Styling and Photographing Food as Professions — Profession? Styliste et photographe culinaires

food styling photography stylist conference boston

food styling photography conference boston

The art of bringing food styling and food photography into the life of a food blogger is challenging. Seriously! We all know this, don’t we? Every single time we want to share a recipe with the world out there, we do it. Of course, we are not equal in front of the task, and depending on factors such as patience, desire, talent and time, not even to mention camera equipment, the results vary. Our photos are sometimes wonderful — sometimes happy accidents too, thank god — but they can also be a pure catastrophe. But as P. always likes to remind me of whenever I feel frustrated, wishing to give up, the importance is to have fun. And, how much fun it is to style and photograph food. Not quite that simple, as I have seen at the International Food Styling and Photography Conference I was lucky to attend last weekend, but so rewarding in the end.

In fact, I must admit that unconsciously, I always knew that I liked food styling and photography. I would not have so many food magazine subscriptions otherwise! It became however more obvious when I started my food blog about sixteen months ago (oh yes, I counted the months). As I have strolled along, self-teaching and learning, reading, bookmarking, testing, cooking as I had not before, what a fantastic education it was to meet so many people whose profession is to be a food stylist or food photographer. There were so many of them! About two hundred people attended the conference, making an international crowd of us as I met people from Mexico, Greece, Venezuela, New Zealand, England, South Africa and Australia, to name a few countries. When we finished the last session by early afternoon on Monday, my head was spinning with fresh ideas and lessons newly learned, and I felt eager to try as soon as possible to apply them in my kitchen and space.

Which one do you like more? Styling food or Photographing Food?

Do I have to choose?

Maybe yes! Because here is a fact. Rare are the times when one person is both. Not that this is impossible — and I do not want to have to think I need to choose — but the reality is that when jobs are big, the work is just overwhelming too large for only one person. Plus, each profession definitely requires a totally different set of skills. A photographer might have no clue about cooking, whereas a food stylist obviously has to. Most of a time, a whole team is needed to work on a food photo shoot. The team usually comprises a prop stylist (but not always as we heard Caroline and Linda, two amazingly talented Australian food stylists, add), a food stylist, a food photographer and an art director, with assistants sometimes too. And, as stated by Neil Martin, a designer and art director working at Hill Holliday in Boston, because everyone plays a specific role in the success of the photo shoot, he or she should stick to their respective job to avoid a huge cacophony.

food styling photography conference boston


We heard inspiring presentations. We discussed the current new trends in food styling, we met Teri, a gifted and funny food photographer working in an amazing studio in Cincinnati (both Lara and I thought to ask him when we could move in, especially after we saw the walls of props in his studio), we were entertained by a fabulous funny presentation by the Gourmet magazine team represented by food stylists and editors Maggie Ruggiero, Ruth Cousineau, Paul Grimes and staff photographer Romulo A. Yanes — and they really made me wished I worked there — we had our breath taken away when admiring the beautiful food imagery brought to us by talented Australian food stylists Linda Brushfield and Caroline Westmore, and American female food photographers Francine Zaslow, Deborah Jones (she is the skilled photographer who worked on The French Laundry and Happy in the Kitchen Cookbooks which I have copies of) and Beth Galton (with whom I was so happy to have lunch with), and we were given an educational insight of Molecular Gastronomy by inspiring Harold Mc Gee, the author of On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen. As you can already see from this list, there was a lot of information to cover, and I did not even mention it all! I was delighted and lucky to spend a lot of time with Lara, meet Nika for the first time, and be introduced to generous and friendly Lisa Golden Schroeder, one of the organizers without whom none of this would have happened (food stylist John F. Carafoli being the other major contributor to organizing the event). We (Lara, Nika and I) had a delightful lunch with a few food stylists, including Debbie Wahl and Melanie Dubberley who showed an amusingly strong interest in food blogs. What they did not know is that we were quite shy about it. “What do you do? ” “Moi euh, food blogger.” Now of course, you would expect that I would have brought back many a photo. My initial intention was to indeed. Do not ask me why but it simply did not happen. I tried at the first presentation but soon gave up as it was clearly getting in the way (so the images in this post are some of my own food pictures, styled and shot at different times). Notes, on the other hand, I have, as I had my ears and eyes all wide open. Let’s take a look, if you are interested in the journey.

food styling photography conference boston

The conference opened with a presentation given by a panel of international presenters, to give us an overview of what happens on the international scene. Between Mexico and Greece, to Australia, we saw the work of Ignacio Urquiza, a Mexican photographer, Michael Athanasiou, a Greek food stylist and Caroline Westmore and Linda Brushfield, two Australian food stylists. And we learned that in Greece for example, the food does not need to be natural or authentic to be shot. The advertising images that Michael showed displayed fake ice cream, and by law, this is totally fine in Greece. In Australia on the other hand, as explained by Caroline and Linda, everything has to be natural and real. I do not know about you, but I know instinctively where my preference goes to, without hesitation!

The second class was a Master Class in Styling Chocolate taught by Melanie Dubberley , a food stylist that specializes in chocolate. A few basics on working with chocolate were covered, such as tempering, making ganache and creating chocolate garnishes such as cigarettes, twirls and baby curls. We learned about what utensils to use too (and where to find them), as well as making sure to work in the best temperature condition (which, in Melanie’s experience, goes around 68 to 72 F). She was challenged with it as a matter of fact as the room where the class was held was much warmer. Right there, we had the proof that it made things much more difficult.

I attended a few sessions where we discussed the new Food Styling Trends, between fashionable colors used and ways to compose the images. We heard the following:

  • old is new again
  • lifestyle inspiration
  • the horizontal line is back replacing the infinite background often used, created by a sweep
  • white on white initially introduced by Donna Hay is slowly replaced by the introduction of more vibrant colors. A lot of pastels are used too.
  • less props are used, following the motto Less is More
  • shots are tighter versus to showing the whole plate or dish, food is in your face
  • selective focus is favored
  • simplicity and simple lighting
  • use the palette of colors thinking under the terms of complementary colors working well with each other
  • only use garnish if it is integral to the recipe and food. Too much is, again, to be avoided
  • think about matching shapes, not necessarily round on round, square on square, but one shape on top of an opposed one
  • deliciousness in its imperfection with drips, crumbs which are favored, introducing the idea that the reader is part of the scene. It is like you are there
  • to find out about the trendy colors, browse fashion magazines
  • current color patterns these days would tend to be a return to natural and earthy colors, muted tones, primary and secondary colors combined, blues like turquoise, aquatic, pure, browns like chocolate, yellow evoking primitive, exotic, greens that express the idea of organic, red that evokes ethnicity

We were inspired by the work of talented Boston-based Francine Zsalow and Darra Goldstein, the editor of Gastronomica, who both confirmed my belief that the best way to stay inspire is to visit art galleries often, be curious about the forms and shapes of food. The inspiration is right there, in front and all around us. Darra’s presentation was particularly an eye-opener, breaking all preconceptions about how to showcase food. As opposed to glossy magazines where the obvious tendency is to show the beauty of food, Gastronomica is going take us to a much deeper level, when we are introduced to images that focus on forgotten areas such as decay, eroticism, form found in food. When her presentation was over, I felt like rushing to an art gallery.

We learned to become a better food photograph critic after food stylist Delores Custer and photographer James Scherzi led a discussion on what makes a great photo. They cleverly walked us through a photo session where they presented the same photos styled slightly differently (as did Deborah Jones when she demonstrated to us the importance to keep trying with a photo until one is truly satisfied with the end result). Small adjustments, whether in the camera angle or prop and food placement can have a bigger impact than one thinks. Also, I loved the comment she made when asked to share her experience working with chefs. “They like to think vertically and style their food this way“, which does not always work well in pictures. It was definitely fun to compare the same shots, one styled by a professional food stylist, one styled by a chef. A totally different look on the way to emphasize the shapes of food (and in many cases, the best picture would have been styled by a food stylist and not a chef).


There were also a lot of funny moments and really great laughters during these presentations, such as when Maggie Ruggiero, Paul Rimes or Shirley Corriher (whose book Cookwise is the promise to learn a lot about tricks and understanding the science of food) spoke. Art director Neil Martin’s last few words made me smile too when he concluded his presentation. He shared with us lines which, he added, he must have heard hundreds of times on a professional photo shoot.

Context: when assessing the quality of the pictures taken on a photo shoot, you would hear people say:

  • It’s not awful!
  • Could be worse!
  • Actually, it’s not too bad!
  • It is what it is!
  • It does not get any better than that!
  • We’ll fix it in post!

I particularly loved #4, 5 and 6.

Impressions?

Amazing, inspiring, fun, overwhelming, I cannot wait for the next one, and mainly to put into practice all the things that I have learned.

Statement?

Food Photography and Food Stylist are true forms of Art. This conference was the vivid proof of it.



And because I am often asked about my camera equipment, I thought this would be a good time to speak about this here. Although I dream of owning a HasselBlad like Stretch, I currently shoot with a Canon 30 D. My lenses are a Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM Lens, a EF 85mm f1.2L II USM Lens (my new birthday present) and a EF 50mm f1.4 USM Medium Telephoto Lens. I use natural light as well as bounces and boost the light when I need to. Light is everything for the photographer. Finally, still speaking of food photography, both Lara and I are honored to be part of the presenting team of the BlogHer Conference held in Chicago next July, where she and I will be speaking about Food Photography. If you are around or going, I look forward to meeting you there.

food styling photography conference boston

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Posted in Conference, Food Styling | 69 Comments

69 comments

  1. As usual, you are a delightful inspiration. Thank you so much for all of the information and insight. I’d like to see and read more about how you compose , take and edit your photos. They are among the most beautiful food photographs ever.

  2. I know a lot of the information at this workshop would be beyond my understanding of photography, but I would have loved to have been there and tried to understand what I could! I’m so much looking forward to the session at Blogher with you and Lara!

  3. Merci mille fois pour ce billet. C’est super de partager tout cela avec nous car j’avoue que je n’ai pas accès à ce genre d’infos ici. Bon week end.

  4. Your pictures are always ever so wonderful! A real source of inspiration…
    Keep up the good work!

  5. You just inspire me so much Bea. I need to get a T-shirt that says “I want to be like Bea,”

  6. Very intersting information,I love at the same way cook ,take the pictures .I worked with advertising a lot of time ( I was a art director):Now missing this times ,I ´m back with this theme adding a food,of course ,but in my home.But in five years I misses the treands and you share for me and for us.Thanks a lot

  7. Sounds like a great conference. Thanks for sharing. And good luck in your ambitions whatever you decide on Bea.

  8. Béa,

    This is just fascinating. Especially the discussion about being a photographer or stylist. I can’t wait to see what comes of the BlogHer conference!

  9. Thanks for all the information Bea! The photos are stunning. I especially like the salad with cherries, beautiful colours. Now, I need to get the T-shirt Peabody is getting too!

  10. Tout ce que je peux dire, c’est que vos photos me donnent invariablement envie de tester la recette (je me suis ainsi empressée de cuisiner le risotto de betterave – délicieux d’ailleurs – n’étant pourtant pas une grande fan de betterave à la base).
    Un grand bravo et bonne continuation pour le plus grand plaisir de vos lecteurs.

  11. Merci de ton recit et e nous faire partager le revers de la medaille. Je pense qu’il faut choisir suivant les moyens a sa disposition le chemin de son blog. A moins de gagner la lotterie, je sais que je ne pourrais jamais me permettre le meme matos mais c’est grace a toi et d’autres photographes de “food’ et de stylistes que j’apprends beaucoup et que e pioche quelques trucs. Merci de prendre le temps de nous faire decouvrir des photos magiques et pleines d’inspiration.

  12. Bea-
    You are truly an amazing, generous blogger. Thank you so much for sharing and enriching my life! Food styling/photography is so new to me and I am learning more and more every single time I come visit!
    I don’t know if I could pick either styling or photography. How about a professional eater?
    Jaden

  13. Thank you for taking the time to share all this bounty with us.
    And congratulations for being invitated to the Chicago Blogher Conference, I am looking forward to hear from your experience there.

  14. wow. very inspiring. I´ve really loved that post, it´s useful for people who can´t photograph for peanuts,too, thanks!

  15. C’est passionnant, d’autant plus que tu es toi meme passionnee par le sujet. Un jour, c’est toi qui donnera des cours et des conferences.

  16. moi chaque x que je visite ton blog, c’est comme le jour ou le facteur m’amene Elle a Table ! Mais chez toi c’est mieux pax c’est tts les jours !! Merci de nous gater visuellement et gouteusement (pas certaine ke ca existe..)
    Corinne

  17. Thanks so much for taking the time to share with us all the tips and learnings from the conference! :)

  18. Mary, thank you so much. I will have to write about this indeed. Would be hard to summarize but I will try.

    Leonine, merci

    Kalyn, looking forward to meeting you too!

    Pascale, merci de ton passage. C’était super!

    Susan, great news. Looking forward to seeing you in Chicago!

    Fabienne, merci beaucoup.

    Rosa, thanks so much.

    Tiuscha, merci..ahah, j’aimerais bien ;-)

    Sha, merci. Très gentil à toi.

    Yoyo, thanks, once again for coming back.

    Kat, thank you.

    Peabody, ahah you made my day. I had to laugh so much when I read your comment. That would freak me out ;-) Imagine that!

    Sylvia, oh very interesting. Glad you were able to relive this a little. Your experience must have been so enriching.

    Jessica, thank you.

    Barbara, thanks so much for your kind words and encouragement.

    Ivonne, thank you!

    Mj, sweet! Merci! ;-)

    Sophie, merci. Très sympa ce que tu écris.

    Evinrude, between you and Peabody, you made my day ;-)

    Ces, thanks so much. Yes I hope you can make it to Chicago, who knows!

    Adeline, merci beaucoup pour votre gentil mot. Et super contente de savoir que vous avez aimé le risotto!

    Sandi, thank you! Big smile!

    Helen, ah oui, tu as tout à fait raison. Je suis tombée dedans par hasard, une chose menant à une autre, et le chemin s’est dessiné à mon insu.

    Steamy kitchen, thanks so much for your kind words. And I love your idea of being a professional eater. I think I would join too, no hesitation!

    Merisi, thank you.

    Ximena, thank you!!

    Gracianne, ah c’est trop mignon ce que tu dis là. Tu me fais rougir, et m’encourage. Merci bien à toi!

    Corinne, alors là, c’est un super chouette compliment. Vraiment merci! Cela me touche.

    Joey, thank you!!!

  19. Merci beaucoup Bea pour ta generosite et pour partager ces informations avec nous tous. Entre photographe et food styliste, que fais-tu le mieux??? je ne pourais choisir tu excelles dans les deux alors pourquoi choisir!
    Beaucoup de succes a toi.
    Rose

  20. Bea,
    Thank you so much for sharing your wonderful experience – it must have been so inspiring! I will certainly be going the next time they decide to have one! And I think with your talent you can stand proudly with any of the food stylists/photographers that attended – perhaps you will be the first to do both at once!:)

  21. I do just adore your photography. I stuggle with with a love of photography…and wanting to eat my dinner! Oddly enough, while I love cooking and photographing, I hate styling.

    Ever run into that issue? Of trying to balance the work of capturing images for the blog and just enjoying what you’ve made?

  22. Je n’ai pas bu, mais mangé chaque mot de ton exposé. Merci pour toutes ces informations. Je me délecte.
    Bien à toi
    verO

  23. I think that you are a true artist. Your photographs are amazing – both the photo and the styling. I only wish I had a portion of your talent.

  24. Oh, what a perfect way to spend a whole of weekend, Bea! Thank you for sharing what you’ve learnt. And congratulations of being one of the speaker at Blogher! You have achieve so much in 16 months! And so much well deserved too. You’re such an inspiration. :)

  25. Wow! I’m just browsing right now, but I’ve bookmarked this post to return to and peruse. You, Bea, are simply amazing, and your insights are truly invaluable.

    We live on the same coast… let me know when you offer your own food/styling/fun classes!

  26. Thanks Veron. Glad it is useful.

    Rose, merci beaucoup pour ton gentil mot. C’est vrai que j’aurais bien du mal à choisir.

    Anita, nice to hear you will come, should there be another one. And thanks for the kind words.

    Sarah, well I have to admit that I love styling food, so this is not an issue for me. I do not blog or show everything I cook, otherwise I would not have enough of 24 hours. It is already crazy as it is!

    Vero, merci beaucoup!

    Deborah, very sweet of you. Thanks so much.

    Mae, thank you also for your lovely note and words.

    S’kat, thank you and also, good idea. I would be petrified with fear though ;-) Where are you on the East coast??

    All of you, you of course know that you are the best supporters, so thank you once more!

  27. I’m dropping in late with this comment, but I just wanted to tell you I REALLY think you have what it takes to make it in that field. Your photos are my favorite of all the food blogs I peruse. Keep it up!

  28. Thanks so much Betty for your encouragement and kind words. I will work hard in that direction!

  29. Merci infiniment pour ce fantastique billet. Je le garde comme référence en matière de stylisme. Grâce à toi et à Lara, j’ai l’impression d’avoir assisté à ce colloque. Merci beaucoup pour ce compte-rendu plus que complet.

  30. Thank you so much for being so generous as to share this wealth of information and experience! I didn’t get a chance to read your post until today… so very helpful. I continue to look forward to reading about and seeing your food!

  31. Sounds like fun. But shouldn’t you have been teaching the conference?

    And, also, I made a cherry salad just like yours this week. Except you beat me to it. Dag nabbit. You’re too quick.

  32. Thanks for the super report, really insightful. Very jealous of you being able to go. I better start saving up for the next one.

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  34. hi it it possible to get the schools where they conduct courses for food styling

  35. I am sure there must be courses in special programs. And definitely courses from independent companies, like my friends who run Food Fanatics for example in Los Angeles.

  36. Your pictures are amazing and phenomenal. Although it is your talent behind the lens that does this,it would be nice to know if this is the gear that you are still using?

  37. Very Good work indeed, and there is no need to buy Hasselblad, if u can afford Sinar… go for that with P65+.

    Regards,
    Param Grewal
    Corporate & Food Photographer.

  38. Thank you so much, I’m currently in Culinary Arts school and was asked to write a paper on what it takes to be a Food Stylist. Your blog saved my day and gave a whole new window to look at in my platting and presentation class. Not to mention I’m now hungry!

  39. Phenomenal post! I recently discovered Food Styling and Food Photography, and this post was very informative and helpful in my quest to learn more about this art. Sounds like you had a great time at this conference, and I can’t wait until the next conference so I can attend and learn so much more! Thank you very much for posting this…. loved it!

  40. Pingback: Food Styling and Photography Conference in Boston, June 2009 | La Tartine Gourmande

  41. salut j’ai essaye de dechiffrer ta conférence :difficile je suis partie vers les commentaires pour glaner un peu de tes impressions(of course en français)wahou tous et toutes te félicitent moi aussi pour le peu que j’ai pu déchiffrer je suis restée sur ma faim,bloquée à la porte d’un paradis
    peux-tu nous le traduire en français ton périple sur la conférence et l’idée de t’inscrire à celle-ci
    foufou

  42. Thanks for taking the time to write this post and share your thoughts, impressions and findings. Its invaluable information and your post has driven me to start a subscription to Gastronomica! Happy shooting & styling.

  43. Can anyone give some insight as to how to go about becoming a food photographer for someone who doesn’t have a photography background or culinary background? Thank you.

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  45. Do you teach? Do you have a class? My sister wants to do this.. she is a chef.. but we are looking for a course in situ… where I can find courses when she is in the class with u or the teacher?! Please help!

  46. Andrea,

    I don’t currently have classes to offer, but will let you know when I do.

  47. I always look to your blog for inspirational recipes and the beautiful photographs. I have wondered for sometime what camera you use, which you have stated here, but since the article is three years old I am still wondering which camera you use currently.

  48. Bea – do you have any recommendations for increasing the light when I am taking night-time pictures? I am newish to blogging and I’ve resolved to perfect my food photos. Unfortunately – since I work full time – I do most of my cooking and photographing at night. What do you use to increase the light? I have a Canon DSLR. Have you heard of the Lowel lights? Or what about the Canon speedlight flash? Thanks so much for your help.

  49. I merely wanted to thank you one more time for that amazing blog you have made here. It is full of ideas for those who are definitely interested in that subject, primarily this very post.

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