SF Cooking School
Mar 1, 2016 · 6 min read
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In today’s edition of 24 Hours series, SF Cooking School alum, and New York food stylist Nicole Twohy shows us how she makes food look picture perfect.


5:30 am: Here we go. Get out of bed, shower, and attempt to put myself together. When you have the word “stylist” in your job title, people seem to expect that you yourself are stylish. Only true on a good day. Before leaving the house, I must have my morning ritual: a cup of chai and French boiled egg.

6:30 am: Head to the studio for a 7 am call time. It’s winter and since we lose natural light by 5 pm, photo shoots start bright and early!

7:00 am: Arrive on set, unpack my styling kit, and carefully organize our groceries for the shoot.

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I take extra care with delicate herbs and “hero” produce — only the best here, the plumpest berries, the most shapely radishes. This is one part of the job that can be a lot more tedious and hardly as glamorous as people imagine. Some days I’ll get to work with beautiful food and great products, other days I’ll find myself in the frozen aisle with mystery meat. Depending on the job, I’ll have to sort through cases of product to find the most perfect ones for the shoot. There are truth of advertising laws that require the real product to be used when styling for a company’s packaging or ad work for instance, but that doesn’t stop us from going through loads of product to find the two that look nicest!

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7:30 am: As the photographer dials in the set and lighting, I start working on a stand-in version of the first shot. This stand-in helps to perfect the shot, but will likely die before we’re ready for primetime, so be ready to duplicate!

I always prep more than what’s needed for the shot — for example, in this pancake shot below, I think I made at least twice as many as I used in the shot. We were shooting in Paris and I was cooking on new pans that I had just bought at a local kitchen store to get the right size pancake. The darn things kept sticking since the pans weren’t seasoned yet! It’s times like these when I’m grateful for my culinary training.

Almost all food stylists are former chefs and/or have had formal culinary training — it’s a must in this industry. You really have to know how to work with and manipulate food to be successful at the job. You have to know how something will affect the food you’re working with in order to figure out how to get from point A (totally untouched food) to point B (what the client is asking for).

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8:00 am: Clients arrive; time to go from stand-in to hero.

9:00 am: Review, critique, adjust, shoot. Repeat. The morning will continue on like this, working our way through the shot list making sure everyone is happy with the final version.

The final shot often involves a little spritz of water to make a sprig of herbs look fresh and dewy, or a brush of oil to add a subtle, appetizing glisten.

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Edible Bouquet: crab apple, broccoli florets, baby artichokes, and flowering herbs

12:30 pm: Lunch time! This is the only time all day I will sit down, so I savor it. Plus, it involves food intended for eating, which is a bonus.

1:30 pm: Back on set to finish the remaining shots through the afternoon. Today I’m working on a Spring-inspired cake with pretty swirls of frosting. I use a whipped-cream based frosting so I can easily manipulate it to get the texture just right. I’m often asked if we use real food in our shoots. This cake is totally real — these days, it’s almost always real food as the style of food photography is very natural and homemade.

A lot of the times the challenge is how to make something look desirable, but not like it was made/plated by a professional. Everyone wants to lust after food that looks like they could actually make it!

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4:00 pm: Getting nervous, will we get the last shot before we start losing sunlight? We better! This is when things can get stressful. These shoots have a lot riding on them and you want to make sure the client and the crew are all happy with your work and how things are progressing.

5:00 pm: That’s a wrap! Clean-up and load out. We put out any leftover groceries that were not used in the shots for the crew and clients to take home.

6:00 pm: Arrive back home. A lot of food can get wasted on photo shoots, so I try to bring things home and repurpose them into dinner. Leftover case of corn? I’ll turn the kernels into soup and make a stock with the cobs. Never used that third branzino? Looks like we’re having whole roasted fish tonight!

6:30 pm: Once dinner is started, I collapse onto the couch. I’ve been on my feet running around all day and this is the first time I can sit for a bit and catch up on email.

7:30 pm: Kevin comes home and it’s time for dinner. I like to set a nice table and sit down together. This is the most soothing part of my day, catching up with my husband on the day’s activities and enjoying a meal together. It’s a good time to reflect on how lucky I feel to be doing this for a living. For a long time this was my dream job, but it wasn’t easy to get started in this industry.

Food styling is really based on an apprentice model and I’ve realized how important it is to work under the guidance of seasoned stylists and learn the ropes.

10:00 pm: Get a good night’s rest and be ready for tomorrow.


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