New York Times bestselling author, slow cooking expert and mommy blogger next door
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Totally Together

Food Photography, Realism, and False Advertising

June 22, 2012 by · 13 Comments 

photo credit: Why Photos of McDonald’s Burgers Look So Much Better Than The Real Thing

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):

canon rebel, 50 mm lens, and a table top photo studio (note: my set is by Lowel EGO and they don’t seem to have the set I bought 4 years ago for a reasonable price anymore.)

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. :-)

Pinterest and Feelings of Inadequacy

February 17, 2012 by · 46 Comments 

I admit it. I got sucked into the Pinterest bubble. I find this site *fascinating.* I’m fascinated by how quickly it’s grown, what a monumental force it is in driving web traffic, and how it’s such a colossal waste of time.

fascinating. utterly fascinating.

I must admit, though, that there is definitely a feeling of anxiety and insecurity when it comes to Pinterest. It’s easy to feel that if you aren’t already engaging in the site you’ve missed the boat (not true), or if you are on the site that you aren’t doing it “right.” Again, not true.

I did a little work for BlogHer this week. I spoke on a social media and how it effects women’s commerce panel, and wrote a little fluff piece on how Pinterest is a big traffic driver and shouldn’t be ignored. I still feel that way–this site should not be ignored.

I stayed away for quite a while (I joined last month at the encouragement from an IRL friend) because I was scared to get sucked into yet another THING. I’m kind of tired of having to “check just one more thing” before logging off the computer.

And then I started tracking my google analytics and realized that this THING was driving a crapload (technical term) of traffic my way. Pinterest is now my #2 traffic driver to the slow cooker site (after google) – I easily get thousands of hits a day from it. This isn’t someTHING to ignore.

(embarrassing disclosure: I’m not a typical BlogHer member. I’m a very late adopter to technical things. My slowcooker url is still on blogspot, I don’t have a facebook account, I was late to join twitter, and I don’t own a smart phone).

That said: If you aren’t on Pinterest yet, I’m going to boldly suggest that you poke around a bit, and create an account—even if you’re just doing so to claim your name. To see what from your site has been “pinned,” type the following into your browser bar:

It’s important to see what has already been pinned so you can then maybe re-link or refresh these particular articles, and to see what type of writing is currently the most appealing and most likely to be shared.

I wrote those words on Wednesday. Today is Friday. I still stand by them, but I have one caveat: be careful. If you are the type of person who gets intimidated easily by women sharing all the (perceived) wonderfulness of their lives, tread carefully.

Don’t follow as many people as you can; follow your friends (maybe even your in-real-life friends, not your blogging friends). Don’t believe that just because so-and-so repinned a photo of a “fabulous mudroom” her mudroom actually looks like that. Don’t assume that EVERYONE is doing art projects with their kids every hour of every day. Don’t get sucked into wanting to throw away all of your clothes to buy all new ones. Don’t make the mistake of judging a person’s bank account because they repinned a pair of $450 boots. They probably didn’t click through to see what the boots cost.

at least I hope that’s the case. otherwise my own boots feel terribly unworthy.

Pinterest is women-driven. And although most people (men) would think that men are the competitive sex, I’m going to suggest it’s actually women. Women want to do everything well all the time. Or at least we want to make it look that way. The fact that Pinterest is actually a vision board is quite telling. This isn’t real. This is a fantasy. Take a deep breath and remember that you are already good enough. You don’t need to have rockhard abs while whipping up 37 different varieties of cheesecake in order to feel good about yourself.

just be you.

further reading:

56 Ways to Market Your Business on Pinterest on CopyBlogger

Stop Being a Pinterest Sexist on Clever Girls

How I Grew a 1000 Visitor a Day Source of Traffic to 3000 Visits a Day on ProBlogger

You Need Pinterest. I’ll Bet You a Bubble Bath on BlogHer

What are your thoughts on Pinterest? Important? A Waste of Time? Just another social media THING? (my pinterest page is here, pinterest/stephanieodea)



The Business of Blogging series:

Part 1: The Business of Blogging

Part 2: Figuring Out Your Internet Voice

Part 3: Writing for Search Engines Doesn’t Mean Selling Your Soul

Part 4: Is Self-Esteem Tied into Sitemeter?

Part 5: Patience, and Other Blogging Virtues

and other stuff:

10 Best Business-y Books

Creating a (non-cheesy) Vision Board

Working from Home with Small Children in the House