MAKE  •  2020

Playing with Food – A Glimpse into a Food Styling Workshop

This past fall, 2019 the studio was invited to participate in an intimate food styling workshop at the Fort Garry Library. In attendance, a group of passionate amateur food photographers, avid cooks and readers who were seeking guidance on photographing food for social media, namely Instagram – a powerful platform to showcase and curate personal and/or professional photography endeavours.

Exercise: Building a breakfast – a morning scene

It is important to use a visual reference for composition – an inspiration shot drawn from the internet, for example (not as replication, but as guidance). We built the following in situ with the participants, touching on still life scenarios, the addition of the human element, and general tips on composition:

  • Coffee, toast with cheese, and jam scene – still life – front angle
  • Granola and yogurt – with human element –front angle
  • Granola and yogurt with egg in cup scene – top down

Outlined here, is a simple guide for you to begin the process of food styling and photography for Social Media

Things to consider / ask yourself as you begin

  • What are you curious about?
  • What is your style?
  • How do you like to engage other people with the food you make?
  • How do you present the food to real-life guests?
  • How do you want to be creative and exploratative?
  • What mood would you like to convey?
  • (dark and dramatic or light and airy; naturally lit or controlled lighting).
  • What platform are you documenting for?
  • (e.g., Instagram, blog, cookbook (print) etc.)


  • Surfaces
  • Backdrops – dark, light, textured
  • Linens
  • Utensils
  • Florals
  • Small vessels for condiments, spices, herbs, etc.
  • Plates – small, salad, dinner
  • Bowls – large, shallow, small, very petite

Note: Look through your grandparents’ or parents’ antique collections. Collect, collect, collect. Look to local makers and artisans.

Prop Quality

  • Nuanced, with patina – especially with cutlery
  • Neutral tones – to let the food shine
  • Wooden boards (e.g., cutting, serving, etc) in various sizes, but avoid orange tones. Go for grey or darker brown wood tones
  • Natural materials (e.g., ceramics (real clay), wood)
  • Smaller-sized glassware and stemware
  • Linen – use real linen (real linen photographs better than blends and synthetic materials, and falls or manipulates nicely on flat surfaces).

Sourcing Props

  • Leanne Muir – small bowls, mugs
  • Karen + Jason Hare – The Root Cellar
  • Old House Revival
  • AAA Consignment
  • Value Village and The Salvation Army

Types of Shots

  • Top down – primarily 1 element or repeated elements.
  • Front angle – offering a sense of the human perspective Front angle – framing vertical space (flowers, bottles, etc.), or photographing with a dynamic background (e.g., in front of a window). Or, horizontal space (landscape), straight-on. Or, capturing depth of field.
  • Human element – adding a human action, such as drizzling a sauce or dressing, dishing out the meal, sprinkling a dry ingredient like maldon salt, nuts or seeds, and shaving parmesan, etc.

Principles of Composition

  1. Compose elements in threes or odd numbers.
  2. Integrate raw ingredients that are part of a dish or are used to garnish or flavour a dish (e.g., citrus, herbs, spices, etc.).
  3. Consider the placement and angles of the utensils (either in interaction with the food, or alongside)
  4. Plate individual portions alongside the vessel in which it was made or is served.
  5. Authenticity – ask how you would eat this and at what stage (i.e., just plated or half-eaten).