The Natural vs. Artificial Approaches to Food Styling

5 years ago

Much like cooking and food photography, food styling is an art form that melds creativity with technique to create mouth-watering images that look just as good as they taste. But when it comes to perfectly molding mashed potatoes or expertly stacking a plate of pancakes, what you see isn’t always what you eat.

There are two general approaches to styling food: natural and artificial. The natural approach, much like its name implies, maintains the authenticity and edibility of a dish, while the artificial approach uses edible and inedible tricks to keep a dish at its peak for the maximum amount of time.

As a longtime food blogger at Just a Taste, I have always strictly adhered to the natural approach to food styling for the simple fact that food bloggers eat the food they make (and thus post about on their blogs). Through my years working in food media, and the research I conducted for Food Blogging For Dummies, I’ve met countless professional food stylists who swear by one approach or the other, and even more who follow a custom blend of both.

So what are the pros and cons of the two methods? To begin with, the natural approach to food styling ensures that food remains edible as well as authentic to its real-life appearance. Best of all, no additional products are required to style the dish. But maintaining a dish’s integrity often comes at the cost of its shortened lifespan in front of a camera. As the natural food sits, it can appear less appetizing over time without the assistance of inedible enhancements.

The artificial approach to food styling guarantees a longer lifespan for photographing. Simple tricks, like a spritz of glycerin (a colorless, odorless liquid that can be purchased at drug stores) for everlasting condensation or a soaked and microwaved cotton ball for steam, give the illusion of freshness, which can make the food appear more appetizing. But such tricks can also make food inedible and may be inauthentic to its actual appearance.

Take, for example, the photo of the two cereal bowls at the top of the page. I styled the bowl of cereal on the left side with the natural approach, meaning the milk is actual milk and the food is entirely edible. I styled the bowl of cereal on the right side using the artificial approach, substituting Elmer’s glue for milk to ensure the cereal squares would stay afloat for a longer period of time. Two different approaches, two different sets of pros and cons, and two different outcomes.

Which approach to food styling do you prefer? Natural, artificial, or a mix of the two?

For more tips and tutorials about all things food blogging, pick up a copy of my new book, Food Blogging For Dummies, which is available for pre-order and will be on shelves worldwide on April 17!

Kelly Senyei is the creator of the food blog Just a Taste and author of the forthcoming Food Blogging For Dummies.

Image Credit: Kelly Senyei

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