Local Food Stylists Dish Tips


If you have ever wondered why the food you made didn’t look like the image on the recipe, don’t feel bad. The people behind food photos in magazines and packaging are professional food stylists and food photographers.

Food stylists use basic art and photographic theories to arrange food so it is attractive for photography, video or film. Extra considerations are made for food that is quick to melt or wilt.

The Fab Food Stylist. Photo: provided by Jennifer Janz

The Fab Food Stylist. Photo: provided by Jennifer Janz

Jennifer Janz, self-proclaimed Fabulous Food Stylist, is a veteran in the food game with more than 20 years of experience. After completing a Bachelor of Arts degree from UW-Milwaukee, Janz made her start in graphic design. She soon discovered it was too sedentary for her, so she switched to photography. Today she has been featured on more than 50 magazine covers, including Taste of Home, Healthy Cooking and Simple & Delicious.

“We’re really trying to draw somebody in to do something else,” Janz said.

That “something” may be buying a product, reading an article or hiring a caterer.

Sonja Haag is just starting her career, but has already made her mark locally. Haas completed a bachelor’s degree in photography from Carroll College and studied in Florence as part of the program.

Janz and Haag said clients have a unique set of needs for photo shoots, but there is a shared motivation between the client and photographer.

Sonja Haas. Photo: provided by Sonja Haas

Sonja Haas. Photo: provided by Sonja Haas

Haag works with local businesses such as Private Palette, where she is a personal chef. She also captures weddings, conventions and other special events as part of her photography business, Reverb Photography. Haag then sells those images to the client along with the business who catered the event. She has also been hired by restaurants, such as Tenuta’s Italian Restaurant in Bay View, to capture the atmosphere as well as the menu items.

Tenuta's Restaurant. Photo: provided by Sonja Haas

Tenuta’s. Photo: provided by Sonja Haas

“They [Tenuta’s] wanted their images to say ‘we’re more of a fine dining, full experience kind of spot,'” Haag said. “You come and bring someone you care about and treat them. Very clean, white, crisp, lots of light in the shots.”

Janz has taken photographs for magazines, cookbooks, television commercials and videos, including local Cousin’s Subs advertisements. She specifically does a lot of packaging work and styles food how the client wants it to be seen, from frozen meals to canned products to cake mixes.

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Waffle Sundae. Photo: provided by Jennifer Janz

“I’m really going through boxes and boxes looking for the best shaped ones,” Janz said.

Janz does not just work with food for humans either. She shot dry cat food where she had to sort through the different shapes and colors of the product.

“I had to pick out ones [pieces of cat food] that were formed the best to look like hearts,” Janz said. “We’re talking hours here. I take a paint brush and dust off any of the crumbs that were on it.”

Sorting through cat food is just one of the less glamorous aspects of food styling and photography.

Janz turned down a job to style a cellphone in Jell-O in a way where the phone still worked. She did take on the challenge for a shoot involving food coming out of a garbage disposal. They asked her to use fish bones, egg shells and orange peels.

“They wanted it to look pretty, not disgusting,” Janz said.

Haag got creative when she shot the bar food for G-Daddy’s BBC on North Avenue.

“I just had to get close up and almost dirty with it, you know, really emphasize the indulgence of it all,” Haag said.

Janz acknowledged that food styling has changed over the years to a more natural and relatable style, such as crumbs on the plate and irregularly cut pieces of food.

“Anything that brings the viewer into the photo,” Janz said.

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Grilling. Photo: provided by Jennifer Janz

Janz feels social media has changed what is acceptable.

“People enjoy seeing what other people are eating for dinner,” Janz said.

Food styling also has its share of specific trends too.

“There’s a big trend now with grilled meat to make it really black and I don’t think that looks appetizing at all,” Janz said.

Haag pointed to trends that she has noticed recently.

“Using any edible plant or flower and really making a meal look like a piece of artwork, very delicate, like small bites of things placed meticulously on the plate like it’s your canvas,” Haag said.

Janz created an international Facebook group for food styling enthusiasts, called “Food Styling Critique.” She has learned a lot from the members, but said there is always more to learn about food photography.

“I definitely have not even scratched the surface of what’s out there,” Janz said.

Whipped. Photo: provided by Jennifer Janz

Whipped. Photo: provided by Jennifer Janz

Tips for Better Food Photos
Natural lighting is best.
-Watch for excessive shadows.
-Use the rule of thirds.
-Do not let flatware steal the show.
-Use plates and bowls in proportion to size of food.
-Keep shooting. More photos leads to more good pictures.

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