Food Styling 101 with Commercial Food Stylist, Henriett Braun
Henriett’s clients include Kellogg’s, Ben’s Cookies, Nestle, Caffè Nero, KFC, Nescafe and more.
Originally from Hungary, Henriett is a Dubai-based commercial food stylist, blogger and educator. Henriett works with photographers, videographers, production companies and restaurants around the gulf region, bringing her artistic skills to the table to create unique and mouthwatering imagery. She has also worked with magazines and cook book authors and you may well have seen her work gracing the billboards of Sheikh Zayed road and beyond!
Just some of Henriett’s clients include: Kellogg’s, Khaleej Times, OSN, Operation Falafel, Puck Arabia, The Salad Jar, Ben’s Cookies, Quaker and Chez Sushi, Nestle, La Vache Qui Ri, Kiri, KFC, Nescafe Dolce Gusto, Caffè Nero, Caffe di Roma, The Coffee Club,.
What’s the first thing you need to know about food styling?
Food Styling at first might look easy, but it is one of the most challenging yet rewarding positions I have had the honour to work in. Food Styling is the art of making the food look good to the camera. We are visual storytellers on a plate, who prepare and style dishes to perfection. The aim of the game in Food Styling is to make a dish look its best and its most appetising for photographers and videographers to shoot.
How do you position food to make it look its best?
We have a lot of liberty when it comes to positioning the food on the plate or in the frame given the right size, colour, texture of props and backgrounds that go in harmony with the dish. Burgers usually look good from a straight angle, salads and pastas can be both 45 degrees or flatlay, drinks from a straight (90 degree) or 45 degree angle.
What can you do to make ugly food look appetising?
This is the challenge we face every day and that is the primary reason we are hired for photo and video shoots. Even the most appetising dish to the naked eye can look not so appetising to the camera, let alone the “ugly” dishes which require extensive knowledge and experience about the tips and tricks of the trade. Cooking and baking skills definitely help and understanding the behaviour of each ingredient and dish. Here are a few examples of difficult dishes to handle and some quick solutions to them:
Can you over-style your food?
Definitely. Many people believe that throwing ingredients around a plate is Food Styling alone. The same mistake happens in advertising when we are asked to add many dishes or bits of information to the picture. However, the timeless truth stands here too: Less is more. Our job is to make every dish visually appealing and appetising and not overcrowd the photo with information. My aim is to tap into consumer emotions and make the dish look natural and appetising without over-styling or overcrowding it.
What is the trickiest food to style and how do you overcome it?
Generally speaking burgers, wraps and sandwiches require quite a lot of practice before you dare to venture into the world of styling them professionally. Apart from practice, it requires a lot of talented hand movements, patience and trial and error. When I teach Food Styling, I always start with the building of a burger as I immediately give away 8-9 very important tricks of the trade. However, I have had some challenging experience with cracked and dry cream cheese, melting ice cream or dead herbs. Basically every day is a new, different challenge as a lot depends on texture, colour or freshness of the food which is highly affected by environmental factors (heat, humidity, light) therefore we Food Stylists are never bored.
Have you ever had any food styling nightmares?
When you are not given enough time to make the dish look at its best can be very stressful and unfortunately it happens quite frequently. Disasters are simply another challenge. I have had incidents where the stacked pancakes fell down, the soup spilled or the hero dish was eaten during the production. That is the reason why we always have extra ingredients ready during the shoot.
What reactions do you get to your food styling?
Funny comments I’ve heard from people are:
“Did you spray it with something?”
“Is this edible?”
“Please tell me I can finally eat this one!”
“I have never worked with a stylist but now I don’t ever want to work without one.”
“I feel like my photography portfolio has been upgraded with you.”
What hacks can you use to improve the look of food?
I usually put the food together myself even if we shoot in the restaurant. I discuss with the chef what the actual presentation is supposed to look like. Based on that we start building the dish together considering both the presentation as well as the look. We agree which plates or bowls to use. We also agree on the angle and the backgrounds used with the photographer. I usually add the sauces and garnishes myself on set (in front of the camera) after the camera angle, light and props have been carefully arranged.
Do you have a favourite technique to use?
I like to use the electric charcoal starter to create grill marks on the meat or buns.
Do you sometimes include inedible items to make the food look more delicious?
I have used shaving cream instead of whipped cream, fake ice cream instead of real, hairspray to make the vegetables look shiny, glyecrin and water mix to create water droplets and to add freshness to the dish. However, since we all have a very intimate and natural connection to food, we try to make the food look as natural as possible as artificial food might scare the consumers away.
Do you approach sweet and savoury dishes differently?
We approach every shoot differently depending on clients’ requirements. Every restaurant, product or movie has a story to tell and our job is to make sure we are aligned with the same vision to make the food visually appealing.
How do you decide which garnishes to use and where to place them?
The garnish is usually determined by the recipe and is set, however I always propose my recommended garnish depending on what colour is needed/required for each dish. For example I think rosemary goes really well with lamb and roasted potatoes; fried curry leaves and different colours of spices with Indian food; basil, cherry tomatoes and fresh oregano with Italian dishes or Zaatar, nuts and honey with Arabic dishes. I like to use 2-3 different garnishes on the food adding more colour, texture and dimension to the plate.
What backgrounds are your go-to?
I personally paint my own backgrounds on canvass or wood as every enquiry is different and I want to make sure clients are getting something unique and tailor made. Usually neutral colours such as greys, whites, blacks or beiges are my to go colours as the food pops and stands out on the picture.
What are the best ‘at home’ props to use?
I love using unique, hand made ceramics and hand painted backgrounds that are one of a kind, so no one has the same. Props and backgrounds are the second hero right after the food, therefore it is essential to have an arsenal of props and unique backgrounds to create interest in the picture.
What would people be most surprised to learn about food styling?
How much time, effort, attention and opinions go into making a good food photo.
How do you get started with a career in food styling?
I had a few friends in the production industry who have worked with stylists. Knowing how passionate I am about food and how much I loved cooking, they suggested I look into this profession. So I have done various trainings online and on-hand, read books and now I am giving back to the community by teaching regularly at Gulf Photo Plus this culinary art.