How to Plate Your Meals Like a Food Stylist
Add Some Texture
"You can pretty much grind anything up and make a 'soil'," says Jacques La Merde, a pseudonymous Instagrammer and food-plating genius (the guy can make even hot pockets look good). He recommends grinding up Wheat Thins with a food processor or by stuffing them into a zip-lock bag and smashing with a hammer. Plate in a shooting star pattern or onto a baked potato for a pretty look and fun texture.
Use Small Portions
The easiest way to make your food look pretty? "Just leave most of the plate empty and keep your ingredients small. Tear stuff up into little chunks if you have to!" La Merde says. "It's just more elegant than having everything strewn all over the place." (Want to use the technique for a special occasion? Try it on these Easy and Delicious Date Night Recipes.)
Go Flower Picking
"Anytime you can make things look more colorful and create movement, you're taking things to the next level," La Merde says. He recommends looking in nature for moss, leaves, and (mostly) edible flowers to make your plate more vibrant.
"Pay attention and start with the best ingredients you can," says New York-based food stylist Simon Andrews. "How you cut something at the beginning affects how it looks when it turns up on the plate and at that stage it is too late to go back." (Sharpen your technique with these Kitchen Knife Skills and Cooking Tips.)
Consider the Medium
On Instagram, people are viewing your photo in three-by-three squares, so Andrews recommends keeping it graphic and simple. "When taking photos specifically for Instagram, I like to shoot very tight and just leave the dramatic arc of a plate coming through from one side or another."
Play to Your Strengths
When first brainstorming recipes that will photograph well, cook what you know. "For me, steak or roasts are the easiest thing to work with," Andrews says. "[I know how to] get a nice sear or deep colour and arrange it to look mouthwatering," says Andrews. (Need somewhere to start? Try these Top 5 Recipes Every Woman Should Know.)
"I always appreciate movement and curves on a plate, so I try to work in the natural shape of foods," Andrews says. Using the curvature of green beans or poking an egg yolk is an easy way to get dynamic movement.
Lighting, Lighting, Lighting
"If it’s too dark, [the picture] doesn’t do the food justice," Charleston-based food stylist Cynthia Groseclose says. "Anytime I’m shooting I want to have a good light source; I’ll stand next to a window to get the warm or cool tones they cast." If you're stuck with dim lighting, Groseclose recommends getting acquainted with a photo editing app like VSCO or Lightroom.
Use Solid Plate Colors
"It’s hard [to see] food on busy plates," Groseclose says. "Use solid colors. They don’t have to be white." (P.S. Blue plates have even been proven to help you eat less!)
Don't Get Too Contrived
Groseclose emphasizes the importance of striking a balance between being composed and organic. "I like for things to look like they’re really happening, it gives it that nod to a lifestyle moment," she explains. To do that, she looks for natural moments and tweaks them. Her favorite tools are paint brushes and tweezers, which she can use to move the food without damaging it.