Imagine you’re flipping through a food magazine and you see an article on ice cream. Accompanying the article is a picture that activates your drool glands: A hot-fudge sundae with vanilla ice cream and a cherry on top, served in a frosted glass. You never knew food photography was so good at making your stomach rumble, and you’d like nothing more than to take a bite out of that sundae.
Doing so would be a very bad idea indeed. The ice cream you’re looking at might be a scoop of mashed potatoes. Or worse, it might be a mixture of corn syrup, confectioner’s sugar and shortening. That sundae is indeed too good to be true – and it’s all thanks to a food stylist.
A food stylist is a culinary professional whose job is to prepare food for photography, video or film. Making food photogenic is no easy task, and the best food stylists come to the job armed with an array of techniques to make meals look their best – even if it means replacing pancake syrup with 30-weight motor oil.
The job of a food stylist has changed as advancing technology has made food photography a digital art. In the old days of film, food would often sit for hours under hot lights while directors of photography fiddled with f-stops and depths of field. These days, digital cameras make the process easier and faster – but quality food stylists still work with a unique palette, meaning they face challenges most other artists don’t even need to consider. It’s also important for food stylists to understand the ins and outs of photography and videography; that way he’ll know how a particular food item shows up on the page.
A quality food stylist doesn’t just arrange food artfully. Often he has to make food taste good as well. When preparing food for commercials or cooking shows, for instance, it might be a bad idea to pour Pennzoil on pancakes, since actors might have to eat the food. And some laws stipulate that the food displayed in advertisements must match the food being advertised – so until Baskin Robbins makes mashed potato their 32nd flavor, food stylists will need to be adept at getting difficult-to-shoot foods looking their best.