Food stylist's tips for taking great photos of your cooking

Jayne Cross is a food stylist who splits her time between north Norfolk and Essex.

Jayne Cross is a food stylist who splits her time between north Norfolk and Essex. - Credit: Jayne Cross

Stuck at home with little to do, plenty of people have brushed up on their cooking skills in lockdown to pass the time.

And, unable to share their newfound skills with a table full of family and friends, many have turned to social media to connect with like-minded home cooks and show off their efforts.

Food stylist Jayne Cross, who splits her time between Bacton in north Norfolk and Essex, has given tips to budding cooks to ensure their masterpieces look as appetising in photos.

Food stylist Jayne Cross.

Food stylist Jayne Cross. - Credit: Jayne Cross

She has traditionally worked in London, but says in recent years her jobs have gradually moved up the A11 to East Anglia.

Despite starting a career as a high street fashion buyer, she retrained as a chef and moved into food styling and writing. Today, she has authored three books and teaches at Leiths School of Food and Wine.

She has worked on Waitrose Food Magazine, BBC Good Food and the Great British Bake Off and specialises in editorial styling.

The industry has changed over the years, she said.

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"The world of food styling has changed dramatically since I started out and mostly due to the digital revolution," she said.

A dish styled by food stylist Jayne Cross in cookbook The Taste of Belgium, which was published by Grub Street publishing.

A dish styled by food stylist Jayne Cross in cookbook The Taste of Belgium, which was published by Grub Street publishing. - Credit: Grub Street/Regula Ysewijn

"Smartphones have become cameras and coupled with the rise of social media and apps like Instagram it’s become popular to post images of lifestyle including food.

"Tools like this are not the only requirement to succeed though, and like any creative process one needs intrinsic artistic talent and a varied skill set, including technical know-how and a calm demeanour under deadline pressure.

"Any quality food image that you see in a magazine, a book or on supermarket packaging has most likely had a whole team of professionals behind it from the food producer to the photographer, prop stylist, art director and of course the food stylist."

Here are her top tips.

Food stylist Jayne Cross has given her top tips for making your plates of food look their best on camera.

Food stylist Jayne Cross has given her top tips for making your plates of food look their best on camera. - Credit: Jayne Cross

  • Always shoot in daylight – find a place in your home where the light is good, it might not be the kitchen! North facing light tends to be best as it’s softer and avoid direct sunlight as the light is too strong and will create heavy shadows.
  • Backgrounds, surfaces and props are so important to your photographs. Think about the set up before you start to prepare your food. Add props such as cutlery, glasses or napkins to help dress the shot. Collect interesting bits and pieces from charity shops and boot sales – I’ve got boxes of odd pieces of cutlery, plates and napkins. For background surfaces use wood, stone or dull metal, or lengths of fabric can also work, avoid anything shiny.
Jayne Cross, a food stylist, teaches courses at Leiths School of Food and Wine.

Jayne Cross, a food stylist, teaches courses at Leiths School of Food and Wine. - Credit: Jayne Cross

  • The simplest way to photograph your food is from overhead, then you don’t need to worry about backgrounds and most food works well from this angle.
  • Set up your plate and props before you add any food to ensure that the food looks as fresh as possible when you start photographing it. When putting the food on the plate add it gradually, so if photographing a plate of spaghetti, rather than piling a heap of pasta onto the plate, add swirls separately and leave space around the edge and don’t completely fill the plate. Ensure the food looks natural and fluid, add a scattering of fresh herbs or a grinding of black pepper at the end – it can make all the difference.
  • Try different variations to experiment with what looks best. If photographing a cake, first take a picture of it whole, then take a slice out with a few crumbs and drizzle of topping on the plate. You can then try a version of slice on a plate and then the slice with a fork through it and extra crumbs and topping on the fork and plate to make it look delicious.
  • Messy baking shots are also very popular at the moment, and usually work best with cakes or biscuits. Brownies cooling on a wire rack, biscuits being coated in chocolate with extra drizzle on the surface all look very real, inviting and homemade.
  • You can take decent photos on your phone, the cameras now are amazing and then edit the photos afterwards in apps such as Lightroom or Snapseed to adjust light, colour or to crop the photo. If using a camera, it is worth getting a tripod to keep the camera still.

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Food stylist Jayne Cross recommends photographing your dishes in daylight.

Food stylist Jayne Cross recommends photographing your dishes in daylight. - Credit: Jayne Cross

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