I always say that if someone you’re cooking for says, “Wow!” when you put the food on the table there’s almost no chance they won’t enjoy eating it.

That’s not say that cooks should worry about crockery and to hell with the salt. Or that food should be tweezered onto the plate to ensure the most artistic arrangement possible. In fact, I can’t bear food that looks as if it’s been preened and poked by a thousand hands before it reached my fork.

But I do think food should look appetizing. Because then you’re half way there. Your guest is willing the food to sate the appetite the visual appeal has whetted. And, for me, an appetizing plate is about abundance, generosity and showing off the natural beauty of the food in a way that makes the eater think, “that looks like it’s going to taste delicious.”

And not only do I like beautiful food, I like my pictures of that food (if you follow the G&G Instagram account, you’ll know this) to look appetizing too. And, for me, the same rules apply to the pictures as the plates of food – they should make you want to dive in. It must be mouth-watering.

So, I was delighted when the ever-lovely Daylesford Organics invited me and Mandy (the organised half of the G&G private cheffing business) to a workshop with food stylist and The Little Plantation blogger/stylist/photographer, Kimberly Espinel, last week as part of their new series of floristry and styling events. Kimberly’s Instagram account is an enviable array of beautiful flat lays and her knowledge of what makes an image ‘pop’ (that’s trendy photo jargon for can’t-quite-put-my-finger-on-why-but-my-eye-is-draw-to-this-image) is second to none.

Food styling tips by TLP at Daylesford

Never in the course of G&G history has so much food been looked at but not eaten as was in this workshop. We were restrained beyond all imagining. Mainly because Kimberly’s tips and techniques were so revelatory and we were too busy taking notes and gasping, “oh I see” to eat (and, as you know, it takes a lot to distract us from food).

The workshop went something like this: Kimberly would ask us to set up our own shots, we would over-enthusiastically do so, photograph it, then Kimberly would critique it, swap things around to improve the scene immeasurably and teach us a few of her tricks in the process. Simple. And hugely effective.

Here are her top tips:

  • Storytelling: Decide on the story you want to tell then choose your props accordingly. Things like ‘young family have a lazy breakfast’ or ‘quick bite of lunch in the potting shed’ and style accordingly
Food styling tips by TLP at Daylesford
  • Lighting:
    • Use only natural light and make sure it is diffused (Daylesford, fortunately, has this in abundance).
    • Have one source of light for your shot, say a window, and make sure it is to the left or right of your subject – side light is always best.
    • Put your featured ingredients in the brightest part of the scene where the light will hit them most
  • Composition for flat lay and top down shots:
    • Generally, things look better off centre than plonked in the middle of the plate in the middle of the shot
    • Create diagonal lines or sweeping curves through your image to guide the eye to your main subject
    • For instagram, divide your image into a 3 x 3 grid and arrange items on the intersections of the grid, ideally in odd numbers. This will give you a natural but dynamic arrangement
Food styling tips by TLP at Daylesford
  • Composition for perspective shots (especially dark and moody still life ones):
    • Use many different heights to create interest and movement
    • For dark and moody use a matt black background with the light source at one side. Don’t shoot in a dark spot – you still need light!
Food styling tips by TLP at Daylesford
Food styling tips by TLP at Daylesford
  • The little styling and prop tips that make a big difference:
    • Use fabric and 2-3 different textures to add layers, movement and interest to your shot
    • Pick a colour palette and stick to it!
    • Take care to avoid reflections and shiny surfaces which can be tricky to photograph. Go for matt crockery and cutlery
    • A few crumbs, dribbles here an there makes the whole thing look more natural (which is good since mess is inevitable for me anyway)
    • If you’re after a sense of abundance, use small plates rather than large ones for a sense of quantity
    • To create a more intimate scene that entices the viewer in, fill a fork with some of the food so it looks like it’s about to be tucked into
Food styling tips by TLP at Daylesford

And here are the before and afters. (I should caveat, no one was more graceful or gentle in explaining our errors than Kimberly, I’ve just been blunt in my captions for the sake of brevity.)

Food styling tips by TLP at Daylesford
Food styling tips by TLP at Daylesford
Food styling tips by TLP at Daylesford

Obviously, I’m managing to convey only a very little of what we learnt, but we’ve come away brimming with ideas and full of good intentions about our G&G Instagram account and future blog posts. So, watch this space….

 

(Disclaimer: Clearly I’m biased about Daylesford because I used to work there and the lovely folks who run the workshops invited us to this one, which is part of a new series of styling and floristry events, so we could talk about what we saw. That said, you’ll know that we like to speak our mind here at G&G and we’re not the sort to say something was good because we got it for free. But it was good, so thank you Daylesford.)