice for this, but sadly, I don’t have one of those at home. To simulate this, however, I cranked my oven up to 550 degrees Fahrenheit and preheated my baking trays to somewhat mimic the effect of heat from the top and bottom evenly. As this is essentially the same as heat cleaning your oven, please make sure that your oven is already clean if you’re going to try this. Greasy ovens at a high heat billow smoke and smell horrible. This proved to work very well but needs constant monitoring, seeing as though the pitas bake very quickly. That being said, I still achieved some good pockets and nice color!
This was another one of those projects that felt good to work on and get better at. I tried making a preferment for my dough to get some extra flavor out of it, and I really liked the way it turned out. I find that homemade food tastes better and is much more rewarding if you have the time and patience. I always have fun making recipes like this, because it becomes part of a hearty meal later on. For the sake of people who would like to try making this pita recipe, I have included it here. I hope this has inspired some of you to go out there and bake! I’ve definitely caught the bug and am looking forward to more fun bakes. Thank you for reading!
Hey, everyone! This week, I was wondering what to do for a blog post, and a classmate of mine actually asked if I would make them some paneer. Paneer is a fresh cheese that comes from the Indian subcontinent. This quick and easy cheese has a number of uses and is delicious in many applications. This seemed like a good food to showcase, especially because I am a sucker for cheese! I went to a local market and picked out a gallon of whole milk for a two-pound yield of cheese. One of my all-time favorite dishes to eat that showcases paneer is Saag Paneer. A rich gravy of spinach and aromatics make up the sauce, and paneer soaks it right up, making for an irresistible combination. I really enjoy Indian cuisine, and over the years I’ve actually found that I like the vegetarian dishes better. In my opinion, paneer makes a fantastic substitute for meat and is easier on the stomach as well.
In my Canning, Jarring, and Preserving class here at WHC, I learned a great recipe for paneer that is very easy to execute. With only two ingredients, it is a procedural recipe that is very user-friendly. If you don’t quite get the separation of curds and whey the first time you add the lemon juice, you can always add more until you get the desired curds. Some important things to note are that when making any type of cheese, it is a good general rule to have cheese cloth or butter muslin on hand. A large sieve proves to be very helpful, as well as a half-sheet pan with a rack if you don’t have a proper cheese press. Something heavy such as a gallon of milk or heavy pans are good for pressing in a pinch. The following is the recipe I use from the class that I took. I think that it’s a good ratio and yield for milk to cheese. I really enjoyed making this recipe, and I hope that anyone reading does, too!
- 1 gallon whole milk
- ½ cup lemon juice
- Bring milk to a gentle, rolling boil.
- Reduce heat to low, and stir in lemon juice.
- Cook for 15 seconds, then remove from heat.
- Stir gently to see separation (large curds), then leave for 10 minutes.
- Ladle curds into strainer lined with cheese cloth.
- Rinse curds gently with warm water to remove lemon juice.
- Tie off cheese cloth, and hang for 1-2 hours to drain.
- Place cloth-bound cheese on a sheet pan with a rack, and apply 5 lbs. of pressure for 1 hour. (A cheese press can be used as well.)
- Remove cheese from cloth, and store for up to 2 weeks.
The beauty of a recipe like this is that you can easily change the batch size. The above recipe yields two pounds of paneer. Simply cut the recipe in half for a one-pound yield. Once you get the hang of making this, explore the many recipes that give paneer the showcase that it deserves. As previously mentioned, Saag Paneer is my favorite panir recipe, but there are most likely hundreds of recipes and variations to explore. Try substituting this in place of meat in a curry recipe. I’m sure the possibilities are endless, and I always have fun learning new ways to spice up ingredients that I love. I hope that you’ve enjoyed this post and that you now have a platform to follow your path to paneer perfection. Thanks for reading!