Top 10 trade secrets from a professional food stylist

You might be surprised to know what goes on behind a food shoot to make everything look super fresh and delicious. Expert food stylists have an arsenal of tricks up their sleeves from perfecting the perfect condensation to even substituting the food itself! Sacha Kann has been working in the industry some time styling shoots from cookbooks to catalogues so she knows a thing or two about composing a dish. 

Want to find out all the tricks to the trade? Here are Sacha’s best kept secrets to finessing a food shoot:

1.  Fresh is best! 

It may sound obvious but just one day can make a difference to the colour and texture of a perfect peach for instance. Try and work with produce that is as fresh as possible and when it’s looking good, shoot it!

Fresh is best. Food styling by Sacha Kann, Photography by Jess Bicknell

Fresh is best. Food styling by Sacha Kann, Photography by Jess Bicknell

2.  Source tools from your bathroom cabinet

Long armed tweezers (yes like the ones George Calombaris uses to plate up on Masterchef) will be your best friend!  Fingers just don't get into tiny spots where you just need to flick a crumb out of the way on your cookie shot or place that perfect piece of basil leaf to make that pasta shot just right! Other household items to have close at hand are paint brushes to dust away fine crumbs or powdered sprinkles, spongey makeup applicator wedges to prop food up, blu-tak to prop up a wobbly plate and paper towel for spills and mess.

3.  Create realistic condensation 

Need some perfect droplets of water to make a tomato look freshly washed or  droplets on the side of a glass that won’t drip and spoil your close up? Mix 1 part glycerine/1part water in a fine spray bottle, spray where needed and because of the glycerine and its sticky consistency those drops won’t go anywhere! You can also make a glass look frosty by spraying deodorant on the glass.

4. Use non-food filler to add volume  

Depending on what you are styling and cooking, use an upside down bowl, cold uncooked chopped vegetables or even mashed potatoes to make a space filler in a bowl or saucepan to give you a 'fuller' effect.


5.  Substitute your milk

Coconut milk is a good alternative to cows milk for a cereal shot for two reasons...Its whiter in colour so looks a little more appetising and also doesn't soften your cereal so quickly. It's thicker and 'holds' pieces of cereal or museli much better.

Use coconut milk to make it look extra creamy!

Use coconut milk to make it look extra creamy!

6.  Add a sprinkle of raw ingredients

Use crumbs, salt flakes, pepper sprinkles and chopped herbs to give a realistic look...but don't go overboard, sprinkle it as it would drop naturally.  Too many sprinkles looks overdone.

Add a sprinkle of salt or herbs. Food styling by Sacha Kann, Photography by Jess Bicknell

Add a sprinkle of salt or herbs. Food styling by Sacha Kann, Photography by Jess Bicknell

7.  Select suitable props

Use props that make sense to your scene.  For example, don't put that gorgeous pair of french scissors you bought all the way back from the Paris flea market in a delicious Winter pumpkin gnocchi shot....a pinch bowl of parmesan, some gorgeous rustic potatoes blurred in the background and a glass of wine makes more sense!

Make sure your styling suits the cuisine or occasion.

Make sure your styling suits the cuisine or occasion.

8. Use fabric to soften your scene 

Napery in a shot is an effective way to soften it.  Using soft linens or cottons is best as they flow and drape nicely.  Don't be afraid of wrinkles in the fabric, sometimes these textures are what makes a shot.

9. Make it to fake it 

Fake ice-cream is easy to make if you have a good strong mixer.  Use a tub of store bought frosting and mix with lots of icing (powdered) sugar.  You'll know when you have used enough sugar when the consistency is like that of play dough.  Use an old fashioned ice cream scoop (the ones with the release lever) as that will give you a good bark effect on your ice cream scoops.  Use food colouring to make different flavours and you can also add nuts depending on your flavour. Use a little yoghurt (coloured if need be) to add some melted drips in just the right spots! Don’t forget that real ice cream always looks best but fake is a fun alternative if it’s a very hot day or you have an emergency situation! 

Make your own ice-cream that won’t melt!

Make your own ice-cream that won’t melt!

10. Angles are everything

Make sure you take the shot of your food from the best angle.  There’s no point in taking a shot of a burger from an overhead angle...you want to see the gooey melted cheese, drips of sauce and that juicy meat so snap that burger from a 45 degree angle.  

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Overall have fun, food behaves in many ways so just make sure you use your common sense to fix problems if they arise....remember it only has to look good not taste good for a shot!

About the author: Sacha Kann has had a vibrant creative career taking her from Visual Merchandising to floristry and now to food styling. Her perseverance and passion for her craft has enabled her to work in an industry that she loves which is evident in her beautiful imagery. You can see more of Sacha’s styling on her Instagram account @sachakannstyling