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Food, beautiful food

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Whether you're an avid food blogger or just entering our Show Us Your Lunch competition, even from our own endeavours, we understand that it's pretty tricky making food look beautiful. It just never quite measures up to the picture in the recipe. Like the fashion images we see every day, equally when it comes to food, the key to the final look is an artful bit of styling.

The deft hands of the food stylist are constantly at work on recipe shoots, TV cookery programmes and even in advertising; called upon to jazz up everything from fast food to cereal. So who best to ask about making home-cooked dishes look supermodel-perfect in front of the camera than the food stylists themselves? Here are their essential tips...

ABOVE: Gwyneth Paltrow's Fudgy Chocolate Brownies taken from Notes From My Kitchen Table

Lighting

“Good lighting is essential for a good food photo,” says food stylist Jennifer Joyce, who contributes to BBC Good Food and runs classes at the esteemed Leith’s Cookery School in London. “Find the best possible place for natural light. Next to a large window or door is a good start.” Even if you‘re taking food photos on your mobile phone, a bit of natural light can work wonders. Food and prop stylist Laura Fyfe, who also has her own food blog, agrees: “Unless you're very nifty with lighting, your food is always going to look a million times better if you take the pictures in natural light.”

ABOVE: Pear perfection styled by Mari Williams. Photo: Toby Scott

Framing

Treat your dish like a model and think of the angle at which you’ll be shooting it. “If you are going overhead make sure all the points of interest are visible from above,” explains Mari Williams, who has been a food stylist for 15 years. “If you are thinking of framing the picture from a lower angle, concentrate on the front of the dish. If you have any dark pieces of food make sure they are on the side of the dish that will be getting most light.”

ABOVE: Bharwan Mircha's Pan-fried Stuffed Chillies taken from Food of the Grand Trunk Road

That said, it’s also crucial not to overthink things: “Work quickly - the longer your food sits on the plate the less delicious it will look in shot,” advises food and lifestyle stylist Polly Webb-Wilson.

ABOVE: A chic starter from chef Alain Ducasse

Colour

While lighting food well can make it look better, what if the actual dish (think leftover curry, lentils, plain pasta etc) is just not that exciting? “Always think about colours,” says Fyfe. “A sprinkling of herbs can always lift a dish and add some variation.” Joyce also suggests using lime and lemon wedges for a zesty burst of colour, while Williams recommends adding a fork or spoon to inject an element of movement and advocates thinking about shapes when cutting food: “Cut spring onions on a sharp angle; rip rather than slice bread and shave cucumber into ribbons rather than rounds.”

ABOVE: A Goan Fish Curry taken from Jennifer Joyce's blog Meals in Heels. Photo by Mowie Kay

Presentation

Like the old saying goes, the best things come in small packages, and that also applies to pimping up your dish reveals Webb-Wilson: “Keep plates and portions on the smaller side, large amounts of food can lose proportion on camera and won’t look as yummy.”

Though overall it’s about making the dish look as fresh and natural as possible – and that includes making a mess. “Make it real,” enthuses Williams. “If you’re making a pie and a little of the filling oozes out - leave it. If you are photographing a cake with a slice removed, leave the mess, the crumbs, the drip of jam or cream. This gives food life.”

ABOVE: A fruit-filled pie styled by Mari Williams. Photo: Simon Smith

Tricks

So now we've grasped the fundamentals, what about those hidden shortcuts - the tips and tricks that only a good food stylist would know?

“For super fresh-looking salad leaves, plunge them into ice-cold water for about 15 minutes before shooting them,” says Fyfe. “This will perk them up no end, and then dry them on kitchen paper before shooting.” She's also a fan of making food that's been sitting around look hot and fresh again by brushing on a little oil or hot water. Although Webb-Wilson warns, "too much oil, especially on salad, veg and herbs will make them look dark, limp and unappealing."

ABOVE: Tom Aitkens' Goat's Cheese Salad with Pomegranate and Figs taken from Easy by Tom Aitkens

Meanwhile, Joyce suggests thinking outside of the box when plating up casual food: “Slip a piece of parchment paper or a rumpled paper bag under your sandwich for something different.”

The most crucial thing of all though is just to enjoy it. “Have fun,” says Williams. “There is no right or wrong way to style food as long as the photograph makes you want to tuck in and eat!”

ABOVE: Mini Battenbergs styled by Mari Williams. Photo: bakingmad.com

You've heard from the professionals, now give it a go - upload your food-styled pictures to our Show Us Your Lunch competition for the chance to win a luxury mini break in the Isle of Wight, or check out the delicious food Stylist's features writer Amy Grier has been eating for some lunchtime inspiration.

What do you think? Do you have any of your own food styling tips to share? Tell us your thoughts on Twitter or in the comments section below.

Picture credit (additional photos): Rex

Words: Sharon Forrester

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