When I first started photographing food, I didn’t realize just how difficult it can be! I learned ice cream melts too fast, coffee leaves an oily residue that will ruin its appearance, and milk is super thin and runny! I always wondered how stylists achieved those A-M-A-Z-I-N-G ice cream shots, or how they managed to capture milk so it *actually* looked like milk. Throughout my time of lots of trial and error, online courses, and endless Googling, I’ve put a collection of all my tried-and-true food styling hacks for you!
Ready to up your food styling skills? Let’s dive right in…
My first and favorite food styling hack is making ice cream! Not the kind of melty, creamy deliciousness you’re used to though—the fake kind. It can be quite challenging to photograph an object that is actively melting under hot lights. If you’re trying to photograph a specific brand of ice cream, then it’s probably best to use the real thing and work quickly. If you need it as a prop for multiple shoots though, I highly suggest making your own so it doesn’t melt while you’re photographing!
How to make it: I like using shortening mixed with equal parts corn syrup (usually about a 1/2 cup each). Add in any colors you want now with food dye, or cocoa for chocolate ice cream. Mix until they’re thoroughly combined, then add confectioners’ sugar until it starts to thicken and resemble ice cream. You don’t want it too sticky or it won’t hold its form.
Coffee? Not quite
I quickly learned that photographing real coffee is a tricky game—it always left an unsightly oily residue that bounced my light right back at the camera. If you ever see coffee in my shots, it’s probably soy sauce! I like to use a thick brand of soy sauce from my local grocery, Lee Kum Kee, diluted with some water. Any brand will do, though! This way, your coffee will actually look like coffee and not some shiny, greasy liquid in a cup!
And that steam?
Yeah, that’s probably fake, too! Steam dissipates so quickly and it can be difficult to capture it. I like to use incense sticks for steam. It also allows you to take as many shots as you want so you can find that perfect steaminess you’re trying to achieve. Some people also like to steam wet cotton balls in the microwave and hide them behind their subject. Since my microwave is two floors away, I find incense to be much more convenient to use. See what works best for you!
It’s always hard to photograph ice because it makes your glass foggy fast. I always tried photographing my ice images as quickly as I could, but even that wasn’t helpful. It wasn’t until I was wandering around the craft store that I stumbled upon acrylic ice cube fillers. These can be found in your craft store by the vases section. They’re absolutely perfect for dropping into glasses or even just placing on a table!
Corn syrup is the new glue
Whenever I need food to stick to another food (such as sprinkles on eggs), I like to use corn syrup as a glue. It’s a perfect way to help your objects stay in place quickly and effectively. You’d be surprised just how well it’ll stick things together! A little will go a long way. I also used it as glue in this photo below, since I didn’t want to actually glue those gems to my legs. So, it’s pretty versatile 😉
Make bowls appear more full… with more bowls
Sometimes you just don’t have enough product to fill a bowl completely, or maybe it just doesn’t look quite full enough. My favorite food styling hack for that is to place a smaller bowl upside-down inside your main bowl. Just pile your food on top of it and voilà—an instantly filled bowl! It’ll take up the extra space and help create a more uniform appearance of your food.
Use sticky tack as a support
If there’s an object near the edge of the frame, it can get distorted by your lens. This is most noticeable with circular objects such as coffee mugs or bowls. A good food styling hack to prevent that is to use modeling clay or sticky tack as a wedge to prop the object. It’s such and quick and easy way to compensate for that distortion and ensure your objects don’t appear misshapen.
Whenever I’m shooting milk or melted ice cream I find glue to be a perfect medium for milk! Using actual ice cream or milk tends to be too transparent and looks pretty gross, to be honest. I love using glue because it’s nice and opaque and won’t run all over the place like the real thing! This food styling hack is also perfect for gooey cheese—just add food coloring. Your options are endless! I also like to use clear glue for a lot of water-related compositions because styling actual water isn’t very fun (I speak from experience 😉 )
Photographing food can pose a challenge, but no fear! These food styling hacks are simple ways you can overcome those melty, distorted obstacles. I hope this collective of food styling tips will help and inspire you do go out and create own your amazing work! Keep checking back to this post for more tips and tricks I gather along the way.