Food Styling: Props, Books, & Photo Quality


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I’ve mentioned before that I’ve really been enjoying photography and that I have a discovered a passion for it.  It feels like a door has been opened that was previously closed.  Or actually, a door has been opened that I didn’t even know existed. And it’s been so fun exploring!

One of the things I have been wanting to build is my stash of cute tablecloths, linens, placemats and pretty backdrops because I think they enhance pictures so much.

I hadn’t been seeing anything too cute or original at TJ Maxx or Marshall’s, but I ventured into Flashbacks which is a retro, used clothing store.

They have an awesome array of used, vintage scarves that I thought will be perfect for tabletop and countertop photographs.

Multiple linens for food styling

They are probably from the 1960s or 1970s and Made in Italy.  And a couple of them smell just like my Grandma’s linen cabinet.

Close up on tags on linens

How could food or things I get in the mail not look better when photographed on pretty scarves?

Side of 4 different colored linens

Receipt for linens

I would have loved to find something great at TJ Maxx, Marshall’s, or Target for $1 each, but I’ll take 4 for $26.10

Because if I ever get sick of using them for backdrops and blog photo backgrounds, I can always wear them because they are scarves.

Multi colored linens on top of one another

I also ordered a couple books about food styling.

Food Styling for Photographers Book

I had hoped when I ordered this book that it was going to give me specific tips on where to place forks, knives, and cups, how to use placemats and tablecloths to add depth to shots, and where to stand and at what angles in order to get the “perfect shot” of my food.  When the book came and I thumbed through it, I am realizing it’s not that kind of book.

But it has given me a glimpse into professional food styling.  The food used in ads is far more doctored up than you’d ever imagine.  And some of it’s not even real food.  It’s plastic.  That’s how they make the food look so perfect.  It’s fake food!

Great lengths are taken to make food look the way it does in ads…

Buns are cut with scissors and grill marks applied with a blow torch

Inside book showing how to make grill marks on buns

Acrylic ice cubes are used and fake bubbles are placed in with eyedroppers for cold beverages

Inside book on how to make fake bubbles on drink glass

Ice cream is not real.   It’s a mix of frosting, food coloring, and corn syrup that’s whipped together.  And then great measures are taken to create “ice cream cones”.

Inside book showing how to make the perfect ice cream cone

Applying the fake ice cream on top of the giant wooden toothpicks that will hold it in place.

Inside book showing how to stack ice cream on cone

Cake is held together with cardboard and the frosting “stripes” are hand-applied

Inside book showing how to make the perfect slice of cake

So although the book isn’t exactly what I was looking for for my own personal needs, it has been highly interesting and eye-opening seeing how food is styled professionally.

Don’t get me wrong, there are tons of great tips and if you’re serious about making your food photography better, you will learn something or many things from this book that will help your photos and shots look better.   And you don’t even need to use giant wooden toothpicks to hold your desserts together or fake ice cubes to make your drinks look better  if that’s not your style.

All that talk of fake food and food styling is making me hungry for real food.

How about a Cheezy Vegetable Bake

Cheezy Vegetable Bake

One pan, planned leftovers, and you can use up whatever odds and ends veggies you have

Plated Cheezy Vegetable Bake

And for dessert, try a homemade Vegan “Turtle” (No Bake, GF, easy!)

Hand holding showing bottom of vegan turtle
Hand holding one Vegan Turtle

From my last post about Kitchen Disasters & Shattered Glass, I am glad that I’m not the only one who’s had some serious kitchen mishaps.  I loved hearing your tales of woe.  We can all laugh now, but in the moment, kitchen calamities are stressful!

And many of you seem to have a potty mouth Guess we’d get along great!


1. If you’re a blogger, do you care what your blog photos look like?

I am trying to hard to make my photos look better.

I bought lighting gear

I invested in Lightroom 3 photo editing software

And of course, getting my DSLR camera helped too.

However, a point about nice cameras that I want to hammer home…

You can have the nicest camera in the world but if you don’t take time to figure out how to present your food beautifully, artistically, and with some creative flair, you will simply have ugly and unappetizing food, except that it will be in very high quality and high resolution.  Lack of staging and making things pretty will just be documented at a higher quality.

So an expensive camera will not ensure that you have beautiful pictures.  You have to do other things, too.   Like read about food styling and staging.

Use a point and shoot camera and when you really think you have exhausted the limits of it, then upgrade to a DSLR.  But don’t make that leap thinking all your food is going to turn out like Angela’s just because you have an expensive camera.  There is far more to it!  And I am not an expert, but am just sharing what I have learned and my observations.

2. As a blog reader, how important are photographs and the quality of them to you?

I think Kath said, “People come for the pictures, but stay for the writing.”  So true in my opinion!

I will read blogs that don’t have fabulous pictures, but as I said in this post recently about the wonderful food and recipes I saw in the ‘sphere last week, it makes me more inclined to keep reading and keep going back to their site when the blogger has captivating photos. 

That said, you don’t have to be a genius with your camera, because personality, “blog voice”, recipe quality, and other things all matter too.  But nice photos definitely help the cause, too. And they don’t even have to be “amazing” but just not dark, grainy, or teeny tiny ones.

3. For everyone, do you pay attention to the quality of the photos you take, in general?

Same as with blog pics, I now care much more what all the photos I take look like.  Even if I have no intention of posting something on my blog, I still want to have my pictures look as good as possible so that when I look back at the pictures, they represent how the event or moment really was and in as best quality as possible.

4. Where is your favorite place to buy pretty dishes, tablecloths, kitchen untensils, tools, picture “props”, and so forth?

Usually TJ Maxx, Marshalls, Homegoods, or Target are good bets but sometimes I find things at random dollar stores, the Pier 1 clearance rack, on sale at Anthropologie (must be on sale at that store!) or even Flashbacks like with the scarves being multi-purposed as tablecloths, i.e. picturetakingcloths.

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Please note: I have only made the recipe as written, and cannot give advice or predict what will happen if you change something. If you have a question regarding changing, altering, or making substitutions to the recipe, please check out the FAQ page for more info.


  1. Love this article. We’ve reached that point at our drinking blog to where we want to get better at the photos we use. We upgraded to a Canon Rebel but still weren’t getting what we wanted. We’ve upgraded from the kit lens now to a F1.8 recently and have begin reading more and watching more tutorials. Can’t wait to see where it takes us.

  2. Interesting article. I am so glad I came across your photography articles since I am just getting started in blogging and was wondering how other bloggers take such excellent pictures. I really can learn a lot from your articles and recommendations for photography.

  3. Oh gosh, the food photography stuff! Gives another perspective in “truth in advertising”.

  4. I definitely care what my photos look like, but I actually EAT what I make. I don’t have the patience to take 30 minutes to set up lighting, tripod etc, when all I want to do is eat a hot dinner. I love taking beautiful pictures of food, but I love eating it more ;)

  5. Since I just blog for fun, and currently only on SparkPeople, I don’t pay much attention to what my photos look like. I try and get the point across, but that’s about it.

    I do like pretty plates and I have a bad habit of using scrapbook sheets underneath them, but that’s about it! I love and admire food photography though. And I think it’s crazy how fake it is in books!

  6. I also purchased a Food Styling book and it is very similar to the one you have in that it focuses on commercial food styling (which would be a really fun job!) but I’m also looking for something that explain depth, back drop, etc. Let us know if you find one!

  7. I don’t even know if I’d even refer to myself as a blogger since I rarely update but I’d say my pictures are kind of crappy. I don’t have the money for a better camera and I live in a dreary region of the US where natural light doesn’t exist 9 months of the year. I also don’t have storage space for various backdrops.

    As a reader, I wouldn’t say nice pictures don’t matter to me as much as I’d say my standards are probably lower than others. I actually enjoy reading so the pictures to me are just a bonus and as long as I can get an idea of what the recipe should look like I’m good. I read a ton of blogs and appreciate the work that goes into the nicer pictures but I really don’t want to see the same plate of food from 25 different angles. One or two clear shots is fine with me. You do a very good job and your pictures are a lot sharper than a lot I see.