Food Styling: Make Food Look Good on Camera

Taught By:

Lauren Haroutunian


Lauren & Jimmy show you how a food stylist might prepare a picture-perfect Thanksgiving dinner for camera.

Lesson Plan

Happy (American) Thanksgiving from RocketJump Film School! In spirit of the holiday season, we decided to talk about food styling-- a craft all about making food look good for the camera.

In this video Lauren and our good friend Jimmy Wong go over some classic Thanksgiving dishes and some of the tricks stylists use to make these dishes picture perfect.

- Try to find unfrozen, free range if possible. Avoid torn skin and blemishes, look for nicely shaped legs and whole knuckles.
- Remove giblets, etc. If the turkey looks a little flat, stuff with aluminum foil.
- Fill hollow neck cavity with dampened paper towels, use T-pins to attach skin to the back of the bird.
- Use Zap-a-Gap glue and pins to repair any tears in the skin, and to hold the wings against the side of the bird.
- Brush turkey with vegetable oil and place in non-stick aluminum foil-lined tray.
- Bake at 350F until skin tightens over the surface and fat under the skin begins to melt (30-40 mins for a 12 pound turkey, 20 mins for a 2.5lb chicken)
- Remove from oven and immediately brush warm turkey with browning mixture.
- Paint turkey with the browning liquid until it reaches desired color. Each coat makes the bird a little darker.
- Sprinkle with a dry herb mixture, if desired.
- Apply one more coat of browning mixture over dried herbs to give them a roasted appearance and blend them into the turkey.
- Let cool, carefully remove from tray without touching painted area and place on display platter.
- Garnish!

Browning Mixture:
- [10 parts] Angostura Bitters
- [1 part] Kitchen Bouquet
- [2-3 drops] yellow food coloring
- [2-3 drops] clear dishwashing detergent
- Herb mixture (We used Italian Seasoning)

- Pick green beans for freshness, shape and color. Avoid too-large beans, find ones with fresh tips and curved shape.
- Drop small groups at a time into a large pot of unsalted boiling water. Blanch for 1-3 minutes until cooked and then shock them in ice water immediately to stop them from cooking further.
- Place on a paper-towel lined tray and cover with cool, damp paper towels. Keep refrigerated.
- Do not cook in covered pot or store in air-tight containers; they need oxygen or they will turn olive-green.
- Place and arrange in dish.
- You can use hairspray to liven them up a bit before the shoot.
- Sprinkle carefully with salt flakes or garnish with a pat of butter (see below)

- Use Russet Potatoes for chunky, homey look; instant potatoes if creamier
- Fill dish with sponges or hardened gelatin to make it look like there is more potato than there actually is
- Let potatoes cool and place in dish; fluff or style/swirl in smooth strokes
- Garnish with pepper and butter (see below) and/or green onion slices

- Use margarine- it holds its shape better, is a brighter yellow than butter, and produces yellow liquid when melted. Slice pats closer to room temp, and then keep pats refrigerated.
- Pick a pat size that will work best, created a flat “platform” where it can sit, and carefully place the pat on the dish with a slightly-oiled spatula.
- If you want a melted look, hold a hot metal spatula or knife close to or on the butter when you are ready to shoot (or use a heat gun, blow dryer, or steam iron)

- Soak tampons (T-28’s) or cotton balls in water and microwave.
- Hide the T28’s behind the food or inside it to produce the look of steam. Should last for several minutes!

- You can buy a pre-made pie if you'd like!
- Brush soy sauce or Kitchen Bouquet onto the crust to get a darker crust; brush lightly with vegetable oil to get more luster.
- Use Barbasol shaving cream to create a dollop of whipped cream. Garnish with cinnamon.

If you'd like to know more about food styling, we referenced Food Styling: The Art of Preparing Food for the Camera by Delores Custer, which you can check out at your local library (ISBN: 0470080191) or on Amazon.

Happy Thanksgiving!!