What happens behind the lens: a closer look at food styling

Soap-covered lattés, plastic ice cream, paint-coated strawberries – hardly fitting descriptions to make your mouth water. Or are they? Meet Dominique, ARD DESIGN SWITZERLAND’s chef-turned-food stylist, as he lets us in on some of professional food photography’s most unexpected tricks.

Dominique, your office walls are covered with photos of roasted chicken, crispy salads, and melted raclette cheese. I’m just coming back from lunch but all this is making me hungry all over again…

That food looks delicious but the truth is you’d never want to eat it. Most everything has been manipulated to get that appetite appeal consumers look for.

What do you mean?

This latté photograph for example. The thick layer of froth giving the beverage that delicious creamy look is dish soap. Because real froth doesn’t make those bubbles that stay nice and round for the duration of the photo shoot. That unctuous soup over here – it sits on a fake bottom, carefully wedged in the bowl so that the pieces of broccoli appear to be floating. Even with client-approved sketches, it can take the photo team several hours to stage the setting for that one perfect shot. Without the fake bottom, the vegetables would end up sinking below the surface. We want the food composition to be as static as possible for as long as possible.

It can take the photo team several hours to stage the setting for that one perfect shot.

That’s probably even tougher to achieve with ingredients like ice cream.

Because ice cream melts so quickly, we often use a frosting and sugar combination that looks just like the real thing. You can also find rubber scoops of ice cream out there that are very convincing.

Yummy…

It’s either that or turning the studio into a big freezer. Pieces of cut fruit are also pretty fun to deal with. To prevent oxidation – those brown stains after they’ve been out too long –, we dunk them in lemon water. We’ve also used lipstick on strawberries to cover up unwanted white spots.

That’s what it takes to make a winning photo.

Isn’t this misleading the consumer in a way – showing them a product that might not be exactly what they thought they bought?

A good photo team knows the limits the product imparts. While it could be tempting to make the product appear better than in reality, it’s not a viable strategy to build a strong brand – one built on consumer trust. The role of the photo team is to show the product in its best light without distorting it. It’s particularly true today, our clients looking for authenticity for their visuals.

It looks like there’s a lot of prep time involved in a photo shoot.

That’s what it takes to make a winning photo. Food photography is not the place where to cut corners. As they say, you buy with your eyes. For a recent potato chips shoot, we spent several hours just looking for the specimens with the right curve, size, and color. Same with chocolate – we select the best pieces right when they come out of the mold.

Thanks, Dominique, this has been enlightening.

ARD DESIGN SWITZERLAND has produced food images for some of the world’s largest companies. Our photo team is made of professional photographers and culinary-trained food stylists operating on top-notch equipment.

Contact us to style your next photo shoot.

Text credits: ARD / agi

Images credits: ARD

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