What goes into creating and shooting beautiful recipes and dishes? To be a food photographer and stylist is a heck of a lot more than ensuring your Instagram grid looks perfect – so much goes on behind the scenes – especially when it comes to getting that final shot at the very end.

To enlighten us and as part of our #SadiesKitchenTakeover series, the talented photographer, stylist and Sadie’s favourite Jennifer Oppermann recently shared a behind-the-scenes glimpse at what exactly goes into her day-to-day.

Jennifer had a love of fine art and sculputre before she applied this passion to food – and it shows. The same love and care is in every dish she creates.

Below is a highlight from her Q&A over on our Instagram page.

Enjoy X

What exactly is food styling?

I look at it as storytelling; to create and convey an idea or mood, place and time so the viewer can relate to the image easily.  

How did you become a food stylist?

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I was a stay-at-home mum for many years as I had three children born within 15 months of each other (including twins) and I wanted – and was lucky enough – to be able to be with them in this way. About fours years ago, I did an intensive cookery course and my tutors said that’s where my skills lay.

I practised and read all I could and took up my camera and was hired by someone who saw my Facebook page. 

What’s your go-to-for editing photos?

I use Lightroom for client work and a free app called Google Snap Seed for a quick edit. And naturally, I do use my phone for some photos – I use an iPhone XSMAX mainly for quick photos and often on my grid and it works amazingly well. 

Is your photography self-taught?

Yes, mostly. I did an evening course in the basics a couple of years back and I have a background in fine art and scuplture which probably helps. 

If you were to pick 5 props to start with, what would they be?

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  1. Matte, plain small plates (salad or dessert) in black, white and netural.
  2. Plain linen cloth/netural napkins.
  3. Small plain bowls for salt or sauces.
  4. Small-sized vintage cutlery as it doesn’t look overly shiney or lage in photos and is more interesting to photograph.
  5. Small, non-stem glasses as thry are easier to photograph because of their height.

Small is the key word here!

Where do you buy your props?

From charity shops, car boot sales, Dublin Flea Market and places such as IKEA or Homestore & More.

What’s the best way to style a flatlay composition?

  1. Use a backdrop that is not too distracting but compliments the food (check out Adobe Capture for help with colour themes).
  2. Use props which are relevant to the scene.
  3. Add interest with textiles and flora. But don’t simply throw herbs around the place, for example, as it looks messy.
  4. Don’t clutter the scene.
  5. Natural light is the best for flatlays.
  6. Use the grid on your phone or camera and place the items on interesctions of the grid. 
  7. Use at least F10 to make sure everything is in focus.
  8. Use a tripod with an extending arm and make sure your camera is completely level above the scene.
  9. Have fun with it!  

What equipment is a must-have for an ametuer starting out?

An entry-level DSLR camera. A window with plenty of natural light and time to practice is key.


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When food styling, do you invent recipes yourself?

Different projects require different skills. I write recipes, style and photograph for many different Irish brands. So, in those cases, I create the recipe, style and photograph. I also photograph for resteraunts and hotels so I do work with chefs but would help with the styling of the dishes.  

Did you always have an eye for food styling or do you plan shoots beforehand?

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As I mentioned, I have an arts background and studied painting and sculpture, so I presume that helps to some degree. I also do plan my shoots with in my idea in mind. Clients usually give me a comprehensive brief, especially for TV work. But sometimes, things just don’t go to plan so it’s always good to have a backup with lots of extra props – just in case! 

Be sure to follow Jennifer on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter for more helpful tips and she has an official website too.