In this episode, Jo Keohane teaches us how to style food to make it look as delicious as possible in order to drive more traffic to our blogs.

We cover information about what to consider before you start shooting your recipe, including how to layer and pick ingredients, backdrops, props and garnishes.

Listen on the player below or on iTunes, TuneIn, Stitcher, or your favorite podcast player. Or scroll down to read a full transcript.

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Guest Details

Connect with The Family Food Kitchen

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Bio

Since graduating from Culinary School in NYC in 2010, Jo has freelanced as a Recipe Developer and Food Stylist in test kitchens of many America’s best known publications, like Bon Appetit Magazine, Epicurious and Saveur. Jo has also worked with a variety of household brands like William Sonoma, Weightwatchers, Staub Cookware, Danone, Kraft and more.

Jo began life as a BBC journalist and then worked in PR in London. But a love of cooking and a desire to find a fulfilling career allowed her to spend more time with her kids took her back to school to study cooking. After moving to the USA, she attended the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City. Now you will find Jo running her own food blog – The Family Food Kitchen – helping other busy families to eat well.

Takeaways

  • Food Styling is a Problem Solving Exercise: During recipe development, plan ahead to make sure your ingredients will help you make your dish look appealing. 
  • Don’t Hold Back on Good-Quality Ingredients: Better quality ingredients will have more vibrancy and make your photos pop more.
  • Create Depth and Movement in Food Photography: Use layering to create depth in your photos and take photos of movement (e.g. pouring a sauce).
  • Balance Perfection and Authenticity: While it’s important to make your photos look appealing and create intrigue avoid overly perfect photos – crumbs and spills in small quantities add character.
  • Proper Ingredient Storage: Store ingredients to maintain freshness and quality. For example improper storage of herbs can lead to wilting and might detract from your photos.
  • Adjust Cooking Times for Food Photography: There’s a difference between cooking to eat food and cooking for photography. Adjust cooking times to ensure that the food looks its best on camera.
  • Use Props and Tools for Food Styling: Jo discusses the importance of having a set tray with essential tools and props for food styling, such as sharp knives, tweezers, Q-tips, paper towels, toothpicks, spritz bottles, squeeze bottles, spatulas, and brushes to aid in food styling.
  • Layering Garnishes to Enhance the Dish: Use different garnishing techniques to elevate the appearance of dishes for photography. By layering garnishes strategically, you can add depth and visual interest to the dish.

Resources Mentioned

  • Food Magazines are still hugely relevant here, since they still employ dedicated food stylists. Read them often and take screen shots of pictures you like.
  • The Bite Shot has tons of free resources for food styling
  • Food Styling: The Art of Preparing Food for the Camera by Delores Custer is still considered to be the bible of food styling.

Transcript

Click for full script.

EBT516 – Jo Keohane

Intro 00:00

Food bloggers. Hi, how are you today? Thank you so much for tuning in to the Eat Blog Talk podcast. This is the place for food bloggers to get information and inspiration to accelerate your blog’s growth, and ultimately help you to achieve your freedom. Whether that’s financial, personal, or professional. I’m Megan Porta. I have been a food blogger for 13 years, so I understand how isolating food blogging can be. I’m on a mission to motivate, inspire, and most importantly, let each and every food blogger, including you, know that you are heard and supported. 

Megan Porta  00:38

How much time do you invest in food styling and thinking about your photos before you take them? Just curious, because personally, I’ve been food blogging so long that I really don’t pay proper attention to this part of it anymore. But my conversation today with a Jo Keohane she is the blogger over at the family food kitchen has really inspired me to give a little bit more attention to food styling. Jo started out as a food stylist versus a blogger. She was an intern at Good Housekeeping she had other food styling experience that prepared her to be an amazing food blogger and a stylist in that realm. She gives us a lot of great things to think about such as planning before you even start the recipe. Thinking about your ingredients thoroughly beforehand while you’re shopping. How to prep to get the best photos. What you should include in a food styling kit, backdrops, props, plating, garnishes. Oh my gosh, she covers so much in this episode. And there were things she mentioned that I hadn’t even thought about before. So I hope this inspires you. Like it inspired me. This is episode number 516 sponsored by RankIQ. 

Sponsor  01:54

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Megan Porta  03:24

Since graduating from Culinary School in NYC in 2010 Jo Keohane freelanced as a Recipe Developer and Food Stylist in test kitchens of many America’s best known publications, like Bon Appetit Magazine, Epicurious and Saveur. She has also worked with a variety of household brands like William Sonoma, Weightwatchers, Staub Cookware, Danone, Kraft and more. She started off life as a BBC journalist and then worked in PR in London. But a love of cooking and a desire to find a fulfilling career which would allow her to spend more time with her 3 kids took her back to school to study cooking. After moving to the USA in she was lucky enough to attend the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City. Now she runs her own food blog – The Family Food Kitchen – helping other busy families to eat well even when time is short! her blog focusses on easy, delicious and do-able recipes – and contains lots of one pot, sheet pan and easy meal ideas. 

Megan Porta  04:21

Jo, it is so great to have you on the podcast. How are you today?

Jo Keohane  04:25

I’m great. It’s great to be here. Megan, thank you for having me.

Megan Porta  04:27

Yes, super excited to chat about food styling. I don’t think we talk about this a whole lot or not enough here on a blog talk. So super excited to learn from you today. But first, do you have a fun fact to share with us?

Jo Keohane  04:39

I do. I am an absolute travel obsessive. I have to say I’ve tried I’ve traveled to so many countries I’ve probably lost count. And I’ve also worked in quite a lot of places around the world. I’ve worked in Bavaria in Germany. I taught English in Sri Lanka when I was a student. I’ve worked in a beach bar in Jamaica. I also lived and worked in Sydney, Australia for eighteen months in my 20s. So yes, I am a total. I’m a total travel nut. And I have to say I try and fool myself. I’m kind of still traveling because as you can tell, I’m a Brit, but I live in America. So I tell myself,

Megan Porta  05:13

You’re still on the road. 

Jo Keohane  05:15

Even though I’ve been here 15 years and three kids later.

Megan Porta  05:19

I love that. And do you have a anytime someone says this is a fun fact, I have to ask the question. Do you have a handful of top favorite places that you’ve been? I

Jo Keohane  05:28

do I love like Southeast Asia. It’s definitely my favorite. And Thailand is probably my favorite country of all. I mean, the food for a start is incredible. People are so lovely. It’s just the scenery spectacular. All of it. I would love to go back one day, one day.

Megan Porta  05:43

Yes, one day, but you have other adventures that sounds like to take, I just love people who travel. It says so much about them. I think they’re adventurous. They like exploring. They like different foods. They like interacting with different cultures and humans. I think there’s so much there.

Jo Keohane  05:59

I agree. I wish I could just do more of it.

Megan Porta  06:01

I know, I know. I have not done nearly enough traveling. But I love it too. My husband and I this year, we’re like, we have passports for all of our family. They’re all current.

Jo Keohane  06:13

There’s nothing stopping you now.

Megan Porta  06:16

Why are we not going somewhere internationally? So we have that on our agenda, to just just to figure it out this year, like we need to do first. Maybe Europe, Italy or Ireland? I don’t know. We just got to get out a little bit.

Jo Keohane  06:30

Just just start doing it. Yeah, yeah, sure. Exactly. 

Megan Porta  06:32

You just have to do it. So great to know that about you. So we’re going to talk about food styling, and how you got into that. And you have some amazing tips for people who want to just style their food a little bit better. But to frame this, would you just tell us a little bit about your blog?

Jo Keohane  06:48

Sure. So yeah, my blog is called The Family Food Kitchen. And as the name suggests, it’s all about helping you feed your family. We’ve obviously all such busy lives, I’ve got three kids myself, we really don’t want to be in the kitchen all day. But that said, you know, we all know that we have to eat better. And I don’t know about you, but I just worry about the kids having processed snacks, particularly all the time. And I just you know, want to help my my readers, my audience make more simple, good for you from scratch food. So I just try and keep it really simple. I make easy, doable recipes, if it’s not good. And it’s not fast, it doesn’t get made in my house, and it doesn’t get on my blog. So that really is my test. And that’s kind of the lens through which I filter all of my recipes. So I focus on a lot of easy dinners, you know, like one pot things, one pan things sheet pan dinners, things that don’t take long, it still tastes really good and don’t need a lot of cleanup, basically.

Megan Porta  07:40

That’s the perfect niche easy, no cleanup or limited cleanup. Easy dinners.

Jo Keohane  07:46

I do try and be really strict with myself, you know, in terms of what actually makes it on the blog, because I know the type of recipes my audience need. I am my audience.

Megan Porta  07:55

Yeah, quality control is super important. So when did you start your blog? 

Jo Keohane  07:58

So I started my blog, like lots of people in 2020. During COVID, I actually have been freestyling. And recipe developing for a long, a lot longer than that. When I moved to New York City in 2010. I wanted a career change. I was working as a food PR I’ve worked in journalism before that, but I wanted to go back to culinary school, which I did. And I was lucky enough to go to the Culinary Institute in New York. And I knew I wanted to work in food media. So I was lucky enough to get an internship with Good Housekeeping Magazine, which was amazing. I feel like I really learned how to recipe developing and recipe tests from the best. Absolutely. And I got to go on lots of food shoots and it just made me realize I loved the food styling piece. It’s so creative. I think it’s also a great complement to recipe development. And it’s just good to have you know, both of those twin skills. So I just took a bunch of jobs said yes to everything, worked to the freelance. I worked all over New York City literally in test kitchens of you know, some of the great magazines. You know, Bon Appetit, Epicurious, Saveur Magazine, and I just let try to learn my craft. And I didn’t know it at the time. But it turned out to be an amazing training ground for having a food blog.

Megan Porta  09:06

For sure. So you brought food styling into your blog. Usually it happens the other way around the show. Yeah, that’s super valuable piece. And are you glad it went that way? Yeah, food styling first and then food blogging,

Jo Keohane  09:20

I feel safe for me, because it just made me more confident with what I was doing. I mean, obviously, there’s a ton of stuff to learn when you start blogging, and it’s super overwhelming. But one thing I knew that I was really solid on was my recipe development and my food styling, which I think has helped so much because ultimately, you know, I think photography is such a big part of attracting people to your blog. 

Megan Porta  09:39

Yes. Oh my gosh, that’s so true. I’ve said that for so long. It’s an important piece for your blog, but also platforms like Pinterest are really yes image heavy and that is a great platform for getting traffic. So I totally agree with you. Okay, so you have an really extensive history with food styling. I love that you who worked for good housekeeping. Oh, my goodness, how many years were you there?

Jo Keohane  10:04

I resigned just from my internship, actually. And then I moved on and freelance for other people. But I mean, I tell you what, I learned an absolute ton when I was there. And the people were just amazing and so generous with their time. And I just feel like it’s just such a great brand to have on your resume. Because, as we know, they do everything by the book.

Megan Porta  10:22

That’s amazing. Okay, so Good Housekeeping, you got all of the background that you mentioned. So can you define what food styling is, for us that don’t have a definition for it? 

Jo Keohane  10:35

For sure. I mean, it’s interesting, lots of people would just think, you know, food styling, that’s taking pictures of food for the camera. But actually, it’s a lot more than that, you know, it really is a sort of, it’s a problem solving exercise, often, you know, a food stylist will really analyze a recipe before they go to shoot it to kind of figure out if there are any pain points there, you know, there’ll be thinking about if there’s any tricky ingredients, if there’s any technical issues that are going to be hard, for example, and then they’re going to do an analysis, if you like, before, they even begin to make sure that they’re getting the absolute best out of that dish, and they’re making it look as delicious as they can.

Megan Porta  11:11

Okay, so you’re analyzing the dish, even before you start before you play your camera,

Jo Keohane  11:16

I think that’s absolutely true. And I think a real top tip, for better styling is just to slow down, you know, we all have so much to do with blogging, but actually, if you slow down and really plan before you jump into cooking, that’s going to be so beneficial to you, you know, it helps to just run through and think, you know, are there any tricky ingredients in here, and we’re gonna have to show up extra, you know, for example, if you need a shot with a, I don’t know, like a runny egg yolk, you’re gonna have to buy a lot of it, you’re gonna have to do that shot more than once. So if you just get into that habit of constantly scanning ahead and thinking, you know, that does really, really help you out. And you can also, you know, right from the off, you can just start to think about the type of shot you’re going for, you know, is it going to be something that’s light, bright and airy with lots of fresh ingredients, you know, on a marble background? Or is it something that’s going to be like moody and cozy, maybe it’s a winter stew, and you’re going to need something that’s, you know, a little bit darker. So I think you know, right from the get go, if you slow down and really consider what you’re aiming for. That’s very, very helpful.

Megan Porta  12:15

How much time do you spend beforehand and kind of talk us through an example, if you don’t mind, like, you’re shooting a pasta dish, just some of the things that you would think through.

Jo Keohane  12:26

So if I was shooting, as I say, I would always stop before I start even prepping and think about what I’m trying to get to, you know, I think that a picture should tell a story. And you also need to think you know, what are going to be the process shots to try and show your, your reader how you got to your end result. We also know now that Google is looking for process shots, you know, it wants everybody to bring you step by step by step through a recipe. So, you know, rather than diving in, you think about how you’re going to tell that story. And you think about how you’re going to prep for each each part of that, if you like. Something like a pasta dish, my immediate response would be, you know, is it what type of sauce is going on that pasta, you know, if it’s something like creamy sauce, I would probably immediately think, you know, maybe I’m going to cook the elements of that dish separately. If I was just going to eat the pasta sauce, I’d probably follow the recipe to the letter. But if I’m cooking for food styling, that’s different. And I might say for example, double up the sauce. So it looks really delicious, and really kind of rich and creamy at the end. 

Megan Porta  13:29

Wow, I like that you think through this. I’m admittedly, I’m kind of embarrassingly, one of those people that just go flies by the seat of my pants. I’m like, Oh, well, this looks good. Or I have leftover parsley in the fridge. I’ll just sprinkle that on top. But I like this idea of actually thinking through to the end because that can save you so much time and then also energy on the spot because we’ve all been there when we’ve been scrambling like oh my gosh, the sauces hot I have to run it, you know, like scrambling all over the kitchen. And yeah, that’s stressful.

Jo Keohane  13:59

For sure. I think that’s a really good point, Megan, I think like we’re all in a rush, aren’t we we’re all trying to do more in less time. But I think if you save, you know, if you use a few minutes at the start that can save you time on the way through, we’ve all been there, you know, you’re trying to get I don’t know how to get the food made before the kids come home, whatever it is. But But actually, the worst thing you can do is like have the food ready but not have thought about the other elements. Because as we know food doesn’t look at its best for long. You know, you really have to work on having figured out everything else before you get the food ready. The worst thing in the world is like running around your kitchen looking for like a pair of tweezers or trying to route around in the bid route around in the fridge for some parsley to sprinkle on something and you know when you haven’t thought about it, so I think you know, sort of stopping and figuring it out beforehand is definitely key.

Megan Porta  14:45

Do you think through to your hero shot before you even start? 

Jo Keohane  14:49

Yeah, I mean, I definitely do. Although, you know, the only caveat to that is that you also have to be fairly flexible because as we know like once you’ve plated something sometimes you’ll take that shot, and you’ll look at it and you’ll think, oh my gosh, it just looks flat. It just looks, I don’t know what’s wrong with it. And then you’ll have to really think on your feet. And that’s when you do have to be fast. And you have to kind of, you know, change things up. So I mean, it depends, but But yeah, I do try and think through my hero shot, I tried to think through my process shots, for sure.

Megan Porta  15:17

Yeah, like, adjusting, as you said, being flexible. And I think with time, you get more used to being able to do that. But at first, it’s like, oh, no, that didn’t work. Now what? Right?

Jo Keohane  15:28

I think it’s, I think it’s hard, you know, without the experience, but it’s like anything, you know, don’t be daunted. Because I think, as you do it more and more, you definitely can, you know, figure out your own sense of style. And you can have a look that, you know, that you’re trying to achieve that does sort of make you stand out in comparison to other people. It’s like anything with blogging consistency practice, you know, and also, don’t panic, if you don’t like the shot, you don’t have to throw it away, you know, you can try to modify it at the end to lift it. And to make it look more like what you might have had in mind. 

Megan Porta  16:04

What are some elements that you use to help your images stand out?

Jo Keohane  16:08

I think layering is really important, I think if you look for images that you really like, so if you’re looking for a food magazine, and you start to try and analyze those, you can often see that there is a depth there. So for example, if you’re plating a soup, you might have a background, and then on top of that, you’d have a tablecloth and then on top of that, you might have a plate, and then you’d have your bowl, and then you pour your soup, and then you might garnish your soup. And then you might add some cracked black pepper to your soup. And by the time you’ve done all of that, you know, your image is starting to acquire some interest and it becomes more compelling, I guess, to the person who’s looking at it. So I think that’s definitely one thing. I think also movement is another one that you need to think about. So, you know, the classic one is pouring syrup on pancakes, you know, movement draws the reader in. But I think that’s another way that you can make your image look compelling. I think another thing that’s important is just making sure it doesn’t look too perfect. It’s a real balance here because you, you don’t want your image to look super messy and sloppy. You don’t want that to be like crumbs all over the place and drips and you know, spills. But obviously, like a few crumbs here and there can lift your image from being very boring and very sterile to looking super delicious and also a little bit more approachable. So I think once you have got your food picture, you really have to kind of look through a very critical eye at it and just really ask yourself like, is there something else I can do to just lift this or layer it up and just take it take it to the next level?

Megan Porta  17:40

I love all of that. I think the movement is really common in the food niche because like you mentioned the pores are the drizzles. I love the cheese pools. Yeah, something implying that there’s a hand reaching in and pulling it out. That’s my favorite. 

Jo Keohane  17:56

Yeah, I think it just adds a bit of authenticity to it as well, doesn’t it? We don’t want things that like to party perfect because they’re off putting. But yeah, the cheese pull. Everybody always asks about the cheese pools, it’s funny.

Megan Porta  18:07

They’re hard. Some cheese pulls are hard, but when you pull it off, oh my they’re amazing. It’s

Jo Keohane  18:12

So satisfying. It’s so satisfying. Definitely anything with cheese is one of those recipes like you should automatically have your alarm bell ringing and like I need to buy extra cheese. And also, you know you’ve got you’ve got to accept sometimes you can’t reheat cheese like you get one shot, you know, yes, it’s so true. You should be using the right cheese. You know, mozzarella is always the best for the pull and you need like on something like a grilled cheese, you really need it the way you cook it as well. You need to cook it kind of low and slow. If you go too far too fast, it can separate the cheese. You know, you don’t get that nice long pull. And if it doesn’t work, you have to accept it. Like you can’t reheat it like you have to start again. 

Megan Porta  18:47

It’s such a bummer. I have photographed a lot of grilled cheese. And oh my and eaten a lot because of that. Because it’s like, oh, this one’s done have to start over. 

Jo Keohane  18:56

There’s got to be some consolation.

Megan Porta  18:59

At least are delicious. Right? 

Jo Keohane  19:00

Exactly. Exactly. 

Megan Porta  19:02

Do you think about your styling when you’re shopping? 

Jo Keohane  19:05

I absolutely do. Yeah. And it sounds silly. But I do think good food styling does begin with shopping. And I have to say like food stylists are just shopping ninjas. I feel like, I got to know New York City through the grocery shopping, it was such a good way to get to know it. You know, and it does make such a difference. It’s just a good habit to get into. If for example, you’re doing a salad and there’s only three ingredients like it really does help to get the very best ingredients you can get, you know, if it’s a tomato and onion salad, like you know, it’s worth going to the farmers market and trying to get that super super red tomato as opposed to like the anemic one you might get a supermarket because that’s just gonna lift is all about bringing your reader in and making your reader choose your recipe over your competitors recipe and, you know, something like a great ingredient can help with that. I think as well you need to kind of start to realize the again, it’s like certain ingredients seem so simple, like a very simple food like a burger. Uh, you know, that seems easy. But something like a burger bun can really hold up your styling. If you if your burger bun smushed, you know, that’s going to really be noticeable on the on the picture. So, you know, just take the time when you’re shopping as much as you can to just try to ensure that those things, you know that the things you’re picking are the best they can be. 

Megan Porta  20:20

So not to rely on Instacart maybe when you photos.

Jo Keohane  20:24

We all have to at times it now. But like wherever you can, it’s not necessarily about buying the most expensive thing. It’s just like thinking about how it needs to look in your picture, then just making sure you know, that informs your shopping choices, I guess.

Megan Porta  20:37

Yeah, I don’t know about you. But there have been so many times when I use Instacart. By the way, I love Instacart. When when you put produce and then you like you said the anemic tomato or something, you’re like, Oh, this is not what I envisioned at all. So if you’re choosy about a specific ingredient to just maybe go do that, scope it out yourself,

Jo Keohane  20:57

I think so just get to know like the great local, you know, food stores, like I’ve got an amazing little Asian grocery store up the road for me, which is brilliant, you know, the veggies in there better than I get in, you know, fancy grocery markets. So just get to know what what’s on offer. And, you know, you never know, sometimes as being a food stylist, you’ll need something crazy. You know, you’ll need a turkey in July, you know, you need to kind of be aware and kind of get to know the people that can help you when you need slightly unusual or difficult ingredients. 

Megan Porta  21:27

And that might mean going to a handful of places. But then at least you know you’re getting quality ingredients. 

Jo Keohane  21:32

Exactly. Yeah, for sure.

Sponsor  21:35

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Megan Porta  22:59

And then how do you prep for styling? I know there’s a lot of prep involved in just even if styling is not top of mind, we have to do like the ingredient shots a lot of people do in the process shot. So how do you prep? 

Jo Keohane  23:11

Well, I mean, I like to I don’t know if everyone likes to well at this, but I like to have a day where I’m cooking, you know, it just doesn’t make sense to me to be, you know, writing on my desk and then running over to the kitchen doing a bit over there, then back to the you know, I try and batch up, you know, when I was food styling professionally, you know, on a sheet you could be doing, I don’t know eight to 10 recipes a day. And they really, you know, get through them. So I think for me, it makes sense to prep all together. And then you know that you’re being efficient with your time. And I think that really helps actually, because we will have to compartmentalize so much with blogging. So if you can get a few recipes together and do them on the same day, I think that really helps. You know, it goes without saying you know, you’ve gone to all this trouble with shopping, just make sure you store all your ingredients properly, you know, things like herbs being left, like on the wrong, you know, in the wrong part of the fridge and sort of going all wilty like, you can just avoid that just you know, wrap them up in some damp peeps how make sure they’re being stored properly, all of that stuff. Again, it just really, really helps I think. And I think when you’re prepping just remember you are not cooking to eat the food, you’re cooking to shoot the food and it’s kind of two different things. You know, something like if you’re making a pasta dish for dinner, you’re going to cook that pasta until it’s al dente, it’s perfect, but if you’re styling with it, and you’ve got a few recipes to get through, you might want to take that Pastor off, you know, a couple of minutes before it’s cooked, store it you know, put it in a Ziploc with some olive oil, it’s going to be fine it will hold and it will hold up better actually if it’s not fully cooked. So again, it’s just sort of remembering that cooking for the camera is not the same as cooking to eat the food if that makes sense. And similarly you know if you’re if you’re prepping meat, you know the camera might not see a sear on say for example, if you’re cooking something like I don’t know, pork tenderloin, the camera might not see the sear in the same way as your I would so you might be sear for a little bit longer than if you were eating it, you know, to really make sure you get that lovely deep golden brown crust. So again, just think you know, you might have to go the extra extra minute or two to make sure the camera picks up on that.

Megan Porta  25:12

Yeah, those are such great tips. And the herb thing so many times I’ve been like, well, I have fresh chives, and then you go and yeah, I use I stored them improperly. So then they’re like, brown or wilted.

Jo Keohane  25:24

I mean, I think also, anytime you’re using green vegetables as well, you know, you wouldn’t do this if you were eating broccoli for dinner, but you might want to blanch it, and then shock it in ice water to refresh it because it locks in that green color, you know. So even if your recipe doesn’t call for you to blanch the broccoli, you could absolutely do that anyway, because you’re gonna get a nicer color for your finished result. 

Megan Porta  25:45

Yeah, great tips. Love all of this, the searing is a great tip today just to accentuate things a little bit more for the camera, because, you know, I experienced that all the time where I see something with my eyes. And then when I look at the picture, it’s not the same. It’s just it shows up differently. 

Jo Keohane  26:02

It’s funny you say that, because you always have to develop a sort of double vision. You know what you’re really, really almost obsessively checking the detail at every turn. Because as you say, it doesn’t look the same. When you see on the screen, it doesn’t look the same. 

Megan Porta  26:15

Yeah, it’s true. Never show that the same. Okay? So do you have like a little kit or things that you use? You mentioned tweezers earlier, anything else that you use for food styling?

Jo Keohane  26:25

I do, I do for sure. And I think it really is a good idea to do this. I think a home styling kit doesn’t have to be huge, but a few key items are definitely going to help you lift your final results, what I use as etcetera you know, it’s just a clean half sheet pan once I put everything on. And then I know I have it, when I come to shoot, I have everything that I need. So I think if you can do that in advance, it’s just a great habit to get into everything on your set tray should really be there to help you sort of tweak that food to make it look better or fresher or the most appealing it can be obviously you need to have sharp knives to hand. I always try and have a chef’s knife and a paring knife, because you want to have those nice clean cuts on your food. And that really does help to make your your food stand out. Tweezers that’s always the classic one with food stylist but they are really useful you know, any job that’s kind of too fiddly for your fingers. You can use tweezers I like to have like one long pair and one shorter pair depending on what I’m using them for. Also Q tips, they’re really useful for like any spills or drips. As we said earlier, it’s good to make the food look a little bit lived in. But obviously you don’t just want like smears all over your place. Having stuff on hand, paper towels as well to mop up any spills, drips that you don’t want is super useful. I also get in the habit of I have my paper towels again. So they’re squares, and I just have a stack of squares piled up so that I’m not using like a ton of paper towels when I’m when I’m styling, if that makes sense. Toothpicks, they’re also really useful like for nudging food around, but not sort of making a mark on it. And if you have got something quite technical, like a burger or a sandwich to style, obviously, a toothpick can be really helpful for holding different items together. And obviously, you know, you can’t see them, but they’re making sure that all the different layers are standing in the right place. And anything tall like a stack of pancakes, you can anchor with the toothpicks, that’s really useful spritz bottles. That’s the other one that people always want to know about. I definitely think they’re super helpful. They help you refresh produce also like meat slices, anything that is sitting around for a minute, you know, can can start to look a little bit dry. So a spritz really helps to refresh and also herbs it helps to refresh those, you can have one filled with oil, and then you can have one filled with just water and then you can have one with a little bit of olive oil in it too. Or you know vegetable oil. And that just helps to give a little sheen. It’s especially good for things like steak slices, you know, where you want to make them look really juicy and delicious. I also think like squeeze bottles, and plastic syringes are good too, for adding sources. They just give you a little bit more control. You know, if you’re trying to style a burger, and you want to see like the distinct kind of layer of ketchup and a layer of mayo, whatever it is you’ve got, then you can just ease that on with a plastic syringe which is so so much easier than trying to kind of boil up it with a spoon. Spatulas they’re really useful like offsets, such as anything that’s creamy, like any dairy, you know yourself. Like if you just kind of blob it into a bowl, it really doesn’t look appealing. If you use a spatula to kind of spread it around. It starts to catch the light when you take that photo and it just looks much more appealing and you know, it just stands out better. 

Jo Keohane  29:41

Brushes, they help to you know, you can use them for all kinds of things, different sizes. I have, you know, you could use the brush to brush some oil over something that’s looking dry. You can use a bigger brush to get crumbs off your set, you know or to brush comes onto something you know, so definitely so that except brushes is really useful. And then you can also keep, you know, things like cooking spray and kitchen bouquet that’s towards the more sort of artificial end of food styling. But sometimes kitchen bouquet, you know, the, if you haven’t come across, it’s, it’s like the browning seasoning sauce that can really help you know, if you’re trying to kind of brown up a turkey, it’s almost like spray tanning it, I always think you can put a drop of that in a spritz with some water and spray it you know, and it really it kind of brings that kind of, you can do it before you put the turkey in the oven. And it just makes it look, you know, a little bit more golden. And it gives that kind of luster, you know. So that’s another another tip. But I definitely think it’s worth kind of compiling your own set tray that you can just have every time that you’re shooting.

Megan Porta  30:45

Why your tray sounds impressive, Jo, I’ve never had a tray like this. I must say I’ve had a few elements here and there. But usually it’s like my fingers and whatever’s within reach. You’d probably be appalled if you watch me take pictures actually.

Jo Keohane  31:00

I’m sure I’ve done everything and more.

Megan Porta  31:03

But it’s the goals like this. It sounds so like this would make my life so much easier if I just had everything there. Simplify the whole process. I think. 

Jo Keohane  31:12

I think that’s true. Yeah.

Megan Porta  31:14

I love hearing you talk through your, your kid. What do you do for backdrops?

Jo Keohane  31:18

Okay, so for backdrops again, as I said, you know, before you start, you just want to think about the mood that you’re trying to create. I mean, I tend to shoot my style tends to be like quite light, bright, airy, lots of fresh produce. So I tend to go with lighter backgrounds. But you know, there’s so many options for this. And it doesn’t have to be expensive. I feel like I’ve shot on everything in my house, you know, the floor, the table, a chopping board, you can get linens and lay them down, you can obviously buy there’s so many places now online where you can buy your own food styling backdrops, which is amazing. And there’s so many to choose from. I mean, I’ve also made my own backdrops and it’s, it’s not hard at all, you know, you can just make a backdrop out of a piece of MDF, you know, if you get two or three complementing paint colors, you can sort of paint over it, you can even do it with a sponge. And you can sort of sponge those colors on so that they complement each other. And then at the end, if you stand it down, it can start to get that lovely kind of rustic lived in look. So that’s another option for a backdrop. You know, it doesn’t have to be complicated, and it doesn’t have to be expensive. Just a little bit of planning and figuring out you know what color you’re going for. And you know, there’s lots of options. Tiles are great, you know, that’s another one that I’ve used in the past. You can buy them from it, you know, from Home Goods, or wherever and just stick those onto an MDF board. You know, there’s lots of options.

Megan Porta  32:36

Get creative one that I’ve used. I’ve had this board for ever like probably since I moved into our house, which was seven years ago. I still use it all the time. It’s just an MDF board with like sticky fake granite. So it was like a roll of basically like a giant sticker that looks like white granite. And it has held up so well. And I love it. I love the look. It’s it’s amazing and so cheap.

Jo Keohane  33:04

Yeah, I think you have to keep your ears, your eyes peeled for those because what I mean, I remember literally in the street in Brooklyn, I found this amazing like checkerboard, it’s like an old wooden checkerboard, I still use it to this day. And it’s beautiful. Like you can’t really fake that old lift in Word. You know, it’s it’s just so nice. So I think you’ve got to keep your eyes open. Because you never know. There’s lots of sources for backgrounds, I think and it’s, it’s quite good to take your inspiration from you know, the different textures and the different colors. It’s kind of all it all builds in and adds in.

Megan Porta  33:34

Yeah, yeah, it I think it is different for everyone. Everyone’s going to have a different preference. And like you mentioned mood and something that complements your style. So yeah, checkerboard what a great find. That’s such a that’s so cool. Okay, let’s see, what are we missing? Is there anything else? As far as details? Maybe garnishes? Do you want to talk about garnish? Just a little bit? 

Jo Keohane  33:58

For sure. I mean, as I said earlier, I think with garnishing, it’s all about layering up the dish, you kind of build it up and build it up, you know, especially if it’s a food that’s tricky to style. So some foods are just tricky to style. And again, it’s good to kind of start to realize that advanced what they are. So anything that’s Brown, you know, brown soups, brown stews, it’s great to consider in advance how you’re going to bring those to life, right? I think so garnish is a major way of doing that. I think the garnish should always compliment the dish. It shouldn’t be so random that you’re thinking what on earth is that doing on that dish? You know, it should it should be something that you know, complements the recipe, but does add genuinely add something I think you know with brown foods, it’s good to have something contrasting if you can so often that’s why we’ll have you know, sour cream with a chili or we’ll have you know, coconut cream with a curry. Once you’ve got that sort of lighter element you that you then might want to add in some fresh herbs. You know, once the fresh herbs are in, maybe you’re thinking I like that it’s improved but actually maybe I also need some pepper flakes or a grinding of black pepper And you can sort of build it up from there. And I think that actually, that’s one of the easiest kind of ways to really make your your food stand out and look different. It’s just kind of building up layer on layer and kind of maybe assessing once you’ve, you’ve added one thing and thinking, do I need to add something else? If so, what is that?

Megan Porta  35:18

Yeah, the trick that I use the most simple trick ever, when I first started taking photos of food was pepper. I remember thinking, oh my gosh, it was so easy to transform this ugly brown casserole or whatever it was, just with a sprinkle of pepper. I mean, it can be as simple as that. 

Jo Keohane  35:34

It’s so true. I think that’s that’s exactly right. It doesn’t have to be difficult, but it’s just about taking the time to think about it. Yeah, I think that’s completely true. 

Megan Porta  35:44

And then what do you do for like props and plating? This is where I get hung up, because I am super lazy. I like to go fast and be as efficient as possible. And yeah, I often don’t think, to this realm. But yeah, enlighten us.

Jo Keohane  35:59

I think very in a way your instinct is it’s not wrong, because as bloggers, we can’t spend too long futzing over props, you know, we have to remember that the food, our food is the star of the show. And it should really be the central image. I mean, you don’t have the luxury of a lot of space nowadays, you know, you’re thinking about a thumbnail on Google, so often is good to have, you know, to have your plate take center stage. I mean, I think it you know, it’s great to think about propping, but I do think some people become you know, too hung up on that. Because you know, that is there to support the main image, remember? So yes, it’s nice to include some other things for interest in for detail. And just to make your image, you know, stand out or different. But, you know, at the same time, I think you’re right, in a way not to kind of get too hung up on that stuff. 

Megan Porta  36:44

Oh, good. 

Jo Keohane  36:45

Yeah, I mean, I try and think about how to tell the story, you know, make sure that you’ve got all your ingredients in your process shots, and make sure that you’re including, you know, if if a soup has multiple ingredients, you know, making sure that the that the person who’s looking at it can see what’s in the soup from the picture. It’s amazing how many times you know, you’ll go, you’ll click on I don’t know, like a mushroom and chicken and rice soup, and you can’t really tell what you’re looking at. It sounds it sounds basic, but you know, really ask yourself, can I see every element of the dish in my finished in my finished product, you know, and I think that that’s, that’s really helpful for your hero shot and let your prop and kind of fall in with that. Don’t be too hung up on that, because I agree it can take so much time. And that’s not necessary.

Megan Porta  37:25

Right? Yeah, that was a good point, too, about making sure you can see all of the ingredients, I don’t know how many times I’ve gotten done, I’m like, oh, no, there was corn there and I couldn’t see the corn or whatever. So I had to go back and…

Jo Keohane  37:36

I made another another tip make and I you know, when I’m cooking, if it’s something that’s you know, got multi ingredients, like a soup, you know, as we just talked about, like a chicken rice and mushroom soup, for example. Often I will even pull out those ingredients when I’ve cooked them. So I might see off my mushrooms and I wouldn’t I would literally look for like five or six pretty mushrooms that I can really tell have a nice stalk and a nice shape. And I’ll literally set those aside on a pay whilst they cook the rest of the soup. Similarly, if I’m shredding the chicken, I’ll save and reserve you know, some nicely shredded chicken to the end when I’m actually shooting. And if I can’t see the chicken clearly, and I can’t see the mushrooms in my own shot, you know, I’ll add those pieces in at the end. I’ll integrate them, you know, make them look like they are in the bowl. I won’t just stick them on the top. But like I can make sure by doing that, that I know that every element of the dish can be seen. And I think that’s the that’s quite a handy way of making sure.

Megan Porta  38:31

Great tip. I think I used to do that. That was long ago. And now I’m like, Oh, whatever. Whatever flies.

Jo Keohane  38:38

Yeah, and it’s a balance because you don’t want to make it look artificial. You want to make it look like a real dish. But I do think it helps.

Megan Porta  38:44

Totally agree. Okay, any other tips for food styling,

Jo Keohane  38:48

I mean, I just think as I said earlier, you know, just don’t be daunted and just keep keep practicing and you really will develop your own style. It’s easy to be to be put off when you see a perfect image in a magazine but you’ve got to remember you know, there’s probably 10 People that have been involved on that shoot, you know you are one person at home so don’t be daunted and don’t be put off and just experiment, experiment experiment. And really look at your photos. And I mean I don’t know about your blog, but on my blog, I think my top probably my top 10 traffic posts are also my top 10 best photos honestly I think I think it’s really really that simple. You know if you look at the look at the posts that are doing well and look at the images and see if they have anything in common and see if they you know if they are you’re stronger images tries to kind of reproduce more of what you were doing in those photos.

Megan Porta  39:34

So I’m looking at your blog and I love that your a lot of your images are really close up focusing in on, you know what the food is, and I feel like a lot of food stylists do more of a way back like seeing, you know, extensive props and colors and mood. I really appreciate that. You do this. This is totally my style as well. Like let’s get to it. Let’s show the color. Let’s show or the details of the ingredients, that sort of thing? I

Jo Keohane  40:03

think so because I just think as bloggers, we don’t have the luxury of having all of that space and being able to pick out beautiful props and a lovely tablescape. I mean, that looks great in a magazine. But as a blogger, you just, you want to show the food off, you want to make it look super enticing. You want to get somebody to click on that and to want to make it and I think in order to do that the close up is like super compelling, because you can see all those delicious ingredients. 

Megan Porta  40:26

Like focusing on I’m looking at one that has Parmesan cheese, and you can see just the detail of the cheese and you can’t do that if you don’t get close in on the dish. 

Jo Keohane  40:37

Right. I think that’s absolutely true. For sure.

Megan Porta  40:40

I love your style.

Jo Keohane  40:41

It’s beautiful. You thank you so much.

Megan Porta  40:44

Well, thank you so much for joining us, Joe. This was enlightening and inspiring too. As someone who definitely does not take much time to take photos these days. Thank you for inspiring us.

Jo Keohane  40:57

Oh, of course. Thank you for having me.

Megan Porta  40:59

Do you have either favorite quote or words of inspiration to leave us with?

Jo Keohane  41:02

I think I have two for blogging. My first one is you can have your success or you can have your excuses. You can’t have both. And that’s me sometimes, you know, when you’re feeling like it’s a lot to do and it’s overwhelming, like you just have to keep going you just have to keep being consistent. So I tried to remember that one. And my other one would be how do you eat an elephant one bite at a time because I think that’s you know another one it’s a nice beauty reference but like it really is a lot to blog and you’re wearing so many hats, food stylists being one of them just one of them. So you know you just have to sort of take it slow and keep keep going one piece at a time and you will definitely get there. 

Megan Porta  41:40

Love both of those. Thanks for sharing those. We’ll put together a show notes page for you if you want to go look at those you can head to eatblogtalk.com/thefamilyfoodkitchen. Tell everyone where they can find you Jo.

Jo Keohane  41:52

Yeah, so my blog is The Family Food Kitchen. I’m on Instagram @jokeohane. My Pinterest is thefamilyfoodkitchen too and Facebook @familyfoodkitchen.

Megan Porta  42:02

Everyone go check out Jo’s amazing photos and content and thank you again for being here Jo and thank you for listening food bloggers. I will see you next time. 

Outro 42:13

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