Kim Krejca, a food stylist working with a food photographer over tacos, married two unassuming tortilla shells together with glue. Her work wasn’t finished yet. She stuffed the shells with cosmetic sponges and layered them with delicious-looking taco filling, laden with lubricant-sprayed beef and corn syrup-glazed beans, confident that the fruits of her labor would show. The finished product didn’t look like the lying, poisonous death trap that it was; instead, it was a pristine package of goodness, ready to smack consumers with the sad joke of expectations.
Food photography is fun, especially if you’re the photographer doing all the lying.
Lie number one is on the back of your cereal box. “Cereal milk,” or Wildroot in real life, is a men’s haircare product for keeping tresses on lockdown. The Wildroot method was a solution for real milk’s quick betrayal of photographers, making flakes soggy before the first shot. Similarly, the frosted sheen of a chilled glass of soda can be attributed to spray deodorant or a Scotchguard-glycerin mixture, says food stylist Denise Stillman.
In spite of this, some photographers still find their subjects tempting. Food photographer and vegan baker Lauren Wright encourages professionals to eat before shooting. “It’s no good taking photos when you’re hungry because you’ll probably eat the dish before you get the perfect shot,” she warns.
However, some photographers have the opposite problem. In a recent interview with Resource, famed Times food photographer Andrew Scrivani explains that he’s had problems nourishing himself during shoots. “People even have to remind me to eat or drink something, because I am so focused,” Scrivani told us.
Having to study photographs of food makes any good photographer better, insists Paritha Wannawanit. She likes to study food photography that she loves, paying attention to “light, styling, and camera angles”—all in the hope that she can soon recreate them. “Once I get a grip of the method I can make it my own using my recipe,” she said.
Perhaps the funniest oddity in food photography is treating food like a human subject. If it’s handsome enough, a sandwich may merit a stand or stool, just like movie star Tom Cruise. Its best features are highlighted by natural lighting; and a positive spin on that is a sandwich will not fight you.
At least not a Carl’s Jr. sandwich. Those guys are wimps.
Here are more of the products stylists and photographers use on food, but would never tell you about.
WD-40, a lubricant used to make meat shiny
Corn syrup, used as both glue and bean shimmer
Wildroot, hair gel aka cereal milk
Elmer’s Washable School Glue, if you’re feeling nostalgic
Soy Sauce, for racial diversity
Cigarettes, to create the illusion of steamy pasta
Tampons, because they are steamy when microwaved
Cardboard, for stacking things like pancakes or burgers.
Salt, to make carbonated beverages foam better.
Lard, confectionary sugar and food coloring, for ice cream.
Food coloring for lots of other things.
Carved plastic blocks, for ice.
However, if you are in need of a food stylist, check out our good friends at The Prop Stylist. They’ll make your food look bomb but won’t lie to you when they do it.