Food stylists are first and foremost cooks who are responsible for all of the food items involved in a food photography shoot. Based on a client's request, they obtain ingredients, cook them, and ensure that the prepared food stays ready to be photographed, maintaining a uniform look throughout a busy day of shooting. Some shoots can last more than twelve hours.
Preparing food for photographing requires many different skills. Food styling is both an art and a science. Food stylists need to truly understand the properties of the foods they cook for photo shoots in order to know how far in advance they need to be made. This includes knowing what color an item would have if it were freshly baked or how long a food that needs refrigeration can survive outside of a cold environment.
The conditions on photo sets can be tough on food. Imagine what a pint of ice cream would look like after five hours on the set under hundreds of watts from bright lights! In cases like these, food stylists may have to chemically alter the food they've prepared or even concoct prop, or fake, food. A slight knowledge of chemistry can help—a few grains of salt or a drop or two of an inedible liquid may give the appearance of food some extra stamina. Clients usually want food to look like it has just been prepared to project appealing images to consumers, so no stylist travels too far without a kit packed with ingredients and tools to handle any situation.
Stylists must be able to work as members of a team. They work with photographers, art directors, and the client who is paying for the photos or filmed food. Some stylists may have assistants to help clean the cooking items or carry equipment.
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