when good food looks bad: a styling post January 6, 2011

I’ve been promising to do another food styling post since my last post about the egg salad – the demo I showed at BlogHer Food ’10 – was so well received. When I put the call out on Twitter to see what folks wanted help with, the majority of people said “brown food” or “ethnic foods” – dishes that tend to be slow cooked for long periods of time and lose some of their integrity. So I whipped up a pot of curried red lentils and set off to work on getting a shot going in my head – these lentils cook for a while so I had time to brainstorm.

As I was heading to my table setup near the window in the loft – we’re blessed with some great natural light for photography – ANOTHER photo shoot (for a shoe catalog) set up camp in front of my window…and proceeded to put up a giant white fabric scrim to diffuse light. It sure did its job…because it completely ruined the light for my shot. So I relocated OUTSIDE on a very windy, overcast day to get these shots done. I went through an entire bunch of cilantro – the least of my challenges – during the hour or so I worked on these images…so know I was out there freezing my booty off trying to make it work. Don’t say I don’t love you all. Here we go:

This is what we’re dealing with, folks. For these demonstration posts, I tend to go over the top and pick something that’s the extreme example. This would certainly qualify. I found this curried red lentil recipe online and had hoped it would turn out…differently. I’m not sharing the recipe here in the post because, well, it’s not great. It’s extremely thick and not as watery as I had hoped. That having been said, it certainly gets the job done in the “icky colored food that looks like glop” category.

In my head, I started the process out thinking I wanted to try and plate this on a darker plate, which is a departure for me. Styling-wise, I’m really digging the dark plates and backgrounds together and I really love the look of tonal settings…so this is where I began. The brown-ish plummy plate on a dark wood background was the springboard here. This table surface is something that I made myself – drop me a line and I’ll give you some hints about inexpensive sources for table surfaces and some ideas.

To me, adding rice or some sort of grain/accompaniment that makes sense is the first logical step in styling something like this. Let’s be honest. This is one of those types of food that falls into the “looks like crap/tastes like delicious” category that you kind of have to just…accept. So adding a side dish/rice/grain/bread to the plate is essentially trying to distract from the ugliness. I thought about doing couscous or something here but I wanted there to be a lot of contrast in color – this is totally a personal preference. With the addition of the rice, it’s certainly better but we have a ways to go.

Color. Lightness. Freshness. These clunky, clumpy foods need a little breath of fresh air to make them look appealing. I think the easiest way to achieve this is with fresh herbs. A sprinkle of fresh parsley, some chopped green onions, or a sprig of fresh cilantro is going to make all the difference in the world. It’s interesting that even though it’s a darker color than the rest of the dish, it adds a lightness that looks really refreshing. I will say that nothing peeves me more than garnishes that don’t make any sense with the dish. Putting a sprig of tarragon on top of Indian food is not encouraged.

As I was looking at the plate, I felt like it was really heavy on the right side and needed some balance. I didn’t want to add more gloppy lentils…and I didn’t want to put pita bread or something else brown on the plate. I often usually squeeze lime on my lentils or in my Indian soups so I reached for one of those. Adding that little touch on the left helped balance out the weight of the plate and added yet another colorful touch to distract from the lentils. I also like that the light seems to peek through the flesh of the lime when placed this direction and the color is really lovely.

Since this is really your recipe to show the world, why not tweak it a little bit and add something to make it work? One of my favorite Indian dishes has green peas in it…so I thought adding a few of them in this dish might help with a bit more color. I have to say that in hindsight, I *HATE* that the peas in the front are so perfectly lined up. It’s all I can look at now and on set or in another job setting, I would have totally re-arranged them or taken one or two out to break them up.

Personally, I’m a fan of lime & lemon garnish that are cut horizontally (something you see most in European & Australian food mags – an example of it here) or that look like they’ve been used on the dish. I went with the latter just to see how it looks. It still does it’s job of adding something to the left side of the plate but it feels completely different. It looks more casual – like you’re at the place setting – but the color isn’t as interesting that way. This is a personal preference again – limes & lemons are cheap so experiment with what you like best.

Since we’re experimenting…and I wanted to get to a place where it felt like we were in a table setting, I reached out for a pop of color in the napkin. Food & prop styling is all a matter of taste and preference. For me, I kind of hate napkins. Depending on the angle, they look flat and they’re always a bit too big for my horizontal shots on this blog. I’m moving away from pre-made napkins for my photos and going towards pieces of fabric that I can cut and control the size. I did like the color and the slightly ethnic feeling of this linen so I went with it.

This is just to see what this shot looks like without the napkin in it. While I like the tonal look of the fork with the plate & table, it looks a bit empty – like someone accidentally left a fork in the shot. I’m not a fan so I decided to move on.

As I was breaking down the dark wood set, I set all my stuff on the lighter surface underneath it. It was interesting enough that I picked up the camera and shot a few frames. I added some of the items that worked in the last shots and revamped the cilantro – several rounds of garnishes had blown off the top of the dish by this point. Putting the fork on the plate instead of on the surface was something I wish I had thought to do in the previous set-up – I like that it continues to do the job of adding to the plate and accenting the gloppy thing on it. It also helps give me that sense of place, which I really like in photos and try to achieve. Frankly, I would have stopped this shot right here – I’m most happy with this composition and propping. Simple with context…and I really like the airiness that having the lighter surface achieves.

Having the lighter table surface in place – and since I’m a glutton for punishment – I thought I’d do a quick re-plate and see what happens with the lentils on a white plate. Bear in mind that I’m still outside, the wind is swirling around me and most of my food has either blown off the plate/table or is becoming dry and frozen. I will say though that, as usual, putting something yucky in a white-on-white setting instantly makes it look clean and fresh.

The lentils are way past their prime now and my food shot has now become an action shot with the blowing cilantro on top…but since the fork was still on the side of the set, I threw it in back there to see if having a fork on this setup would work. I think it would if it was a plain silver utensil – the wood handle is way too heavy in this shot. I do like the ding of light that the silver tines give in the left corner of the photo. On the right, the lime is doing great things with the luminous color that the flesh is giving. Too bad the food – as well as myself – are cold to the bone and not able to take anymore photos.

In the end, I think this is my favorite of the arrangements and would have been a shot I could use on the blog. For the final shot, I would have rotated the plate a bit clockwise to see a teensy bit more lentils and less of the white rice right up front…but other than that, I’m digging it. For a future styling post, I’ll explore something like lentil soup or something seriously brown and see if the styling notes would change.

There are some ethnic food focused blogs that do a really wonderful job of styling & photography – showing the ingredients and the dishes in a way that conveys the message but still manages to be beautiful. You should visit these folks for a little inspiration:

  • Indian Simmer – Prerna’s blog is one of my favorites, regardless of cuisine. The images are beautiful and reading her blog just makes me feel good. A must visit.
  • Hooked on Heat – You know Meena is doing it right if you manage to get an ethnic cooking blog into Martha’s Circle. It’s beautiful and delicious stuff.
  • Balle Indian – great Indian home cooking


Erika at BluLabel Bungalow Jan 6, 2011 10:01 am

I’m floored! What a great lesson in food photography! I’m immediately recommending this to a friend who could benefit!

tami Jan 6, 2011 10:01 am

Thanks, Erika. I’ll keep doing these every month or so if folks continue to find them useful…

[…] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Michael Erickson, Broderick, tami hardeman, Rob van Goet.nu and others. Rob van Goet.nu said: RT @CuliBlogs: when good food looks bad: a styling post http://bit.ly/hoEtU5 […]

Lucy Jan 6, 2011 10:01 am

Wow! This is very helpful. (I appreciate the sacrifices you make for your art, and for my photography education.)

tami Jan 6, 2011 10:01 am

Thanks Lucy! I’ve certainly worked under worse conditions so I shouldn’t be such a whiner…but I sure would have liked to have done this in the comfort of my own home. Glad you found this helpful – I’ll keep doing ’em :)

Monica Jan 6, 2011 11:01 am

Thanks so much for this! It’s really helpful!

tami Jan 6, 2011 11:01 am

Thanks, Monica! Will definitely make this a re-occuring thing on the blog if folks find it useful. Would also love to hear from those of you out there as to what subjects you’d like future styling posts to be about…

Kaitlin Jan 6, 2011 11:01 am

Woah – this post is awesome! I loved seeing your step-by-step approach. Thank you for sharing!

I’m bummed to hear that the recipe itself wasn’t very good, but you certainly made it look delicious!

tami Jan 6, 2011 11:01 am

In the end, I’ve been eating this recipe as a dip on pita bread instead of its intended way…and it’s not been bad. Flavor is good…just not great, texturewise. Thanks for stopping by the blog :)

Delaney Jan 6, 2011 11:01 am

Dang, this is incredibly helpful and impressive. I’m a total chicken about food photography and I’m inspired to expand my efforts!! Thanks!

tami Jan 8, 2011 08:01 am

Delaney! Hi there :) Don’t be scared…and you know you can always hit me up if you have questions. Hope you’re all doing well :)

Judy @jyi Jan 6, 2011 12:01 pm

I’m not a food blogger, but do appreciate getting an inside peak into the thought process of someone who’s mastered their craft. Thanks for sharing this step-by-step tour of your thinking process. Quite interesting!

tami Jan 8, 2011 08:01 am

Hay judy! Thanks for reading and for the nice words. I really appreciate it :)

Great tutorial. We were in GA for the cold snap-brutal! (Especially for us thin blooded types).

tami Jan 8, 2011 08:01 am

Hence the blue fingers and blowing cilantro :) Thanks for commenting – love your blog!

Lori @ RecipeGirl Jan 6, 2011 12:01 pm

Perfect. This is such a fun tutorial, and I love your obsessiveness with changing -even little- things around. Really makes you think about the possibilities when shooting ugly food!

tami Jan 8, 2011 08:01 am

Lori – You should see me on a commercial set/photo shoot. Turning pieces of parsley or olives or lemons for HOURS till its right. It’s often all in the little details.

Kalynskitchen Jan 6, 2011 12:01 pm

Loved this post, and would love to see more like this.

tami Jan 8, 2011 08:01 am

Thanks, Kalyn! Will definitely be doing another one – what subjects would you like to see?

Ethan Jan 6, 2011 12:01 pm

It’s comforting to know that even people who know what they are doing when it comes to photography and food styling also have to learn on the fly. It gives hope to us beginner’s who are hoping to “luck” their way into a decent shot.
I don’t know if you had all that stuff on standby, but I also have an image of you running up and down the stairs for a lime, fork, napkin. Thanks for the great tutorial. Lots of good things to focus on.

tami Jan 8, 2011 08:01 am

Ethan – I do try and go through my mental inventory of plates & props and have an idea where to start the shot when I get going…but it usually changes as I’m shooting. I tend to do the Rachel Ray carry-a-lot-of-stuff-in-my-arms-at-once to wherever I’m shooting so I dont have to waste time going back and forth to the kitchen :)

Liz the Chef Jan 6, 2011 12:01 pm

This is a priceless post for me, a new food blogger. I am searching for classes, seminars, anything – this is a wonderful boost! Thank you!

tami Jan 8, 2011 08:01 am

Liz – Definitely check out http://www.stilllifewith.com. So much photo & styling information from Lara!

Paula - bell'alimento Jan 6, 2011 12:01 pm

You always ah-maze me! xoxo

tami Jan 8, 2011 08:01 am

Thank you, Paula – that means a lot coming from you. Your blog is lookin’ awesome :)

CherylK Jan 6, 2011 01:01 pm

This is just tremendous! I’m definitely going to check out the three links you’ve posted, too.

(Thanks to Kalyn’s Kitchen and Recipe Girl for the link on Twitter.)

Elizabeth @ Saffron Lane Jan 6, 2011 03:01 pm

Your post just went through a very similar dialogue I have in my head while styling food for my own blog. Thank you for the great laugh — and ongoing inspiration.

tami Jan 8, 2011 08:01 am

Thank you so much Elizabeth – I’m going to be doing more of these posts so if you have ideas you’d like to see a post done about, please let me know.

Wenderly Jan 6, 2011 03:01 pm

You are a delight! I *love* the way you think and I adore this post! I’m new to food blogging (8 months in) and I’ve found this to be tremendously helpful! Thank you so much and Happy New Year!

tami Jan 8, 2011 08:01 am

Thanks, Wendy! Your blog is adorable – love it!

Lana @ Never Enough Thyme Jan 6, 2011 04:01 pm

Thanks, Tami, for so generously sharing your talents and insights. I struggle so with the photography and appreciate every little scrap of information I can find on how to improve. You wouldn’t consider teaching classes, would you?

tami Jan 8, 2011 08:01 am

Lana – I’ve done one styling class here in ATL and have had numerous people ask about the next one. Its a matter of location and finding a time that works well for everyone. I’m tryin’! :)

Tami, fabulous post. You said: “drop me a line and I’ll give you some hints about inexpensive sources for table surfaces and some ideas.”

Consider this comment me dropping you a line! I would love to hear your ideas, I’ve been thinking about finding some new backgrounds for the past few weeks. I take all my final photos on my dining room table, and it’s a bit– well, uninspired. :)

tami Jan 8, 2011 08:01 am

Several folks have asked about backgrounds and have suggested I do a post about it. Not sure if that’s the route I’m gonna take but it could be interesting. I’ve been doling out advice via email so it’s hard to post it all here.

Cookin' Canuck Jan 6, 2011 08:01 pm

This is another winner, Tami. Your tips and thought process are invaluable to those of us trying to improve our styling and photos. Thanks so much for all the time you put into these posts…and please keep them coming!

tami Jan 8, 2011 08:01 am

Will do, Dara – if you have subjects you like to see a post on, lemme know! :)

Prerna@IndianSimmer Jan 6, 2011 10:01 pm

What a great step by step lesson Tami! LOVED it! This is exactly what I needed since Indian food involves a lot of such dark ugly looking dishes and I always sweat before photographing them. I too love such inexpensive wooden bases and currently planning on making one with aged look. If my experiment doesn’t work out well then will comes to you for some ideas.
And THANKS for your kind words about my blog! I can’t stop smiling :D

tami Jan 8, 2011 08:01 am

Prerna – I kept thinking about your blog the entire time I was doing this post. I kept saying to myself…”I hope they don’t think I’m CONDONING the texture of these lentils” because I certainly AM NOT. It was an over-the-top example for styling purposes…not a recipe suggestion :) I’m a huge fan of your blog so thank you so much for reading RWT and taking the time to comment…

Jennifer @ Jane Deere Jan 6, 2011 10:01 pm

Thank you so much Tami! I really needed some tips on drab dishes! I have trying to improve my food photography and this will definitely help!

tami Jan 8, 2011 08:01 am

Thanks, Jennifer! Adorable blog name, BTW :)

Lana Jan 6, 2011 10:01 pm

In the winter months, a lot of food I cook is delicious, but ugly. We crave braises, stews, beans, peas, stuffed peppers, sauerkraut, all in different shades of brown.
Thank you so much for showing us how to start from an ugly duckling and get to a beautiful swan.
Photography is so challenging, and I appreciate your patience and effort.

tami Jan 8, 2011 08:01 am

If I was still eating meat, Lana, I would have done a beef stew post. I may try and do another brown food post with a vegetable stew or something a little more….textured and not so gloppy. Thanks for the nice words :)

chef renee Jan 6, 2011 10:01 pm

Great information! Thank you for standing out in the weather to walk us through your photography exercise. This was really helpful!

tami Jan 8, 2011 08:01 am

For ya’ll…anytime :) Thanks for visiting the blog!

monica sawhney Jan 7, 2011 05:01 am

What a great post, such a brilliant insight into food photography! You are extremely talented. Also, thank you so much for the shoutout! (Balle Indian). My URL has now actually changed to Spicediary.com.

Keep up the great work.


tami Jan 8, 2011 08:01 am

Thanks Monica….I’m subscribing to your new URL right now. Loved your blog :)

Mardi@eatlivetravelwrite Jan 7, 2011 09:01 am

Thank you so much – this is a beautiful and informative post. I have *so* much to learn in terms of food styling, as today’s post on my blog – mushroom soup (the brownest of brown foods!) shows!! LOL. I hope you make this a regular feature – subscribing to your blog now!

tami Jan 8, 2011 08:01 am

Mardi – THANK YOU! So sweet of you…and I think you’ve done a pretty good job with your mushroom soup, myself. I will be doing these styling posts once a month so send me some suggestions of topics you’d like to see covered.

megan @ whatmegansmaking Jan 7, 2011 09:01 am

This is so helpful to see. This is something I’ve tried to get better at over the past few months. I’ve come a long way, but I still wouldn’t call myself good at it. It’s so nice to see your ideas. I tend to get stuck in a rut and use the same ones over and over. Thanks so much for doing this.
p.s. I agree about Prerna’s blog! Just beautiful. Plus I’ve met her in person and she is just so nice!

tami Jan 8, 2011 08:01 am

Megan – It definitely takes time and practice. This post was a challenge even for me – I don’t know how people like Prerna do it on a regular basis. I tend to style stuff with lots of green and pasta in it :)

RJ Flamingo Jan 7, 2011 09:01 am

This was hugely instructional – I always say that I’m not a food stylist, but without a decent photo, how does one get people to believe your food is delicious, right? One question: I notice that your photos are rectangular. How would you square off a shot like this for submission to TS or FG?

tami Jan 8, 2011 08:01 am

RJ – Good question! I always shoot horizontal (well most of the time) to best fit the blog layout…so sometimes cropping the image for TS/FG/etc gets tricky. I’ll think about it and maybe post a crop suggestion on FB..

MB Jan 7, 2011 09:01 am

I love this post very much and enjoyed the step-by-step addition/improvement, thank you for braving the cold wind to bring this to us. :) Most inspiring! *THUMBS UP*

tami Jan 8, 2011 08:01 am

Thanks! Your blog is pretty rad :)

Erika Jan 7, 2011 10:01 am

Thank you so much for this – I make a lot of things that look like cat food, and I’m always stumped as to how to make them look good. I’m going to follow this step by step next time and see what happens.

tami Jan 8, 2011 08:01 am

Erika – Thank YOU for taking the time to comment. Do let me know if you try the step-by-step approach – I’d like to see what you come up with!

Rivki Locker (Ordinary Blogger) Jan 7, 2011 10:01 am

I can’t believe how you were able to get that ugly blob of brown stuff to look SO pretty. I would have given up as soon as I saw it plopped on the plate! Thanks for these tips.
For the new year, I’ve resolved to get better at food photography. I have a decent camera (Canon Digital Rebel) but nothing much else – just the lenses it came with and an itty bitty tripod (4 inches tall). I also invested in a bunch of linens and plates as props.
I hope you don’t mind my asking if you have any other suggestions for me, or other posts you’d recommend I read. Unfortunately, I have to do most of my photography indoors at night. (Until I actually make money off this blogging thing, I have a full time job!) If you had only $100-200 to invest, what would you buy?
Thanks so much for any direction you can give me. Your photos are SPECTACULAR.

tami Jan 8, 2011 07:01 am

Rivki – Thanks for the nice words about the blog. There is a lighting set that I have heard several bloggers mention for doing photography indoors at night. While I often think these lights look like youre trying to sell your food on Ebay, apparently this set is different. If I come across the name, I’ll let you know. There are several food blogs out there with great photography tips and info: http://www.101cookbooks.com, whiteonricecouple.com, stilllifewith.com, and wrightfood.com all have photography content that is very helpful.

Anna @ londonfoodieny Jan 7, 2011 11:01 am

another fab post! just a suggestion-it would be even more useful if you included info on your camera settings as you do these posts.

tami Jan 8, 2011 07:01 am

Anna – I’ll try and remember that for the next post I do. This isn’t so much about the photography side as it is the styling but I’ll put it out there so folks know what I’m shooting. Thanks for the suggestion!

Beth Jan 7, 2011 12:01 pm

Really informative; thanks so much for posting this. How long did it take you to plate and shoot this? I never feel like there’s enough time to properly style/photograph, after developing a recipe and during cooking. It’s always fantastic to hear tips to make the job easier!

tami Jan 8, 2011 07:01 am

This took me about 1 1/2 – 2 hours outside of the cooking part, which as you can see didn’t take long/wasn’t very successful. Of course, this time includes me coming back inside a few times to warm up :) Thanks for stopping by the blog – went and checked yours out. It’s great!

Elana Jan 7, 2011 12:01 pm

Thank you so much for this – I have been scouring the internet for helpful food photography advice!

tami Jan 8, 2011 07:01 am

Elana – I’ll be making these styling post a month occurrence. I wish I had time to do more but they’re quite labor intensive. If you have suggestions of topics you’d like to see covered, please send ’em my way!

Lynda Tatrai Jan 7, 2011 12:01 pm

I thought I was the only one in the world having trouble taking, “brown food” shots. Thank you so much for the insight!

tami Jan 8, 2011 07:01 am

They’re tough! So glad you enjoyed the post, Lynda!

Dana from One Haute Plate Jan 7, 2011 02:01 pm

Tami, this is so helpful. Especially the part about using herbs to make gloppy food look more “airy”. I cook so many brown foods and have been held back from sharing the recipes because I just can’t figure out how to present them. I’d love to also see soups or beverages as the subject of another tutorial. Thanks for sharing your creative eye! (And bravo- I found links to this post in two other places before I could make it to your site on my regular weekend blog rounds.)

tami Jan 8, 2011 07:01 am

Dana – Thanks for the feedback and the suggestions on future posts. I’m going to make time to do one of these next month and have heard “beverages” more than a few times so that might be the next subject.

Thank you so much for showing me how this can me achieved. I am a beginner and I struggle with making my food look attractive. Giving me some ideas of how to “think outside the box” gives me the confidence to get out there and keep trying.

tami Jan 8, 2011 07:01 am

Felice – So glad you got something out of this crazy post! Indeed…keep trying. This is certainly something where practice really *does* improve matters. Good luck :)

Lara Alexander Jan 7, 2011 06:01 pm

Wow – great job making a photo of baby poop look yummy. As an amateur, I sometimes make even prettier food look like baby poop on a plate. I bow to your skills.

tami Jan 8, 2011 07:01 am

Baby poop – LOL! Thanks for stopping by the blog!

Sally Pasley Vargas Jan 7, 2011 08:01 pm

Wonderful post, so helpful. Thank you so much! Would love your thoughts on table surface ideas, maybe that could be another post if you feel inclined. You worked wonders with that, er, stuff on the plate!

Mark Ryan Jan 8, 2011 02:01 am

You’ve certainly improved on the initial photo, however 1/2 cup of stock or water would’ve made it look less parching. An Indian would cry over this stodginess.

tami Jan 8, 2011 07:01 am

Mark – The purpose of this isn’t the recipe. My intention wasn’t to make a perfectly delicious and edible curry…and this certainly isn’t one of the blog I listed at the end of my post that really *do* a great job of showcasing cuisines that aren’t so photogenic. It’s a styling exercise for those food bloggers – folks trying to photograph food at home – in the thought process of photos. There’s no recipe here in this post because it’s not worth making. I do appreciate the comment though and the use of the word “stodginess”. :)

Kulsum at JourneyKitchen Jan 8, 2011 04:01 am

Very timely post Tami. While I photograph Indian food, I often forget about that one element that would add to the picture like say a lime. Blame it on lack of planning and time but I see how important it is now. Thanks

PS – some of those blogs are my fav ethnic food gawking blogs too :)

tami Jan 8, 2011 07:01 am

Kulsum – Your blog and the photos are really great – it could easily have been added to the list in my post! I’m subscribing to your blog as I type this!

Rachelino Jan 8, 2011 10:01 pm

Wow, another great food styling post – you picked a great dish for the example. I was thinking the same thing about the line of peas; glad to know I think like a pro food stylist (sometimes). I would love to see a post on styling/photographing dark brown chocolate desserts. For example, I think it is tough to make a brownie look good, and would love to see your perspective on it.
Thanks so much for the introduction to Meena’s blog!
Also, the indoor/night lights I have seen recommended by Jaden Hair and others are Lowel EGO lights. There is a great collection of linked “Photography Tips and Resources” (including a couple you mentioned) at http://foodblogalliance.com/ (scroll down – links are on the right) if folks are interested.
Also, Deb of Smitten Kitchen has posted detailed info on photography and says most of her shots at night. http://smittenkitchen.com/2007/11/our-approach-to-food-photos/

Amanda Jan 9, 2011 08:01 am

THANK YOU for doing this… I am a total dork when it come to food styling. I love any and all instruction and could just read this post over and over again! Oh, and could you share your tips on the planking or dark background?? I would SOOOO appreciate it!
Thank you!

Jessica @ Delicious Obsessions Jan 9, 2011 04:01 pm

Thank you! This post was SO helpful. I write a food blog, but photography has never been one of my focuses. However, now that I have been looking around, I realize that I need to step it up a bit, so one of my goals for 2011 is to improve my photography and styling. Since I don’t really know anything about either one, I am happy to have stumbled across your post. I actually have a pot of beef stew going right now, which is going to fall into the gloppy mess category, so this post is especially timely. Keep ’em coming! I’m soaking every bit of your wisdom! :)

Amelia from Z Tasty Life Jan 9, 2011 08:01 pm

Tami: I LOVE these build-as-you-go posts. Incredibly educational… thank you soooo much for sharing your knowledge with the rest of us!

Kristan @ Scenes from the Galley Jan 10, 2011 01:01 pm

This is exactly what I needed, seeing as how I am embarking upon the creation of a food/cooking blog and also working on my photography skills! Thanks so much!

emiglia Jan 11, 2011 07:01 am

Wow! Thanks so much for that! I try a lot of tasty Indian/Ethiopian recipes and end up sending the photos to the trash because they aren’t pretty enough. Great tips here!

Jun Belen Jan 11, 2011 02:01 pm

Wonderful! Thank you for sharing this post. So much to learn from you!

Soma Jan 11, 2011 02:01 pm

Indeed a wonderful and very helpful post. Thank you!

Jennifer (Savor) Jan 16, 2011 01:01 pm

Love, Love, Love. Thank You for your time and effort.

Megan Jan 18, 2011 09:01 am

Thank you Tami! I loved these tips and I’m one that can use all the help I can get. I often think of your egg salad when I’m shooting a picture. Great post.

Stephanie @ Stephanie Cooks Jan 22, 2011 05:01 pm

Excellent tutorial. I am working on my food styling and while I’m still new to it posts like this truly help so much. Thank you!

Xiaolu @ 6 Bittersweets Feb 4, 2011 12:02 pm

I love Indian food and am planning to photograph and post some soon, so I was just thinking about the challenges of photographing the textures! Great post, and I’m your newest follower :).

sarah @ cookingpretty Feb 21, 2011 12:02 pm

Wow thanks for this post. So interesting & educational to see how you think, and what you do. I have a lot to learn…!

Sanjeeta kk Feb 22, 2011 06:02 am

Love the gradual transformation of simple and boring looking food to that of an exotic and gorgeous one.
Though a novice in food photography, would love to get tips from you regarding the table you use in your setting. Still hanging on my P&S till I become confident about light, focus…and other important aspects.
Thanks for such useful post.

Marisa Feb 22, 2011 08:02 am

This is such a great post – this is definitely something I struggle with, but I have to say your tips is going to make it a whole lot easier in future.

Gloria Feb 25, 2011 02:02 pm

Thank you for the lesson. I love to cook and hope to use what I’ve learn to improve my blog.

Amy Feb 26, 2011 12:02 am

Thanks for the tutorial and the humor! I was at your session at Lavish! and really admire your work.

snippets of thyme Mar 12, 2011 08:03 pm

This was so so helpful to me. Everything you said was simple yet completely impactful. Thank you for walking us through this shoot. Would you mind telling me what type of lense you use for food photography. I just purchased a 50mm f2.8 lense and am having a difficult time figuring it out.

[…] tips on styling ‘ugly food’ this link came in handy when trying to make pork hock look good at the David Thompson Cooking the […]

chopinandmysaucepan May 5, 2011 12:05 am

This is so helpful! Thanks for sharing your expertise.

[…] tips on styling ‘ugly food’ this link came in handy when trying to make pork hock look good at the David Thompson Cooking the […]

Shef from Shef's Kitchen May 25, 2011 03:05 pm

THANKS! this was more helpful than anything i have recently found or read about ethnic foods. Thanks for the step by step. I don’t go into enough phases yet (just starting out), but need to. By the way, it was quite humorous too–i could just imagine you in the cold wind, outside, wanting to eat a garam hot curry to warm you up—but not able to.

Averie (LoveVeggiesandYoga) Jun 2, 2011 02:06 am

I just found this post b/c Indian Simmer linked it and Tami, it’s a gem. Thank you!

One of the reasons I know my desserts get into TS and FG is b/c they’re….desserts.

I couldnt get a lentil dish, a bean recipe, or even chili on those sites if my life depended on it. Thank you! for showing what you did, the steps you took, and for freezing your butt off outside to help us all!

Anamika Jun 30, 2011 09:06 am

Thanks for sharing the styling tips. Though I cook mostly Indian food, yet clicking and posting it on my blog is a nightmare, since they just look so sad in front of all the lovely treats elsewhere. Would also love to know about the background/ table surfaces.

[…] Outside of that, choose light colored plates or bowls….and choose some fresh herbs or a dollop of sour cream (on chili or the like) or a spoon of couscous to lighten up the dish. I’ve done an entire styling post about “brown foods”, which you can find here: […]

Angie @ Bigbearswife Aug 10, 2011 12:08 pm

Loved the post! Thanks for the ideas~

[…] working (more common than you might think).Once the food is cooked, the styling begins. How do you make a brown lump of lentils look appetising? (This is a fantastic post with some great insight on styling difficult foods.)Before and after […]

Toni Dec 30, 2011 08:12 pm

This is a fantastic post! I’m just starting out with food photography and sometimes spend hours wondering how to set up the shot and what props to use. I’m really digging your post and wish you could share the way you prep the wooden plank to use as the background. That would be really awesome to learn! Thanks a lot for sharing and looking forward to more!

Diane Feb 9, 2012 10:02 am

What a great post! Thx I can certainly do with some tips on my blog and will be back! I have real problem with bean stews and all stews in general so anything on that would be helpful :-))

CJ - Food Stories Apr 12, 2012 11:04 am

What a great post. It was really helpful that you went into such great detail about what you were thinking … Thx

Blaire Ring Apr 26, 2012 01:04 pm

Would love to know where you got the table surface! I am new to professional food photography, but am loving it every step of the way. I have a gig for a new burger joint on Tuesday and would love to able to bring something to cover the plain, black tables! Thanks!!

Michelle @ delishiono May 7, 2012 02:05 pm

I’m so guilty of the “slop on a plate” food photos but didn’t really know where to start. The progression here is really helpful. Thanks!

Diane, A Broad Jun 26, 2012 01:06 pm

Hi Tami! Thanks so much for this post. I’m just starting out with food blogging and photography, so posts like this are extremely helpful. One thing: your link to the egg salad post seems to be broken. I thought you might want to know. :)

Diane, A Broad Jun 26, 2012 01:06 pm

PS: I, too, would love to hear about where you got that aged wood surface. I’ve been using my wood floors!

Stephanie, The Recipe Renovator Jul 18, 2012 05:07 pm

Thank you so much for taking the time to do this for all of us. Super instructive. (Not that you asked, but…) I think I might have added some water back into the lentils for a moister looking consistency. I also only partially cook some of the ingredients in dishes like these and hold them for possible garnishing later. Love this!! And your play by play is awesome too.

Megan Jul 19, 2012 04:07 pm

Awesome post. Really. Thank you for all of that hard work! I need the help – and this was immensely helpful!

Maureen Jul 20, 2012 03:07 am

This is probably the best food styling posts I’ve seen in a long time. You’ve done such a great job of taking food that (my apologies) initially looks a bit like barf and turned it into a beautiful photograph.

Paula Thomas Jul 20, 2012 02:07 pm

I want to know about your background ideas too! I think a lot of people would be interested in your ideas but you can email them to me if you’d like. :)

Paulina Gonzalez Sep 3, 2012 09:09 am

Hi Tami,
I know this is an older post. I just found it on the internet and I loved it. I’d like to take advantage of your offer on sharing your ideas on table surfaces, and backgrounds.

Alicia (foodycat) Oct 24, 2012 09:10 am

I love this post so much! It’s brilliant!

Russell Kilgore Nov 10, 2012 12:11 am

Great post Tami! I came across this by chance while looking at another blog (learnfoodphotography.com) that mentioned this post. I would love to hear your ideas about backgrounds and table tops. Thanks!

[…] When Good Food Looks Bad: A Styling Post by Running with Tweezers […]

S. @ The Captivating Life Feb 19, 2013 01:02 pm

Thanks so much for this blog! I have been blogging for a year but am still trying to improve my food styling and picture composition, which is pretty blah to say the least. I love that you came up with so many different shots for something so gloppy. So impressive! Thank you for the tips.

[…] "When good food looks bad" Tips for food styling: Didn’t know this was a “thing” either. Time to read up I guess! […]

Hey there, I’m a new blogger coming from Pieterlen, Switzerland who found you on http://www.runningwithtweezers.com/indian-food-styling-post/. Would you have any ideas for those considering blogging? I’m planning to fire up my own
page soon but I’m a little lost on everything. Do you believe I should begin with a free site like Pixie or invest some money into a pay site? There are so many options out there that I’m completely overloaded.
.. Any tips?

Ronnie Rahman Jul 9, 2013 06:07 am

Hi Thank you ever so much. Recently, I have started to learn food photography for my food blog website Melody of Cooking, I really loved your tips and advice, a lot to take in.

melissa @ my whole food life Jul 22, 2013 01:07 pm

What a great post! I have dealt with this myself in the past. I still have a lot to learn and your post has been very helpful. Thank you!

[…] пост Тами Хардеман. Она показывает как изменить «ужасного цвета еду, […]

[…] When Good Food Looks Bad: A Styling Post – Running With Tweezers […]

[…] say the camera never lies. It lies everyday”, and I like the dialectic of this idea. Some highly respected food bloggers lie very well and it’s quite clear that you can’t trust me. The proof can only be in the eating of […]

Dee @ The Kitchen Snob Mar 4, 2015 12:03 pm

Hi Tami! I just discovered your blog and am really happy that I did. I LOVED this post – it was so helpful to see and read your thoughts throughout the photo shoot. I hope you’ll keep doing these types of posts. You’ve got a new follower!

cherie Apr 29, 2015 10:04 am

Wow! A fantastic tutorial on food styling. Indeed you made my day. Of course, it requires lot of patience but it finally pays.

Food Photography « Lifes Developing Jul 26, 2016 10:07 pm

[…] website, Running with Tweezer has some great before and after […]