Advertised foods rarely look exactly like the real food they’re selling. In fact, a number of sites around the web have pointed out just how false food advertising can be. The truth is, the delicious-looking culinary concoctions we see in print ads and television commercials would be anything but appetizing if they were on your plate. Many times it wouldn’t even be fair to identify them as food. They’re more like a terrifying Frankenstein-like type of quasi sustenance commonly made up of a partially cooked food and a carefully created combination of interesting additives. For example...
Real milk tends to make breakfast cereal soggy and rather unappetizing in pretty short order. You know what doesn’t do that? White glue. Yogurt or shampoo have also been known to do the trick.
2. Sponges, Cotton Balls & Tampons
It’s important for hot foods to look hot. The way to do that is to show steam billowing off. Instead of stopping every few shots to nuke the staged food, photographers will often soak one of these items in water, microwave it, and skillfully hide it in the shot.
3. A Blow Torch, a Branding Iron & Some Shoe Polish
Most of the time, meat products aren’t actually cooked because cooking can cause them to shrink and dry out. So items like steak and hamburgers are carefully seared with a blowtorch. Afterwards, grill marks are added with a branding iron and, as a finishing touch, some shoe polish or varnish may be applied to provide a nice, succulent color.
4. Cardboard & Toothpicks
Even if you could get past the taste of the leather shoe polish described above, a photography-ready hamburger would be unpleasant to deal with, as they are typically loaded with sheets of cardboard for support and toothpicks or pins that have been strategically placed to keep lettuce, onion, and the rest of the package in their specifically staged place.
5. Motor Oil & Some Fabric Protector
A nice big stack of flapjacks can be a thing of beauty. The only problem is those breakfast staples are quite porous – so the syrup just seeps right in. Photographers solve that issue by coating them with a healthy layer of aerosol fabric protector. And, because maple syrup doesn’t always look great on camera, they might turn to motor oil as a stand-in.
6. Hairspray & Spray-On Deodorant
That ripe, delicious bunch of grapes you see in that ad have that matte look to them because they’re coated in a healthy amount of one of these grocery store spray can staples.
If a product is cold or icy, you can bet the version in the TV commercial is covered in glycerin. The substance is used as a sort of catch-all on food shoots to provide gloss and sheen, or give the appearance of moisture on everything from a beer bottle to the leaves of a salad.
8. Paper Towels
If you’ve ever drizzled a bowl of ice cream with chocolate syrup, only to watch all of the delicious topping slide and fall off the ice cream, you'll understand this trick. Photographers cut out little amorphous pieces of paper towel, lay them over the top of the ice cream, then cover the paper towel with the syrup. Apparently it does a bang up job holding the syrup in place.
9. The Food That Makes Other Foods Look Good
The MVP of the food staging world is the mashed potato. Whipped spuds are used for all sorts of aesthetic purposes. They’re loaded into syringes and then injected straight into meat to plump up specific parts of a turkey or roast. They’re dyed different colors and used to play the role of ice cream. And they’re baked into pies to provide a sturdy interior that won’t fall to pieces when a slice is taken out.
10. Antacid & Soap Bubbles
Soda doesn’t look so crisp and refreshing without an overabundance of bubbles. A little antacid tablet typically gets the stuff churning and bubbling. Dish soap can be used for creating larger surface bubbles.
How specific do the details of food photography get? It’s not uncommon for a hamburger bun to be methodically covered with sesame seeds by a person with tweezers, glue, and an incredible amount of patience. Tweezers are also useful in assembling Asian and Italian noodle-based dishes - with the placement, shape, and curvature of each noodle being dissected, assessed, and set carefully in place. Just like you do it at home, right?