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What is free styling in food photography? How do I learn free styling? And where do I start, what will I need? When starting with food photography, one of the first activity you will do is free styling. It is quite a common activity because you learn new things by trying something new and exciting. 

Think of it like this: You are a sponge, soaking new skills and knowledge while free styling a scene. It’s no surprise when starting your food photography journey that everything is new.  That is because you are developing your own photography style, starting to create new certain habits and exploring new ways. You have your favourite props in mind and you tend to use the same compositions. You teach yourself how to take beautiful images of certain kind of foods and dishes, which soon becomes your comfort zone. 

The more you grow in food photography, the more activities you will have: writing for your blog, developing and growing your business. And starting from that moment, you will have less time to experiment or to have some creative free styling photoshoots. 

After becoming a professional photographer, you will be busy with with many things. When I started, I thought that being a full time photographer would allow me lots of time to shoot and release my creativity. But I was thinking wrong. When food photography becomes your full time job, many things and other activities will come on your path, and most of the times those are activities you don’t see or encounter when doing food photography as a hobby. 

Are you asking yourself now which activities? Time to look for clients, build a marketing strategy, finances, accounting, administration, and so many other activities. In other words: you will wear many hats in your business. And that means: you will not have enough time for creative free-styling photoshoots. 

I know it’s not always easy to only dedicate half a day every week to do a free-styling photoshoot. It’s not that we don’t want to do it, it’s just that there is always so much other things to do in food photography. But let me tell you 5 reasons why I do recommend keeping a few free styling sessions in your agenda every single week. 

Reason 1 - Free styling will help you grow your food photography skills

Have you ever heard this: If you want to grow, you need to do things differently? Because when doing things in the same way, there will never be a different outcome. This is the exact formula in food photography. Do you want to see improvements? Then the thing is: get more creative, create new ideas and do things differently. Take another approach, look at your set from a different perspective. You need to think out of the box and take it up a notch.

You might think: easier said than done. So let’s have a look at how you can actually think out of the box. 

Do you always tend to shoot certain subjects over and over? Well in the next you shoot what you should do is: prepare a subject that you don’t feel comfortable with, find other props and so on. For example, is shooting desserts your favorite thing? Next time, capture a salad. 

Are you using the same composition every time? Time to try something else. For example, you like composing your scene based on the composition guidelines such as: the rule of thirds, golden triangle etc. But next time when doing a free styling photoshoot, just try to do something completely opposite. Center your subject, click and see what happens! 

Do you like to create larger gathering scenes? Next time you do a free styling session, think about capturing a minimalistic scenery. It might feel like a simple task but it’s really tough! Because what defines a minimalistic approach? 

During a free styling activity, you can also keep the same props and just change your backdrops. You can discover new colour schemes, you haven't noticed before.

Reason 2 - Free styling will help you become an advanced problem solver

How can I think ahead, or think on my feet? What can I do to become a better food photographer while free styling? Free styling will help you a lot: not just by improving your photography skills, but you will become an advanced problem solver too. 

When starting to change your habits, you will start working with different subjects, different lightings, different compositions. When changing lots in your habits, you will see more clearly and encounter many challenges. Many. At first you will hate the images you are creating. But to become good at something, you will need to be bad at it at first. Does that makes sense? 

I encourage you to do a bad job, to create images you don’t like and to look at them. Observe them, see the details, try to understand why something is not working for you. And then try to improve it the next free styling session. 

What happens then is that you will start focusing on how to solve those flaws and turning it into challenges. This will turn on the switch your mind that will allow to see the solutions! And when you can’t solve something, just ask yourself: how can I solve this? Ask yourself this question and the answer will come to you. 

Why am I telling you this is? Because problem solving skills will become crucial when working with clients. If you shoot for clients in your studio, you can take it more easy, it allows you more thinking time. When something is not working, you have all the time to solve it. And the client doesn’t even know about it. 

But when you start photographing at a location, problem solving skills will become crucial. Your clients will be there with you and they will be giving you feedback on the images you shoot. They will ask you to correct some things. And your job is to think quickly how to solve things. Can you see how free styling and experimenting at home can help you out there? :). It's all about improvising and being quick on your feet.

Be honest with yourself, look at your situation and don’t create an unreal plan that would stress you out.

And this is why I want to support my members by offering them my help. I created the club, where they can grow and get the support needed. My mission is to help you create your planning, set your goals and show you how to achieve them! You can also get my support live and guidance in the club when you join us in the club!

Reason n.3 - free styling will help you become more versatile

What does it mean to be versatile in food photography? And what do I gain from it? I got my last client project based on my versatility, which was better than any of my dream projects and I am so grateful and happy to get this project. In other words: having the flexibility to create different kind of images. This was the feedback that the client gave me. They loved how I was able to create larger and complex scenes, filled with lots of objects. But they also loved my minimalist shots. 

As a professional photographer, you need to become a chameleon. You need to become flexible, and be able to create images based on your client request. And it’s not an easy job, because what the client wants, the client gets.

When shooting your own style over and over, what if a client approaches you and they asks you to create something different. And what if they are willing to pay for it? Will you turn it down because it’s not your style? No, you adapt as this becomes your job, which will become your source of income. 

Upper: Minimalistic, bright, modern image with colourful backgrounds, below: dark & moody, rustic complex scene

There will be many first projects for clients. And because of your regular free styling sessions and because you are trying new different things like: experimenting with different subjects, compositions, lighting. All of this will give you the confidence to accept the upcoming projects and do an excellent job!

Reason 4: Free styling will help you discover new things

Where can I learn new things? How can I recognise good or bad things in free styling? One thing in free styling is very important: do not rush things. Don’t push your creativity, just create and go with the flow. And if you don't get it perfect the first time, do not be harsh on yourself.

There is no objective in free-styling nor any mistakes. Nothing is wrong, nothing is perfect. Take it easy and let your creativity flow. Take time to style, shoot, review the images on your desktop screen if you tether.

Allow yourself feel the light, the mood, the storytelling. Keep asking yourself: “What will happen if …?”

  • What if I move this higher or lower?
  • What if I add this?
  • What if I move the light further?
  • What if I use this or that color?
  • What if I position this here?
  • What if you find a new style or technique you love and you had no idea about? And this is why taking the time for your mind discover new things while free styling is amazing. Giving yourself the space and time you need when free styling, will allow your mindset to expand.

    Reason n. 5 Free styling makes you feel inspired when you don't feel so

    Do you know the saying: move your body and your mind will follow? This is the same for free-styling. I have had many moments when I didn’t feel inspired and this would happen when I got busy with doing computer work. I got overwhelmed by all the administration things I needed to do and because of that I didn’t feel inspired or creative at all. 

    Does this sound familiar to you? Then free styling is the way to help you get the creativity and inspiration back. You will see how your creativity will follow your body. Start styling: take some simple subjects, play around with colors, props and compositions or lighting. Just after a few minutes, you will feel energised and inspired. You will get new ideas and at the end you end up with gorgeous images that will make you very proud. 

    And this is what free styling does at the ends, it rewards your mind with a great and positive feeling, a feeling of accomplishment. 

    Get inspired everywhere

    The best inspiration comes where and when you least expect it. If you don’t know what to shoot, take a walk in a supermarket, a bakery or a street market and see what veggies or fruit can inspire you. Or take a look in a food magazine, a cooking show on netflix or something that will create a spark in your mind. 

    Did you know that there are many free resources on the internet that can help spark your creativity? Pinterest, Instagram and many more websites can be a great source of inspiration. Or are you interested of finding other creatives, joining a club that can support you? Then joining our members club is a great option.

    Have a look at your favourite creators and save their images. Observe how they work with colours, subjects, lighting or storytelling. Pay attention to every detail, and then, try something similar during your free styling sessions. And what can you do with all the inspiration you gathered? Create a mood board, choose one subject, gather some props around and start shooting! 

    Just keep in mind that free styling is supposed to be fun, enjoyable and a personal quest of finding your own creativity! To become a master and chameleon of styles and to find the right mindset when dealing with clients. 

    Thank you for reading!

    Thank you for stopping by!

    If you want to dive into food photography, and take your skills to the next level, I invite you to join our Members’ Club. We have food photography courses, masterclasses, an amazing community of other like minded creatives. This is the environment that will inspire you, motivate you and help you progress more and faster towards your goal.

    Let me know about your gear in the comment s or on Instagram! You will find me as @healthygoodiesbylucia. I am excited to hear from you!

    About the author

    Lucia Marecak - a food photographer, founder of Healthy Goodies by Lucia and food photography teacher at HG Members Club, the most interactive learning platform for food photographers. Ex Human Resources Manager, today creating an amazing and inspiring community for food photographers, helping them to take their skills to the next level, be more creative & confident and create an amazing photography business of their dreams.


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