Food Photography, Realism, and False Advertising
June 22, 2012 by Stephanie O'Dea
Are food bloggers and food magazines practicing false advertising when they spend lots and lots of money and time staging finished food photos?
A part of me thinks, No. This is the matter of the business. People need to be lured in by the photo in order to stick around to read the recipe.
But another part of me thinks, Yes. Unless you’ve spent a few hours carefully cutting and assembling and plating and styling a regular ol’ home cook is not going to achieve the same results.
Is that false advertising? Or do home cooks and consumers just acknowledge that’s the way the world works?
What I Really Think.
(hey, I’m a blogger, we’re all just narcissistic navel-grazers, right?)
I don’t think I’ll ever be known as a food photographer. I get an email almost everyday through the slow cooking site by an “up and coming” food stylist/photographer (not the same person, different people— that would be weird if it was the same person every time!) who offers his/her expertise in food photography and styling to make my after photos “more appealing.”
I’ve read *numerous* food photography articles, online and in books. I’ve attended seminars.
but at the end of the day, I’m happy with my current method of pulling the food out of the pot, throwing up a light here and there and taking a picture.
My photos have definitely improved since I began my 2008 year— you can see a marked difference between my January shots and my August shots, and that is because I took Kalyn and Elise’s advice and got a new lens and a tabletop photo studio. We already owned a DSLR.
this is currently the set-up I have which costs a grand total of $608 (amazon affiliate links):
it’s a lot of money.
and I still am not “good enough!”
My big concern with excessive food styling and photography is when the results no longer look the way it would when the home cook recreates the recipe.
I like honesty. I like seeing something and then doing it on my own, at home, and having the same results— regardless of whether or not it’s a recipe, craft, or a DIY project.
This is why I turn to blogs and not magazines. I KNOW magazines have a room full of stylists and lighting directors to get “the perfect shot.” I’ve worked with them. I know what they do.
I know that if I pull my roast out of the pot at 6 hours it will retain it’s shape and photograph better. But it’ll TASTE better at 8 hours, and that’s what picture I’ll snap.
This is where I fall behind my fellow food bloggers. Photography isn’t a hobby of mine; and for many it is— that I understand. What I don’t understand is the desire to style a plate for a few hours by using tweezers to place a sesame seed here or there, or spray a bit of oily water on lettuce to make it shine.
I don’t care if the photo will be “pinned” more. I’ve already written about my concerns with Pinterest.
I’ll repeat myself again: This is real life, not a magazine.
So I ask:
do we as food bloggers want to put out an end result that isn’t achievable by many/most? Do we want that on our conscience?
My friend Jen and I have talked about this quite a bit. She is an actual photographer with way more expensive equipment and expertise than I’ll ever have. She knows how to style and light, but she agrees, as I do, that the extra pageviews aren’t worth compromising integrity. Look at her side-by-side comparison of the Barbie Cocktail making the rounds on pinterest: not cool.
not cool at all.
What To Do About It.
Honestly, what I’d love is there to be a standard understanding that what-you-see-is-what-you-get when it comes to food blogging and photography. I’d love a disclaimer about how many pans of brownies were destroyed trying to get that perfect, no crumbly edge, brownie stack with wax paper. Where did you get the wax paper squares, anyway? How did you measure them out perfectly?
How long did it take you to get that “perfect shot?”
How many times did you say “just a minute” to your kids? How cold was the beef stew when you finally got to eat it? Did you scoop it right from the pot, or did you wash off some of the potatoes and carrots to make them not slimy and place them in a pretty way?
How many photoshop tweaks did you make? Did you improve brightness? contrast? color? did you rub out the slightly burnt corner?
am I making too big of a deal about this?
maybe. probably. but whatever. I was hit hard with the ethics stick.