When it comes to the relationship between a food stylist and food photographer, one must proceed with caution. No matter which side of the fence you sit on, it is of the utmost importance to respect someone you work with. A stylist who works well with one photographer may not work well with others, and visa versa. Find people you like to work with and respect what you can do, only then will everyone be happy with the final product. Creating great food photography is a team effort, so remember to keep an open mind during the creative process.
During a shoot I offer up my thoughts on composition, but for the most part I leave all the decisions in the kitchen up to my stylist. This is why it is so important to have a stylist that you trust. Once the food comes out of the kitchen I may ask the stylist to maneuver parts of a dish so that I can get the proper angle. For example, I recently had a shoot in the studio where we were doing winter foods. We shot some chili and it took several minutes to get the parsley leaf just right. It kept sliding down into the chili and if I didn’t have a great (and patient) food stylist we never would have gotten the shot.
Most people don’t understand that food you shoot and food you eat are very different things. As a food stylist you must prepare great looking food that can maintain its appetizing looks for a long period of time. This means that frequently meats are not cooked all the way through and artificial products are added to help maintain a natural look.
During a shoot it’s my job to determine the proper composition, lens, and lighting. The stylist’s job is to make sure that I have something delicious looking to shoot. We must work together and at a reasonable pace. The day we did the chili shoot, we also had to shoot gumbo, pasta fagioli, and vegetable soup. If I spent too much time on any one of them it would put us behind schedule, and that’s no good for anyone involved.
As a stylist, there are some things you can do to help facilitate an easier shoot:
Always Arrive Well Before the Client
There’s nothing worse than someone arriving late for a shoot. Remember that the photographer, stylist, and any assistants must all pull together to make a shoot go smoothly. If even one member of the team doesn’t make their call time it will throw the entire day off its schedule. Not to mention that nothing looks more unprofessional to the client than an improperly prepared team.
Always Prepare a Stand-in. Stand-ins serve as a marker for the photographer. While the hero is cooking this helps the photographer stay one step ahead of the game by figuring out some compositional issues in advance. This way, when the hero is ready, as little time as possible is wasted. Some photographers work with out stand-ins, and you’ll figure this out as you work with different people. Just remember that it’s always best to be over prepared. Trust me your photographer will appreciate a stylist who goes above and beyond, and it will make you more memorable when the photographer is deciding on which stylist to use for the next shoot.
Don’t be Critical in Front of the Client
How would you feel if, right in front of the client, a photographer said that you’re not as good as other stylists he has used? Of course, this makes you look bad and it also makes the team look fragmented. When a client is present it is important to show a united front. Don’t talk about other photographers you have worked with and the way they did things. It’s more than acceptable to make creative suggestions, but phrase things in a professional manner. Do not give anyone on your team any attitude, and do everything if not more than what the photographer tells you. Ultimately, it’s the photographer who bridges the gap between the client’s vision and the finished product, so their word is final.
Never Look Inexperienced
There will be times in your career when you will be asked to do something you may not have done before. Don’t let this discourage you, and certainly don’t let it show. Stay positive and assure everyone that you just need a little time to make things look perfect. Take your time, don’t get flustered and remember that creativity is a major part of your job. Learning new things on the fly is just something stylists have to do. Compliment the Photographer at the End of the Session
This may seem like a waste of time, but believe me it does more than just blow smoke. We all like to be told we did a good job, and creative people need it even more. Trust me, if you toss a compliment out, you’ll get one back. It might just be a little ego stroking, but again, if you leave the photographer with a good feeling you’re more likely to be hired for another job.
Bill Brady Photography <http://studio212photo.com>