The Life of a Food Stylist ft. Constance Higley

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You know those food photos that make you say, “Oh my gahhh, I need that NOW!”? You know the ones! Believe it or not, a ton of planning, prepping, & staging went into that photo in order to make it #foodporn worthy. Food styling is totally a thing and food stylists? Well, we think they have one of the coolest jobs out there! We asked local food stylist and film photographer, Constance Higley, what the life of a food stylist entails and lucky for us, she agreed to give us an inside look! (PS: If you like this interview, be sure to hear more from Constance at our Food Styling workshop on November 7th!)

Tell us about your background and how you got into food styling.

After graduating from art school, I spent several years as a wedding photographer. I’m so thankful for that time, but I was beyond happy to ‘retire’ from that world a few years ago. After that, I sort of stumbled into the food industry! My husband and I have always loved cooking together—well to be honest, he was always the cook and I got really good at taste testing—but I’ve always loved the power that food and gatherings have to bring people together and build community. I’ve always secretly wanted to pursue food photography and styling, but I was worried I wouldn’t be able to cut it and create a business that was lucrative and successful. One of the most encouraging aspects of this industry has to be the unbelievable amount of encouragement, support, and wisdom that other stylists, photographers, and chefs have so freely given. Essentially, starting my career over has most definitely been a challenge, but has been so completely worth it. This is such a wonderful community to be a part of and I’m so grateful!

Describe a typical workday.

Oh they’re all so different! That’s one of the things I love so much about this field! I’m working on getting into more of a routine, but for now, my work week consists of 2 days of solid shooting, 2 days of editing, and 1 rough day of planning/billing/emailing (not my strength!). With several brunch/coffee/happy hour dates in between, of course!

What is a misconception people have about your job?

Haha, definitely that ‘all we do is style.’ More than anything else I’ve done, this job title seems to have no end. From grocery shopping, to cooking, to obtaining partnerships, to event planning, to coffee runs, and more scrubbing of dishes than I could have ever imagined. It’s all worth it though!

Constance Higley food styling peach pies
What is an essential skill for someone to have in this kind of work?

Hmmmm aside from a huge appetite? Kidding. Kind of…

I actually have a few answers for this one. Personally, I think the most important skill I’ve learned from this job is how to put myself out there. If you don’t believe in the work you’re doing, how can you ask other people to? Learning that it’s okay to hear the word ‘no’ is really tough, but so necessary. It’s a bit of a baptism by fire and a lot of faking it until you make it. I truly believe that being able to take constructive criticism and being persistent in reaching out to people in the business are key skills for this job.

Other huge assets are patience, creativity, and a sense of when to lead and when to take direction. This job often requires collaborations between several individuals who are all used to being chiefs (ie. photographers, creative directors, clients, publicists), so it’s good to know when to speak up and when to lie low. A good sense of humor is always helpful too!

Do you usually cook the food you photograph or do other people cook it for you?

I’d say it’s about 50/50. I only started cooking out of necessity to build my portfolio. The end goal was to use that portfolio in hopes of only shooting for chefs/restaurants/magazines in the future. To be honest, I couldn’t even scramble an egg when I got married…my poor husband! I truly had no intention of continuing to create content of my own once paying gigs started coming my way, but turns out, I absolutely love being in the kitchen. Who knew?! It’s surprisingly therapeutic…even when it’s a total fail. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll choose the pros over my own creations any day, but I’m learning!

Do you use any tools/equipment when styling? If yes, what is one of the most important tools in your kit?

Coconut oil spray—it’s like makeup for food! Makes everything look a little better and a little fresher!

Constance HIgley Food Styling fig pistachio
How has food photography evolved throughout the years & why do you think it’s becoming so apparent in the digital world?

Love that you asked this—I’m so excited about this change and the direction the industry is headed! In the past, food styling & photography was somewhat stark and in my opinion, over-styled. It was all about the final image of the plated dish, the stylists used any and everything to create the image they needed. We’re talking Pennzoil, wax, paint, putty! More often than not, artificial lighting was used to create high contrast and dramatic adverstising images. For the average cook or restaurant goer, the images they were bombarded with were neither relatable or attainable. Thanks to so many incredible artists, bloggers, and publications over the past few years, the industry has taken a turn towards a much more artistic and thoughtful approach. It’s all about storytelling and celebrating the farmers, the chefs, and the makers. It’s about celebrating the process and everything that comes from it! The images are meant to draw the viewer in to a storyline that they could truly imagine being a part of.

What are your top 3 tips when it comes to food styling?

1. Above all else, make sure the food looks appetizing!
2. Always move towards the best light!
3. Stay true to your aesthetic!

Last question, do you ever get to eat the food after you style it?

Always! Why else would I be in this business?!

Constance Higley food styling berry pizza blackberry
Learn how to style, stage, & shoot photos just like these during our Food Styling workshop with Constance! Take home kitchenware goodies & be treated like a king or queen at a sit-down dinner at the end of the day! For more info, click here! (You know you wanna!)