You know those classic picturesque Campbell’s ads with the alphabet noodles floating gloriously at the top of the bowl, spelling out some special message? Of course you do, and you’re always a little bit confused when you see them, because in real life, your croutons and tortillas have a habit of sinking to the bottom before you’ve even taken a bite, let alone whisked out your phone to capture the moment. Your noodles, they disappear below the surface just as quickly.
Well, in order for food stylists to make it appear that toppings are “floating” on the top of a soup, they’ll often use another small dish turned upside down to create a platform. It’s all just a clever illusion!
Refreshing Ice Cubes
Despite those drink ads that always look especially tempting on a particularly sunny and humid day, the ice you see in them is almost guaranteed to never be actual ice. It’s for the obvious, yet strangely overlooked reason too. Real ice would melt much too quickly under those bright studio lights for someone keen on getting just the right angle.
Instead, glossy, perfectly formed, and melt-free plastic cubes like these tend to take their place and continue to convince overheated patrons that all they need to cool down is a chilled glass, topped off with, well, ice.
Invigorating Soda Splashes
It turns out it’s not just the ice in the drinks that’s misleading though, but the drinks themselves. You know those ultra-charming splashes that never look like the mess they’re pretty sure to turn into, but some hypnotizing water show? Well, there’s a reason they say if it’s too good to be true, it usually is.
Those refreshing splashes you see are also made of plastic, just like the “ice,” and designed to look just right. No wonder water never looks like this, even when you drop some ice in (fake or real). The moral of the story? Trust absolutely nothing about photos of drinks!
Grilled steak, veggies, and well, everything, tends to look significantly more delectable when they’re shot by a photographer than when made by your local Nando’s—and we all know how good that is. Grill marks, though, as it turns out, look the way they do not because the chefs associated with the photographers are so bloody talented, but because they’re not always grill marks.
In fact, they’re often drawn on with eyeliner or added to food with a charcoal starter. That’s probably why your barbecued food never looks quite the same. We don’t know about you, but we’re going to stick with the less-pronounced and edible grill marks.
The pictures you see of meat in gourmet cooking magazines and in Waitrose adverts tend to look pretty hearty, don’t they? Like something you’d never think twice about eating, because it’s just that picture perfect. When meat is cooked though, it often shrinks, sometimes significantly, depending on the type of meat.
So, oftentimes, when a photoshoot requires meat and it needs to look all plump and juicy, it isn’t cooked. Instead, the food stylists will craft the outside, to make it look just right with the help of a blow torch, while the inside is left raw and bloody! On the bright side, at least it’s a real piece of meat and not plastic? That’s a step up, yeah?
Wholesome Cereal with Milk
Among the grossest tricks on our lovely little list is a use you probably never thought Elmer’s Glue had. No, it’s not pouring it on your hands just to rub them together and spend the rest of the day peeling it off—don’t deny it, we’ve all done it. We digress.
The default school glue is frequently used as a substitute for milk when there’s a photoshoot of a bowl of cereal. How many times do you think a hungry assistant has tried to sneak a bite? Yuck, we wouldn’t want to be around for that reaction!
There’s absolutely nothing better, or more misleading than a hamburger ad from your favourite fast food go-to. We’re looking at you with the golden arches, mate. Well thanks to Mickey D’s in Canada, and Business Insider, we’ve got some newfound insight into the real story behind those too-good-to-be-true Big Macs.
To give you a sense, a typical burger can take a mere minute to cook for a customer, the one you see on the screen though, takes hours. That cheese that looks so wonderfully melted instead of slightly crusty like the real deal? It’s sculpted.
Condiments & Sesame Seeds
To give hamburgers that perfect little drizzle of ketchup, stylists painstakingly apply it—along with other condiments—using a syringe. No wonder your burger never looks as good! And those sesame seeds? Well, they are the very same buns that you get when you order, so you might think they’d look as good, right?
It turns out that they too were meticulously placed with tweezers for the perfect spacing. We’ve never seen a McDonald’s worker do that to our burger! By the time Mr. Big Mac has been built to the stylist’s satisfaction, the process still isn’t finished, and it gets retouched. Not a whole lot, but enough to fluff it up.
Have you ever wondered where that frosty condensation comes from on the berries you see in ads? Food stylists have been known to spray the seasonal fruit with aerosol deodorant to give them that appearance. If the occasion happens to call for larger droplets, then the berries are sprayed with glycerin.
Wondering how they manage to keep said berries so ripe and fresh? While frozen fruit is always an option for us customers, when the real thing is no longer in season, stylists have a slightly different method to brightening up their fruit. They rinse the fruit in cold water and are sure to add in something called “Fruit Fresh,” or, another option is adding lemon juice to the bath.
In order to keep strawberries and raspberries looking good as new, there might be an addition of lipstick—we’re not sure that would ever come in handy in another field though.
Steaming Hot Meals
In order to keep foods looking steamy long after they cool, stylists have a habit of using incense sticks carefully hidden behind the subject. Alternatively, taking some cotton balls, soaking them in water and then heating them up in the microwave, is a method used to capture the steam, as it were. Don’t breathe a sigh of relief just yet, there are stranger things coming.
Luscious Stacks of Pancakes with Syrup
Those pancake pictures you spend minutes gazing at and hours still thinking about and drooling over, are also, sadly, feigned. As actual syrup is usually too light in color to show up in photos, stylists will, in many cases, use motor oil to darken it.
What’s more, the stylists will also spray the pancakes with Scotchguard—that’s right, the fabric protector—before dousing the syrup on, to keep the oil from soaking in.
Delicious Ice Cream
There are some truly stunning photos of ice cream out there, and you might wonder where those flawless cones and sundaes come from. Don’t get your hopes up just yet though. Similarly to the issue with using real ice, food photographers can’t just set out a bowl of ice cream under a bunch of hot lights and expect it to look just as tantalizing and delicious while they set up cameras and take shot after shot. Though melted ice cream might very well taste better. So, those pictures of ice cream that make you long for a whole container? They’re actually mashed potatoes.
Well, there is one other replacement stylists are wont to use, and guess what, it’s edible. This is a combination of icing sugar and shortening. While we’re not entirely sure how this one would taste, it’s a bit less disturbing than eating potatoes that look like dessert.
Freshly Brewed Coffee
Are you one of those people who can’t handle a day without coffee? Hell, not even a day, what about just a morning? If you said yes to either of these questions, you might want to skip over this spoiler alert, or at least come up with a backup drink to get through your mornings. Don’t let this cup of just-poured coffee fool you.
We know it looks appealing, and why shouldn’t it? But let us tell you here, you do not want to even think about drinking that cup of joe. Those bubbles on the top might look pretty tempting, but they aren’t all from some freshly ground coffee beans. Nope, they were created using dish soap. Yuck!
Do you love the look of condensation on the outside of a freshly poured glass of Coke? Of course you do. Remember when we told you not to trust any photos of drinks though. To get that “frosty glass” look that you see in advertisements, food photographers use spray-on deodorant mixed with another of our tricks: Scotchguard and glycerin.
Glycerin, by the way, is frequently found in soaps, gels, and cosmetics. In addition to being a food stylist go-to, it has numerous skin benefits. Sounds good, doesn’t it?
It looks good, right? Because really great food photography takes time, as you might have guessed by this point—what with all the substitutes and meticulousness the job often requires. Placing a piping hot bowl of pasta—delicious though it may very well be—in front of the camera and hoping for the best just isn’t practical.
Although it might be how most of us amateur photographers would approach the task. Just as they do with other hot dinners in need of an extra boost, food photographers have a habit of utilizing incense to mimic that ever-enticing steam.
Nothing ever looks quite as delectable as a beef roast piping hot, fresh out of the oven, are we right? Well don’t be deceived just yet. (Honestly, you probably know that by now, given that we’ve just taken up this much time to show you why you should never take anything at face value in this industry, but just in case, we thought we’d remind you.)
This photo was taken right after the roast had been sprayed with a combination of motor oil—one of photographers’ favorites, it would appear—and another thing you’d absolutely never want near your food: shoe polish. What about those carrots, you might ask? Hairspray makes them shiny.