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Ann Belden earned her BFA in Painting and Drawing at the University of Michigan and has lived in San Francisco since 1976. She was a chef/owner of Ironwood Cafe and 101 Cafe Bakery in the Cole Valley neighborhood for thirteen years, then switched careers and became a food stylist while continuing to create fine art. See more of her work at www.annbelden.com.
My background in fine art and restaurant cooking has served me well in the food styling world. Every job is different, and the ability to problem-solve on the fly is essential. I’ve been lucky to have strong mentoring throughout my styling career, and to have worked with photographers, designers, other food stylists, prop stylists, and art directors who have strong visions.
I’m highlighting portfolio shots today. I feel strongly that it is important for food stylists to do this kind of (unpaid!) work in order to push ourselves and to show what we can do with food styling, when the constraints of advertising or editorial concerns are not present. We get to show what is possible while exploring our collaborative power with a given photographer.
These are my top three tips to help you build your food styling portfolio, while strengthening your vision as a stylist:
1. Look for inspiration everywhere: The photo above was inspired by a trip to a local farmer’s market. The produce was gorgeous, so we decided to create some moody, painterly still lifes before moving on to our planned shots. By breaking away from our original shot schedule, I was able to practice styling a new product while gaining a valuable image for my portfolio.
Photographer and stylist work in this manner to learn how to effectively communicate with each other while bringing out the best in one another’s work. The three shots above were done with minimal propping on a white seamless background, in order to highlight the food with few or zero distractions.
2. Learn your props (or consult a professional): A trip to a prop house together or a meeting with a great prop stylist can really help set the tone for your test shoot, and again, will tell you a lot about each other’s stylistic concerns and preferences. The two photos above were the result of collaborative propping choices, and are successful in communicating not just the delicious nature of the food, but also a kind of ease and elegance in the way its served.
3. Don’t be afraid of failure: Finally, I’d like to add that there will probably be some test shoots that don’t produce a lot of great shots for your portfolio. You may not find a groove with that photographer, or you may both be a little dissatisfied with your choice of subject matter, surface, props, etc. It is all a learning experience, and the good news is that you can always try again, or chalk it up to experience with no harm done. Most of the time, if you keep at it, you’ll get at least one wonderful new shot for your website, while forging a new relationship or strengthening an existing one. Both will help your styling career for years to come.
Ann Belden – Food Stylist