If you've lusted over a food spread in a magazine or cookbook, chances are one (if not all) of the food dept. team were behind it. Anne-Marie Cummins, Sally Courtney, Petrina Tinslay and David Morgan are pure food industry pedigree—the best-of-the-best in production, recipe development, food styling and photography.
As a collective they work for magazines, websites, advertisers and food companies, and put together seriously delicious recipe spreads for lucky people like you and I. We joined them on a recent food shoot (doughnuts, how convenient no?) to bring you a behind the scenes look at the world of food styling production.
TUL: How did the food dept. evolve?
food dept.: Over yum cha, pink Italian cocktails and a desire to create inspirational food imagery, and content, without the constraints of a brief, and outside of the usual media we all work in. The exciting thing is, it is still constantly evolving as we grow and develop.
TUL: What is a typical day for the food dept. if there is such a thing?
food dept.: Our shoot days are always similar—lots of fun, chatting, cooking and laughing with dedication to the perfect shot. Before the shoot we brainstorm a theme—this could be an ingredient, place, season or beautiful ceramic bowl. We then research and test the recipes as well as source props for the overall look of the story.
Then imagine moving house every day: we pack and unpack ingredients, styling props, from plates to backgrounds and photography equipment; we then build the set, shoot the food, then pull it all down and do it again the next day. The job is much more physical than people think. Typically we shoot 8 to 9 shots per day and then end it with bubbles—we think we are still living in the 80s!
TUL: What is the hardest food to produce, style and photograph?
food dept.: Chef's food that is very structured on a shiny white plate the size of a small table is hard, it looks amazing in a restaurant, but this doesn't always translate to the shot. It is also difficult to shoot dishes without form—stews or brown food can prove tricky!!
TUL: The food shot is as common as the selfie on social media these days. Do you have any tips for the novice for creating a better food image?
food dept.: Turn off your flash. If using your phone, an overhead shot generally works best. Keep it simple with the light and the food. The key is to take out clutter that doesn't add to the image, and the rule 'less is more' always should apply.
TUL: What is the most challenging part of your job?
food dept.: Sourcing ingredients and making sure the food stays fresh and vibrant. It's also a challenge doing a final edit of images and trying to pick which ones to use. We then have to lay them out in design with the recipes, upload them and keep an active presence for the food dept. on social media. Lots of work but we love it!
TUL: Do mistakes make food look more appetising—drips, spills, misplaced herbs?
food dept.: Yes! It's like the anti-style and it is the way we create food. For us the more oozy, boozy, crumby, drippy, sticky and runny the better. It makes the composition of the image look loose and casual and it is the imperfection that makes things look real and tactile—you want to reach into the picture and grab the food.
TUL: Top five tips for a food shoot production?
1.Have a plan of action. Draw out the shots or develop a storyboard so you can visually communicate your vision.
2.Shoot the food as soon as it is ready. It always looks best fresh from the pan or oven. Cold food that should be hot never looks the same.
3.Keep it simple. A great textured surface mixed with handmade ceramics and fresh food will always win.
4.Good light is key. Without it, even the best food will look terrible.
5.Stick to the plan.
If you are tempted by the food dept.'s delectable looking Honey Bombolini pictured, then click here for the recipe!
Images courtesy of the food dept.