Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Tasty Soil Granules, Acrylic, and Glue

We intuitively know the power of images- one picture is worth a thousand words. Poets know the power of images - they create visual impressions with language. Advertisers know the power of images - they invoke desire for products through pictures.

Food images can actually make us salivate.  Interesting, then, that what we salivate over and crave is often not real food, but effective stand-ins that look better on camera than the real thing and stand up to the hot lights.

Images can make us desire food, and it's humbling to know that what creates that desire is not only often unpalatable, but also often dangerously inedible.

How cooling does that image of a glass of iced tea look on a hot summer's day or that icy, slushy margarita? Mmmm. How about a glass sprayed with dulling spray, some tasty acrylic ice cubes, and corn syrup droplets on the outside? The iced tea is probably not really iced tea because brewed coffee diluted with water photographs better. That beautiful, green slushy margarita may well be an inviting glass of Soil Granules and colouring.

Ice cream is difficult for photographers to work with - hot lights don't mix well with anything that melts. No problem. A nice mixture based on instant mashed potatoes or shortening with food colouring works well. Maybe some purchased icing with lots of confectioner's sugar added. Well, that doesn't sound so bad, but then they go and spoil it with Elmer's Glue-All to simulate those nice melty drops!

Dying for a piece of that mile-high cake with fluffy, thick icing? The icing may be icing, but the cake may be mile-high Styrofoam. Maybe the cake is actually cake, but watch out for the cardboard separating the layers; it's not so tasty.

Not all food in photographs is fake; in fact, in advertising, the actual product must be shown. The fake food is food in a supporting role in the ad or in editorials and other food shots.

So the ice cream featured for sale is ice cream, but the ice cream underneath the topping (the actual item for sale) is most likely fake. The fast food hamburger is really the item, although it may well be browner from a combination of hoisin sauce and Angostura Bitters.

Spritzed with oil, dribbled with glue, food in photographs looks yummy, refreshing, satisfying, tasty. But it's no wonder that the real fast food burger never looks as good as the one in the ad. The ad is all about the image, and that poor old burger is just a burger.

My source is a book by Linda Bellingham - Food Styling for Photographers

Food photos are for interest and not to demonstrate fake food.
(iced tea photo - Arbor Teas)
(cake photo - Epicurious)


Judie said...

Please don't tell me that the iced tea is concentrated animal urine!

ChrisJ said...


The photographers maybe thought of that, but under those hot lights.....!

Anonymous said...

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Continue the wonderful work!

Pearl said...

yeah, but they work.

I suppose that's why my food blog is so odd. it neither chases chef personalities nor stages food, or even the best of the week's special meal. just daily stuff without the short depth of field food photography loves to do.

ChrisJ said...


I always like the lighting and composition on Eaten Up - just goes to show that we don't need the stand-ins.

Judie said...

I was in B.C. exactly one year ago today. I was crying a lot.

Well, I feel better now! back to the tasty displays, I have heard that they use Elmer's in bowls of cereal so the flakes won't get soggy and wilt.

ChrisJ said...


In B.C.? Do you visit often or was that a one-time event?

From what I understand, Elmer's Glue has several functions in food photography, among other things!

Judie said...

Rod is from Edmonton, and for many years we would go up there to catch up with our cousins and take trips. I have been to B.C. several times. On 9/11, we were in Prince Rupert, preparing to take off back to Banff, where some of our cousins live.

I have been in every provence except one. Canada is a very beautiful country!

ChrisJ said...


I will now consider you an honourary Canadian!

Anonymous said...

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I would appreciate if a staff member here at could post it.


askcherlock said...

Okay, you have now helped me not to be tempted when I see those luscious desserts on TV!

Judie said...

Pretty special, hey? Hahahaha!

ChrisJ said...


Yes, who knows what it is exactly that is tempting us?

Owen Gray said...

When I was a kid back in Montreal, I delivered newspapers to a guy who worked for the National Film Board.

We'd talk each time I collected -- usually every couple of weeks. One thing he told me comes to mind nearly fifty years later. "They say," he said, "the camera never lies. They're wrong. It lies like hell."

It was true then, as it is true now.

ChrisJ said...


Yes, manipulation of images has been going on for a long time - like making 50 people look like an enormous crowd with a tight shot and right angle.