There’s something deeply wrong with almost every food photo you’ve ever seen. Behind the chefs who cook your food sits a small army of evil minions, performing weird, deceitful plastic surgery to make each dish look as delicious as possible. There is a reason why your Big Mac never looks anything like the massive poster outside McDonald’s - the food industry is full of deceit.
Sometimes, these tricks involve a little touching up, or a slight adjustment to what was already a pretty tasty looking plate. On other occasions, a food stylist might have to do something more drastic in order to get that perfect shot. Either way, the time has come to pull back the curtain and expose them all for the charlatans they are. These are the secret ways that food stylists try to fool you with their photos.
Ever wondered how every major pancake chain manages to get their stacks to stand so proudly for photos, yet make them collapse into a buttery mush as soon as they arrive on your plate? The answer is a lot less delicious than flour, milk and eggs. In order to keep their subjects upright, food stylists will slip a layer of cardboard in between the pancakes, to give the illusion of height.
Continuing on the pancake theme, no maple syrup, no matter how unctuous or sickly sweet it might seem, has ever looked up-to-scratch on camera. This gives food photographers a problem when it comes to pouring it all over their carefully stacked pancakes. Hence why syrup, and many other similar sauces, are almost always replaced with engine oil, which gives their subjects that sought-after sheen.
Much like maple syrup, milk has never been the most photogenic of models. This means that, for anyone working with dairy-heavy foods like cereal, some outside-of-the-box thinking is required. In order to get their bowls looking as inviting and voluptuous as possible, stylists will regularly substitute in liquid glue paste, which looks significantly thicker and just as white when recorded on camera.
When you’re spending several hours in a studio, maintaining an inviting layer of foam atop your subjects can be a tricky business. The real thing tends to dissolve within minutes, giving you a very small window in which to work. In order to get around this, photographers will use everything from shaving cream to soap bubbles to give them a longer timeframe.
There aren’t many things that look more delicious than a beautifully crisp, golden-brown roast turkey. As any chef knows, getting the skin right can be a seriously tricky business, requiring the perfect balance between basting and heat. Stylists don’t have time for that. Instead, they will roast their birds quickly for perfect skin and photograph it when it looks its best. It might be pretty, but it’s almost certainly raw on the inside.
6. Cold Drinks
On a hot day, a photo of a tall, frosty, ice-filled glass of something sweet and bubbly can be one of the most inviting images imaginable. It’s a shame it’s all based on lies. Since they would melt under hot studio lights, stylists rarely if ever work with ice cubes, instead replacing them with special plastic alternatives. Similarly, the condensation that sticks to the glass has nothing whatsoever to do with the drink, and is usually created by spray-on deodorant.
Just like froth, capturing steam is next to impossible unless you get your timing spot on. This is why food stylists have found another way to cheat the system. Rather than photographing food as soon as it comes out of the pan, they will instead burn incense in order to give the illusion of freshly cooked hot food.
No burger is complete without its own set of blackened, deliciously bitter burn marks. But, it turns out that recreating this effect for the camera is a lot trickier than whacking a few patties on the grill. As a result, photographers will regularly resort to drawing on their char lines to get them just right, often using charcoal and sometimes even felt pen.
Since almost all food is stone cold by the time anyone gets to photograph it, melting cheese can be particularly tricky to capture. This is particularly true of burgers and sandwiches. In order to get around this problem, food stylists will often melt cheese slices by simmering them in water for a few minutes, before layering on top of their sandwich fillings.
Like all other melty things, ice cream is the mortal enemy of the food stylist. In order to avoid desserts disappearing into a sticky pool, photographers forgo the ice cream tub entirely, and instead replace its contents with cold mashed potato, dyed with different food colourings, according to demand. It might taste totally wrong, but visually, it does the trick.
We shouldn’t really be surprised that the food we eat is completely different to what we see plastered on ginormous billboards. However you may feel about the food industry, it’s obvious that there is more going on than meets the eye.