10 Ways Food Stylists Make Food Look Oh, So Good
One of the biggest clichés in food is also one of the truest – we really do eat with our eyes. In theory, it should all be about taste, flavour, texture and all of that good stuff, right? Wrong. You see, we are, as humans, very simple, visceral beings that instinctively feed off of aesthetics – something food stylists and photographers have no problem in capitalising on.
But while many had no reason not to assume that the delicious food we see and commercials was made at the hands of the finest chefs, food stylists have been using tricks and hacks for years to achieve their desired look.
From colouring and spraying, to gluing and torching and even – shock, horror – using non-food materials, you won't believe what food stylists go through to make the food look fresh and appetising.
Ever wondered why burgers in commercials look so plump and shiny? Well, it’s because that mouthwatering burger you see in photos is not cooked in the first place. To prevent the burger from shrinking, food stylists brown the edges of a raw burger patty using a blowtorch, colour the patty with gravy or soy sauce to achieve a brown colour, then, for a glossy finishing, they fully coat the burger with oil. Ta-da! We now have a burger ready for a photoshoot; one that isn't in any way edible, though.
2. Hot, Steaming Dishes
A shot of a hot platter with steam is dancing off seems like a piece of cake; but in real life it’s much harder than you think. Shooting steam billowing off of a hot dish requires much more than repeatedly heating the dish; in fact, food stylists resort to sponges or cotton balls soaked in water and microwaved several times to create the steamy effect, even when the food is entirely cold. Other stylists spray the food with hot water right before shooting, for a just-cooked effect.
3. Fizzy Drinks
We’re sorry to burst your ‘bubble’, but if you assume that your soft drink is a 'fizzy' as it appears in the ads, think again. Most of the time, bubbles disappear long before snapping a decent shot. When trying to shoot drinks that have a bubbly nature, food stylists add aspirin or antacid to create the fizz and the surface bubbles, which last long enough during the photo-shoot. Some would even use soap for a richer foamy effect.
4. Grill Marks
Now, how would you feel when you find out that the perfect grill marks you see on grilled meats are nothing more than paint and metal skewers used over the original grill marks to create an more defined edge? Other tricks include using a branding iron and some shoe polish for a juicier, more succulent look. Your life has been a lie.
5. Ice Cream
While it may come as a shock to many, those luscious ice cream scoops you see on television and billboards are nothing more than cake frosting or fat and powdered sugar blended with food coloring; a trick that guarantees that the ice cream preserves its consistency and shape rather than melting during the photo session.
You can’t make a raw turkey look tempting and appetising; but a skilled food stylist can. When shooting a turkey, photographers resort to food colouring, brown sauce and a blowtorches for a roasted, golden look, while stuffing the turkey with mashed potatoes for a perfectly plumpy look.
Have you ever planned a perfect Instagram shot for your just-made pancake stack and ended up with photos that belong in a floppy food-fail album? Well, it’s only because in real life, pancakes won’t hold consistency for too long, especially when you pour maple syrup or honey on top. In these cases, food stylists use cardboard between each layer, for a sturdy firm base for the pancake stack.
A photo of a cookie splashing into a thick and creamy cup of milk makes the idea of drinking your cup of milk not so bad after all; even if the milk is made of white glue. There's a reason why milk is always replaced in photography and it is quite simple; milk tends to look flat and generally unappetising, especially when poured on cereal or oatmeal, which is why photographers use substitutes with stronger consistency, including white glue and sometimes even shampoo.
9. Ice Cubes
When it comes to cold beverage photography, food stylists like to work with acrylic or glass ice cubes for their clear and sleek nature making the drink seem shinier and because – surprise surprise – real ice cubes melt.
You can tell when bread isn't fresh, that’s for sure; but you won’t be able to tell when a beautiful fresh-looking bread basket is nothing more than bread buns sprayed with car and hair sprays; a trick to prevent the bread from looking stale. Mind blown yet? There’s more. Some food stylists even glue sesame seeds using tweezers.