As the food stylist Delores Custer says, "When you like a food photograph, who do you usually give credit to? The photographer." And where are the credits for the food stylist? "In the gutter." I thought she was making some kind of bitter joke, but actually, the gutter is the place in the magazine that's so close to the binding that we hardly see it. I just went and checked the gutter of a few magazines and saw no credit for the stylists. From here on out, though, I'm keeping a lookout and giving due props for pictures I like.
A food stylist is responsible for making food both visually appealing and mouth-watering. These two qualities don't necessarily go hand-in-hand. Have you ever seen a food photograph that is gorgeous and artful but not necessarily something you would want to eat? Maybe that shot was intended to "sell" something else besides the food (such as a lifestyle shot). Or maybe the person is a great photographer but has little experience with styling and shooting food. I could go on about this for a long time. It's a fascinating and subjective part of food photography--making it mouth-watering. Delores would show us two beautiful food shots that were presented differently and asked us which we would rather eat. The response was, literally, 50-50.
Even though "mouth-watering" is subjective, food stylists do have some great tools that they bring with them on shoots to help optimize a food's beauty and delectability. Some common tools include a small atomizer to create subtle moisture on produce, a paintbrush and vegetable oil to create sheen, and tweezers to carefully move tiny items around, such as a wilted piece of lettuce.
Delores pointed out that a food blogger has to be the art director, food stylist, prop stylist, and photographer for food shots. Good point! I have a hard time imagining these jobs being separated out for four people. I wonder what that is like. Those people would have to be real team players.
Perhaps this is one of the reasons Delores split us up into pairs to style food for our photographs. This was challenging and completely hilarious. Viv and I paired up. Viv is a gracious, gregarious, generous soul who didn't mind that I was completely spazzing out with the vegetables. At one point someone stopped by our table to see what we were up to, and it looked like a salad spinner sneezed on our table. Whatever we were working on seemed to be buried under three kinds of lettuce. We laughed more than we styled. After much flailing with the salad concept (the "art director's" job), our various chopped and sliced veggies evolved into something kind of elegant-looking. This final arrangement took about 3 minutes after half an hour of the aforementioned spazzing and flailing.
As another part of the assignment we also took some pictures of biscotti (as seen above and below), but in comparision to the salad assignment, this seemed more natural and effortless.
I learned a lot working with Viv. Much of this seemed to occur to me after the fact. Her natural elegant flair was really great to be near, and I will be able to take that with me to future sessions behind the camera. I'll bet that lots of people learned much from their partners in that class. It was a really good idea. And--I'm not surprised to learn--Delores used to teach 5th and 6th grade! Go, teachers!