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April 1st, 2009

What it takes to be a food photographer – Working with stylists

Posted by Michael Lamotte

In his last post, Michael Lamotte, a top food photographer based in San Francisco, described the step-by-step process of a complicated packaging photo shoot. Here he explains the importance of finding a food stylist you click with, and how to find out if you do. Don’t miss his next post on agents: deciding if you need one and finding the right one if you do.
©Michael Lamotte

©Michael Lamotte

Having a food and prop stylist you work well with is extremely important. Usually when we’re interviewing a new stylist, they bring their portfolio in and we talk: What did you do on this? Oh, that looks good, what was your technique? Where did you get that item? Did you do the props? Sometimes food stylists do propping as well. Sometimes prop stylist do some easy food styling. Generally the way we operate with a new stylist is to suggest doing a portfolio shot together and see how we work together. That way we each get a portfolio  piece. And then you have a better understanding of how they work and how well you work together and whether you communicate effectively. It’s like a test run.

A "perfect scoop" complete with fluffy "skirt." ©Michael Lamotte

A "perfect scoop" complete with "fluffy skirt." ©Michael Lamotte

We have a full studio and kitchen with a stove, oven, and refrigerators. We also have space for three freezers for the ice cream because we do a lot of ice cream. The ice cream is another whole specialty. There are food stylists who specialize in ice cream. It’s difficult and hard work because you have to scoop and shape all day. First the stylist takes a one-gallon or five-gallon tub and cuts it down the middle with a large cheese knife. Before they scoop, they can see where the variegates or fudge swirls are to see where the good spots are. Then they drag their scoop through that area to create a ball. But it’s a process of doing that over and over again until they get a good scoop. A stylist might get five balls that look good, but throw away 20.

One of our freezers is a dipping cabinet like the type one sees in an ice cream store. After scooping a ball with enough distribution and good texture, a “fluffy skirt” is built around it to make it appear freshly scooped. The client on set has approved both the ball and the skirt, which has been set on a piece of marble or in a bowl. The scoop returns to the dipping cabinet for a bit before it is brought on set and quickly photographed. The image is examined to determine if any modifications need to be made such as adding another chocolate chip or another swirl. There are some modifications that can be made on set while others can be accomplished through retouching.

©Michael Lamotte

The finished product. ©Michael Lamotte

We sometimes allow the ice cream to melt just a little bit to get the shot the client approves. During post production, melt drops are sometimes cloned on to the ice cream scoop in a place where it might look good that the ice cream is a little melty. That gives us more control over the look we’re trying to achieve. I always strive to give the most accurate and truthful representation of the product. Then, with the ice cream, we print out that version and give it to the art director or client to mark up: move that chip, lighten that area, add additional chips. Then we take the marked up sheet to GreenBox Imaging, the retouching part of our company. The image and comments shift back and forth between the design firm and GreenBox’s retoucher. When the retoucher feels the image is exactly how the design firm wants it, the retouched image is presented to the client for feedback. The fact that we were involved in the decisions from the beginning gives us an advantage in delivering exactly what the client wants.

The other key team members of my team are my studio manager, prop stylist, and photo and food stylist assistants. The studio manager is the backbone of the studio. He is responsible for booking, coordinating, organizing, receiving, shipping, processing, printing, documenting, trouble-shooting and client hosting —  just to name a few of his responsibilities. I think it becomes apparent just how important your team is on complicated projects like this.


  1. April 1st, 2009 at 9:33 am

    What it takes to be a food photographer - Working with stylists - Michael Lamotte | Photo News Today

    […] Source and Read More: […]

  2. April 2nd, 2009 at 5:16 pm


    Thanks for posting this kind of info on food photography. I am thinking about getting into food photography. The articles you’ve written up have given me a small insight into it all. I look forward to your future articles

  3. April 4th, 2009 at 8:22 am

    Michael Lamotte

    Thanks for the kind words. As you can see it takes lots of patience, a love for food, understanding of light, composition and being a good technition. Good Luck

  4. April 6th, 2009 at 3:33 pm


    Definitely lots of patience as you said. My biggest problem is trying to find a team. I’m in Australia and the market is alot smaller. I’m find it hard to find a food stylist, I know fashion stylists were hard to find but it’s even harder to find a food stylist. Can’t wait for your next article!

  5. April 11th, 2009 at 10:20 pm

    A stunning festival of photography links… | Chuqui 3.0

    […] Michael Lamotte: What it takes to be a food photographer […]

  6. June 29th, 2010 at 1:18 pm


    Learn to style food yourself. I am a practiced food photog and I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve wasted waiting on someone else to “style” food, only to know I could have tweaked it better myself. If you work with a talented chef, the food will come out looking 99% perfect – just make sure you are ready to shoot! Have a dummy plate come in first to get your lighting set

    With today’s advancements in image manipulation (i.e. photoshop) all of the small things you wait on and pay a stylist for can be fixed in post. Sorry food stylists, but your job is a dinosaur. It takes a lot of practice, but I guarantee a good photog/chef combo can get a shot that 99.9% of the viewing public couldn’t tell the difference from one that was “styled”

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