Choosing the right background for a food shoot is a hugely important part of my job as a stylist and sets the scene for the picture. Whether it’s a moody rustic winter look or a clean white summer feel, without the right background the shot just will not capture what you are hoping to portray. Over the years I have been commissioned to put together hundreds of different styles for magazines and cook books so I thought it would be fun to share a few of these and look at a few options you have to do this yourself.
For this shot of autumn produce I chose a zinc table top with an old metal sheet marked with rust immediately creating a rustic feel – implying an old farmhouse kitchen – with quite elegant props. A pewter cake stand and pitcher and French wine glasses. I love this contrast, which is further emphasised by an old distressed linen cloth with frayed edges.
Now that I live in the rural France I no longer have access to prop house like the one above (Prop Stop in Sydney ) where you can hire all the props you might need in order to fulfil a brief. So I have to ‘ad lib’ and either buy or make backgrounds that I can keep to use in future projects. This could be purchasing a roll of wallpaper and pasting it onto a large sheet of ply so the image represents part of a room.
Or perhaps I may have to paint up some surfaces to make a mock wall or table top. Luckily there are some fabulous paint products available today which will create an instant rust look, or crackle glaze effect. All these skills are essential if you going to be a stylist.
I remember one of my most taxing and head scratching briefs was to create a look that said ‘heroin chic’! Taking the example from the fashion world where beautiful young models were made to look half dead from drugs, I determined the look should be a combination of old, damaged, rustic surfaces with very clean, beautiful plates and exquisitely plated food.
I trawl as many flea markets or brocantes as I can to pick up bargains both smaller pieces like plates, glasses, cutlery etc. as well as old tables, doors, shutters, chairs etc. These get stacked in the barn or painted varies colours, all of which add to an ever growing props cupboard.
Below is an old trestle table bought on ebay, plus an old door sourced from a reclamation yard.
Old floor boards, still covered in old peeling paint can be cut into lengths and set into a frame, making a lovely rustic table top (thanks Mick) and even discarded skip items like the piece of zinc below that was at some point used to mix cement on. All add atmosphere to a shot.
You could also try creating your own distressed zinc table top – buy a sheet of new zinc from your local hardware store and then using a solution of copper sulphate, available from art stores or a pharmacy (as powder) wipe over it to create an instantly aged zinc top. It’s like magic working in front of you – I love it. Here’s one I made earlier this year and now it takes pride of place in my kitchen!
Of course in the real world you just use your kitchen table or work top but as a stylist it’s your job to create an image for the reader and for me, it’s why I do the job. Creating something from nothing and being satisfied with the end result. It’s very rewarding.