When I put out the call for your food styling stumbling blocks after a quick primer on ugly foods, the responses were greatly varied, but a few particular dishes stood out from the pack. Burritos caught my eye first, as more than one or two people named them as particularly uncooperative photography subjects. For good reason, these tortilla torpedoes are notoriously difficult to photograph in an appealing light; Packed with generally brown, red, and maybe yellow components, they’re not exactly bright rainbows of fresh ingredients. It’s easy for them to look tired, droopy, sloppy, or just plain greasy.
The good news is, there’s no need for them to ever appear that way through the lens! Although I would never suggest that I compose burritos like this for an everyday meal, special considerations do need to be made when they’re the “hero” of a shot.
As I was styling and photographing this particular specimen, I tried to think of tips and tricks that helped bring it into the world looking like a glamorous movie star, and not a second rate stand-in. Here’s what I came up with so that others might be able to fix their burrito blemishes…
- Bear in mind which side you want to be “up” as you build a burrito. If you want the top to be smooth tortilla, then What you lay down first will end up on top. If you don’t mind a “flap” from the tortilla edges on top, then you can build it right-side up.
- Try to keep mushier components to the bottom, so that when you slice it, they don’t smear through all of the following layers. This means guacamole, re-fried beans, hummus, and the like are better placed near the base of your assembly.
- Include a good number of greatly varied layers, but don’t go overboard. 4 – 5 different things is about the maximum before it starts to just look like a mess of everything you had leftover in the fridge.
- Be generous, but don’t over-stuff. A burrito blow out is never attractive.
- Make sure you include something green, somewhere. Herbs, grilled zucchini, avocado chunks, anything! Green evokes the feeling of freshness, which helps to prevent the burrito from looking like a sad, reheated gas station offering. It also adds pops of contrasting color to create interest.
- Strain salsa and other “wet” condiments to prevent a watery, mushy mess. Likewise, dab sliced tomatoes on a paper towel to remove some of the excess liquid before adding them to a burrito (or sandwich, for that matter.)
- Save small amounts of every ingredient, to “fluff up” filling later. This is most noticeable in the beans- I like to show half of the sliced pieces to give it a more realistic look, but add in a few more whole ones to give it more texture and variety. Be sure to toss those whole beans in just a dab of oil to keep them shiny, or brush on a very thin layer with a clean paintbrush once they’re in place.
- Use toothpicks to keep the roll intact. I usually start with one at each end, and break off the excess so that they’re not sticking out and visible. Then, as I cut and rearrange the pieces, I may add more in as needed. Just don’t forget that they’re there when you go to eat it later!
- To cut your burrito, use a sharp knife, and apply gentle pressure while using a sawing motion. Don’t just smash the blade down and crush the fragile ingredients within.
Then, when it comes to capturing your burrito masterpiece…
- Think about the “meal” as a whole to fill out the rest of the set. Consider including a beverage, sliced citrus, chips, dip, fresh herb garnish, and other simple, colorful, or graphic elements to add interest surrounding the subject.
- Keep the colors light, bright, and clean. A burrito tends to look heavy by nature, so you want to balance that out with contrasting elements.
- Use a mirror to direct a “spotlight” right onto the filling. Since I prefer a back light for most of my photos (just place the plate in front of the window, easy as that), the cut sides have a tendency to go dark unless otherwise highlighted.
- Shoot from a low angle so you can see all of that glorious filling!
That concludes this class on burrito styling. Are there any more questions before we move on to the next? Raise your hand, speak up, and I’d be happy to go on! Don’t be afraid to suggest the next subject either, because if everyone enjoyed this, you can count on the Food Styling 101 series to become a regular feature here!
37 thoughts on “Food Styling 101: Burritos”
I recently learned how hard it is to take a decent picture of a sandwich and I remember spending half a day trying to get a decent shot of a filled crepe. Thank you for all these wonderful tips, Hannah!
Great tips. Do you just take a regular hand held mirror to reflect the light at the filling?
Yep, a regular old cosmetic mirror works perfectly. I like the ones with a built-in stand, like so: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B002ZG96HA/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&tag=bitte-20&linkCode=as2&camp=217145&creative=399369&creativeASIN=B002ZG96HA That way, you can just place it on the set and not have to hold it, or enlist someone else to hold it for you.
Great tips! I’d love for this series to continue. It would be really helpful if you could share some meta pictures – that is, pictures of your set that include light sources, placement, etc. :)
Ah, but of course! A very good thought, and I’m sorry that I didn’t do so for this shot. I will moving forward though!
My husband’s wish is that I could do all that in record time as his food is less warm these days than it used to be (ha!). Here’s a good styling video that my (photographer) brother-in-law sent me…for a laugh. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zJKqpCxkDKM
Great post. Great resource.
Thanks Hannah!! I’m excited to give burritos another whirl. I’m just always so impatient to eat them that I rush through photographs.
“Tortilla torpedoes” is the best euphemism for “burrito” I think I’ve ever seen. Good one! :)
I’m still having a hard time, since you last asked, of thinking of foods I think are ugly. I guess I’m not hard to please when it comes to edibles’ beauty, heh. However, I realized yesterday that it’s hard to make a banana split NOT look at least a little bit phallic. Does that count? :P
Great post Hannah…more please!!!
I love burritos. This is a really awesome post. Love it! :)
Perhaps you’ve posted on this before, but it is really hard for to to make any soups look good! Are there any important differences in shooting broths vs. heartier stews? Thanks for all the tips. I do wonder, though; how long do you take to photograph a normal meal (one that you are actually planning to eat)?
Soups can definitely be tricky, and yes, there are different approaches for dealing with a broth-y soup or a hearty stew. That could be a good upcoming topic!
For styling and photographing a meal, I go pretty fast… As long as I’m going by my own artistic vision (aka, not waiting for approval from a third party that’s hired me) I can usually get through the process and be happily chowing down within 30 minutes.
I’ve always loved your photographs, so definitely keep up this series! There is so much more knowledge about food photography that I have yet to gain, and in this post alone I’ve picked up a few great pointers. Thanks, Hannah!
What a great idea for a series. I’d love to see pics of your “studio” and your props. I am the first to admit that I am no photographer, so I enjoy all the helpful advice and the tutorials that I can get. This was a great post; I look forward to more!
Love the class on styling! This is excellent. I’d love to see more of these posts. This is a great series.
Thank you so much for this! I love all the tips, and I am sure they can apply to other things as well.
Great tutorial! But I’m jonesing for a burrito now :)
Really great tips Hannah! After you mentioned the toothpicks, I spotted one, but never would have noticed otherwise.
I vote yes on “regular feature.”
Whoops… And I totally forgot to edit it out. Good note to make- If you leave toothpicks showing, be sure to remove them in Photoshop later! Yikes!
Thanks for all the great tips, I’ll have to refer to this next time I try to photography a burrito, it’s always a challenge!
Even your burritos look elegant! Nice!
Thanks, Hannah! Great tips from the most stylin’ little vegan burrito ever (YOU!)!
And thanks also for the sweet comments on my blog. It was wonderful to meet you, too (and Mama Bittersweet!). Sorry we didn’t have more time to chat–it was a whirlwind, wasn’t it? Next gathering, we will have to spend more time…xo
always love food styling tips! Thanks!
Great strategies. My burritos always come out rather lumpy looking. Thanks for the strategies.
Thanks for the tips, Hannah! I’d love to see this series continue.
You just made that burrito look like a superstar! Seriously…none of mine ever look this good, but with these tips, maybe they can!
These are really great tips!
If you could find a way to gently tell people that instagram doesn’t make their food photos any better than a regular camera phone picture, that would be amazing.
Oh, if only I could… Instagram seems unstoppable these days. I can’t say I really see what all the fuss is about either.
wow thank you! just found your blog and love it :)
I love this post and hope it is a regular series!!! I’d love some hints on photographing curries and other stew like things. Thanks!!
Thank you for all the helpful tips Hannah..
it would be great if this series would become a regular,,,I’m learning so much from you :)
Mexican Food is my favorite. Spice, spice, spice
Great tips, Hannah! Love this post.
Loved this post! Thank you for these wonderful tips.
Really love the tips!! :)