Food Stylist Interview

A client list and client reviews can be found in the drop down bar. More food styling, videos and GIFS can be found on my instagram  #boisefoodstylist.

How did you become interested in food styling?

I was studying Graphic Design in California when I met my husband and we moved to Idaho. I introduced myself to several photographers as I had done propping and make-up in the past in Cali and was interested in continuing. A local photographer said they needed a food stylist in town as they have to fly stylists in from other states. I caught the bug (since cooking was another passion of mine) and went to the Culinary Arts and Services in Chicago, and have been busy ever since…going on 31 years now.

What type of education, if any, did you obtain to become a food stylist?

I attended Culinary Arts and Services in Chicago, and later continued training at Tante Maries Cooking School in San Fransisco. I also attend Food on Film, a convention for Foods Stylists and food professionals held bi-annually.

Do you believe having a background of culinary arts is important?

Essential. You have to have an understanding of food, the science behind food and be proficient in the kitchen.  In addition to knowing how the food needs to be prepared you need to understand reading a recipe, and even re-writing the recipes for the restaurants or consumers making it more user friendly and clear. Being skilled and knowledgeable in proper food selection, (often ordering what you need from several sources in advance) and knowing how to select produce, fish, meats or anything the shoot may require you to get is key, as all the cooking is done in the studio kitchens. If I am on location, I take a portable makeshift kitchen with me. Many times you are testing and preparing food in advance so any unforeseen problems are solved well in advance. 

If you do find culinary arts to be important, what type of background would you recommend?

Any culinary training, and Food Styling courses are also held all around the country, even on -line. Also attending the Food on Film conventions before mentioned. They bring in a variety of professionals from photographers, chefs, specialist from the beef council, dairy, chocolate, etc, even food scientists to keep you up to date on current trends and tricks of the trade. For example, what chefs and farms are doing strongly affects what translates  for the restaurants and the marketing down to the consumer. For example, years ago chefs were growing fresh produce on site for their restaurants, which began a huge trend in “farm to table” look on camera.

In your opinion, what are basic skills a person should have to become a food stylist?

You have to think on your feet, constantly solve problems that arise and find a solution, (the sauce is too runny, how can you make the pancake syrup pour more slowly, how to you keep the ice cream from melting etc) you have to be incredibly organized and ready for any possible scenario. You often have an art director, the client, in addition to account representative and photographers all getting paid to be there so you cannot waste their time. They are counting on you to keep things flowing smoothly. Yes, there is a lot of pressure! (Partly why we get paid well.) Your job is to make them and the product look good. You also have to take really good care of yourself, stay in good shape. Long days on your feet and hard work to often get several intense shots done in a day can be the norm, day after day… (assistants  are a blessing). On some shoots you work all day long just on one shot. Commercials can take up to 14 hours a day or until you complete it!  Being professional, being on time and having a good sense of humor is paramount.

How important is communication throughout your profession?

Also critical. We often have pre-production meetings before a photo shoot or commercial shoot. Each shoot has different guidelines and goals in mind. It might be for the internet, or cookbook or package design. The better I understand their needs and ask the right questions, they are confident in me that the job is in good hands. I am responsible for having all the ducks in a row and props needed, not to mention the food. In bigger cities, there is a separate prop stylist, but I love doing both, especially since I know how the food is ultimately going to look, I know what plate or dish is going to best enhance the dish. I am always looking for backgrounds and props. Plus I get paid to shop!

I have read that to become a food stylist it is important to build up cliental, how did you begin building yours?

Building a trustworthy and compatible relationship with the photographers. Their clients often ask them who they would recommend. We are invaluable to photographers, and the client; so having a great working relationship is key. I make them look good and vice versa. Taking direction well is important too. I have heard many of my clients say they would never use a stylist again because they do not follow direction. In the beginning I did a lot of propping on shoots to get to know clients better too. One day a stylists wasn’t available and it was a golden opportunity. I did a great job and they have been using me ever since. Building trust with ad agencies is so also important as they often will hire you and the photographer, you become the creative team. 

When you first began, did you ever assist another food stylist? 

When given the opportunity I did, and that is the best way to get into the industry. You learn every day, problem solve and get to know clients. Its an easy foot in the door if you are consistent and willing to work hard and do what needs to be done… and easy to work with. It sometimes takes years to break out on your own, so don’t give up.

Describe an average business day.

There are always pre-pro calls, propping and food prep days before the shoot happens, getting last minute perishables the morning of so it’s fresh. Sometimes I request specialty produce; or a special cut of meat from the butcher, (the grocery stores get to know me pretty well). I help keep the studios stocked with of a wide selections of props from linens, dishes, glassware, even a variety of surfaces. Getting all the props you will may need set up in advance saves time and helps the client feel you have done your homework and they love having several options to look at and select. We gather as a team to have a quick meeting in the morning to see what to tackle first and to understand and prioritize the list… and we are off and running. I instruct my assistant(s) and keep the photographers informed of what’s coming up next. It’s important to work together and do all “overhead” shots back to back etc so we aren’t losing time moving the camera. On an average day we can get three, maybe four fully propped beauty shots completed. That said, it can slow down if you are sending images over the internet for approval to a client who cannot be at the photo shoot, or if shots get added etc. You have to be flexible and go with the flow.

What types of tools do you use while setting up?

Food styling tools I use every day are tweezers, q-tips, small spoons, eye droppers, small brushes, heating elements to melt cheese, torch for browning foods, another heat element to sear grill marks on meat… the list goes on. I have a large tool kit with tons of other items for specialty challenges, but these are the most used each day. I might add that I do NOT use fake food. It is a common asked question and misleading. We do however, use acrylic ice cubes because they do not melt on camera. If the product is ice-cream it HAS to be the real thing per the truth in advertising law, but if the product is pie, I often use a mixture of corn syrup and shortening and powder sugar to create ice cream in any flavor that does not melt. Whatever we are selling has to be the real thing. Cereal often uses white glue or a hair tonic for the milk so the cereal does not get soggy, we can do that because we are not selling milk, but cereal. 

Are there any suggestions or helpful hints you would like to recommend?

Check out several stylists and photographers on the internet. Everyone has their style, and everyone needs to develop their own. Observe good photography. What makes it good and makes you want to eat it? Pay attention to details, is it believable, natural or too fussy or staged. I am always looking at food magazines and publications.  So much is just paying attention to detail. It is amazing what a process it is before the product ever even hits your table. The grower, the developer, the food scientist, the marketer, the designer, the ad agency, the photographer … food stylist etc etc. Read up as much as you can about food and food styling. Understanding what challenges the photographers face and how they solve lighting challenges etc is helpful, you are after all a team and need to work together for the best result. Also, think about how many food stylists are employed on movie sets and for commercials. Commercials are tough because it moves so fast then goes so slow. You also have to have several plates of spaghetti or salad to go on set, one after the other for take after take. This can take hours.

In your opinion, what is the goal of food styling?

To make the food look delicious, appealing and authentic. To work with the client to achieve the desired result for their product and to make sure is shows what you are getting, no over promising. You wouldn’t buy a hamburger if it was smashed in the photo. You want to see the layers and exactly what you are getting. We also eat with our eyes first, so if you make it look appetizing and get people to be hungry enough to want to make a recipe or buy a product, then I have done my job.