PDN Photo of the Day

The A-Z Of Food Styling

Lucy-Ruth Hathaway is an internationally acclaimed food stylist. Before you click on her website or take a peak at her new book – The Food Styling Encyclopaedia – you should be warned though… you will instantly get hanger pangs! There’s vivid colors, perfect drips, drops and oozes, sweet, savory and everything in-between, bubbles ripe to explode…

Food styling, and by extension, food photography, is big business. Food has an increasingly big impact on the visual culture of our time. It’s used by advertisers, Instagram stars and artists alike to sell goods, influence our lifestyle choices (don’t deny it!) and question the world around us.

Lucy-Ruth Hathaway’s The Food Styling Encyclopaedia was ultimately conceived of as a promotional piece, or a stylized way to show her portfolio of creative work with food. It was so great though – it became a book!

PDN asked her a few questions about her process and collaboration with photographers:

PDN: You studied photography/film originally… What inspired the move to food styling?
Lucy-Ruth Hathaway: That’s right! While there though I discovered what the feature film art department was. To me, this was (and probably still is) one of the most magical roles one can have creatively. I’m lucky enough to still have friends who work in this part of the film industry and I live vicariously by hearing about everything that goes into feature film sets and design. This department is what I started out in, but when I saw a food stylist on the set of a period drama I was working on I knew that I ultimately wanted to do it.

PDN: How does a history in photography inform the work you do now?
L-R H: As I studied photography from age 17 I was very focused on becoming a photographer. It was a big part of my life and the way that I thought about the world and how I interacted with it. I always had my camera with me (as my friends and family at the time will attest!).

The main thing that informs how I work now is thinking about the symbols within that have meaning and significance to those viewing them. Of course, what I’m now focused on is the aesthetic themes and meaning within food…

Another thing is thinking about the way images have to tell stories. Whether this is for a client or for personal work, I do feel a background in stills definitely helps me consider how a particular image and the components within it tell the story you want it to tell.

PDN: Can you tell us about your collaboration with the photographers you work with?
L-R H: Creative collaboration with photographers and set designers is the best part of my job as a stylist, no doubt about it. Everyone I work with is different and each creative relationship is unique. With some photographers the idea is purely collaborative, with others I go to them to work on something together.

Some of my creative relationships are very longstanding, such as with still life photographer Sun Lee, one of the first photographers I started shooting with. A lot of our work together involves careful problem solving and planning to achieve a final shot.

One central thing I am always focused on within any collaboration, commercial or personal: how to make the food look as delicious or dynamic as possible.

PDN: Do you get to choose them the photographers you work with? If not always – do you prefer that or think it makes for a better end product?
L-R H: My creative relationships with many of the photographers I work with develops through working together over a period of time on creative personal work.

For commercial jobs the photographers I work with choose me, which I think is important as they can identify the stylist who meets their needs for that brief. On many commercial jobs a big part of what I do is work together with a photographer to execute technically challenging ideas for clients, developing the process from the beginning of receiving the creative brief to the end.

PDN: Instagram: has it changed the world of food styling and food photography in a good or a bad way? Thoughts?
L-R H: This is a great question. I will first say this: I love Instagram. I think overall it’s inspiring, versatile and allows an amazing platform for sharing creative work and ideas. However there are some things about it that do bother me; the repetitiveness of any idea so that it can lose it’s visual punch or meaning, the proliferation or plagiarizing of creative ideas…and people not being correctly credited.

In food photography specifically one thing I do think is problematic is how saturated Instagram gets with the same food imagery and themes. I’m interested to see if there is a shift in types of food content if Instagram goes ahead and removes public “likes”…maybe there will be less rainbow smoothie bowls…

PDN: Where do you look for inspiration?
L-R H: When I was studying photography I was obsessed with photographer Mike Slack, who I just adore. Anything with a bold yet subtle use of color is what seems to appeal to me.

On that theme, I love the work of William Eggleston and recently revisited a lot of his work as inspiration for a creative project I’m part of.

Old recipe books – both American and British.

I love Americana and the symbols and themes associated with food that exist within it. American food packaging…I love it. When in the States I spend a ridiculous amount of time in supermarkets just looking at packaging and food.

PDN: What is your dream project?
L-R H: I already got to do it this year! It was the styling for the stills and moving image for the Christmas campaign for Fortnum & Mason, with creative by Otherway London, shot by the incredible Romas Foord. It really was a dream job – everything about it is beautiful, extravagant, sumptuous…and I got to eat so much amazing Fortnum & Mason food!

— Samantha Reinders

The Food Styling Encyclopaedia
Lucy-Ruth Hathaway
Self-published (November 2019)
Design – Wildish & Co

Represented in the US by Sarah Laird & Good Company
Represented in the UK/Europe by Salt and Spoon

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