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If you’ve done any research into food photography, you’ve come across the term Food Stylist.  Most novices to the world of food photography believe that the photographer cooks and arranges the food for his food photos.  This is totally wrong.  A food photographer may shoot an entire day without even touching the food he’s shooting.  The person responsible for making the food look as great is possible is a food stylist.

Not all jobs require a food stylist, but if the budget is there, it’s usually a good idea

Not all jobs entail having a food stylist,  Some food photography clients on a budget will opt for not having a stylist, and their chef will take the responsibility of preparing the food for the shoot.  The truth is, I work with a food stylist on about 95% of my food shoots, but interestingly, there are quite a few shots in my portfolio that were not the result of a food stylist’s work.  So if you’re a client on an extreme budget, having a food stylist isn’t mandatory, but it usually does result in better food photos.  No, let me rephrase that… It almost always results in better food photography, but it’s slower and more expensive.

Typical Food Stylist’s background

A food stylist almost always comes from some sort of culinary or art related background.  A food stylist is usually a former chef or someone that had experience in the a kitchen somewhere.  A food stylist knows how to work with recipes and knows how to make the food look as good as possible for photography.  There’s a big difference in making food taste good and making it look good.  A chef will of course want to food to look good, the the priority is aways taste, whereas a food stylist doesn’t care at all about taste.  In fact, much of what a stylist cooks, is in reality inedible, but boy does it look good. An experience food stylist will know how to prepare and present the food the best way possible and know how to make it last as long as possible in front to the camera.  That’s not something a chef usually knows anything about…

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Here’s a photo of food stylist Cathy Walsh, out of Columbus Ohio, arranging bits of food on a spoon.

Food Photography Packaging

This is food stylist Ana Kelly, posing for photos instead of working… :o)

food stylist Ana Kelly hard at work.

Here’s a shot of Ana prepping the side surface of a brownie. This is a food stylist skill that a chef would not be aware of or even think of doing, and it made all the difference to the final food photo.

Alla Kelly tweaking the arrangement of the food on the set.

Alla Kelly tweaking the arrangement of the food on the set.

Styling tricks

A good food stylist will have a thousand tricks that they use to make food look good and you may have heard of some of them.  I’ve seen stylist superglue splits in meat, make perfect grill marks on chicken with a paint stripper, and make the perfect colors with out of food coloring.  There is no question that a food stylist is a great addition to the food photography team.  They will almost always do a better job than a chef.

food stylist tricks make having a food stylsit well work the cost.

Food stylist tricks make having a food stylist well work the cost.

Arranging the food on the plate

When an experienced food stylist arranges the food on the plate, she will be aware of many things.  She will take into account the camera direction and height, the items behind and in front of the featured food.

Food Photography for Packaging

This is a friend of mine, New York Food Photographer Cayla Zahoran, helping me out my defrosting the icing on this cake…

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Here’s a food stylist trick for you, sewing the skin on a chicken leg… Who would of thought of that one… :o) Sure looks better!

Buying the food for the shoot

Usually, another thing that the food stylist is responsible for is to actually purchase any needed food items.  This usually manes some prep time either the day before of the morning of the food shoot. A food stylist puts in some really long hours and is usually well worth their pay.

Supplying the props

In Pittsburgh, most of the food stylists also have a great supply of food related props that they will offer to rent for food shoots.  This is a great survive but can of course add to the expense.  This can be expensive, but if you take into account that time is money and shopping for plates, napkins, tablecloths, spoons and such, it’s usually a good investment.

What does a food stylist charge?

I NEVER try to estimate what a food stylist will cost.  The price is dependent on just too many factors.  For example, if we need to shoot a turkey, it will most likely need to be prepared before the shoot, so that’s extra.  You want props?  That’s extra.  The shoot requires that the stylist needs to have an assistant? That’s extra.  You get the idea.  A food stylist’s cost can sometimes surpass my own, but in most cases, it’s still well worth the money.


Food stylist are relatively scarce.  Being that it’s such a niche profession, Pittsburgh, the city I live it,  only has three food stylist and they’re booked all the time.  When I need one an they are all three are busy, I will often times bring one in from out of town, with Columbus or Philly.  This is a good reason to book a job well ahead of time.

So maybe that will help answer the question, “What does a food stylist do?”

If you have any other questions about food photography or food styling, please don’t hesitate to contact me and if I can answer your question, I’ll find someone who will.  If you’d like to learn more about food styling particularly, visit my food stylist directory and then visit some of the food stylist’s web pages listed there.