Tips from a Pro: Styling Pasta

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Food Photography Styling | Tips from a Pro: Nicole Branan on How To Style Pasta | Another Great Tip from Food Bloggers Central

Pasta is one of THE MOST popular dishes for readers. Just a quick browse of Pinterest shows that many of the most popular recipes are pasta. Almost all my pasta dishes have been solid performers.

But pasta is one of the hardest dishes to plate up well so it doesn’t just look like a pile of tangled mess. (As delicious as it may be!).

Food Bloggers Central is lucky enough to have Nicole Branan as part of the group. Nicole is a professional food photographer (you can see her portfolio here – Nicole Branan Photography) and she blogs at The Spice Train. And she’s sharing her tips with us! Take it away Nicole!!



Nicole Branan from the Spice Train

Nicole Branan from The Spice Train is a professional food photographer.

Thanks Nagi! Hi, I’m Nicole from The Spice Train and I’m a professional food photographer.

Have you ever noticed that the spaghetti you plop on your plate don’t have any of the pretty twists and twirls you see in professional food photos? That’s because you didn’t get in there and twist each single noodle around your finger. That’s what you have to do to get pasta pretty for your food photos.

Here’s how it works:

1. Boil your pasta like you normally do and get a large bowl full of ice water and a little bit of oil ready.

2. When the pasta is done, drain it and then immediately dunk it into the ice water, that way it cools down right away and won’t stick.

3. Drain the now-cool pasta and take every single noodle, one by one, twist it around your finger and then lay it on the plate. Watch from the direction and angle your camera is going to see the pasta and build a nice
symmetric heap.

I learned this technique years ago from an excellent book called “Food Styling for Photographers: A Guide to Creating Your Own Appetizing Art“. It made a huge difference for me because it opened my eyes to just how picky I had to be to make food look good.

Seafood Pasta | Nicole Branan


Thanks so much Nicole! Before I read this tip, I actually used to use my hands to plate up some pasta. But I didn’t do it strand by strand – I would take a bunch of pasta and twirl it around my fingers then sometimes “twist” it and place them, clump by clump, onto the pasta plate.

The result is that my pasta is denser than Nicole’s. Her pasta looks lovely and fluffed up and delicate. Here’s a pasta example of mine – see how different this Lemon Shrimp Pasta is compared to Nicole’s?

I think Nicole’s style is great for light, spring, delicate pastas – like the seafood one she did.

Whereas the denser look is suited to heavier sauces – like bolognaise and ragus. I wish I had used Nicole’s style for the Shrimp Pasta!

Oh – and though not as technical, when you don’t have the time to style the pasta strand by strand, here’s a quick tip for how to plate pasta nicely using tongs: Styling Tip – Mastering the Pasta Twirl. It’s not as nice as doing it by hand but it is still neater than just plonking the pasta in a bowl!!


Hope you find this tip useful!

Thanks again Nicole, for sharing your expertise with us! – Nagi x

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The Food Photography Book by Nagi from RecipeTin Eats


  1. Ana says

    Hey! Loved this post and the look into how pros do food styling. I did have one question though: if you cool down the pasta and toss it, how do you later eat the food? Reheat it? I just can’t see myself throwing away food!

  2. says

    Thanks Nagi and Nicole! Perfect timing for your great tips as I have most recently been given a pasta maker and I can’t wait to put these tips into action. You guys are both making me hungry with your delicious noodles!

  3. says

    I just put up a ragu recipe on my blog and swore it would be the first and last pasta recipe I’d ever post!!! The kitchen was a mess, my fingers were covered in sauce, there was parmesan and herbs all over the place. …. I should have just kept it simple like Nicole does :)

  4. Robyn says

    I’ve been using a fork to twirl three or four pieces at once but it’s always missing something. Love this tip! Thanks, Nagi and Nicole.
    And I need to dive into that bowl of shrimp pasta – oh my goodness!!

  5. says

    Love this tip! I always plunk it down in the bowl or plate and then try to save grace by frantically swirling it after it’s hit the plate. I cannot wait to try out a new [more technical – haha!] method! Thanks!

  6. says

    I love both styles. It really depends the look you are going for as well, my plating can’t be too perfect because I focus on portraying rustic food. Nicole always has fantastic photos with a great homey feel. I wanna eat both those recipes so yay, everybody wins :) Great tips too and great reminder: don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty in the kitchen !

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