What’s in a food stylists bag
Today I’m handing over the reins of the blog to my friend Holly who writes the food blog www.recipesfromanormalmum.com and is also a food stylist. We recently worked together on an ad campaign for an FMCG food brand and her kit was something to behold. I thought you might find it interesting to hear about what’s in a food stylists bag.
“In my twenties, I worked in advertising and spent many hours watching food stylists do their thing. I knew it was what I wanted to do after watching Silvana Franco (who now writes all the recipes for Waitrose magazine and their Weekend newspaper) work her magic on a Morrisons shoot. Lovely Silvana let me interrogate her for some time on a pasta sauce shoot on how to break into the food styling world. Her main advice was to save, save, save and then take time out from my career to shadow stylists, learning on the job. A few months later I married and had a baby, so my dreams of a styling career were on hold.
Almost 10 years later I find myself regularly styling food for clients on photo and video shoots. At least half of the secret to making a photo look good is experience You don’t know what you don’t know; and there are always new challenges on every shoot. Which is why I enjoy it so much – the problem solving keeps it fresh. It might be that the prawn eyes have detached and need super glueing back on. Or that a slice of lemon needs the pips removing, flesh adding back in to fill the gaps and then suspending from a pole using a needle and thread, to shine light through it for a sun-kissed summery look (in December). Or perhaps the crown of a pineapple needs perfectly cutting in half using hairdressing scissors for a symmetrical trim. The other half? It’s all in the kit.
Food Styling Equipment
So what’s in a food stylists bag? Specialist stuff from a food styling shop? Afraid not. Instead, it’s a mish mash of collected treasures, kitchen stalwarts and crafting paraphernalia. Here are a few of my favourite things:
For very carefully placing herbs, grains and anything that needs to look as if it’s thrown down in a scattergun approach when actually it’s been painstakingly placed.
Needle and different colour threads, string, butchers twine
For suspending food to ensure the light shines through it, or just to sew back together a langoustine tail so the head hangs correctly. String and twine are great for trussing up meat.
For removing blemishes, applying superglue and adding glycerine.
When raindrops or any form of watery shine is required glycerine is your friend as it’s viscous and doesn’t simply roll off the skin of fruit or veg. It’s also fabulous on the cut side of food, to make it look fresh and ‘just sliced’ when actually it’s been sitting, drying under hot studio lights for hours.
Cocktail sticks and skewers
Invaluable for construction jobs and propping up any food. Many the half cut onion has been held in place by a cocktail stick stand.
Bluetack and modelling clay
For holding cocktail sticks in place, making platforms and tilting food.
Nothing, but nothing buffs a vegetable skin like a chamois leather!
Blue jay cloths
For general cleaning and laying cooked food on before cutting (really absorbent and also don’t shed fibres on the food – also used in high-end kitchens as nothing edible is the same colour as a blue jay cloth, so it will never be accidentally served to a customer).
Antibacterial spray and empty spray gun for water
The anti bac spray is simply for cleaning food, surfaces etc and a spritz of good old fashioned water can revive all sorts.
Kitchen roll and cotton wool
Incredibly useful for keeping herbs fresh. Stand them in a jug of water and wrap in wet kitchen roll.Cotton wool for gentle mopping, applying of glazes and on a shoot you’ll find many the make-up artist runs out.
Make up sponges
Not for make-up, but instead I use the triangular sponges to wedge food into position without damaging it with cocktail sticks.
Superglue and spray glue
The superglue must be fast drying and it’s important to have multiple tubes. You can easily get through two tubes just attaching food to each other. Spray mounting glue is not strictly for food styling but you can bet the photographer won’t have it and will need it to fix a background. Being the person who can help with anything on set gets you hired again.
Glass and baby wipes
Glassware looks clean until it’s under the lens, then it usually looks grubby and weary. Glass wipes save the day.
When photographing anything shiny it can take an age to set up the camera and lighting to minimise reflections. A wipe of coconut oil over cutlery (for instance) can dull it down slightly and help reduce set up time.
For the gentle application of salt, sugar, herbs etc.
Card and paper
Useful for making funnels to apply anything granular to a shot. The smaller the funnel mouth the finer the application.
Ruler and tape measure
When shooting multiple images you often need to measure the shot and placement of food out so it all looks identical.
Not for tea! Perfect for adding icing sugar in a controlled way. Or flour, spices etc. The ones with a closed sphere work best.
Sometimes you just need to shine a light on the situation to see what needs changing.
Freezer bags, clingfilm, takeaway containers and foil
Because on shoots there’s always a LOT of leftover food and you can guarantee everyone will want to take some home.
For the careful application of liquids such as stock, gravy, water, cream, sauces etc. Pick one up in Boots for just over a £1.
Paintbrushes, toothbrushes and pastry brushes
Toothbrushes are especially useful for flicking wet ingredients in a haphazard fashion.
It’s amazing what you can balance on a shot glass.
Scalpel, spare blades and scissors
Careful cutting pays off in close up.
Ever wondered how ice cream shots manage that slightly melted look without the ice cream slipping off the cone? The ice cream is scooped and re frozen then placed onto frozen cones. A straw is then used to blow onto the ice cream once the shot is set up. The hot breath very gently melts the ice cream directly where it’s needed. Genius!
Florists wire and pipe cleaners
Florists wire is excellent for suspending lighter items in mid-air. I fix into a lump of modelling clay to ensure the item is secure.
Dress making pins move ingredients just millimetres when in shot, which might sound like a pedant’s game but sometimes that tiny adjustment is the difference between good and great.
Matchsticks are very good wedging materials – use them to push ingredients further forward in a bowl or glass.
An oil pourer is not just for pouring with. The tiny spout carefully holds leaves, herbs and flowers perfectly without damaging them.
Medical tape/gaffer tape/masking tape
You need all manner of different tapes to fix food and props firmly in place.
Sharpie pens, pencils, rubbers, pencil sharpener, calculator
Very useful for marking where the food will sit and making sure each shot is set up exactly the same.
Chopping board, saucepans, frying pans, spatulas, very sharp knives, general cookery stuff
For obvious reasons…
After 20 hours of shooting (yes!) you may well need some.
You have no idea how many times someone needs paracetamol on a shoot!
And that is everything in my food stylists bag.”
If you would like to see what is in a photographers bag then head over to this blog post https://scottchoucino.com/whats-in-my-camera-bag-professional-portrait-photographer/
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