Make it beautiful: Expert tips from food stylists

Nothing angers my son more than these four words: "The camera eats first." Eight years old and bursting through children's sizes like The Hulk, he's a voracious eater that doesn't take too kindly to a pat on the hand.

Unfortunately, food writers know good content when they see it; shrimp cocktail in a vintage martini glass, a steaming tray of croissants in the morning light. I have to get the shot before we destroy the thing. 

Not everyone photographs their food. In fact, those opposed to others getting snapshots of their meals happen to be some of the most vocal critics I've witnessed. But food styling tips are for anyone interested in making an enticing display. Whether you're throwing a holiday dinner or coaxing a toddler to eat their carrots, pretty food almost seems to taste better. 

Below are some expert food tips to make it gorgeous. Do it for the 'gram. Do it for your gram. Food is a joy, and there's no harm in making it look like that.

slice of cake on a dish

Get a clean slice

Bakers sometimes spend hours layering cakes with icing. Honor that skill by keeping dull knives at bay. A clean gorgeous cut shows off the craftmanship in making the cake. Use a thin, sharp knife and rinse in hot water between each slice.


If you splashed spaghetti sauce accidentally, be sure to use a napkin to wipe a pristine edge around the plate. It hides any sloppy mishaps that may have transpired, and makes the dish look more elegant. This is a secret trick that upscale restaurants use. 

stacked meringue cookies

Stack 'em high

What would look better? A flay tray of cookies, or a stacked cookie pyramid? Exactly. Place cookies, baked goods and other room-temperature snacks in a raised display. They'll look even better on a raised cake dish, or slab of wood. 

Secret weapon: Cooking spray

You want your food to look hot and juicy, even if it's been sitting on a picnic table for a couple of hours. Dull-looking food could use a little spritz of cooking spray, to make it look freshly-prepared. 

charcuterie board

Charming charcuterie

Use larger items and bowls of condiments to anchor your charuterie board, but slowly fan outward with smaller items. A solid anchor could be a mini bowl of Hummus, or a large hunk of cheese with a cheese knife. Fan outward and vary colors and textures, to keep the composition interesting. Cubed cheese, olives, crackers and slices of cured sausage are great options. Liven up any dull spots with greenery, such as sprigs of rosemary and basil leaves.

Thicken your drizzle

If you love dramatic, dripping edges on your baked goods, thicken the glaze. Oftentimes the glaze seems thick, but between the warmth of the cake and sheer gravity, the glaze become translucent and streams all the way down to the cake dish, flattening the look. 

caprese salad

Use dressing at the last minute

This should be a no-brainer, as we all know that dressing makes a salad soggy. But even if you are using a sturdier salad mix, such as kale and cabbage, wait to put the dressing on. When people see a bowl of salad, they may not be sure if it has dressing on it - especially if the dressing was applied long before serving. People like to see a visible and vibrant dressing, sitting atop the leaves and nestled into nooks. And since dressing eventually drips down and disappears, a fresh drizzle is ideal. 

Pre-scoop your ice cream

High-quality ice cream usually doesn't skimp on cream, which hardens quite a bit in the freezer. Rather than toil over a frozen solid block in order to dole out dessert, scoop and freeze ice cream scoops ahead of time. Stylists may do this to create a perfectly-shaped serving of ice cream, but think about how much time you'll save while entertaining, doling out perfectly-formed scoops without so much as a grunt. 

three bowls of food sitting on a table

Think in threes

If you are photographing beautiful bowls or plates of food, think in threes. Two side-by-side bowls or plates will look like giant eyes. Offset it with a third item to make the image more playful, or at least surround the serving with smaller pinch bowls, pretty cloth napkins - something to help the eye travel. 

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