Food Styling 101 | Thyme for Soup

by Melissa on August 21, 2011

I started this blog a little over a year and a half ago on a whim, I wanted to have a place to catalog my family’s recipes. Since then, this little blog has become so much more than just a recipe catalog.

Through blogging, I have attended a few great food and blogging conferences, festivals & workshops. I’ve met incredible people and made new friends.

And along the way, I have practiced (and practiced, and practiced some more) food photography and styling. Because, what good is a great recipe if the photos that go along with it don’t make you want to reach into the picture and gobble up the food that is inside?

To demonstrate the process of styling a dish, here are a few shots of soup from the Food & Light workshop in Boulder.

We had been taking turns sharing and photographing food during the workshop, and I had my eye on this bowl of soup. When I got my turn at the soup, this was how it was set up:
1. Thyme was already placed and sprinkled on top.
2. The bowl was sitting on some crumbled parchment paper.
3. There were two mini spoons nearby, the metal one that you see in the photo and a white one that matched the bowl. I pulled the metal spoon into the shot since I wanted the white in the photo to be the focus of my composition. White draws your eye into the photo and the soup was my focus.

I will also mention that I spent a good 5 minutes wiping dried goop soup from the rim of the bowl. Even though this was petty, it’s easier to clean off your dishes before photographing, as opposed to removing in Photoshop later. As you can see I only wiped half of the bowl, the rim closer to the bottom of the photo is still messy.

Although I liked the texture of the crumpled parchment paper, I didn’t feel that the photo was quite pulled together enough. I felt that the spoon and the thyme in the background were just floating around the bowl of soup.

So I added a small wooden cutting board underneath the items in my shot. I like this because:
1. The board brought the items in my shot together so that they all looked like they belonged together.
2. Added another interesting texture in addition to the parchment paper.
3. The clean lines and smoothness of the cutting board made this bowl of soup look more formal and at a table or serving setting.

However, I felt that there was too much brown with both the parchment paper and the cutting board being a very similar brown color.

So I added a green fabric in between the parchment paper and the cutting board, thus breaking up the amount of brown but using a color that was already in the shot: green. By using a green fabric, and not bringing in a new color that wasn’t already in the composition, your eye is immediately drawn to the bright orange-ish, yellow soup in the white bowl.

To add another dimension of interest, at Matt‘s recommendation, another sprig of thyme was added to the soup. And I then sprinkled a few more herbs around the cutting board below the spoon.

Then after some post-processing to remove the goop that had formed along the lower rim of the bowl, here is the final photo!

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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Averie @ Love Veggies and Yoga August 21, 2011 at 6:29 pm

Wow Melissa I love the progression of the elements of what you did and how.

Somehow I missed this entire soup demo and setup..there was so much going on that day and I wish I could have done more little mini things like this..I was so concentrating on just doing the ‘assignment’ and task at hand but would have loved to play around with the soup too.

The crumpled parchment, love that, in general. Going to use that at home for my photos.

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2 Melissa Crane August 21, 2011 at 8:21 pm

I didn’t realize until I had gotten home that I had actually taken pictures that showed the progression of the styling of the soup. At the time it was sort of a “I think that looks pretty good so I’ll take a picture” then I would realize that the photo was missing something so I would add something and move my camera angle.

The crumpled parchment does add a nice texture to the photo – and it’s much easier to put together than a wood panel :)

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3 Josie Lee Susk√° August 21, 2011 at 9:00 pm

Just came over from foodgawker to say thanks for posting those progression pics to the final image…very helpful!

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4 Melissa Crane August 21, 2011 at 9:27 pm

Hi Josie, Glad you found me! And glad that the progression photos were helpful :) Just checked out your blog, and I’m loving your almond pudding photos! That second photo of the pudding really is dreamy.

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5 Nicole August 21, 2011 at 10:05 pm

This is a great little tutorial. It is so fun to see what everyone took away from Food and Light and how they are using it. Love the final shot.

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6 Melissa Crane August 22, 2011 at 1:04 pm

Thanks Nicole! I hope you’re doing well and enjoying your new job :)

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7 Tres Delicious August 21, 2011 at 10:19 pm

So simple yet so stylish. The photography looks so lively that I could crave some of it.

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8 Tammy August 21, 2011 at 10:53 pm

thanks so much for sharing this. I’m so struggling w/ styling & need all the help I can get.Thanks I learn so much from folks who are willing to share tips like yours.
Tammt

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9 Melissa Crane August 22, 2011 at 1:06 pm

Hi Tammy, I’m so glad this post helped! Just keep practicing and you’ll be amazed how much your food styling and photography skills will improve :)

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10 Michael Osucha August 22, 2011 at 7:59 am

Wow!its such a lovely blog on Cutting board designs.
Keep going.
Thanks for sharing.
Keep sharing more and more.

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11 Heidi @ Food Doodles August 22, 2011 at 12:12 pm

So pretty! The final photo is perfect. I love seeing the process! It’s amazing how a few in-between photos can be so helpful to understand the thought process behind the one final picture.

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12 Melissa Crane August 22, 2011 at 1:08 pm

Thanks Heidi. I’m a very visual person, so having photos to show the process was important for a post like this. I was so happy to find the progression photos on my camera after I had finished shooting the soup :)

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13 Lindsay @ Delighted Momma September 15, 2011 at 1:44 am

LOVE this! Help helpful!

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