The Art of Food Styling

Joined Feb 6, 2002
I found a very interesting site tonight geared toward Food Stylists. Here is an excerpt.

Presenter: Rick Ellis, food stylist and food historian, New York City

Rick Ellis of New York notes that the current trend for portraying food is to try to create and "capture the romance, or more appropriately the romancing of food. Showing food melting, oozing, folding, dripping, pulling—all help to create images people want to eat," he adds.

Beginning with melting cheese, he advised doing cheese melts just before shooting. This prevents the product from setting or congealing. He used a modified steamer with a narrow nozzle to create the melt. "A little heat goes a long way, and gentle heat is best," he noted. Less heat is usually more and you can always give the melt another small blast just before shooting, he added.

When using processed cheese slices, be sure to bevel the edges to create a thicker appearance. Dip the cheese slice in hot water, shake off the excess and place where you need it. Use your fingertips to press down edges for a perfect grilled cheese or melt effect.

For an oozy cheese filling, use the Kraft Deluxe Macaroni and Cheese cheese packets for a great melty yellow cheese effect—use on nachos or even in a grilled cheese sandwich. It’s easily thinned with corn syrup (light Karo) or hot water. A good substitute for a white cheese filling (like mozzarella) is canned vanilla frosting thinned with corn syrup. If it’s too white, color it down with a drop or two of Kitchen Bouquet (or other sauce browning agent) and yellow food color.

Moving on to sauces, he discussed using a basic white sauce (béchamel) as a great substitute for everything from hollandaise or cheese sauce, to beurre blanc or a stock reduction. Thin the cooked white sauce to a desired consistency, strain, add coloring and be sure to cover the surface with plastic wrap while the sauce cools to prevent a skin from forming.

To keep chocolate warm while waiting for a shot, it was noted that a heating pad could be used. Good quality chocolate, melted and cooled, works well for thin pours. Use for glazing desserts or as a chocolate pour for live film. It should not be stirred once it cools, to prevent air bubbles. Jarred chocolate sauce, thinned with corn syrup, is a good substitute.

For pancake syrup, either freeze maple or pancake syrup in squeeze bottles to thicken it to a consistency that will hold after it’s squeezed out. Do not freeze light syrups because water in the product creates ice crystals and it will freeze hard. Honey can also be used, depending on the desired color. Dark and light corn syrup (Karo) can be mixed together, as well, to create a photo syrup that is the color needed. Let the mixture sit overnight to allow air bubbles to rise to the surface.

Another syrup technique is cooking it to "soft ball" stage for a very stable product that holds well on pancakes (see La Technique in this issue for specific directions). Spraying the surface of pancakes with Scotchguard or clear Krylon helps prevent syrup from soaking in if the set-up must stand for long periods of time.

Finally, Ellis described how to make the perfect drip of sauce off the side of a dessert or other foods. Using a small piece of soft wax shaped like a teardrop, he demonstrated how to place it where he wanted the drip. He carefully coated the wax teardrop with the desired sauce—and voilà!—the most beautiful, glistening drop of raspberry sauce "dripped" off the top of a slice of cheesecake as he closed his session.

For more information on Food Styling you can visit the sites listed below:

For books on Food Styling/Food Photography

Lighting: For Food & Drink Photography by Steve Bavister

Food Photography and Styling: How to Prepare, Light and Photograph Delectable Food & Drinks by John F Carafoli

Cake Styling: Presenting and Photographing Your Cakes by Nicolas Lodge



If this is in the wrong category please move it to the appropriate one. I was unable to classify my post. :rolleyes: Silly me. :blush: :)
Joined Jul 31, 2000
I'd love to hear from foodnfoto on this topic.

Funny story,years ago I was catering a wedding that took place in a large photo studio,very hip and up beat kind of wedding,well they did alot of food styling there.they showed me this peice,I forgot what the composit was but,it was used to show a stream of beer coming from a bottle to a glass,they demonstrated by filling a glass with beer,then holding this thing to the mouth of the bottle to the top of the glass,I tell you it was perfect.I asked them how much something like that costs and they told me like $200:eek:
Tricks of the trade
Joined Jan 1, 2001
Okay, you hooked me Cape Chef. I surely hope you are feeling better.

Yes, food styling is one of those jobs that either people have never heard of or are completely fascinated by the "tricks of the trade." I really wouldn't call it an art; it's more like a highly attuned skill or craft.

For the most part, we food stylists do not use a lot of those tricks that get so much interest. We pretty much just carefully cook the food according to a recipe and arrange it in a way that it looks most interesting from the camera angle. However, the a good deal of the skill comes during the shopping for raw materials. We have to get the prettiest parsley; the most flawless and beautiful tomatoes with fresh, bright green stems; the nicest rack of lamb which has a nice round eye of meat, little fat and no grizzle. This can be the most maddening part of the work. For example, I needed cherry peppers for a shoot yesterday. I went to four stores in Westchester, the drove into Manhattan to two farmer's markets, and three stores-guess what?-no cherry peppers anywhere! Then I had to reach the client and talk them into letting me use a different pepper.

Poultry we do fuss with quite a bit. You know those nice plump roast turkeys you see on every magazine cover in November? None of them are cooked for more than about an hour. If we cooked them all the way, they'd be all shriveled looking and too dark brown. So we pull them out of the oven when the skin begins to look cooked and paint it to appear finished.

Trengrove Studios makes all kind of things from imitation ice of all sorts to splashes, drips and pours. They are very artistic and very nice people to deal with.

Many people are fascinated with the notion of fake ice cream. While plenty of people know how it's made, it's considered a trade secret so I will not reveal the recipe. It is, however, completely edible, though not terribly healthy or enjoyable. I don't use it too much. I usually use the real stuff and "super freeze" my scoops in a cooler of dry ice. Man, that stuff takes forever to melt and forget trying to cut a slice of ice cream pie after it's been in there for about an hour. You'd need a laser gun!

More later, got to put the boy to bed.
If you have any questions, I'd be happy to try to answer them.

By the way, Rick Ellis is a super guy-one of the absolute best in the field. I assisted him once and learned an enormous amount.


Joined Apr 4, 2000
Thought ice cream was crisco with or without sugar and food colouring?
Joined Jul 31, 2000

Thank you so much for your post,

I really look forward to reading more about your biz,I find it fasinating,and who better to teach us then you,our very own food stylist.
I have fnf buisness card and can tell you her work is top draw
Joined Feb 6, 2002
Ooooo...I am rubbing my palms together in anticipation of your post FNF. :D I've always been interested in Food Styling. I was a photographer in High School and worked at FPG International in New York throughout high school and college. I was the assistant to the Managing Photo Editor. :)

I met a few people in this part of the food industry and found their work fascinating. I had heard about the chicken and that the "milk" in the cereal bowl shots is actually shaving cream :eek: And then there is the hamburgers.... Do you really sit and pick through all those boxes of cereal for the perfect flakes??? :eek: One of the Food Stylists that submits to FPG told me that's what they have the crew do.

Food Styling seems to be such a little known area of the food industry. I dont think anyone knows that the CIA offers a course in Food Styling or exactly WHAT Food Styling is. :rolleyes:

Excited Rambling begins: Ive tried a few photos at home with my meager equipment; dimage 7 digital camera, tripod, inadequate lighting (Ill have to visit Adorama or B&H soon), and my manual Minolta II with zoom lens. But Ive got a lot of practicing to do. Excited Rambling ends. :blush: <<<takes a deep breath>>>

I cant wait to learn more about behind the scenes of Food Styling. :bounce: :bounce:

Joined Apr 19, 2001
Gee whiz, GW - Seems like you don't appreciate the enthusiam of some of our members. What seems like old hat to some may be a totally new concept to others. One of the things that makes these forums work so well is everyone's acceptance of the other members.
Top Bottom