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Eat with Your Eyes

Lauren Lear dishes out advice on getting started in food photography and styling

“Growing up, I was definitely a picky eater,” recalls Portland food photographer and stylist Lauren Lear. “After college, I moved to New York City and lived with roommates who introduced me to all kinds of food—Thai, sushi, Indian. There’s pretty much nothing I won’t eat now,” she laughs.

Following her initial work as a fashion photographer in NYC, Lear moved to Maine and became the sales manager at a food photography stock company. “I was selling food images to other magazines and books, but I was still doing headshots and weddings,” she explains. “One day, I got asked to shoot donuts for the Holy Donut, and it snowballed from there.” A weeklong food photography and styling course with Maine Media in Rockland helped Lear build up the confidence to start her own business: “I could buy the food, cook it, style it, shoot it, and edit it," she says. The only missing piece was a studio that felt like home.

Lear teamed up with fellow small business owner Krystina Fisher to launch The Photo Kitchen, Portland’s first boutique food photography studio, commercial kitchen, and event space. “When I started out, I didn’t have the funds to rent a studio each month, and I’ve had four or five studios since I’ve been here in Maine," she explains. "I’ve acquired lots of props and equipment, so I needed space to spread out, a place to call my home,” Lear says. "The Photo Kitchen is going to be a really great addition to the community—we'll rent it to other photographers, and Krystina plans to hold cookie decorating workshops. For content creators and brands, this space means they don't have to shoot in their own kitchens." 

Want to learn more? Turn the page for Lear's advice on styling and photographing your own food.

Tell a story

Lear suggests utilizing props to help your image tell a story, whether it’s for Instagram, for a customer, or for yourself. While it’s always fun to shop around for new (or antique) pieces to use in photos—Lear considers herself an avid collector when it comes to props—it’s easy to find household items that you can incorporate when styling and photographing food and beverages. If you’re taking a picture of your morning coffee, for example, Lear suggests “adding a book, candle, flowers, or any other small, simple elements that say ‘relaxing morning.’” 

Texture is key

Shooting an item on a flat, boring background results in images that feel, well, flat and boring. An easy way to amp up your food styling at home is to “use placemats, cutting boards, or napkins to add texture,” Lear explains. Elevate your food styling by incorporating an elegant linen fabric, or add a homey, down-to-earth feel with gingham or soft cotton. And don’t forget that cutting boards come in all shapes and sizes, from colorful plastic to bamboo, butcher block, glass, and marble.

Complement with color

When photographing a meal, it’s important to stick with colors that will complement your dish rather than overpower it. If you’re snapping a shot of a fresh green salad, for instance, Lear suggests “using props or additional elements with an analogous color like yellow, or a complementary color like red.” Try to stay away from recognizable color combinations “that might give the viewer a sense of a holiday such as Christmas, unless that is what you are going for,” Lear adds. Her best advice when it comes to playing with hues is to limit your palette to two colors, “unless the third is a neutral such as white, black, gray, or brown.”

Take it to new heights

A simple way to add visual appeal to food photography is by “stacking items, or setting them directly on a surface to vary the height,” Lear notes. Vases, jugs, and bottles add a decorative touch while filling the frame with height, and you can arrange food on a series of stacked plates, place additional elements in the background, or casually incorporate utensils to bring additional dimension to a photo.

  • Credit: Elle Darcy