When you’re a food stylist, the pressure is on. Lead food stylists has to make the food look delicious and appetizing, but also make sure it’s not too overdone. It’s a fine line to walk—and one that Olivia Caminiti has walked time and time again.
Caminiti began her career as an assistant food stylist, working for six years before taking on more responsibility as a lead stylist. After the pandemic rocked her world (like so many freelancers), she decided it was time to make the leap as a food stylist.
In this episode, we sit down with food stylist Olivia Caminiti to learn how she became a lead food stylist and what it takes to have a successful career as one. After sharing some of her personal stories, she talks about the importance of having an important mentor in your life. We also get an inside look into the challenges of being a food stylist, such as coordinating with photographers, figuring out how much time is needed for set-up and shoot prep, and navigating client expectations.
We hope you enjoy this episode!
Olivia is a food stylist based in Austin, Texas and San Francisco, CA who loves working with color and texture to create intriguing images that have a sense of motion and life to them. She worked as an assistant food stylist for six years before taking on the role of lead stylist.
Mica: [00:00:00] Welcome. To the 10th episode of the Savory Shot. Y'all.
You know me, I'm Mica. You're hostest with the mostest and y'all. I'm so glad you're here. First of all, y'all already know what I'm about to ask. Did y'all listen to last week's episode with Joanie Simon? If not get outta here. Go back and listen. Y'all she's one of my favorite all time guests and we had so much fun hanging out.
Y'all her story is truly inspirational. So thank me now. Thank me later, but either way, you're going to thank me.
But y'all. Let's talk about this episode. Today's guest. Is nothing short of amazing. I [00:01:00] sat down with food stylist. Olivia Caminiti. And y'all. Olivia's interview is filled with facts. Olivia is a food stylist who loves working with color and texture to create intriguing images that have a sense of motion and life to them.
She worked as an assistant food stylist for six years before taking on the role of lead stylist. Y'all.
I tell you what. This episode. Wow. We talked about everything. We talked about her years spent being an assistant food stylist. In the moment she knew she was ready to be lead food stylist as in the motherfucking boss.
In this episode. We also talk about mentorship. How it helped deliver, develop [00:02:00] as an artist? And how we can help you do the same. Y'all. We all need our sensei. But, before we get into that. Let's start the show.
Mica: I just wanna start off by saying thank you so much for being a guest on The Savory Shot and for trusting me on this crazy ride that I've built up.
Olivia: Thank you for [00:03:00] having me. I'm happy to be here.
Mica: For our listeners out there, we had some technical difficulties earlier today, and so it was just so funny, like how amazing technology is, but at the same time how frustrating it can be.
Olivia: Yeah, we made it through. We're here.
Mica: We made it through, we're here. We figured it out. Shout out to Zencaster for being so amazing and helping us get this figured out. So you've worked as an for five years as an assistant food stylist before you became the lead stylist. Take me back to your first job as the lead stylist.
What do you remember about that job?
Olivia: As a lead stylist, it was an introductory job for sure. Before taking on a lead job, it's always recommended or had been by a lot of the people who had mentored me to do test shoots. So it was with someone that I had done a few test shoots with, so I felt comfortable. It [00:04:00] was, honestly, it was styling soup it was like the same type of soup over and like same setup.
Over and over again. It's like any first day of school feeling where you're nervous going in, you're like, don't know if you're fully prepared and then as soon as it starts rolling, like the nerves drop away and you just get into the rhythm. And then when you have a good team and everyone's really kind and supportive and making people laugh on set it just, it makes for a good, good first day.
Mica: Do you still get nervous every time you book a job? It's been three years now that you've been lead food stylist. About how many jobs in, did you feel like you've gotta hold on this and you're not nervous? Or do you still get nervous?
Olivia: I definitely still get nervous when the situation or the crew that I'm working with or like, there's a whole new variable Like this past year, I did a very jam packed multiple day commercial job that started before the sun came up and [00:05:00] ended after the sun went down. There were so many moving pieces and like entire shots that I prepped for that when I got to set, they got cut, like wild changes just happening.
I could feel the energy from the other people that I was working with, just how crazy this job was. So I was very nervous going into that one. Is there any way that I could actually wrangle this beast before I get there? And it turned out really well. It went very smoothly. I don't know if I got lucky or I did a good, you know, somewhere between, but yeah, definitely felt nerves on that one.
But when it's people you've worked with before, studios that I've worked in. Different foods that I've already worked with. I don't know. I wouldn't say I get too nervous anymore at all.
Mica: I like what you said about the energy that everyone feels whenever you're on a team. Do you think that your energy has a ripple effect on how the rest of the team does?
Olivia: So in that circumstance, I was communicating with the prop [00:06:00] stylists. I had to make a few things that specifically fit the size of different props, so they had to drop 'em off to me. We were coordinating and we had a call, I think just a day or two before to, to coordinate those drop offs. Instead of just texting, we were actually on the phone and they were like, "Girl, how are you doing?" And I'm like, "Um, I'm kinda losing it. I don't really know." And they're like, Us too. We can't figure this out. Like, we're all here for each other. So it was, we got to throw down together and just say that we all felt crazy, say that we were gonna make it through, and it was so sweet when they dropped off the two sets of different props that I needed.
There was a note in there that was like, We got this. Call us if you need anything. Like a little, I don't know. So sweet. So sweet.
Mica: That is so sweet and so encouraging.
Olivia: You know, there's gr, there's group energy for sure.
Mica: I love that. I love that. Your prop stylist leaving you a note reminds me of food stylist that I worked with, Dani. Her [00:07:00] husband leaves notes for her every food styling job she does. He helps her pack and everything and prints out mood boards or whatever paperwork and prints out all the sweet note.
It's so nice how the smallest gesture can just mean everything in the world. That's the beauty about working in a team, is that you all are leaning on each other during these hard times. Especially if it's like a difficult shoot and you're just like, we're all in this mud show together.
So that's really sweet that they did that. What's one thing that people don't know about food styling?
Olivia: Ooh. Funny enough, I get asked a lot. Once I explain my job, they're like, You actually cook the food. The more surprised that people dunno that part. But at this point, I guess I'm not surprised anymore. I guess it would be anything from like what exactly goes into building out a kit. And sometimes a kit is also you figure out that this [00:08:00] random thing you had on hand ends up working really well to do this specific job and then you're, you're carrying around something so random for way too long.
That's probably too heavy. But, that would be one piece. Probably the second piece is how, how you get your jobs. A lot of people don't understand like, how do you get work? And honestly for each one of us, we probably get work in different ways, but generally, networking, website, it's the same as any other kind of company.
Mica: I like that you said that about how you get jobs, because that seems to be like the number one question that I get asked as well as a food photographer. And you pointed out something really good networking, good old fashion, face to face networking. Social media is fantastic, but I truly believe that networking doesn't get old, it doesn't go away.
It doesn't go outta style. So I love [00:09:00] that. What was it about food styling that drew you to the field?
Olivia: Well, I first read about it, like credited in a magazine and it was at a time that I was making a huge transition. After college, I moved down to Austin and I just became very curious at what that was. I had a friend who had recently started assisting a wardrobe stylist, so I was kind of running it by her. Then I just cold called people and asked them, meet me for coffee and everybody, like every single person I called in Austin. Absolutely sure, when can I meet you? Would love to help you.
Just so friendly. And the more I found out about the job, whether it was from a food photographer or food stylists who were here at the time, I was like, Yes, I wanna do that. I like that. I like that about freelance. Let me give this a go. And the, the jobs just really resonated.
I can't say it's been like a complete smooth ride from, you know, the eight years or whatever, but a lot of parts of the job really fit my personality. So [00:10:00] I think I got lucky.
Mica: That's awesome. I like that you pointed out that it hasn't been like a smooth sailing, continuous gradual graph going up. That there's a lot of squiggly marks in there. What were the moments that you really felt like, I don't know if I'm cut out for this. You know, what kept you going in those moments?
Olivia: I assisted a number of people, but one girl most consistently through the last portion of me living in San Francisco. I would say that she was my strongest mentor. I feel like I learned everything from her.
She's an amazing food stylist and she's still continuing to kill it, which is awesome. The types of jobs that we were doing, I couldn't see myself always doing those same types of jobs. I was so laser focused in on what we were doing then, and I was just like, I just don't know if this is for me.
I feel like it's [00:11:00] just a little bit too technical or I, I don't, I don't exactly remember what my thought process was, but there was things about it that were turning me off. Also I was living in the Bay area and struggling to be able to live alone. You know, growing out of my twenties and, and really craving that.
I looked at all the tech people around me and definitely reconsidered. But the idea of breaking up with food styling, I just couldn't fathom it. I couldn't imagine not having an like creative outlet matched up with my work. So I moved forward and then 2020 slapped us all on the face and it just became, it just started to feel more right as we all really checked in with ourselves during that time and yeah, so it unfolded the way that it, it did.
But yeah, there were moments of doubt for sure.
It's funny now because that technical work, like very technical stuff. I now, I'm like in a phase of totally [00:12:00] loving it. Totally loving it.
Mica: It's funny that careers that we would never, ever consider an option, we're now looking at it like, Hmm. Well that is interesting. You mentioned about a mentor and having a mentor, so I wanna take it to that. What was it like to have a mentor?
Olivia: It was all I ever wanted. I graduated college. I got a business degree in wine. I went to school in Sonoma County, so that like specialized in, in wine. So it was like history of wine, wine law, it like really umbrella briefed you.
That was like ample opportunities to find someone to be a mentor if I was in that field. But I just didn't fall in love with wine the way that I always gravitated towards food. And even though they're so similar and I like love having the, the knowledge base that I do, it just wasn't the same.
It, It, wasn't. So when I moved back to being focused [00:13:00] on food, I didn't know exactly what I wanted to do with food. I just knew that like, I liked working in a partnership. I liked working with my hands. Food was a medium I was drawn to. So it was like these floating pieces that when it all matched up with food styling and you, you end up working with someone all the time, the relationship that you build with that person. I think I, I liked the intimacy of it or just the closeness. At one point, the mentor that I spoke of, she got pregnant with her first baby and then her second, and I was there through both pregnancies assisting her. We swore that when she had her first kid, that he would know my voice as well as he knew his mom's and dad's voice, because I was around her 10 hours a day, five days a week. It was really special. So I think it's just really a great opportunity to build a really close relationship where, I don't know, in your adult life how often you get to do that. It's like I gained a sister.
Mica: [00:14:00] Yeah. Especially like in this field or just as a freelancer, it's such a vulnerable thing to admit that, hey, I don't fully understand A, B, or C. So it's really cool to have a mentor that you can go to who has answers and to be a student and not always have to have all of the answers.
I love mentorships. I like business coaches. I love taking as many online courses about photography, about the business side. It's just such a valuable thing to have and I don't think any freelancer should ever give that part up.
You should constantly be evolving and seeking out that knowledge from someone. What's one thing that you've learned from your mentor that has helped you in your career?
Olivia: Oh man, I mean, other than the, like the t the tactile stuff, you know, actually how to do things. A huge [00:15:00] piece of our job or any creatives job where you're working on a set is being able to be confident in what you've put on set. So let's say that even I have opinions to myself, let's say I over toasted something.
I think it looks, not as good as it could for whatever reason, but, I put it on set. See it in camera, see how it is, and let the art director make the choice. And go from there. In the reverse situation, I think something looks amazing.
I put it on set and they doubt it. If they end up coming back to me and talking about that point, I need to be able to say, Look, I think it'll look better than this because X, Y, and Z reason. So you gotta have a good, good pace of timing. Know when to talk, Know when not to talk. Like when you do be confident in the work that you've done. That really actually sets you apart too for getting called back to jobs. [00:16:00] When people like working with you. They like the way you collaborate. It's fun to have fun on set, but it's also important to be professional. You gotta strike the balance.
Mica: You bring up a good point about finding that balance and knowing when to voice, when to take a step back. Did watching your mentor in action help you that balance in yourself?
Olivia: Yeah. Watching her and being on set with the variety of other stylists that I've worked with, people do it differently and that's really how you can gauge, essentially you're taking in what is the social structure of this like specified culture and you're seeing how you can fit in and
what seems to be appropriate and where you can push boundaries.
Mica: Observing and watching and finding your own style of how you lead. Do you have an assistant that you work with on jobs as well?
Olivia: [00:17:00] Well, I work between Austin and San Francisco most frequently, so I do have a go-to assistant in each place, and I adore both of them.
Mica: At what point did you know or feel ready to take on lead stylist? Did your mentor have anything to do with that decision?
Olivia: Timing was a big part of it. I felt it in myself. It's hard to pull away from someone who's teaching you things all the time. The rate at which I was learning things from her was decreasing only because, like I learned so much over the, the years. She had two babies while I was with her, so it was like she was going to go on maternity leave, have her second baby.
So I just called it. I said, When you go on leave, I'm gonna go out on my own. And she supported me. But I think that was also, I mean, that's a whole nother episode to talk about a, a woman who [00:18:00] has a baby who's a freelancer and taking a break from the industry and coming back. And the emotions involved around that is, it's wild.
Mica: I imagine so .
Olivia: That was hard cuz I wanted to be able to support her on the other side of it, but the other side of it was 2020. So it was a really interesting time. I had a lot of photographers that I was working with doing test shoots. Who were encouraging me to go out on my own.
Most importantly I think it's that you check in with yourself. You've put in the time. You've learned what you need to learn. Cuz at, at some points, like faking it till you make it isn't a good thing to do while you are on someone else's dime,
Practicing on your own dime is, is where it's at.
Mica: Yes, I totally agree with you on that. I am a strong advocate for not faking it till you make it. Cuz it will catch up with you and it'll be [00:19:00] catastrophic when it does. For any new photographers who don't know what test shoots are. Will you go into that a little bit? So you mentioned when you do test shoots with other food photographers, how do you go about that?
Olivia: Usually it's for a couple different purposes. It's, Hey, we're trying to get this client. Let's create some images that are in the style of whatever they're asking us to do so we can nail that client down, or at least attempt to, or it's, Hey, I've been feeling really inspired by shooting this specific style.
Or for photographers, they'll say, Hey, I got a new lens, or I wanna try these new backdrops. Or, I need X, Y, or Z more in my portfolio. And it's a great way to see how you work with other people. Come up with cool stuff. There's no boundaries.
Mica: Like what you mentioned that it's a great way to see how you and other people work together, especially if you've never worked on a shoot together. What are some of the most [00:20:00] important things to consider when prepping for a food styling job?
Olivia: It's important to say, first of all, like the prep day is the most important day. Sometimes it's equally as important as the shoot days. It was explained to me once when I was asked to do the prep, which meant the food shopping list. The food shopping list was already created for me.
I just needed to go and source all of the items. So breaking it into those two parts, someone has to sit there and look at the material and create the list. Not someone but the lead stylist. And then if you are trusted enough as an assistant, you go out and shop, or this lead will shop, or you both shop together and you have to find the the best of the best.
So knowing where to get the best. This one place always has celery that still has leaves on it. So even though I'm shopping for everything else over here, I'm gonna go to this one place to get that thing. It's time consuming. You have to know your city. The most [00:21:00] important thing, I guess is just doing it, doing it a lot and having, having those like key places to know where to go to.
Mica: Do you establish relationships with the vendors that you source your food from for shoots?
Olivia: There's like certain farmer's market stands where when I show up there's a relationship there. But, Austin and San Francisco, they're big cities. I do have a couple phone numbers of, you know, there's like a Peaches guy in Austin that I can call and like go.
I'm sure he would let me come early if I needed to come early if I need, Yeah. But there's a lot of people trying to, to move around these cities and get the hook up. So I wouldn't say it's too personal of a relationship, but a lot of familiar faces.
Mica: It's absolutely amazing that you travel between Austin and San Francisco. That's just the coolest thing ever that , you can call two cities home,
Olivia: I think it's pretty cool too.[00:22:00]
Mica: What is the toughest thing though, about living between two cities?
Olivia: As much as it's been a specific lifestyle change that I've never been through, and it's had its ups and downs and it continues to, I think that anyone can relate to me in any other lifestyle change that they've had to. It's just really important, I think that I show gratitude for what the situation is, what I do get out of it.
I get to see my family a lot going back, which is nice. I'm able to like, keep up with a long distance relationship. I don't think it will always be like this. I think I'll probably end up landing back somewhere where I grow a bigger base in one city or another.
I moved back to Austin a year and a half ago. It's a cool lifestyle and I'm sure it will change. And then after that, it'll change again.
Mica: How do you adjust to each change?
Olivia: You gotta build a little bit of routine.
On days off, do the things that I know I like to do, cook or see friends or have a plan out in the future that I can hold [00:23:00] onto if everything feels crazy.
The house that I live in, in Austin is a, a huge reflection of me.
The fact that I get to have a space to create and live in, even if I'm not here all that much, it's still very important to me that I have this space. So I feel really, really fortunate.
Mica: I remember when we talked on Zoom a couple of weeks back and I asked you about this and you said that yes, most of your work is in San Francisco, but Austin is home to you. What is it about Austin that pulls you and keeps you here and present?
Olivia: What I meant when I said that it was home was that at this point in my life, I'm really able to find a sense of self here that is different than San Francisco because San Francisco is actually home for me. But growing up there, there's just a sameness about it that I think that being in Austin, I can identify [00:24:00] parts of myself differently than when I'm there, so I'm still really enjoying that.
Mica: I definitely can identify with that. I went to school in San Angelo, Texas, which isn't like another state, but it is just a place where I felt like I got to know myself and got to solidify a lot of my beliefs and really find myself that I don't think I would've been able to do here in Austin.
Austin is home. I was born and raised in Austin, and I love this city and I'm glad that I can call it home, but for a long time, I consider it San Angelo to be home and Austin to be a place that I visited. My family wasn't there.
I had that autonomy that like I didn't have in Austin. I'm the youngest, I have three older brothers. In middle school, my brothers were troublemakers. So like the teachers assumed that I too would be a troublemaker. I had the same thing happen in high school.
But in San Angelo it was just me and it was great[00:25:00] to find myself. So I get what you mean. Like Austin is a, a place that is you and belongs to you.
Olivia: I think I'm just the, the personality type that it's not the college years, it's the first time you get a taste of it. And like, just like us, we both left. We got a taste of it and then, you know, come back home. But I think that I'm always gonna need to leave every once in a while and spend time somewhere else and come back home. It's just like the way that I learn about things. Being a freelancer, that's not like the best plan to have because I . But, um, you know, it's, I've had some connections now in Cleveland and I'm just so hopeful to be able to go out there more and work with that crew of people.
And if you spend more time in the same city, New York's another one. It's like you little mini homes when you're away from home.
Mica: That's a really cool perspective. I had a friend [00:26:00] and every year she moved every year to a different city.
How she would determine where she was moving, she had a US map and she would close her eyes and she'd had a little thumb tack, and she would just kick and the biggest metropolis to wherever she put the dot was where she was moving next.
And she would pack her car up and move. Austin was one of the places she spent for a year, and I just, I couldn't, gosh, I couldn't get over that. I was like, as much as I would love to think that I have that kind of adventure in me at the same time, I would be terrified to start all over every year.
But I wanna take it to working as a team. What's the most important thing to know about working as a team on a photo shoot?
Olivia: Oh, that's a big question. It's different for each perspective of the different roles on the team, but [00:27:00] communication is the most true answer. But honestly, that everyone's keeping up a good attitude no matter what the circumstances are.
Sometimes when curve balls are thrown, one team can jump in and help another person. Or you have the patience that, let's say there's a camera malfunction and I have this thing that's like very time sensitive and it just happens the way that it happens, and you gotta be patient and it feels so good when you just feel all around supported.
Mica: When you feel all around supported, does that look like for you?
Olivia: When I walk into a studio that there's resources provided for me that these were things we talked about ahead of time, like the refrigerators cleared out. So, you know, I don't have to feel like I'm in someone else's space. Or then when I'm on set, if they ask, Hey, how much time do you need at the beginning of the day for prep?
Then I'm like, I need an hour. That's great. Sounds [00:28:00] good. It's like what I need and what the next person's needs are all put into the schedule, and you're not trying to squeeze as many shots out in a day that you can. Quality, is valued as much as trying to get through the shot list and put value to the, the client's dime.
Mica: You mentioned prepping. How much prep time do they give you? Or do you, is that something you decide when you get, like the details of what the job entails?
Olivia: Exactly. Yeah, some jobs rarely there are no prep. Being that it's like food, so you usually need to source these fresh ingredients. But then, a day of prep, sometimes on bigger jobs it can be two, three days of prep, but that's just my department. Other departments, like the arts department, it can be a week of prep. Wardrobe, it can be 10 days of prep. But food is just more time sensitive, so usually it doesn't call for as many days. But that one or two prep [00:29:00] days are crucial. And honestly, sometimes the amount of time that I spend on the computer getting things organized and coming up with, like understanding the food side of it with whatever the creative is, those days aren't always directly paid for.
And sometimes they are. And that's always really nice. When like, Hey, we're gonna give you an extra pep day for the amount of hours it takes to organize a cookbook shoot, which is so many hours.
Mica: How do you delegate your task or prep task to your assistant?
Olivia: Everyone has their strengths and over time I think people gain new strengths or, you know, you're more into doing one thing than another. So you can see that and then delegate out from there. Whatever the task is, you have to gauge the threshold for how much of a disaster it would be if it wasn't right.
[00:30:00] So anything that's like high sensitivity, I'm not gonna put it on someone else's shoulders. Keep that on my shoulders. The organization piece up front is something that I always do. Something that the lead has always done in every situation I've been in.
Mica: How would you describe your leadership style with your assistants
Olivia: That's actually like a whole learning curve in and of itself, at least I found. Someone gave me a really good piece of advice once in the very beginning where he said to me that you don't ever need to tell someone how to do something. You just need to show them and tell them. And in whichever way you can communicate like different learning styles, what you want the final results to be. And then let them work backwards and ask you questions. If you come across whatever they're doing and it's not going well, you can just be nearby and have them ask. But again, you have to gauge that like detrimental level. If you only [00:31:00] have one of something, you gotta do it yourself. That concept of just saying what you want at the final result and then seeing how they get there, I often end up learning things from them.
Cause they've been on other jobs and been asked to do the same task, but they do it differently. One of the last jobs I was on in San Francisco, I was making a burger and my assistant did something different. She like took the bun and was like, Oh, do you want me to put Vaseline on all the buns? And I was like, No. But the reason that she's doing that, which totally makes sense to me, immediately was like, Oh, cuz if you do that and then you put sauce on it, it's not gonna soak into the bun.
Olivia: It creates like a protective layer. But that would only be if the burger was going to need to sit there for an extended period of time.
This burger was like going into someone's hand and they were pretending to bite it and like it was just a completely different scenario. So that trick didn't apply, but it was just interesting and so we talked it out. I was like, No, but that's super interesting. I would if it was this scenario, but it's that scenario.
And she [00:32:00] was like, Oh, totally then we don't need to do that. So we talk and learn from each other.
Mica: That's so cool. And I like that advice about taking a step back and letting that person organically come to the solution. I like your perspective about you can learn something from someone, from an assistant and be like, Oh, well that's really interesting.
I did a cookbook shoot and I was helping with the prep. One of the recipes was like a flat bread and they were using a different kind of flour, like a non-grain flour, and we couldn't get it to like really rise.
But then I found a YouTube video that suggested you use sparkling water and that would get it to rise a little bit. The cookbook author was like, that's the most genius thing I've ever heard. I'm gonna start doing that now. And I was like, I am too .
Olivia: Problem solving.
Mica: Uh, problem solving. Problem solving.
What is, [00:33:00] what's the challenging part about working on a team?
Olivia: I think when things don't go, as we're describing, where it's like everyone's supportive in getting along. When it's just not going that way and at the end of the day you have to do your job. And keep your attitude up and do the best you can. It's really hard sometimes to when things get to you, if you put something on set and it's, they don't like it, and you have to remake it and remake it.
Let's say that you didn't prepare to have, five times whatever the ingredient was, because why would you in that scenario? So you, so you have to take time to run to the store, like when things just fall apart and you just have to keep going.
It doesn't happen that often either. So I think you don't get as many times to practice how to keep your wits about you, but you do.
Mica: I totally agree with that. How do you keep your spirits up in challenging moments like that?
Olivia: A lot of the time [00:34:00] I just tell myself like, this is food styling. Like no one's gonna, like, no one's gonna die today cuz of this. This isn't brain surgery kind of comment. So that's always one piece. The other piece is that I think when there's the relationship that you have with the photographer needs, that support system needs to be there.
If that becomes broken, it's really challenging to get back to a good place. Same with your assistant. So I feel like those two people are like, directly on either side of you.
It's the community around me. And just keeping some perspective.
Maybe a little piece of chocolate too, or like something like that.
Mica: A lot chocolate for the really tough days.
How do you find assistants and does that trust build?
Olivia: Finding assistants can actually be really tough. I've done anything from like putting it out on Instagram to, [00:35:00] you hear from an assistant that you work with, that there is another assistant in the field and you try and connect. But also a lot of times, like one assistant works most frequently with one stylist, so you don't wanna be taking someone else like primary assistant. You gotta keep your ear to the ground and another thing is sometimes people that work in restaurants or bakeries or they have time or interest to wanna step out of it, they already have the skill set, which is pretty cool.
But then in building trust, I think it's, it's definitely a two-way street.
They have to like working for you and you have to like, working with them. So it's, things like, hey, let's get a drink after a job. Or you, you meet at the beginning of the day before shopping, like grabbing a cup of coffee. Hanging out, being like, how are you? And then working. Once you're on the [00:36:00] job, being able to say hey, that that's not exactly how we talked about doing it, but it's cool.
No big deal. Let's just keep moving and just being chill about it.
While, still being a, a teacher.
The teacher role goes both ways. Often I learn from other people too, so.
Mica: Do you like for your assistants to already be taught or do you like to teach?
Olivia: I do like to teach. I didn't go to cooking school and I have taken specified cooking courses and pastry courses over my time as a food stylist.
But I have worked with both assistants that don't have professional training and assistants that do. I've worked as an assistant to both types as well.
That main mentor I talked about, she didn't go to cooking school either. So I've seen highly skilled people on both sides of the spectrum. And really what it is, is that student teacher relationship that like connection between two people. It has to jive. You [00:37:00] have to wanna learn from each other.
With the people that I've clicked with, I like teaching them. Teaching feels a little weird too because you show someone how to do it, but then they have to find their own way.
It's like halfway technical and halfway intuitive.
Mica: That makes a lot of sense. So we describe team, what roles are present on said team for a shoot?
Olivia: Depends on the job. Um, which is always the answer to like every question, but the size of the team, it can sometimes just be you and the photographer.
Sometimes it's a team of 50 people because there's talent or the models or actors. There's gaffers, there's assistant production person, there's line producer, there's a person, you know, it's like there's all these different roles depending on the size of the job. But the, the key ones, or I guess the ones I see most often within food are [00:38:00] prop stylist, photographer, digital tech, which is the photographers assistant. They run the computer.
Sometimes there's a producer, sometimes there's food stylist assistant. More often than not. Probably the most other common one would just be when the photographer also has a photo assistant. So they have their digital check and photo assistant.
And then it's the whole client side.
Mica: You mentioned, the prop stylist. How closely do you work with the prop stylist?
Olivia: Depends on the job, Um, uh, prop stylists can have any number of roles of involvement. So there's like a term called a prop and drop. They get the context of the job and then gather a bunch of props, drop 'em off. As you're working through the shots, you and whoever's doing the creative for it, or you and the photographer, you pull from there.
That's like the most hands off. Other [00:39:00] times you're working directly where they have, you have to do a slice of pie on a plate. So they bring 15 different plates. You're there with the slice of pie that you've made, you're sizing it up. The creative director's also there saying they like this one or that one, and on every single shot you're talking through the details of each thing. But overall should be assumed is a pretty close relationship.
Mica: That's awesome. Get to know your prop stylist, you guys. What's the best way to communicate with the photographer so that you get the look that they're going for?
Olivia: Like while on set?
Mica: Yeah, Yeah.
Olivia: The best way to communicate with the photographer one is to understand what they got going on.
When they're hands on the mouse, they're facing the computer, they're obviously processing something.
Not to, to like need their attention at that point, but have a point where you can say, Hey, I'm ready. Are you ready? Okay, let's talk. [00:40:00] Okay, let's do this. Okay, I need 20 minutes. What do you need? And then you set a game. So you kind of move through the steps together, keep checking in,
Once you're on set, then it's things like getting things in the right place, understanding the layers of how someone's working. So, hey, I'm just putting everything in its spot and then I'm gonna go back in and I can put some loose salt here. I can do finishing touches.
They can call things out as they see it.
Sometimes I think that you have to learn someone's style that way, where they can get maybe a two, a step or two ahead, and you just gotta say, Hey, I'm almost there. I just wanna do X, Y, or Z.
That's when you start to dance. That's when you start to like do the thing where you're like, Yes, that looks great.
I really like that. Oh, I love the way the light's hitting that. And a lot of the times it's, it's not me or the photographer saying anything. It's the client saying, I like this, I like that.
And you're just, you're doing whatever there, whatever they're telling you [00:41:00] to do because that's why you're there.
I'd say about 50% of the time they look to me to ask an opinion. Most of the time they wanna make sure the photographer signs off on it too. So it's a little bit of a hierarchy.
Mica: How can food photographers better communicate with their food stylists?
Olivia: It's important to respect that both people are there to be creative.
Everyone that's there is there to be creative. So allow time on set for someone to set something up the way that they saw it.
Ample communication and start asking for changes before they prompt you for it.
Giving everyone like time on set to do what they feel is the next step.
Mica: Give the food stylist time to set up and give them that space to let them create. We're all here for the same goal. This is a team effort.
We're all trying to be creatives and we're trying to create this image for the client and [00:42:00] work with and not against.
Olivia: Yeah, one person's vision isn't the end all be all. Unless it's the client.
Mica: The client lays the gauntlet down.
Olivia: Which they should. We're also talking about these things in a general sense, where some jobs, it's much more open and collaborative.
Some jobs it's not, and it doesn't mean that one job is better than the other. It, it's just name of the game.
The variety of it all.
Mica: I've had clients who are like wanted their pinky in every single thing that I've done, and then I have some who are like, I just wanna throw money at you and have you do this. And I just show up and take the glory. I have some that should show up and they just wanna be there in case there aren't any questions.
But for the most part, they just kinda take a step back. I had a question in my mind earlier and I forgot it while we were talking cuz we started talking about something and it was wonderful. But it pertains to mentorship.
I know that's like three topics [00:43:00] ago,
Would you ever consider being a mentor yourself?
Olivia: I would say that anyone that assists me, it falls into the same role.
So for that day, I, I am their mentor.
Mica: I love that. For that day. You are their mentor.
Olivia: There's an assistant in both cities that I like working with the most, so getting the chance to work with them more. So I guess mentorship would assume some amount of ongoing frequency, but it's as frequent as I can get with those two.
But I also don't know how much they're looking to take away from me. So that was a key thing with me and the girl that I assisted for all those years is I found it within myself that I was working towards something. There's a lot of skills, whether they're even life skills or just professional skills that you can learn from assisting a food stylist, even if you're not going to become one.
Mica: I'm curious to hear your [00:44:00] perspective on this. What do you think has been the biggest change in the industry since you started working as a food stylist?
Olivia: Probably the need for social media, which I can't say that when I first started, it wasn't there. It just wasn't on every job.
It used to be. Can we tack on like a social media thing at the end of the shoot? Or we're gonna do three days of shooting and then one day of social media as if it was a different thing.
Or you got asked about social media jobs and they wanted a lower rate.
But now it's, it's built into every shot. Hey, we're gonna shoot this, we're gonna get a GIF out of it. We also wanna then have someone pick it up and hold it. And then that's the social media piece. Move on.
It's so built in now.
And you have people often like walking around the kitchen filming or taking pictures of us as we're working to then put on their social media too, which is like a whole nother level. And I get it. I mean, I am a millennial so I grew up with social media [00:45:00] enough so that I get why they want all that content, but in the very beginning, social media was every few jobs. It was talked about.
Mica: I'm a millennial like you too, and I remember social media in its infancy and just being so enamored with. With this beast called MySpace and tickled at the idea that I could connect with someone from a different continent and just seeing pictures from their, like everyday life.
Social media, it's done two things. It's taken the curtain behind whatever industry you're in.
I've learned way too much on TikTok about dentistry and there's a Nun TikTok that I follow and I'm like, Wow, I never, I never realized that. But also gives this impression that it's Just like the easiest thing in the world, and, and this constant need to like [00:46:00] be popping all the time.
It's like, if I'm not leading this exciting and exorbitant, busy, busy lifestyle, then you know, what am I gonna put on my social media.
It's such a fickle beast to tame and find that precious balance. social media changed the way you do your job?
Olivia: Yeah, in ways where like I should take a picture of something or shoot something during the day to post, to be like, Hey, I'm working, which I often don't get around to. And sometimes I have assistance who are all about it, so I'm like, Thank you. Thank you for just letting me press repost. Amazing. Are you asking more personally or like how has it changed my work? on set?
Mica: Well, yeah when you are styling something, a dish, and they say this is gonna be for social media, does it change the way you place dishes? So it [00:47:00] fits a a 16 by nine ratio, or, let's put it in a square format for LinkedIn or something.
Olivia: Yeah. Sometimes the framing will change. So I'll have to style something so I know it's gonna have to last that much longer because we have to do multiple framings. If the angle completely changes often that means you have to make two of whatever the thing is because. I guess that's another misconception that people often think is like, you're just styling to make something look good, but that's not the job at all.
The job is like you're styling food for the camera. So you have to make it look like you can see everything that's in it, make it look most delicious for that angle. So that's one piece. The other piece with social media I think is there is this feeling of anything that's a, for the gram kind of shot is not as important. Even though everything that I'd like to put out, I'd like to like it. But it's always like the secondary thing.
Mica: Yeah, I, I totally [00:48:00] agree with you on that. Something that one of my past professors brought up. He said, your feed should be like a secondary portfolio, so you should be putting your best work. If someone wanted to break into this field, what advice would you give them on how they could do it?
Or what should they do first?
Olivia: To network, to try and meet as many people as you can and show face and show that you're excited. And if someone asks, Hey, do you wanna come and just shadow for a half day and see what it's like on set?
Hey, do you wanna assist me on a test shoot? Hey, any opportunities that you're given so that people can get a feel for your skill set. Get a feel for how it is to be around you, work with you. Show people who you are.
Then when you show up, like be there a hundred percent. It's really important to be available.
Mica: [00:49:00] Do you think that a beginner food stylist should build a food styling kit? Or how would someone go about finding that information?
Olivia: I don't think so. As an assistant, I always showed up with a knife roll. So I had my knives, ones that I was comfortable using. Otherwise, I've always had access. To the leads kit, or my kit is like full range. I'm like, use whatever you need in there. But most of the stuff in the kit is for styling or like backup, like, Oh, you have a peeler in there cuz maybe the kitchen you're in doesn't have a good peeler, It's not sharp.
Or you just gotta have your bases covered.
Mica: My favorite activity is looking through food stylist. I swear. It's like looking through your mom's purse.
Olivia: Yeah, wait till you see the like [00:50:00] at home storage that they have where you're like, Why do you have so many different sprinkles? Why do you have so many different cookie cutter shapes? Like all the random crap you keep at home and you're like, I might need this again. I don't know.
Mica: What do you hope listeners learn from today's episode?
Olivia: I hope they learned a little bit about the freelance life and how you really have to ride the wave.
But also learned about how skilled each person is that's on a food shoot set. How many specific details and moments of conversation and going over things, and going over things that, that bring a set together. It doesn't just get thrown together.
Each piece is very thought through and it takes a team.
Mica: Oh, I love that it takes a team. That is solid. Where can the listeners find you and support you?
Olivia: I do have a [00:51:00] semi-professional Instagram page. So Olivia Camini stylist is my handle. Uh, I have a website under the same title, underneath my name and um, yeah, you can also find me in Austin or San Francisco. Connect
me. Yeah, connect with me however you'd like. But,
Mica: Thank you, thank you for being a guest on the Savory Shot.
Is there anything that I did not ask today that you want to bring to light?
Olivia: No, I mean, you just have so much good insight of your own being in the industry, but then it's nice to be able to show people what we do and yeah, it's just nice to get the chance to meet you through this whole process.
Mica: Oh, I'm so glad we met too, and I'm so happy that you said yes. Again, thank you so much. Anyone who's listening, everyone should be listening by this point because, I mean, this was a bomb interview and this is a bomb podcast.[00:52:00]