Food presentation is an art when it comes to the career of food stylist. Some nutritionists not into clinical, metabolic, or genetic nutrition work in the medical field who prefer to work with photography may become food stylists focusing on the presentation of food for media such as advertising, infomercials, and magazine photography of where food is presented as the main focus. Others enter food styling photography from the culinary arts field or from photography focusing on food styling instead of portraits of people or nature.
Often real food isn't used for photographing and styling what is supposed to represent food for advertising or for magazine and book covers, signs, billboards, or posters. Food becomes the model and the food stylist, the designer. See, How to Become a Food Stylist | Salary | Food Stylist Training.
Food is among the more difficult of subjects for photographers, notes the article, "The Dirty Tricks of Food Photographers | Pixiq. That's because hot foods under the camera lights begin to cool and shrink or discolor, and moist foods become dry or melt as vegetables standing in front of a camera wilt. Fruit begins to brown as it waits unless chemicals such as fruit whitener or even citric acid or dissolved vitamin C in water is put over sliced fruits that quickly brown when exposed to the air such as apples, wilted lettuce, or sliced bananas.
Also glycerin is used to put a shine on seafood to make it look fresh. After food is photographed, no one eats it of course, since it's been tainted by chemicals. For example cotton balls are soaked and microwaved to give the camera the appearance of foods so hot they're steaming up in front of the camera but not clouding the camera's lens. With so many food infomercials, some food is real and other food is prepared to look real for the video camera. For example, food stylists and photographers spray grapes with spray deodorant to create a frosty sheen for the photograph.
Home, food, and lifestyle are the areas in which you'll be preparing food and/or photography to create menus and advertisements. Food styling can be entered from several other careers such as catering, chef training, nutrition photojournalism, culinary management, or consumer science.
No degree is necessary if you enter from a culinary school background. Or if you want to earn a university degree, you can earn a B.S. degree with a major in commercial foods and a minor in photojournalism. Another way to enter the food stylist occupation is as a nutritionist with a degree in nutrition. Still another way to enter is as a registered dietician with a degree in nutrition and dietetics. You’d also do food testing as well as food styling.
Exploring what food stylists do to make fake food look real for the camera and for advertising pictures
Check out the website on food stylist careers, Food Needs Style Too: Explore a Food Styling Career. According to the website, these pictures may have the power to make your mouth water, but it may not even be edible. Professional food stylists have several tricks up their sleeves to make it appear as delicious as possible. Here are a few common tricks that many food stylists will use, the article, Food Needs Style Too: Explore a Food Styling Career reports the follow details:
- Undercooked meat is usually used in photographs. Food loses moisture and mass when it is cooked completely and will often look much smaller or even shriveled. To avoid this, food stylists will usually only cook meat until it just looks done.
- Wooden skewers and toothpicks can be shoved through certain dishes, including hamburgers and stacks of pancakes, to keep them upright.
- Putty or wax is also used to hold food in place. This is usually placed between the food and a hard surface to keep it from tipping or rolling away.
- Soap can be used to make bubbles. Although this is usually used to make certain drinks look bubbly and fun, it can also be used to show froth in whipped eggs.
- Clear acrylic ice cubes are used instead of regular ice cubes in drinks and for dishes like shrimp cocktail. These faux ice cubes are less messy and they don’t melt in warm environments.
- Dye and paint is often used to give food better color. This is usually brushed on after the food has been prepared. Wood stain and shoe polish, for instance can be used to give those chickens and turkeys that golden brown “fresh from the oven” look.
- Motor oil is sometimes used in place of pancake syrup, since the real thing can be rather difficult to photograph.
- White glue can be substituted for milk in a bowl of cereal. The glue has a much thicker consistency than milk, and it prevents the cereal pieces from becoming too soggy and unattractive too early. Fast drying glue can also be used to reassemble pieces of food that are crumbled or torn.
How to enter the career of food styling
You could enter with a degree in home economics, consumer science, or human ecology and a minor in photography or food photography. Or enter as an experienced cook with a diploma from a culinary school and courses on the side in photography and film production. Another combination is culinary science and photojournalism. There's actually a career field called food photojournalism.
See sites such as Food Photographer job and career information, Food Photographer Career Profile, Video, Earnings, Education, and The Dirty Tricks of Food Photographers | Pixiq. If you search under food photography with your online search engine, you'll see numerous websites describing and offering information on food photography and food stylist careers such as, Food Photographer: Inside Jobs.
In the past, most individuals entering the field of food styling came in as home economists. Today, most stylists entering the field come in with training in culinary science. They study to become chefs and also take courses in food photography and food design. Some specialize in ice sculpture or cake decorating. Others focus on photography, marketing, kitchen set design, and advertising.
Food stylists may style food for video/filming or still photography. Stylists work with media tour directors or even do media tours themselves. Stylists may design food and photographs for food packaging, create videos for food commercials, provide photography for cookbooks. They may cook the recipes as well to test them before the cookbooks are published. Food stylists also prepare food for magazine editorials and food layouts for advertising agencies and their clients.
Stylists do menu photography, produce feature films that feature food layouts, and provide food and food photography for print and motion picture formats both in studio or on traveling locations. Food stylists specialize in specific types of food such as being a beer or wine stylist, ice cream stylist, beverage stylist, and other types of drinks stylist based in large cities or resorts.
Stylists work on food shoots nationally and internationally. Some travel with a film crew and models to style and photograph food around the world or on cruise ships for videos or magazine ads.
Visual presentation is important. Your interpretation of recipes will have a goal to result in that special visual presentation the director wants. Learn how to develop menus and cook or bake the food from scratch. Can you work with colors in the food that harmonize with the props and colors on the set for the photo or video?
Can you smell and taste the food for its aesthetic appeal and colorful contrasts? How can you describe the quality of the food? Photographs need to show the food's texture. Milk doesn't photograph well when mixed with cereal. You need to use heavy cream to show the cereal floating in opaqueness of a certain thickness to look appetizing in a photo or video.
Stylists learn what to use that looks like food in a photo to create what stylists call 'buzz' appeal in print media, digital photography, and video. It's a very visual, artistic career that uses scientific techniques to create the illusion of food as art to encourage you to eat or buy the food from that advertising agency's client, corporation, cruise line, publication, or restaurant.
Other food stylists cook a variety of food and then style that food for TV network shows. You’d have to oversee or manage a variety of assistants and at the same time coordinate your work and time with producers and talent. As a food stylist teacher or trainer on the set, you’d have to guide talent through your culinary content on set. So you’d need to be able to cook and get along with the team on a set.
Before you were hired for any job or independent contract as a food stylist, you’d have to create a detailed shopping list and budget. The list would include your ingredients as well as all the food props you’d need for shows or events, including trade expos.
You’d work provide all the resources needed by talent, working closely for on air food demonstrations. After everything is set up, you’d cook the food and style what you cooked for both photo shoots and network TV or video shows and even for feature films.
There’d be pre-production meetings you’d have to attend and contribute your expertise to the film crew, producer, director, and talent. You’d work with and support the talent on network shows in a way that would showcase the food and the talent. And you’d prepare the menus for network events.
The talent has to be fed, and not all the time from outside caterers. Your talent lies in a combination of cooking skills, design, and photography as well as set decoration showcasing food.
Food and photography is similar in skills to a set designer with a cooking background who knows about photography such as backlighting, video, and catching the melting ice cream in a photo as a drop before it hits the table. Three main facets of food styling would be network events, on air styling, and food styling for publications.
You need to be on-location not working at home. You’ll have to assist with moving equipment and setting up your kitchen on the set. So set design skills are necessary and focus on kitchen design skills with props.
Budgets are important. You need to be accurate and keep records of how much each item of food or ingredients will cost.
What courses will you have to take to prepare for a career as a food stylist? Most important is a background of courses in food preparation, cooking, and baking.
You’d need to know about a wide variety of cuisines, including different ethnic cuisines and what ingredients go into each type of cuisine. You’d need to learn how to follow recipes and also how to modify recipes, correcting errors or changing items for healthier diets or special diets.
Food stylists also need to lift equipment that may weigh more than 50 lbs. Can you lift any heavy equipment? If not, get a partner to work with that will be able to lift heavy equipment once in a while. Find out ahead of time what you’ll have to lift so you can make arrangements. Food is fashion. Food stylists need the same artistic aptitudes as fashion stylists plus cooking skills.
You need some journalism skills, but mainly oral communication skills and computer skills to express yourself in writing. Attention to detail and cleanliness—great hygiene is foremost. Your math skills would consist of tracking expenses and recording them in your budget.
How much do the ingredients and props cost? Basically, you’re coordinating information, cooking, photographing, and doing set design of props in on-the-set kitchens.
Your environment will be a standard commercial kitchen in a studio or sometimes in-house of a corporation’s testing kitchen. Or you may work on a cruise ship as a food stylist. You’ll have a lot of exposure to high heat and industrial cleaning chemicals used in commercial kitchens.
Food stylists are hired usually, when they have a diploma or degree from a professional culinary school. Or if they have equivalent experience on a year for year basis and 2 years commercial cooking experience or other directly related experience.
Who hires food stylists?
In the past, food stylists worked for networks such as Scripps Networks, lifestyle television brands HGTV, Food Network, DIY Network, Fine Living Network and country music network, and Great American Country (GAC). Today, food networks still work with stylists, but stylists also work with digital photography for Internet advertising.
Scripps is the dominant media and marketing company in the home, food and lifestyle categories. Scripps develops content for television and the Internet.
You need to find out first who is hiring and look for networks that are hiring at certain times in the season. These types of networks have on-air programming complemented with broadband video. You can also look at the social media areas and e-commerce components on companion Web sites. Look for sites that attract more than 18 million visitors each month that look at food styling photographs or videos. With Internet advertising, digital food photography is making its own mark. Then there's print advertising photography for the food magazines, including those publications online.
Food stylists also prepare food for cookbook and advertising photographs, television commercials, and scenes in movies. If you want to be a stylist, you’ll have to find the ingredients yourself and cook the food. It has to look appetizing. Aesthetics with food isn’t enough. You need the food to be cooked scientifically. This means learning how food acts under heat, cold, preservation, or preparation.
On a photo shoot, how the food looks is more important than taste. You need to learn the tricks such as pouring heavy cream into a bowl instead of skim milk because heavy cream photographs more appetizing than milk in a bowl. A lot of the food you cook won’t be eaten by anyone.
That’s why food stylists add chemicals to bubbly beverages to give drinks more photographable fizz. But no one can drink the beverage after it’s filmed. Fruit is colored with facial makeup to enhance the redness for cameras. Powder is sprayed on barbeque fuel to enhance the photography effects.
Food stylists sometimes use chemicals to make fake food look appealing in a photo. Meat is cooked with hot air from blowers. Hydrogenated fats are mixed with sugar to photograph fake but stiff ice cream that looks better than real ice cream in a photo. But of course, no one is eating the chemically-enhanced food ingredients or the aspirin fizzing in beverages. And then there's the fizzing magnesium citrate in the juice that also looks bubbly on a photo.
Food stylists work with digital photos. Years ago, food would wilt under the studio lights. Today you worry more about the shape of your spoons. A food stylist buys props from art stores. Besides preparing food for cameras, not people going to eat the food, you’re going to develop your own recipes and photograph them for cookbooks.
So you might choose only to work with publishers of cookbooks. But you’ll probably get more work if you do food photography for the chains of large fast food eateries.
What you earn depends upon how many years you spent working as a chef before you became a food stylist. You’ll be competing with people that have degrees in nutrition and are home economists or registered dieticians. Chances are the chef will be hired before the dietician if you’re photographing food for a large fast food chain restaurant.
A quick way to break into the field is to either assist a food stylist or compete for your own clients. If you’re established, food stylists can ask for $400 to $900 a day. But they usually earn somewhere in the middle, and earnings vary with location. Urban areas where the living expenses are highest usually pay more than areas where the living expenses are cheap.
If you’re a food stylist, chances are you have artistic skills and want to express your art through cooking and photography or video. Your first step is to get into a culinary school that focuses on training students to become food stylists as well as chefs.
If you want to skip culinary school and go to college first, look for a university where you can earn a B.S. in commercial foods, such as Ohio University. Then take a minor in photojournalism or a combination of courses in journalism or communications and photography with one or two film and video production courses. Take training seminars on how to photograph food for film and video.
Part-time work while training could be working for the large corporations that can soup or beverages, the fast food and pizza restaurants, and working with their photography and advertising departments. Find your first clients by styling picnics and photographing them for all types of events and reunions.
Work on magazines that use a lot of photos of food. When you first start out, you may be catering a dinner for hundreds of people and then have to photograph the food yourself or with a photography crew helping you. So you need skills in both the food preparation, the art and science of laying the food out on a commercial kitchen stage set, and arranging who’s going to serve the food.
If you’re styling food and working with other chefs, you’ll have to coordinate the talent with art directors, photographers, and other personnel so the client is happy. The client usually is the company canning the soup or publishers and editors preparing articles on food or travel with photos for a magazine.
You can specialize in recipe development or teaching others how to be food stylists. The best way to start is to look at photos developed by food stylists on the web.
Nutrition Careers in Communications
If you'd like to become a nutrition journalist, several universities offer a degree in nutrition communications. Forty years ago, the major demurred to the title of Home Economics Journalism, thereby discouraging males who wanted to cover food journalism.
Today, the major covers a broader field of communications with different names such as the (entirely online) Master of Public Health in Nutrition degree that may be earned entirely online at the University of Massachusetts Online.
You'd be proud to earn an undergraduate degree in Human Ecology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, majoring in Family and Consumer Journalism. If you're thinking about what it's like to write for publications in the field of consumer journalism, start your reading with the International Food Information Council (IFIC) publication, the Media Guide.
For a possibly, more secure position as a registered dietician or in teaching dietetics to healthcare professioinals at the university level, with writing about nutrition for mass media publishers or for clinical trial ghostwriting reports on the side, then, you'd major in nutrition and minor in journalism or science/technical writing.
What are the ten most important topics in nutrition media? They are the following events and issues you hear or read about daily: world hunger, zero food safety, transfats, food allergies, childhood obesity, artificial sweeteners' health problem issues, reversals of studies on food benefits, media reliance on experts with no nutrition training, reporting of differences of opinion within the scientific community, and tailoring your food, skin care products, and medicines to your genes.
Food styling training sites, food stylists, and food styling career information
Professional Associations, Culinary Schools, and Training of Interest to Food Stylists
Cooking and Hospitality Institute of Chicago - Chicago, IL
Le Cordon Bleu Culinary College - Las Vegas, NV
California School of the Culinary Arts - Pasadena, CA
Scottsdale Culinary Institute - Scottsdale, AZ
International Association of Culinary Professionals
Les Dames d'Escoffier International
Media Communications Association International
International Television Association, DC Chapter
Guide, directory and jobs for film and video
Culinary School Finder's Guide
San Francisco Cooking Schools