Artificial Food Styling

Before diving into the behind the scenes setup of one of the photos in my book, I’d like to first announce the winner of last week’s Food Blogging For Dummies giveaway. The winner, as selected by, is Lily (comment number 20)!

I still have two copies of Food Blogging For Dummies to give away, and due to the book shipping out earlier than anticipated, I’m giving away the final two copies in this post. Read on to learn about artificial food styling and then leave a comment on this post for your chance to win! 

I spend a significant portion of the book covering the ins and outs of food styling and photography. After all, food photographs are one of the biggest draws to any popular food blog. One of the topics that inevitably arises when discussing food styling is the difference between the artificial and natural approaches to making a dish look its best. I’m over on today discussing those differences, but wanted to give you a behind the scenes look at one of the artificially-styled shots featured in the book.

Artificial Food Styling

Substituting glue for milk is one of the oldest food styling tricks in existence. The sticky substance is a spot-on swap-in due to its shiny white color. But it’s glue’s thicker texture that allows it to support the weight of cereal, which absorbs far less glue than it does milk. Because I am a one-woman team when it comes to the cooking, styling and photography for Just a Taste, I didn’t have a helper to hold the bottle of glue while I captured the dripping shot below. The solution? A few strategically-placed clamps and rocks to do the dirty work!

You’ll also note in the image below that I crafted what’s known as a false bottom. Rather than fill the entire bowl with glue—a wasteful and pricey option—I fashioned a plastic lid and tape across the top and used less than one bottle of Elmer’s to get the full bowl of milk effect.

Artificial Food Styling

The photo below is how the final shot turned out for the book. It’s important to note that food bloggers don’t generally use the artificial approach to food styling because food bloggers eat what they make and post about on their blogs. But the technique is popular among advertisers looking to stage the perfect shot that will last for hours on set. There are also truth-in-advertising laws that apply to the appearance of food products, which you can read more about on the Federal Trade Commission’s website.

I adhere strictly to the natural (re: edible) approach to food styling, but I find the artificial approach to be a fascinating alternative and definitely worthy of discussion!

Artificial Food Styling


To enter to win a copy of Food Blogging For Dummies, leave a comment below that answers the following question:

What is the single most enticing element that draws you to a food blog?

Two individual winners will be selected via and announced on Monday, April 9. This giveaway closes on Sunday, April 8 at 12 p.m. EST.

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  1. For me it’s the “behind-the-scenes” work. I’m always fascinated by the use of everyday things that have absolutely nothing to do with the food itself. Here’s another tip for you: Use motor oil as a substitute for maple syrup on those yummy pancakes! along with colorful little fruits.

  2. I just found your blog through a Pinterest website, and have already marked a few recipes I want to try! Your food looks delicious, I can’t wait to find more recipes here and give them a try. Thank you!

  3. Thanks for the artificial food styling tip — never knew glue can be used beyond what we all thought it could do :)

  4. OF COURSE, in a nutshell, the photos that highlight the potential beauty of a dish do much to make me pause long enough to decide on the other questions. For me, it’s the appeal of the recipe…is this something that I will want to cook?…that will be easy yet challenging enough?…that will allow me to expand my repertoire of meals? that I would enjoy preparing…etc?

  5. I like a good mix of recipes, step by step pictures, and when the author adds their personal life in the blogs.

  6. Beautiful photography is the first thing that draws me in but the writing has to be creative and personable for me to return.

  7. Great photos are what typically grabs me off of Tastepotting, but for me to come back it is the honesty of the writer about the process and results. Everyone has fails in the kitchen and when the blogger can say something like, “Really, I wouldn’t rate this as a favorite” or something along those lines gives me a sense of security in trying the recipes that he or she did give rave reviews.

  8. Hands down, it’s the photos that draw me in, but it’s the writing that keeps me coming back. If someone takes stunning photos but doesn’t have anything to say, I can easily just spend my time on pinterest or food gawker looking at photos.

  9. Quite honestly? The food photography. Once I’m on the site though, the recipes have to stand up to scrutiny or I’m out within minutes, but the photography brings me in. Thank you so much for sharing this bit of info though. Its funny, but I never thought about people taking photos of fake food, but it makes sense. Probably why the food you order at restaurants never looks like the photo. ;)

  10. Color.i’ve always “eaten” with my eyes first. Once my sister-in-law served blue ice cubes in Dr. Pepper in honor of our home team, and thirsty or not, I couldn’t swallow it. Congrats on your book debut!

  11. Pictures of desserts that just came out of the oven, and are oozing with chocolatey goodness, yuum so good!
    BTW to find more great recipes just google, “thebakingapprentice”
    Thanks for the awesome recipes you post!!!

  12. I love how you left uncovered the secrets of the cereal boxes pictures! I’ve always been curious about what the food in the photos in advertisement and packages is made of. When I visit a food blog, I’m mostly attracted to the photos, obviously! Specially in sites like foodgawker or tastespotting, if the plate in the photo looks doable by a non-chef person, then I go for it! I love to cook real food, so if it looks like it came out of a beauty salon, I generally don’t open the recipe.

  13. I definitely eat with my eyes first… the photos draw me in and then the recipe usually catches me for good!!! I’m a tastespotting addict, checking it daily for inspiring pictures, recipes and simply for fun!!

  14. I love photos of oozing, gooey desserts! I also always like to know about the person writing the blog. I find the hardest part of food blogging is not the blogging bit, but getting amazing photos!

  15. Definitely the photos. If there are step-by step photos for recipe posts, huge bonus! Well lit, crisp and detailed photos are nice to look at.

  16. the headline! if it’s creative, colorful, and if the name of the blog is catchy, it encourages me to stay.

  17. The photos and the little comments that the author makes like telling a history of a favorite recipe or maybe how they may have tweaked a recipe. I also like the fact that an author will tell how many attempts they made at a recipe before nailing it and what they did to achieve the success.

  18. Breakfast recipes! I’m always looking for new and exciting things to make for breakfast as it’s my favorite meal of the day. And if there’s an overwhelming number of the recipes with peanut butter, all the better!

  19. In order of importance(at least for me..:)’s photograph 2. blog’s name 3. the title of the photo.

  20. I do like nice pictures (especially if a talented photographer will also share their little tricks) but I what I most appreciate are honest as-objective-as-possible descriptions of the outcome of the recipe. Something like “scrumptious” or “Make this! Now!” are kind of obvious reactions to a recipe you found worthy of sharing. They also don’t tell me a whole lot. Let me know if a cookie is rather sweet, if the taste of lemon in the risotto is strong or faint, if the chicken skin is crispy or tender.

  21. This was an interesting post… I remember learning about artificial food styling in elementary school (no idea what class it was for!) and being fascinated. The one aspect that makes me bookmark a food blog is accessibility of recipes, though pictures and good writing don’t hurt!

  22. Pictures! I don’t even look twice at a recipe post if there isn’t a photo to go with it. I want to at least see the finished product but the process & steps are fun to see too!

  23. The single thing that draws me to a food blog is the ease of the recipe of the food being made. If the blogger/person presenting the food goes way over my head with the ingredients and doesn’t make something that I could make, I click out. It’s not that I don’t want to make it, it’s just that sometimes they are too in-depth for me or make things too difficult that I don’t have time for! That being said, I love your blog :)

  24. The first thing I look up in a blog is the pretty pictures. And in seconds comes the recipes, I love all things scrtahv-made.. No shortcuts!! And desserts blogs are also my favorites! :)

  25. Food that is well captured to show texture and depth… and also expresses “ease of attainment” that tells the reader that “you too can do THIS”.

  26. The most important factor is the photography, in absence of other info. But if I know the quality of the recipes (from personal experience or reviews, etc), I’ll go for that instead.
    p.s. this setup is just too funny :-). So creative!

  27. The food porn factor is definitely what draws me in. If the recipe had a tasty-sounding title and starts out with a great picture of the finished product – preferably with oozing cheese – I’m hooked.

  28. Definitely the photographs with good lighting! I love a clear, well-lit, vibrant yet soft photograph of delicious-looking food.

  29. What draws me in is a combination of the recipe (something new and interesting or a twist on something I’ve seen before) and the photo on foodgawker. If it looks enticing, I’ll investigate further, but I’m especially interested if it shows what I wish my food would turn out like!

  30. Found your blog from your BlogHer post. Thank you for posting it. As an aspiring photographer capturing all kinds of moments that you want and hope will last forever, even images of food. Thanks for the sharing this awesome sneak peek into food styling. :)

    RE your question: the writer/photographer/styler (their blog has to have the whole package for me to jump ship). Your BlogHer post pulled me to your blog because of your photography and your skill as a food stylist. You also talked (wrote) like you know what you’re really talking about. :)

  31. For me, it has got to be the photos. Photos showing the creamy sauce, or the refreshing citrus taste.
    Another thing that draws me is the writer; I like a writer who I can relate to, be ‘friends’ with (even if they have no idea I exist!), one that shows “oh hey, take a look at the surface of my life :)”

  32. the photos, of course! some people take such good pictures that i’m drooling after the end of the post! and i love to see how-to’s on people’s blog.

  33. The photos, if the food looks good I will try it. If the food don’t look good, then well…I won’t be eating that.

  34. Most enticing is the lighting and background. I love the natural blue light and a good placement for the food background!

  35. The recipes and real life stories of those who create the blog, who seem to be living my life at the same time!

  36. If i see chocolate.. Im there! Lol im easily attracted to many food blOgs. A close second would have to be if they say the recipe is “healthy” and tastes good!

  37. For me, I find new food bloggers based on a really great looking recipe, but I’ll continue to follow them if they have a great sense of humor and good stories to go along with it.

  38. To me the photograph draws me in, but the recipe and post has to be interesting to hold my attention.

  39. What a great tip! I can’t wait to see more. What draws me first to most food blogs are mouth water photos. Photos that make me want to lick my screen tend to draw me back! I also like humor. Most of my favorite blogs not only have yummy recipes/photos but they crack me up and make me laugh out loud every day.

  40. Great photos make me “taste” a recipe first with my eyes – they get me thinking about how the ingredients will come together as a taste in my mouth.

  41. Whether or not the voice behind the blog seems genuine-I love a blogger who can make a post interesting whether it be about peanuts or an elaborate meringue cake! And, a great set of pictures to go with never hurts either!

  42. Definitely the photos. It’s the same for cookbooks and blogs – I need to see the finished product! That’s why foodgawker is so amazing. :)

  43. I don’t think it can be one thing for me, it has to have a good voice, good pictures, and an interesting topic. Without a combo of those three, I’m not hooked :)

  44. For me, it has to have step by step photos, aka “pictorials” because I’m such a rookie in making food I need all the help I could get!

  45. The recipe is what brings me to a food blog. I love finding unique food ideas, techniques and flavor combinations.

  46. I love people who are passionate about what they write about. It doesn’t have to be gorgeous- but you must love (or be honest) about what you post!

  47. As much as I love me some good food photos, I think I’m most drawn in by the author’s writing (and personal) style.

  48. Definitely the photos! If the photo makes me hungry, I am trying the recipe. I am pretty easy to please, probably because I am already a food and recipe addict ;)

  49. creative ideas , with a good title to attract my attention. after that, i like nice photos and a good story to accompany a recipe.

  50. If I had to pick one single thing that draws me to a food blog, it’s the stories that people tell – what they are willing to share about their lives and their experiences and how that impacts them daily.

  51. wow great tips! You taught me something new for sure! Hope you had a great weekend!

  52. As neat as pictures can be, I really appreciate a witty writer. I enjoy laughing while looking at beautiful pictures of beautiful food. And then I want to raid my kitchen to make what they showed! Being entertained beyond the view is always nice.

  53. The single most enticing thing that draws me to a food blog would have to the titles of the blog posts. If it sounds good, I’ll read it :-) Thanks for a great giveaway.

  54. I’m familiar with several food styling tricks, but have never heard of the “glue approach.” Very interesting! When it comes to food blogs, I’m enticed most by the creativity of a recipe. I love when bloggers present traditional ingredients in unconventional ways. Thanks for continuing to share all your great knowledge with the rest of us!

  55. Definitely photos. It’s the same for cookbooks. If they don’t have photos, forget it. I want to SEE what the person made!

  56. Stunning photographs of good food. It’s so inspiring and motivating. People eat with their eyes first. If your photos are enticing, I’m going to then read the recipe.