Is there any point of cooking at home if you’re not creating Insta-worthy meals worth showing off to your mates?
Food stylist Sarah Kim Watchorn shares some of her top tips for crafting expert-level dishes to gain loads of those double-taps, in conjunction with Bord Bia as part of the European lamb campaign, ‘Lamb. Try It, Love It’.
1. The Ingredients
“One of the most important factors to consider, the part most people turn a blind eye to, is the actual ingredients. In order to have the best visually appealing end dish, you need to choose the best of the best: the ‘hero’ foods, the reddest tomatoes and greenest, freshest salad leaves.
“I love keeping the natural shape of food when creating a dish. So, for example, keep the length of radishes or keep pretty stems on. It makes it look more natural and real. When it comes to lamb I like to go to a local butcher to choose the cuts I am going to use. Lamb cutlets should be nicely French trimmed and all of the equal sizes.
“The use of unblemished and good ingredients is even more important if you are shooting them raw so consider shapes, colour, size etc when choosing them. The food on the final dish always needs to look and be edible. There’s no point in garnishing a final shot with an ingredient you haven’t previously used or with an ingredient that can’t be eaten.”
2. Composition and Colours
“When creating the shot, I always think of two main elements.
“Is it to be formal or casual, and is it to be dark or bright?
“Does the season play a role in the dish? Use white and light neutral colours for spring and summer dishes and earthy dark neutral colours for autumn and winter dishes.
“Also, the composition has to make sense. Don’t serve up a massive portion on a small plate. You want a balance in the photo. Background items such as little pinch pots of salt and pepper or small dishes can be out of focus, and work well to create balance with elements on the main plate.
“You could also introduce drinks or fabric for texture. For example, pots and pans give the impression that the dish is hot.
“It’s important to bear in mind the colours in the dish and what colours complement the food when choosing a background. I like to choose simple props that allow the food to speak for itself. Anything that is too fussy will take our focus away from the dish.
“The background will be the greatest contrast for the food so it’s important to get this right before adding other elements to the shot. Marble, slate, metal and wood all work really well. Surfaces with more texture tend to give more depth to the shot.
“Use props to emphasise scale and proportion. And use cutlery to draw your eye into the dish. Plus, make sure the props you are using are relevant to the shot.”
3. Texture and Taste
“In the making of any dish, it’s important to think about what the end result is going to be like. Basically, you work backwards. Drawing the final dish helps you picture what needs to be changed or what’s missing.
“I like to have balance. Introduce more height and balance by adding foods with different textures. If everything is soft, add something crunchy. Add nuts to a salad, creme fraiche to lamb tacos or basil to a pizza.
“When garnishing, I look at the initial recipe ingredient list for inspiration. I’ll use elements from this to garnish the dish, and that also works well to show off what is actually in the dish.”
“Find the best light. If you aren’t using artificial light, its best to place the dish beside a window on a cloudy day. The overcast weather allows for nice distribution of light and consistency throughout the day. Working with light bouncing off glass through windows works really nicely too.”
“Choose your presentation angle. Will the dish be shot overhead or at an angle? If you’re working with a photographer, it’s best to speak to them about what they’re trying to achieve. Some dishes work better overhead as you can see more of their elements and different shapes, but others work better at an angle as you can see the size of the portion, such as the length of lamb cutlets or shape of lamb steak.”