Picturing What You Eat: Food Styling 101

Michael Says: These days its not uncommon to share food with our friends by sending a snap shot of lunch with via cell phone or posting pictures on Facebook.  In this write up, Margaret recalls her experience on learning how to style food for the camera from seasoned professionals. Take it away, Margaret!

There are always opportunities to host lavish meals at home; take in a happy hour with co-workers; have a potluck with friends; and just all around enjoy food, drink, and company…and post pics.

Ah yes, food and drink photos.

The “wait, don’t touch that dish yet” photos.  The “let’s put our drinks together and turn them this certain way” photos.

You’ve got to properly represent delicious food or drink on your blog (Facebook, Twitter, et cetera) and it sucks when the uploaded pictures don’t do it justice.  How can we optimize the way our food and drinks look?

Picturing Food? Style It.

I picked up a few tricks from veteran food stylist Denise Vivaldo one Sunday afternoon at Rosti Tuscan Kitchen.  With 20 years of styling experience and a successful book to her credit — The Food Stylist’s Handbook —  she schooled us on food styling.

Food styling is food for the camera.  Styling for a moving camera is tons easier than styling for a still camera.  You didn’t know that the quick snapshot you took of dinner that garnered multiple “Likes” on FB was actually a skilled shot.  Look at you!

Assistant Cindie Flannigan demonstrated how to arrange various pasta dishes.  The first dish they styled was butternut squash ravioli.  The ravioli was pretty enough in the serving platter it came in, but wouldn’t transfer well on camera.

Working with a smaller bowl, Cindie took the pasta out of the platter, put balled up paper napkins in the bottom of the bowl (wut?), and proceeded to build a crown of ravioli.

After arranging the ravioli, she strategically added the nuts and greens with tweezers, then drizzled and dotted the sauce with a spoon.  So precise!

Cindie arranging ravioli. Not shown, crumpled paper napkin base.

Butternut squash ravioli.

Cindie styled a couple other pastas and Denise let us in on some food styling stories and tricks.  Here are a few of them:

  • Liberal use of Pam spray adds sheen to pastas and chicken
  • Real cream or half and half makes a creamy substitute for milk
  • Freezing a pie and then cutting a slice out keeps filling intact
  • Heat guns melt butter perfectly for pancakes


Throughout the lecture, we noshed on pastas and yummy Tuscano-style thin crust pizzas.  Rosti is big on local, sustainable food supplies and can accommodate vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free palates.  Reasonably priced dishes, games on TV, and contests where you can design their Pizza of the Week give this place a neighborhood vibe.

Mozzarella. Marinara. Basil. *drool* (BTW, shoot pizza piping hot as it’ll look dull when the cheese cools).

Left to right: Denise, Cindie, and Rosti owner Kevin Goldfein.

Food Styling Like a Pro

Now I’m not telling you to deconstruct your dinner at the table, but a few tips can be taken away to improve how your food photos come out.

The camera likes color, contrast, movement, and elevation.  Spin your plate and pick the best side of your dish.  If you’re shooting pasta, the camera likes waves and loops—tuck or cut ends that are sticking up.

Look at your dish in quadrants, an imaginary grid of four sections.  The camera’s eye is stagnant so you want to make sure you like what you see in each of these quarters.

Pair your dish with a proper plate—food with lots of color and texture will do with just a plain plate, simple food can get by on a more decorated plate.

Now get to cooking, food styling, and posting some pics!

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About the Author

Margaret is a homegrown South Bay foodie, mild-mannered engineer by day (*yawn*), and innovative cake designer by night. She's always in search of good and cheap happy hours, the perfect food and wine pairing, not-yet-in-vogue establishments, and Texas barbecue.

4 Responses to “Picturing What You Eat: Food Styling 101”

  1. Great tips Margaret! Thanks!

  2. Yes, Margaret is gonna be a food styling queen in no time. Don’t forget us little people when you make it big, Margaret!

  3. Oh wow, nice write up Margaret! I hope to read more from you this year…lol