Is Your Food Ready for its Close-up? The Art of Food Photography

When is it acceptable for a chef to douse a meal in hairspray, Scotch Guard, or glue? If you're a food stylist, you can poison your cooking anytime you want--and the Food Safety Administration will simply look the other way.

That's because food stylists prepare meals for the camera, not the public. Food photography is a crucial niche in advertising and publishing. That juicy burger you see on television is not as appetizing as it looks: the meat is probably laquered, and the seeds painstakingly glued onto the bun. It's the food stylist's job to make the food look as good as possible, whatever it takes.

Too Good to Eat

Food styling puts the "art" in culinary arts. A food stylist's kitchen looks like an arts & crafts store, with glue guns and dye sitting alongside traditional cookware. In the quest for the perfect (looking) food, stylists can let their imaginations run wild. This creative license has led to some truly ingenious culinary discoveries:

  • Deodorant lends fruit a fresh, frosty appearance
  • Motor oil is more visually appealing than real syrup
  • A little Scotch Guard on your pancakes will keep that syrup (motor oil) from soaking in.
  • A blast from a blow torch gives chicken a healthy glow

School of Culinary Fashion Design

A fine palate may not be among the food stylist's job qualifications, but a culinary degree is. Understanding the chemistry (and physics!) of food is crucial to creating food art. Just as a culinary degree helps a restaurant chef learn how to make a delicious meal, the same techniques allow food stylists to create an attractive meal. The sensual pleasure of food operates on many levels: aroma, flavor, texture, and appearance. Food photography simply isolates visual appeal.

If your cooking looks better than it tastes, don't despair: you may consider a culinary career in food styling.