Interview with a food stylist – Melanie Dubberley

This type-A has patience for minutiae, and she’s not afraid to use it. And yes, the girl colored in the lines as a kid. Some may call it OCD. Melanie calls it making things pretty. In fact, she has been making things pretty professionally for over 12 years. She styles primarily chocolate, cheese, recipes for kosher cookbooks, and alcohol–seems like anything with a “k” or a “ch” sound she works with, but in reality she styles all things food and yummy! Based out of New York, NY and Sacramento, CA, she happily travels to clients. She has partnered with Napa Valley Photographic Workshops for an upcoming Food Photography class Oct 27. Food Stories: the ABCs of Food Photography. Feel free to chat with her at or visit for more info.

chocolate cake1. Where do you find most of your food styling assignments? (Photographer, agency, clients etc.) When you first started, was it different?

I find most assignments through my existing clients who are either freelance photographers or in-house producers.

2. Who do you usually book with; the photographer, an agency or the client? Do you have a rigid fee structure or do you negotiate each booking?

I love food and making people’s visions come to life. I primarily book directly with the client and work to meet the needs of the job.

3. Do you work with an assistant? If so, what is the role of the assistant? Are you teaching on the job or is that reserved for another time?

Everyday is a learning opportunity for all people; I don’t believe that we can ever know enough. So to me, even after 20 + years in the food industry, every day, every job is a learning experience for the whole team, from assistants to stylists to art directors. The day I stop learning is a day, I am probably not on this earth anymore. I have learned much from young assistants and I have taught much to experienced ones. I think ego doesn’t belong in the studio, and that the creative process needs a team.

Red Velvet Cake4. I am sure that there are some photographers that you enjoy working with more than others. What do your favorite photographers do to make the day more enjoyable?

The best day at work is one where everyone buckles down, gets the work done and laughs the whole time through. Life is too short to not love what you do.

5. There is a protocol when discussing changes on set. Do the photographers you most often work with prefer that you talk just to them or engage directly with the client/art director? Which do you prefer?

Of course the client has the last say, and it is best to hear from them directly what it is they want to see or change. It saves time not playing the “telephone” game. I enjoy these scenarios when all lines of communication between all parties-photographer-client-stylist are open, honest and without pretense.

6. What type of food do you find the most difficult to work with? Why? What type of food do you enjoy working with the most? Why?

I love working with anything sweet; so yum, oops, I mean fun! Difficult items would be pot roast. Though that is still fun because it pushes the boundaries on how to make a big brown lump look absolutely mouth-watering!

7. When do you feel most creative?

I feel most creative when the team is laughing, having a good time and each member feels safe and free to say what they think. And where there are baked goods involved.

8. Have you learned anything about photography from working on set? If so, what?

All sorts of things, but mostly about lighting, and the way a camera sees.

9. What special concerns do you have when working on site at a restaurant? Are there any special concerns when working in the photographer’s studio?

Each job has a different requirement, what special concerns there maybe depend on job description. However, I do inquire about logistical things like parking, what door to unload through, and if there is a refrigerator etc.

10. What advice would you give to a photographer in terms of their relationship with a food stylist?

Find a food stylist that you can get along with in and out of the studio. The creative process happens when there is a bond. And at the end of the day, the point is to make a pretty picture, whether it is a product shot on seamless or a full room set with talent, the art shines through if the team plays well together.

About Jerry

I was a science teacher for 31 years. During that time I photographed wedding and Bar Mitzvahs for about 15 years but that was in the days before digital. Being a teacher, I had my summers free so I assisted food and commercial still life photographers in NYC for 3 summers and fell in love with it. Having a wife and a mortgage, it was not practical to give up a job in teaching and go into photography so I put off my dream of becoming a food photographer until I retired from teaching. Now I am living my dream - I am a food and product photographer servicing New York City, Philadelphia and all of New Jersey.
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1 Response to Interview with a food stylist – Melanie Dubberley

  1. Simi Jois says:

    Great Interview, Thanks Jerry

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