Saturday, July 24, 2010

Shooting Food

Very rare london broil-like piece of meat with brown grilling strips, labeled with yellow lettering Show Polish?
It's problematic to take something like food, which is meant to be seen at the same time it is smelled, felt and tasted, and reduce it to a visual-only stimulus. When these other senses are excluded (particularly smell), it becomes more important than ever that it look appetizing.

But how do you do that not only in two dimensions, but with morsels that need to be hot, or cold, or just moist and delicious-looking, even though they've been sitting on a table for hours?

I've tried my hand at shooting food, so I have some idea how hard it is. I sympathize. As a viewer, though, I think we are so bamboozled by the tricks, we sometimes don't know what food actually looks like anymore. Have you ever seen a fast-food burger that bore any resemblance to the ones in the promotional materials? What about your Thanksgiving dinner? The more real-than-real overshadows our real-life experience.

A while back, a photographer friend linked to a great article about the many tricks used to photograph food. Here are a few of the common stand-ins for real food:

Motor oil ... for unphotogenic syrups.

Glycerin, along with various sizes of artist’s paintbrushes (to make seafood look like it was just caught that morning) and a misting bottle (to spritz lettuce salads, giving them that just-picked-and-rinsed look).

Spray deodorant, which gives grapes that desirable frosty veneer.

Spray fabric protector, to prevent the motor-oil syrup from soaking into the pancake, which has bursting blueberries artfully pinned to it in an aesthetically pleasing, yet random, scattering.

Brown shoe polish, so raw meat appears to be just-out-of-the-roaster succulent.

White glue, used instead of milk for cereal photos and for pie repair (that would be the pie actually filled with mashed potatoes, where a serving-sized piece is cut out, with the resulting opening’s edges slathered with lemon custard or rhubarb-strawberry filling).
Hungry yet? Read the rest on

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