Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Q and A: Defining Food Styling Roles

Q from Virginia Matano, Food Styling 101 Student

I'm confused.... Could please tell me the difference between PROP STYLIST, TABLETOP STYLIST, FOOD DESIGNER, HOME ECONOMIST, and finally FOOD STYLIST!? In my mind I thought that the food stylist was all these things....

A from Debbie Wahl, Food Stylist and Food Styling 101 Instructor

Hello Virginia, That is an excellent question! Those terms are often used and can be confusing so I will try to explain:

Food stylist - (definition from Wikipedia):
"The role of the food stylist is to make the food look attractive in the finished photograph. The main difference between how a home cook or chef may present food and what a stylist does is the time and effort a stylist takes to carefully and artfully arrange the food. Also required is the visual know how, and ability to translate the perception of taste, aroma and appeal that one gets from an actual dish, to a two-dimensional photograph.

"Food stylists have culinary training; some are professional chefs or have a background in home economics.[4] In addition to knowledge of nutrition and cooking techniques, food stylists must also be resourceful shoppers.[4] As creative professionals, they envision the finished photograph and style the food accordingly."

Home Economist--when I first began food styling, most major food corporations required that the food stylist be a "home economist." The term "home economist" indicates that the person has a 4 year university degree in foods or home economics. Here is a link that explains it more:


Being a home economist is no longer necessary for food styling.

Prop stylist -- the role of a prop stylist is to procure the non-food items needed for a photo shoot--this can range from purchasing/renting plates, flatware, glasses, napkins to getting furniture for a room or building shoot. If they do wardrobe styling (clothing), then they use the term "wardrobe" stylist.

A tabletop stylist is more limited to getting non-food props that are going to be seen as part of a tabletop shoot. It can also indicate procuring and arranging any item shot on a tabletop surface such as cosmetics, wines, dishware, etc.

Some prop/tabletop stylists also style food so they advertise themselves using all those terms.

Food designer--I am not sure I have heard the use of this term but I would guess that it is the same as a food stylist.

If you google "prop stylists" or "tabletop stylists" -- you will see many examples of these stylists' work.

I used to do prop styling for tabletop as part of my food styling job but now I am so busy with simply doing the food styling that I ask the photographer or client to hire a separate prop stylist.

Hope this helps! Debbie

Debbie teaches our introductory course in food Styling, Food Styling 101, and is a professional food stylist. Her new website can be viewed at www.debbiewahl.com.

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