Photo Tips & Styling On a Budget

Hi friends!  Since it’s a new year and we’re all making changes, I figured I’d branch out and share something other than a recipe with you. I started Vibrant&Pure as a way to share the healthy food I was making, but it quickly evolved into more than that: a creative outlet where I could explore my passion to style and photograph food. Beyond just styling the food, I was able to  incorporate my love of interior decor while styling a set for a photoshoot or prop styling for a photo.

Now let’s discuss my other favorite thing to do: making things look as good as possible on a very tight budget. I know what you’re thinking: “a budget? but don’t food stylist/photographers rake in the cash?” Unfortunately, no. We all need to save money where we can and styling is no exception. A while back I posted a photo of my (TINY) back patio, I don’t even know if you can actually call it a patio, it’s about the size of an elevator, but ANYWAYS, I styled it for a magazine shoot and wanted to make it look as warm and welcoming as possible. A few people asked me to write a post on how I styled it/where I purchased everything, and here we are (about a year later…but hey, we’re still here).

SO, below I am going to give you a bunch of tips on how to create a beautiful food photo, from the styling to the photography; plus all my favorite resources for styling on a budget.

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Frankentoast

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PHOTO/STYLING TIPS:

Practice

I am often asked how I make my photos look the way they do. This is such a complicated question to answer because there are so many components at play. First and foremost you have to develop your own unique aesthetic. It takes so much time and practice and that’s never fun to hear, but practice is necessary. Let’s take a look at some of my first food photos (yikes).

What is wrong with all of these photos? Mainly lighting and backgrounds.

  • Lighting
    • Natural lighting is SO necessary. I had zero idea about lighting when I took the photos above. Many of these were taken at night or in a room with zero light, and it shows. When you take a photo indoors in a dimly lit room, the photo will have an undesirable yellowish tint to it, rather than that clean white finish we all love. I have a table set up right next to a large window, this is where I take all of my photos. If i’m traveling or out and about and want to take a food photo, I get creative and try to locate the nearest natural light source (sometimes you have to look like a weirdo). Bottom line: follow the light!
  • Backgrounds
    • Backgrounds are a game changer. As you can see, when I started out I was simply taking photos on a wood table. There’s nothing wrong with this and some people like to keep a uniformity to their photos. I, on the other hand, love to play around with a multitude of backgrounds. Different textures, colors, and patterns can help to enhance a food photo. This is another thing that takes practice, but I like to take a look at the food I’m about to photograph and figure out what direction to move in. I will walk you through the steps:

Is this food super colorful all by itself or on a colorful plate? If yes, then I will go with a minimal background and let the food speak for itself (think white marble, plain white background or wood). If no, then I will make the entire photo more exciting by using a colorful or more dynamic background (think colored paper, printed napkin, painted wood, slate).

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Super colorful spread of food, so white marble was the move.

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I didn’t find the contents of this bowl particularly exciting, so I threw it on a printed piece of colored paper, and it was taken to a new level.

It’s a good idea to try your dish on a few different backgrounds and see which flatters it the best. I felt that an all white background ended up flattering this salad more, as it’s pretty colorful and busy to begin with. I felt the darker slate background sort of dulled it down.

Same toast: 3 different backgrounds. Sometimes the rules don’t apply, even though this toast is colorful by itself, I just preferred the contrast of the pink on blue. So in the end, you just have to go with your gut!

  • Getting creative with both:

Sometimes you’re not in your home with your ideal setup and your (ridiculously) abundant collection of backdrops. This is where you have to think outside the box. I have taken photos using very random things as backgrounds:

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This was taken in my car, using my denim shirt as a backdrop.

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This was taken outside on the deck at my parent’s house, I had to brush away a few leaves but it did the trick.

The bottom line is, look around you when you’re taking a photo and see what you find beautiful. Get creative and try different options, then go back and decide which option you like best.

  • Editing
    • Editing is very important! I use almost all of the tools Instagram has to offer before posting a photo. You can dramatically change how a photo looks with just a few tools. I love to play around with saturation, warmth, brightness and structure.

EXAMPLE: I felt this photo looked really cool with a decreased warmth, increased saturation and a very increased structure.

STYLING ON A BUDGET:

Resources:

  • HomeGoods (I would be remiss if I didn’t list my ultimate haven at number one.) This applies to food styling, prop styling, and set styling: typically the vast majority of everything I use is from HomeGoods, by the way…I wish this was a paid advertisement, but it’s not…(I love you HomeGoods, notice me!)
    • rugs & pillows: I created both of these scenes using mostly rugs and pillows. I used these cheap faux sheep skin rugs as seat covers, I used the smaller woven rugs draped over my banister to create a more homey vibe, and I used a rug to drape over this DIY wooden bench. Bottom line: rugs are super versatile so think beyond the floor!
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      None of the rugs in this photo are being used as intended: two are draped over the railing, one is draped over a wooden bench, and the rest are draped over (super cheap ikea) wooden chairs to appear as seat covers.

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    • plates, bowls, glasses, mugs, silverware, napkins, tablecloths etc. are perfect to get here because they will often have the latest styles at a super affordable price. I also like it because most everything is available to purchase by itself, you don’t have to get some big set full of dishes when you only want one to use in your photos
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Example: I bought this turquoise salad plate for probably $2.99 and I use it constantly. When I assess the food I’m photographing and realize a pop of blue would be flattering, I always reach for this plate.

 

  •  Home Depot:
    • Home Depot is a food stylists dream. There are backgrounds galore. I’ve gotten wood boards, marble boards, and slate boards here. If you go to an average store and try to purchase a marble tray or a marble pastry board, you might set yourself back $50.00. At Home Depot you can buy sample squares of white marble for maybe 3.50 each.

 

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Photographed on a super cheap marble slab from home depot

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Photographed on a slate sample from home depot

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Small wooden board painted light blue

  • Thrift stores and DIY projects
    • The rest of the items I typically used are supplemented with items from thrift stores and some DIY projects. You can find such cool props at thrift stores, many of which have an entire home section. For the DIY projects, see the photo captions below for descriptions:
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    For this beach photoshoot, I got a wood pallet for 6 dollars, painted it, and used it as a table top for this taco picnic.

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    I used blankets, rugs & pillows to create the seating area around the table.

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    This bench is actually made out super cheap wooden crates from Home Depot, stacked together & fastened with screws.

    Alright guys, I think that’s about it for now. Let me know if you have any other questions!

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18 thoughts on “Photo Tips & Styling On a Budget

  1. Justine says:

    Thank you so much. This was so helpful and really informative. Please if you don’t mind me asking what camera and lens do you prefer to shoot with? Really love your work. Thanks for the article.
    Justine Insta @beetroot_and_bear

    Liked by 1 person

  2. ourperfectpalette says:

    Thanks for sharing all your tips! I love your work everything looks amazing. I did have a question regarding the sample test from homedepot what size do you typically ask for? I’m very new to food photography and would love to get a couple of tiles from Home Depot just want to make sure I get the right size. Thanks again!

    Liked by 1 person

    • VibrantandPure says:

      I’m so glad you enjoyed the post! Great question- there’s usually just one or two sizes available since it’s whatever samples they have. Size doesn’t matter too much, you just want it to be big enough to fit the food you want to photograph on it! Hope that helps (:

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Amanda says:

    Your insta is AMAZING, love love love your style, and your passion for colour shines brightly. Great tips, thank you so much for your generosity!
    💋 Amanda @achampagneyogi

    Like

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