This past week end, in Sydney, the lovely Denise Vivaldo from Los Angeles, California, taught a two days intensive food styling workshop; like last year, I was there to document the event with my photos, some of which you can see in this post.
Food styling is the art of making the food look good for the camera; it’s like make up for food : it’s all about enhancing and enticing.
Some food styling techniques are quite obvious and are used by chefs as well, to preserve the good look and freshness of ingredients, i.e. submerging the greens in ice water to stop the cooking process and preventing them from discolouring.
Other techniques are much more elaborated and have nothing in common with the ” kitchen “; they are tricks, and as such they require a magician to perform them. Denise is a magician, and one with some 40 years experience… in Hollywood !
The ice cream above is not ice cream. It’s a mixture of powdered sugar and a solid fat of some sort. You wouldn’t wanna eat it, but it will sit perfectly under the lights and last forever; it can even be recycled and used for multiple shoots.
Advertising companies will pay the right money for the experienced food stylist who knows all the right tricks; even in Sydney, even in Australia, where a more ” natural ” look is generally preferred ( but I think that ice cream looks very ” natural ” ).
I photographed Denise’s food styling creations with an editorial style, using loads of textures and opting for a rather dramatic lighting to better prove the point: look can be deceiving, but deceiving in a positive way, when we talk about food styling.
The first of the two days of the workshop, Saturday, it was a hot and sunny day ( melting hot ); I faced a big challenge, as the space assigned to me to take the photographs, was a sort of patio-terrace with see thru ceiling, bathed with sunlight; not a good light for photography though , too harsh and direct, impossible to control.
The next day, it was raining ( literally bucketing down ! ) . And I was in the same patio terrace again, much relieved that it wasn’t so hot anymore. The light was more diffused, but all the same no good because it was coming from right above my head.
erected built a ” man cave ” which is Denise’s slang for a mini-Studio set up; and I used the same set up on day one and two, sun and rain.
This image of a minestrone soup is definitely one of my favourites: it’s amazing what great styling and professional lighting can do for a pack of frozen minestrone !
In this case, the props are a big part of it: the pewter bowl and the beautiful rustic surface are the perfect complement for the subject, they really set the mood.
So you know, when you are looking at beautiful pictures of food in magazines and cookbooks, there is a lot of work involved:
Creative team, designer, home economist, food stylist, props stylist, photographer, digital operator, retoucher…..
A massive shout out, goes to the very talented and lovely Jazreel Chan, from Singapore, who styled these images for me. Jaz assisted and worked alongside Denise for a little while before launching into her own styling career; she has been styling for 5 years and she is doing so well, with such big names on her Portfolio – a very bright future ahead.
And that’s exactly why you want to learn from the best teachers; so make sure you stay tuned, especially if you are in Italy and New Zealand, because that’s where Denise is taking her workshops next ( … and I might be there too, with my man cave ).
And a mention should go to the rest of the team: Kirsty Bryson, Jade Vidotto and Vivian Pei; without you this workshop wouldn’t have happened and wouldn’t have been so much fun. Cheers !
P.S. the chook above is NOT cooked, it’s ” painted ” . But you already know that, right?
Dario Milano is a professional food photographer and food stylist, based in Sydney and servicing predominantly advertising and commercial clients, restaurants and the food packaging market.
He also teaches regular food photography and food styling workshop in Sydney, as well as in Melbourne and Brisbane.
To get in contact, email firstname.lastname@example.org