Food Styling Workshop: Why is Composition useful in Food Styling.

You might be thinking what has composition got to do with food styling? And you are right in thinking it is more applicable to design, art or photography. But it doesn’t end there, composition is a powerful design element that food stylists can use to create powerful images.

There are basic photography principles that food stylists can use to enhance their work, and of course once we know the rules we are free to break them.  Once we know these principles we can either follow them or ignore them and create our own.
Food styling composition is a subjective and creative process that is individual for each person.

In my upcoming food styling workshop, The Art of Visual Story Telling using Food & Props ( phew, its a long name, I know!) I have included a short section on Composition because I have found it to be so so useful in my own food styling experience.

Composition is a strong design element, as well as a form of art and depends a lot on the viewer’s eye, our aim is always to direct the viewers eye to our food, so it makes sense to incorporate these principles where we can.

The most boring looking recipe can become a superb photo because of great composition. The opposite is also true: poor composition can spoil an amazing recipe and it can look uninteresting and uninspiring. We definitely don’t want that!

When it comes to composition a part can come naturally, from your own sense of style and practice. There are however a few basic rules for composition within (food) photography that can be applied to food styling and help you create that killer composition that will get people to view your image, try your recipe or engage with your instagram post.

The purpose of composition in food styling is as mentioned above, to direct the viewers eye to our subject, this could be a juicy hamburger, a delicious slice of cake, or frosty drinks. 

Our subject, and the purpose of our food story will mostly dictate the composition.
A food story around the best ever, homemade burger with ALL the toppings will mean the hero, our burger, will obviously take centre stage. The strongest composition would be for the camera angle to be dead straight, facing the burger. We arrange our burger in the centre of our frame ( the area we are photographing ) and build our composition around this, focusing on balance and symmetry.  Alternatively we can apply the design principles of the rule of thirds, which is the placement of the subject along imaginary grid lines in the frame and then use another compositional element called negative space in the “open” area. Immediately the viewers attention and eye is drawn to the main focus, the burger, and we can then style supporting elements of our story around this key item.
This is the most common composition for advertising billboards.

Another food story may be around the narrative, “you think making/ baking macaroons is difficult, I’ll show you it’s not” 

For a food story like this we might want to incorporate a few food styling and prop elements that not only communicate our story but that we can use as visual clues to our narrative. Positioning the camera directly above ( birds eye view, or flat lay position) will give us more space to arrange our composition. We can use the principles of odd numbers, have 3 , 5 or even seven elements in the frame, small bowls, ingredients, props that show our process. Another composition principle we might include here is leading lines, how we place these items and if they direct our eye to the subject, again following imaginary lines that direct our attention to the hero of our shoot, the macaroons.

My third tip is probably the most important, and if your are like me , can often be the hardest to apply, and that is trust yourself and have fun! 

I know its easier said than done right? We can get stuck in our heads, faffing and arranging, rearranging making sure we have every element perfect.

Remember these are guidelines, and they are subjective, there is no right and wrong. The more you relax and enjoy, practice and try new things the more you will learn and hone your natural instinctive style, and the more natural your style the more the viewer will connect with your food story.

Go for it! I’m here to cheer you on.

if you want to learn more – In the upcoming course The Art of Visual Story telling  we will discuss various compositions and how effective they are in communicating a message, for example below is a great example of a story I did  on Cara Cara oranges, and how I used composition in the visual narrative.

Composition is a design and photography principle that plays an important role in food styling. It is a useful principle to learn as a food stylist, and I explain why in this blog post.

This story on Cara Cara Oranges shows the design elements of geometry, the circle pattern of the oranges is strongly repeated in all the images, emphasis on their shape creates a strong visual representation of their importance in the story, as they are the hero , the recipes include them in the cake, curd and syrup.

Other design elements incorporated in the composition are the rule of thirds, placing the objects of intent on the intersecting points of the grid lines, and framing, creating a frame within a frame using the cake rack and the napkin to create a frame.

Food Styling : Taryne Jakobi

Photography: Libby Edwards




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