Make it look as good as it tastes
I often get comments from people saying ‘I could never make it look like that’ or ‘I struggle with presentation’ to which my response always is ‘trust me, it’s not hard’. That is not me trying to be nice, I truly believe that with a few simple food styling tricks anyone can make a plate look pretty. Once you know what and how to do it, food styling will become second nature to you.
Think about colours
Think about the ingredients you are going to use and whether they will need a boost of something else to pop in the picture. 50 shades of beige will never look good on a plate, so get creative.
Porridge is a great example of food that on its own looks extremely bland (and a sliced banana in a pale-yellow shade doesn’t do much to change that).
However, if you spend a minute or two thinking about what would complement the flavour and bring some interesting colour to the plate, you can quickly change the look of it.
Bright pink raspberries are a great start, the fact that they also add height to the middle of the plate is even better.
Top it off with some crushed nuts, fresh mint and a drizzle of honey for added shine and you are set.
As you can see, none of this is hard, it’s just a matter of pairing the right ingredients.
Don’t overdo it
It is easy to get carried away when you are trying to create a spectacular, Instagram worthy, picture. But from experience, less is more. When I started taking pictures of my food I could spend a good 20 minutes trying to create the perfect setting. I would add props that in theory should complement the dish, but in reality, would never have a natural place on my table. What I ended up with was cold food and an overworked picture that did not look natural at all, and more often than not, ended up not being used.
If you have a good balance between colours, textures and height on your plate, more than half the job is done. Beautiful plates, table mats and a good surface will obviously help, but the dish is really the centrepiece. If you are taking a picture of a pasta dish, a piece of parmesan and a little grater would make a great prop, or a bunch of fresh basil in the background. However, filling the picture with anything and everything you can think of will only take attention away from the dish itself and to be honest, would you serve guests with a table full of random props? Probably not, so keep things realistic.
When I stopped overthinking the pictures and started focusing on what would have a natural place on the table, things became a lot easier. Today, my food styling takes me all of five minutes and I actually get to eat hot food.
Don’t strive for a perfect, immaculately plated, meal. It should look real and inviting. After all, it is food we are talking about. Don’t worry if everything isn’t perfectly aligned or if some of the fresh herbs ended up on the side of the plate, this adds life to the picture. Stick a spoon in the mac ‘n’ cheese, crumble feta cheese with your hands instead of cutting perfect pieces with a knife, leave breadcrumbs on the side. A little mess never hurt nobody. As long as it’s an organised mess, that is.
Stay in the middle
Place your food in the middle of the plate and leave some space around it, for a cleaner and more appetising picture. Personally, I like to use small plates as this allows you to get the whole plate in the picture and still have some negative space around it.
The only way is up
A flat dish will never catch attention, create depth by working with layers and different textures. In doing so the dish will come alive and look much more inviting.
Take this vegan Thai curry for example, it looks pretty average, not necessarily bad, but it isn’t exactly something you would rush to post on social media. A dish that you would eat on a weeknight, nothing more, nothing less.
However, when you add some height to it by placing shredded red cabbage, fresh coriander and crushed nuts on top it suddenly looks a lot more interesting.
Food styling lifesavers
With these ingredients in your kitchen even the blandest looking meals can be saved.
As you may have noticed, I sprinkle chili flakes on most things. Mainly because I am a sucker for a bit of heat, but also because it adds a pop of colour without adding too much flavour.
A bit of green will add freshness to any meal. I find that basil is great for Italian dishes and works surprisingly well in stir-fries, coriander is a must for any Mexican or Indian meal, parsley works wonders on pasta, thyme on potatoes and mint on yoghurt or berries but also with smashed avocado.
My other go-to ingredient, pomegranate seeds will work wonders sprinkled on top of avocado, a salad or a yoghurt/smoothie bowl.
Chop coarsely with a knife and sprinkle on top of stir-fries, stews, porridge and yoghurt bowls.
Simply because fresh berries will make any sweet dish look better.
Perfect for dusting over pancakes and desserts.
As with most things the key to getting better is to practise. I hope these little food styling tricks can be of help along the way <3