Learn how to use linens in food styling to bring your food photography to the next level.
This was an important part of my food photography journey from where I started to where I am today. Linen plays a huge part in my food styling and food photography. It tells part of your food story as well as adding depth and a 3D dimension to a photograph. It adds an element of history to our story telling as a lot of recipes are born from a childhood memory or an experience from our pasts. When I use embroidered linen it reminds me of my grandma who crocheted her own. When I use plain textured linen it reminds me of my mother who would always have the dinner table laid to perfection. She would be horrified to see so much as a milk bottle on the table and goodness gracious if we didn’t have linen napkins on the table!
How using linens adds to your food styling and photography
- It frames the food. By drawing the viewers eyes to the linen it allows your food to be framed.
- It adds texture. Food is all about the senses and if you don’t have a lot of texture visible in the food you can add it to the photo with your linen.
- It adds a pop of colour to your photo. Certain foods can look dull and boring like soups and stews. Put a lovely piece of linen in the frame and it brings the photo to the next level.
- It adds extra depth to your food photo. It can prop up a dish or make a flat looking photo look incredible. Linen in a flatlay can lead your eye to the direction of the food.
How to chose linen for food photography
- Go for neutral tones. Neutral tones complement your food
- Avoid bright colours that may take away from your dish
- Go for plain, textured linen. Pay close attention to textures in food versus texture in linen. If your food is highly textured then go for lighter textures. Similarly with plainer food highly textured linen can add depth and body to the photograph.
- Avoid heavy prints. Some printed linens do work but if going for a print then make it subtle.
- If you can’t find the right tones or want to save money then buy muslin cloth in white and dye it yourself. My favourite linens are the ones I dyed myself. They are so easy to do and you can add a number of colours during the dying process to get the colour you want. Check out my reel on how I dye my linens.
Types of linen to use in food photography
While the title of this post is linen it actually refers to all materials used in place of linen which gives the appearance of linen. These are my favourite types of material for food styling:
- Real Linen. Choose linen that isn’t too stiff so that it falls naturally.
- Cotton Muslin. You can buy your own muslin and dye it yourself. You can buy this by the metre or even use a cheesecloth from your local cookware shop or amazon.
- Cheese cloth. Similar to muslin but often with more texture as it is less fine and a lot looser. You can buy this in any good cookware shop or home store.
- Rough napkins or tablecloths with rough, frayed edges. These add depth to your photo and frame the image beautifully.
- Handkerchiefs. This give a rustic old fashioned feel to your photograph, especially those with a crocheted edge! It lets people know there is an old-fashioned story behind your image.
- Scarves. I love using silk and linen scarves and we all have a lot of those lying around in our drawers!
- Old clothes. Don’t throw out any clothes without checking to see if the can be used in your food photography. Chiffon, linen, silk and cotton all work well in food photography. Simply cut them down to size.
Where to place linens in your food styling
Under The Plate
This frames the whole image and draws your eye to the hero shot. Also if you choose the colour of the linen it can help accentuate the food like it does in the photo below. The taupe colour matches the bowl and complements the orange tones in the food.
In the corner of the frame
This helps add texture to the image. It also adds to your food story and adds movement to your image.
Diagonally or straight across the whole backdrop
This is often used to draw the viewers eye to the food in a flatlay. It can also be used to tie in colours and to match the colour of the hero food. It can also take away from a bare or simple background.
Tied on the edge of a casserole dish
This gives the impression of a freshly made dish of food as if it has been taken straight out of the oven. It can make the viewer want to make the recipe straight away. It also adds texture and a sense of rustic home-cooking-type-of-feeling to the image.
Draped Over The Edge Of A Table
This can really set the scene of your story. It can give the viewer the impression you have just taken your dish out of the oven. It can also disguise a wooden board and give the impression it is a table. Using extra long linen you can disguise a boring plate and the edge of a wooden board at the same time.
Used To Hide A Set of Props
You can use linen to hide a set of props to heighten the subject. You can stack books under a plate then cover the plate with linen. The same can be used to cover a mini stool as often the focus is better when the subject is slightly raised.
Used To Straighten Crockery
Sometimes when photographing a flat lay using two bowls one can look uneven, even if on a flat surface. I often use linen underneath a plate, bowl or cutlery to level them for the viewer’s eye. In the following photo I used linen bunched up under the second bowl. It is a clever way of levelling a plate or bowl which you cannot see.
Used Instead Of Crockery
Often you can place linen under freshly baked goods instead of a plate or other props. Bread is an excellent example of this as it makes you feel the bread is freshly baked from the oven.
I hope these linen styling tips help you in your food photography journey. It may seem daunting when you first start using linens but you will soon get the hang of using and displaying them to perfection!
Other Food Styling and Food Photography Tips You Will Love
- How To Style Soup
- Perfecting The Autumn Flat Lay
- How To Make Cheap Wooden Food Photography Backdrops