Career as a photographic stylist
Lindsey Jones is a photographic stylist specialising in food displays. It is her job to make sure that the produce used in the photographs appear as fresh and appetising as possible. Her display efforts are shown throughout all types of media, from magazines to posters, advertisements and TV commercials.
How would you outline your role?
I prepare and style the food that's used in stills photography for cookbooks and magazines, and also for TV commercials and films. It's a job where you need to be able to cook, not take photos.
What are your main responsibilities?
I buy all the food, prepare some of it at home and the rest in the studio, as some things have to be cooked at the very last minute. I then style it, perhaps using other props such as plates and cutlery, and work with the photographer to make sure it looks as good as possible. Food isn't an easy thing to photograph especially using lights because they can melt things, or dry them out.
Is there much photographic demand for food displays?
Yes. Just think of all those TV programmes with celebrity chefs. Photography for a cookery book can take three or four months. The food writer will often send in their recipes and it's down to me to make them, so I've got a bit more control over things.
I also work with magazines, and check whether people will be able to follow the recipes they are going to print.
Do you cut corners when you are preparing the food for a shoot?
Strictly speaking you can miss things out, but I cook it as normal. If you know it tastes nice it's a lot easier to make it look good. Also actors sometimes have to eat the food so it needs to be edible! There are times when you can under-cook things so they hold their shape.
What hours do you work?
Most stills jobs last from 9.00 am to 6.00 pm, but I often have to shop beforehand for food, so I may start work at 8.00 am or earlier. For TV commercials and films I usually start at 7.30 am. In both cases you need to stay until the end of the shoot.
What is your working environment like?
Most of the time, I'm in a studio. With TV and films they often build a kitchen for me to work from but many of the specialist food photographers have their own kitchens. On location work outside, I use a trestle table and camping stove.
What special skills do you need?
I think adaptability is important and you need to be able to think on your feet and do something different at a moment's notice. You obviously need to be able to cook, but you also need an eye for detail and to be comfortable working under pressure with new people every day.
What training have you done?
I learnt how to cook at college and how to style food on the job as an assistant.
Do you use any tools or equipment?
Apart from the obvious cooking equipment, tools like tweezers are useful for moving fiddly bits of food into the right place, and a blow torch is good for browning things off. I use a very fine water spray too, and paint brushes for putting oil on things.
What are the particular challenges in your work?
You need to get to know your suppliers. They are so important when it comes to buying food that's good enough to be photographed. When you are actually doing a shoot it's always a challenge to make sure the food is ready at the same time as the photographer.
Lindsey's steps to her career as a photographic stylist
- A levels and a cordon bleu cooking course.
- Worked as a chef in a wine bar and in a restaurant in Spain.
- Assistant food stylist in the UK and in Australia.
- Joined an gency as a freelance, full-time food stylist.
- You need to learn the job as an assistant first.
- At the start it's hard to find enough work assisting food stylists, so you need another 'bread and butter' job too.
Photographic stylist related jobs
Salary of a photographic stylist
- Rates for a photographic stylist would start at £200 a day for creating photographic displays for books and magazines, and up to £400 for full advertising.
- An assistant can earn around £80 a day, rising to £235 for TV commercials.
How to become a photographic stylist
- As an assistant food stylist you will not be taught how to cook. You will be expected to have a high level of cooking experience.
- Getting on to the circuit can be a struggle, as you have to contact food stylists and hope they will let you help on a shoot.
- There are NVQs/SVQs, BTEC National Diplomas, HNCs/HNDs, degrees and courses in catering across the UK.
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