Understanding Elements of Art to Improve Food Styling and Photography – Part 1: Line, Shape and Form

Flan Styled

How else would you style this Flan? Would you put a flower or will you use cream? What kind of plate will you use? Circular like this? or a Rectangular plate? What about Penne Pasta? How would you style Penne Pasta? Would you make a giant heap in a plate? What type of plate will choose? Square? or Circular plate?

These are some tough questions. And a food stylist has to answer these before a food photographer can grab his camera and make perfect food shots. A well done food styling job makes it easier for a food photographer to make food look appetizing. So if you want to learn this art of food styling and photography, how would you do it? Let us share with you how understanding what is art will help you become a better food stylist and photographer.

Defining Art

Art is an expression. One person’s art may be another person’s chaos. Don’t you think? However, there are certain things about art that translates to beauty in most people’s mind. If these few things are kept in mind while styling and photographing food, your photographs will turn out exceptionally well.

Here we are focused on two art forms – photography and food styling. So everything explained below is written from a food photographer and food stylist’s perspective. But, this post and elements of art listed below can be applied to any art.

Part 1: Line, Shape and Form

Elements of Art can be described as ingredients in the recipe of art that makes any art form delicious. There are 6 of these elements and they are listed below:

  1. Line
  2. Shape
  3. Form
  4. Color
  5. Space
  6. Texture

Not all of these 6 elements are present in any art form at one time. Only few of these 6 make to an art piece. It is the juxtaposition of these elements that makes a masterpiece. Lets understand these 6 elements one by one to improve our food styling and food photography skills.

  1. Line

I don’t think we need to define what line is and how it is made (by joining multiple dots or points). Lines are used in most of the photographs. Sometimes these are so obvious that we can miss them easily. Lines can be horizontal, vertical and diagonal. Oh and curves are lines too. I am sure you have seen the Penne Pasta photo below in the 8 inspirational pasta shots. Can you see how the food stylist has used lines?


This food stylist has used straight vertical lines of the pasta and then added horizontal line of sauce to prepare this plate. Now did you notice how the photographer has changed the horizontal line to diagonal line by tilting the plate?  Lines in Pasta

(click the photograph to enlarge)

What a wonderful use of lines! Don’t you think? I get so very excited when I start to disintegrate photos and when it seems like things are getting  little more clear and I am learning something. Are you getting excited yet? Comments below are very much appreciated.

  1. Shape

Shape has is two dimensional and it has only width and height but no depth and I am sure I don’t have to explain that shaped are generated when lines are joined together. More than one curved lines make a circle, triangle is born when three lines are joined and four lines make a square. No, I am not going to tell you how a myriagon is born, because this is not a geometry class.

Back to food photography now. Famous food photographers recommend trying to see shapes in food rather than food itself is a great way to improve photography skills. Understanding and visualizing shapes and using them in food styling is a critical part of food presentation. Lets look at the following photograph  of Cake with Ice Cream and Meringue. This was one of the 11 Mouth Watering Dessert Shots to Make You Hungry.

Dessert 6

What shapes do you see? Do you see a circle, a rectangle and a square? Any other shape? How about that small circle? Well almost a circle. Got it? Well lets try to recreate it. So here’s what I believe the arrangement should have been.

Shapes in DessertCircular plate at the back, the rectangular cake and almost circular cherry at the top makes it a very unique presentation. I don’t think this is how food is presented customers, but then I may be wrong too. The sketch above just shows how the set up would have been. Now let’s see how the photographer used square shape.

Shapes in Dessert PhotographThe red box in the sketch above shows just the frame of the photograph. This being an approximate sketch, it varies a little bit from the actual photograph, but you get the idea.The square frame makes everything so appeal. Can you imagine how this photograph would have looked with a rectangular frame? Not as appealing as it is now. I think.

Is this post helping you? Please give feedback in the comments below. Your feedback helps us to add more value to readers like you.

  1. Form

Shape and Form are like the not-so-identical twins. In colloquial English language, often shape and form are used together. These two have a bond and there is only one difference – form has a third dimension. Shape has only two measurements, while form has the third one – depth. Example forms are cube, cuboids, cylinders and cones.

In art, form plays a huge role. Form is almost in every art form. Sculpture itself is a complex form. Understanding form is important for painting and sketching. In photography, shape and form play a big role in achieving perfect composition.  In food photography, form is seen in the food and props supporting the shot. For this example, I am again using one of the old photographs. This Sponge cake was also one of the 11 Mouth Watering Dessert Shots to Make You Hungry. Dessert 9Any forms that you can see in the photograph above? Anything at all. Hey don’t look at the image below before you answer that question. So, here’s what I see in the image above:

Forms in Dessert Two pink cylinders one above the white cream and another below that. Do you see the form in the photograph above? Study how a simple cylinder has been place above another one to get that shape. What if the cylinder 1 was smaller than cylinder 2? Can you think of what would have been the result? Can you visualize how different this photograph would have turned out?

It is important to understand these elements of art and how they function when styling the food. Once you start to observe and study the usage of elements of art in food photographs, you will be more comfortable with using them yourself, when you are styling the food.

Don’t miss the second part of this series. Stay tuned. If you have not already done this, get rest of this series by subscribing to the RSS feed or by subscribing to email updates. Yes! Its all FREE!!

Update – Second part of this post is here – Understanding Element of Arts to Improve Food Styling and Photography – Part 2: Color, Space and Texture

  1. What you think about this post?
  2. What are your questions about  food styling?

Photo Credits

  • Yes, please write the next post. This is very helpful to me!


    • Thank you for your comment.

  • I have problems with square/rectangular plate photography, so this comes very handy. Thanks for sharing!

    • Stephan,

      Thank you for your comments!! Hope the shape and line information helps.

  • Yes, please write the next post! I’m just starting my journey into food photography and your posts have been really helpful to me. Greatly appreciated! 🙂

    • Stephanie, Thanks for your comments. Please let us know if you have a specific question.

      Regards, Neel

  • yes! Very helpful! Thak you!

  • Great post. Very informative. Please write the next post 🙂

    • Domestic Mama and Ellie,

      Thank you for your feedback.

  • Andy Wong

    This is certainly most useful to me as I’ve always been searching for ideas in crafting and perfecting the art and beauty of food photos I make at home.

    Thanks for sharing these tips.

    I’ll bear them in mind the next time I pick up my lens and apron! 🙂

  • I´ve been checking your blog all afternoon, and I´m amazed, there´s a lot of wonderful and useful information. Thank you so much for sharing with us all your knowledge.

  • I love food/cooking and my relatives are always asking me to send my amazing recipes. A while back I decided to enhance my recipes with photos but I am not a good a photographer as I am a cook 😉 so your blog is very helpful to get the best out of my food photos.

  • why all no. 1 for Line, Shape and Form?

  • Ms. T

    I make the most incredible desserts and cakes, but take the worst pictures, so I am so glad I stumbled upon your blog. I will continue to visit and read your posts. Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge and for being so thorough.

  • This is certainly an interesting read! I have been trying to learn the art of plating and this has been really helpful, can wait for the next articles. By the way, how do you artistically put together cheeses in a cheese basket?

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  • Thank you for this veru helpfull informations. I’m just begining my adventure with food photography so all of technical staff told in easy way are most welcome!!

  • I am reading this for the second time. and let me tell you you are making me rethink the art form. I thought cooking was art but this is something that I need to concentrate on. My pictures are a struggle. Mostly I have no time to think about the aesthetics about photography. Its just aim and shoot, no preparations, backgrounds, textures etc go in the process.. How do I go about this obviously take more time to plan. Thanks I think I will read this article once more before I move to the next one.

  • Chrystel

    Thank you so much for writing this, I like to understand things at the most basic level and it’s hard to find such clear detail.

  • Ana

    Great info. I really enjoyed thinking differently…I had never thought about forms and shapes before shooting.

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