The Truth About Food Styling Hack Videos

Every now and then a video seems to explode over YouTube. More recently this has been the food styling hacks tutorials. Here are some myth busting facts.

Having worked in the food photography industry for a number of years shooting everything from a local cafe to world wide print campaigns for major brands, almost everyone I know sends me videos about styling hacks. From the obscure to the obscene, most of the ideas presented in the videos are completely false. Although I am pretty impressed that someone has taken the time to think them up and then to execute them. Food styling and styling in general is nothing new. Almost every form of photography has a stylist involved in one way or another.

There are those who specialize in fashion, set styling, prop sourcing, and pretty much anything that can be taken to a shoot. Thinking that the photographer is solely responsible for an image couldn't be further from the truth. However, the food industry takes a lot of flak for the styling. This seems to be predominantly due to the images in fast food restaurants that look amazing in comparison to the limp food they serve. Although this is true for pretty much anything. If I were to dress myself in Gucci, I wouldn't look anything like the people in the adverts (unfortunately for both my partner and I.)

There are a lot of laws in advertisement both for stills and moving images and especially with regards to food. Although you could copy some of these ideas (it might make a cool photo essay), most of them wouldn't pass the regulations in the UK or US to make it to print. I am also pretty sure that none of these have ever been used. The old claims of tampons for steam when cotton wool would clearly do the same thing are mostly there just to add interest and shock value.

In this video, I go over my experience of food photography styling and what actually goes into getting the shot as well as looking at how obscene some of these suggestions actually are. 

Log in or register to post comments

50 Comments

amazing article and video : well done, thanks! About the regulations I must point out that the studio won't publish/diffuse anything and therefore will never be responsible for the use..

Scott Choucino's picture

Glad you enjoyed it. It was my first time talking to camera haha

Raymond Craig's picture

Scott Choucino Yeah really good, and I would've never guessed it's your first time on camera. It'd be great if on the next one you did some side-by-side to show some of your shots in comparison. Or even some b-roll to show behind the scenes on a shoot. The shots on your website are great and I think it would totally drive the point home. Not to mention from an editing standpoint if you mess up a take you can just cut away and not have to start the take all over.

Scott Choucino's picture

Thanks for the kind words. Yeah now that I have got the painful first video done, I plan to get a bit more creative. I am not a videographer so the editing side of things its a mystery to me atm. Hopefully I will get the hang of it soon. Just uploaded a video all about gear today which I think is better than this one, but still has a lot that needs to be done to improve.

Paul Lindqvist's picture

Great video Scott Choucino ! You're a natural in front of the camera!

Scott Choucino's picture

Thanks Paul. I have just uploaded another vide to my channel. Aiming for one a week atm to see if I can keep it going until Christmas.

Tony Clark's picture

Yes, the secret to shooting food is making it real. I laugh when people ask me about using mashed potatoes in place of ice cream, it simply does not work for me. I also say that a good Food Stylist is worth their weight in gold.

Scott Choucino's picture

Yeah my work would be horrendous 95% of the time without a food stylist. They are as important as the photographer.

Rob Mitchell's picture

Love it. Those videos always make me laugh.
I do a heck of a lot of beer photography, I won't use anything but the real thing. There are tricks, but luckily my clients agree with me. If we can use the real deal, we're showing the real deal.
Downside, we might get through a crate of beer for one shot.

do you sue your wife or girlfriend for misrepresentation for wearing make-up? what about the camera operator of ted the movie? sue the operator because a teddy bear can't talk?

clients? what clients? im doing ads for 20 years and never once I had the pleasure of meeting the "client"
at times I see the heads of marketing around ( the closer I can get to your "client" idiotic definition of a fantasy) but they usually don't even talk to the photographer. The agencies do. So are you in the business? what business?

Paul Lindqvist's picture

What's with the attitude!? If you been in the business for 20 years you know there are laws that regulate marketing, so it's not really up to you or the client, because some stuff you can't do, since it will be deemed as false advertising etc.

Paul it's not really how it works. The studio is never responsible for anything. Period. What's with the attitude? what attitude? There are no "clients" in this business. It simply doesn't work like that. LOL
unless we are talking about free pictures for the grocery store at the corner .
In the real world there are several parts involved in (any) project: the legal/marketing with the manufacturer or distributor, the agency, the studio, the colorist and retouching, editors and messaging, a script, NDA and contracts to sign and finally back to the campaign and the placement of the final material. That's how it works. The studio only executes the script and the technical aspects of it. The whole story doesn't have pretty much nuthing to do with the studio. Is that better now? Because that's how it works.
In other words the studio doesn't advertise anything.
the (amateur) photographer convincing the "client" ? do you see how laughable that is now?

Paul Lindqvist's picture

How it works ?

Im sorry are you claiming there are no regulations to follow for food advertising?

Where exactly did I mention the burden of liability?

I only stated that there really isn’t a matter of opinion what can and can’t be done, as there are guidelines from the FTC (in the states) to avoid having you’r ad reported and shut down.

Do you think many studios produce work for agencies and their clients that in the end will be a liability and cost them money instead of making them money?

Of course the regulations differ slightly from country to country, but in general, they are very similar.

Now to the actual reason for you responding..

So @Rob Mitchell tells us how he usually works with his clients, and then you simply feel the need to post some irrelevant garbage about how you been in the business for so many years and that your client are so huge yada yada…

Are we supposed to be impressed?

Are we supposed to be in awe by an anonymous poster who makes big claims and very often tout himself as a professional every chance he’s got?

Doesn’t really matter how big a photographer, you are, since your behavior is that of someone who really is dying for attention.

I realize that anonymity is great when you want to shoot your off mouth with zero credibility or any consequences.

of course there are regulations. what part of "the studio doesn't advertise anything" you don't understand? think.... harder...and anywhere (in the world) the answer is right there, after you think (harder)

Paul Lindqvist's picture

Who said the studio advertising anything, no one did. Rob Mitchell only shared how he works with his clients.

But to follow your logic since the studio isn't liable they do not need to adhere to FTC guidelines.

BTW "what part of.." is getting old you might want to come up with another irrelevant comeback.

Maybe you can enlighten us to what exactly you objected to in his post?

The fact he uses actual beer for when he shoots an ad for beer?

Or that he works directly with brewers?

Rob Mitchell's picture

woah dude, had a bad day? Attitude much :)

I work directly with the brand managers at the breweries. No agency middle person who's trying to prove their point to justify their fees.
I don't live in the good ol' US of A so will have different laws regarding marketing. I live in a small place called Belgium, We're pretty famous for beer over here and I shoot for several of the brewer's international markets, France and China included. France has some insane alcohol advertising laws so shots have to be tuned for each market place.

So,Sorry to burst your bubble of projected authority on the matter. I work direct for my client, as in the people that make the beer and market it. Laugh or dismiss that all you want, that's just how it is. 'Lol"

in Belgium? there are excellent agencies, and professional studios at the top of our class. You have 1 client? directly with 1 client? who does the placement? you again? Seriously?

Paul Lindqvist's picture

So Mr big shot, condescending and above all telling everyone else that unless you shoot for big agencies you're not serious.

Oh, the paradox when attention-seeking John Doe expects everyone else to take him seriously...

I mean.. in advertising? there are maybe 5 photographers in the world dealing directly with the heads of the marketing or even the manufacturer: the rest deal with the agencies. The paid jobs I mean. There is no other way...

Rob Mitchell's picture

You’re really frustrated huh. Never mind.

yes I came down pretty hard on you. But that comment and "clients" needed to be addressed. See? Ivan posted a link of an actual ad (scripted and approved by the legal department - You can tell by the "things" she says-)
That's a BTS ad I can tell you that the video crew (professionals) nowadays get scripts to produce material that must look amateurish. And for a reason. Not that one (that one is old) but the new BTS look amateurish and it's all scripted.

Rob Mitchell's picture

Whatever you need to say to feel good. All fine by me. Carry on. Have a great weekend. I will too, I’ve some editing to do before I send to the client. The only client apparently, because I’m obviously an amateur at this. 👍😉

1 thing is pretending to be a pro using terms like "clients" instead of customers, and a totally different thing is to pretend and even give directions. That was your problem, buddy. So I stand by my decision to correct the situation, and right away.
And you missed the opportunity to learn even watching the actual ad that Ivan posted: you can see the separation of the jobs (in part, that BTS ad was also scripted to look the way it looks), but you still can have a pretty good idea, so next time in the forums you don't use "clients" anymore...

Rob Mitchell's picture

And wooosh, the sarcasm is missed. Haha.
Sorry the word ‘client’ gets your goat. I’m not the one with the problem, who jumped up and down with his knickers in a twist ? You can’t make this shit up, you’re funny.

Paul Lindqvist's picture

So Mr. John Doe big shots claim that the title professional is defined by him and him alone.

He also got hung up on the wording client, which is correct btw.

For everyone else name Mr big shot..

A customer is someone who purchases goods/service from a business entity, such as a store, webshop, etc.

A client is someone who buys services from an individual or group of professionals.

A professional is of course not defined by anonymous poster like Mr big shot, but it is very clearly defined and not a hard concept to understand for most people.

As for acting professionally, well that is subjective. Take for example Mr big shot, I doubt his peers think his behavior here is professional.

I can tell you that every commercial photographer I know that been around for 20+ years does not get off by putting people down in the comments sections.

In the end, MR big shot is a coward with some serious issues and should be treated as such from here on out.

just because you didn't know how advertising actually work doesn't mean that now you know how advertising actually work and you shouldn't talk about stuff that you don't know because if you do and get caught then see what happens?

Rob Mitchell's picture

And as you were so dedicated to dismiss my comment by posting twice, it's only polite of me to do the same.
I've burst your bubble already with the fact I do work direct for clients. I also work for ad agencies. Who can be a pain in the bum, agreed. However, as far as I can remember, I have met the actual client at least once for each of those jobs. From Disney to Embraer. Yes, lots of meetings. lots of discussions and lots of egos. You're just a means to an end for many of them. However, if you's skills match your words, you'll know how to deal with these people. Every single time I've gone into a shoot with one of those toffy-nosed art directors with a pile of dodgy sketches that depict exactly how they want the shots, I execute them as asked. However, I ask if I may try something too, after their shot has been made. The shot I see from the sketched, mood boards and meetings. More often than not, that version of the shot is selected. Their problem is, they have to prove themselves to their boss, they want to be the one responsible for decisions, they want to be right, usually with very little practical experience too. So, you panda to their ego, Quite simple.

Back on topic, I liked the video posted in the article, Thanks Scott for the laughs, thank you too Mark Mark for the laugh you gave me too :)

amateurs work directly with 1 "client". Look the studio basically doesn't have any relevant part in the project beside the technical aspect of the script that other professionals produce. Is that clear? Don't believe my colleagues in the workshops selling BS about our "art" and "vision" : the truth is that we basically follow orders (to put it nicely). And that's our job.
You don't get the camera operators in the real movies talking about "vision" and "art". Maybe now you get the idea, don't ya? In advertising the jobs run in separate ways, in harmony but separated.
You probably didn't know because I see the "workshops" too and all the BS published on websites so in a way I kinda understand, but you shouldn't invent stuff and absolutely don't tell others what to do because you (simply put) have no idea.

More comments