Food Styling: Confidential. Know the Shocking Truth About the Food Shots!

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Food Photography Class - 15 
Q: What do these two photos of a salad and pasta have in common?
Food Photography Class - 11
A: These photos are used for a food styling class and it is NOT edible!

I was really shocked to know that 100% of the photos that you see in magazines like Yummy, Food, or Appetite, are NOT edible!  I recently attended a Food Styling and Food Photography Class by Jo Avila and Pixie Sevilla Santos, and all the bloggers in the group were shocked to see the behind-the-scenes of food photography.

The plates are cleaned with a glass cleaner to remove any trace of finger prints or any type of blemish on the plate that can show up in the photo. You would put drops of glycerine in the salad to show dew drops to communicate that it is fresh. Underneath the salad and pasta above are wet rolls of tissue paper to give the food some volume. Most of the ingredients are not cooked and usually handled by dirty hands.You cannot eat them period.

The goal of Food Styling is to entice the viewer to stop and look at the photo so that you can linger to read the text. Also,  it is used to educate the viewer about the subject. The goal of food photography is to enhance the food so that you are enticed to buy the food even if you get disappointed with the actual look of the food.   The food is treated as props and there are a lot of substitutes or fake ingredients (fake ice, fake charcoal, etc..) just to enhance the photo.  White paint is sometimes used as milk. There are a lot of tactics used just to produce that perfect photo.

I will NEVER be a food stylist. I cannot stand the lies that is captured in the food photos. I feel that I have a moral obligation to viewers/ readers to take actual photos of food that you can eat. I can’t help it but look at photos in food magazines with disgust.

I’m proud to say that 100% of the photos you see in the blog (except for the ones above) are photos of food that you can actually eat. If there is one thing I learned in the P3,500 Food Photography Session, is that I will NEVER be a food stylist!

Anton

Related Posts:
Marketman Flunks Food Styling & Photography 101
Is There Really Truth in Advertising?  by  Confessions of a Marketing Addict


Check out the rest of the Food Photography Class and I’ll share with you some tips that I learned from the class…

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Food Photography Class - 1 
Nena arranged a private food photography and food styling class from the country’s top professionals — Jo Avila and Pixie Sevilla Santos of Yummy.  Here are some practical tips:

1. It is a No-No to use light sources in front of the food. The natural light should be behind the food or on the side. 
2. It is the shadows that show the texture (and not the intensity of the light).
3. Composition of the Food on the Plate should be Counter Clockwise Spiral. Forks/ Spoons should be pointed inside the plate.
4. Always Odd Never Even in the number of ingredients.
5. Use neutral colors for the plate and use plain background.
6. Position of food and props should always be perpendicular and in active position vs. a parallel position.
7. One food composition technique is to use a finished food with its ingredient on the side.
8. Use bigger ingredients because they tend to be smaller in the photo.

Food Photography Class - 2 
Food Styling Tool kit: (P1,500/ kit).  You have glycerine bottle and petroleum jelly as part of the tools of the trade.

Food Photography Class - 3 
There is some brush to paint oil on the food and some clay to stick food in the plate.  Tweezers, Syringes, and Cotton Buds are essential tools for Food Styling.

Food Photography Class - 6 
Group 1: Markmet Man and Mila chopping their ingredients for the Salad shot.

Food Photography Class - 5
Group 2: Here is my partner Franco of Table for Three Please, slicing the orange carefully.

Food Photography Class - 7
Group 3: Nena of GypsySoul, was the one who arranged this private photography class. Thanks Nena!!

Food Photography Class - 10
Mila is putting glycerine drops onto the salad as Jo Avila looks on. 

Food Photography Class - 9
Pixie is demonstrating to Nena’s team on how to setup the salad.

Food Photography Class - 8
Pixie inserting additional ingredients via tweezers inside the lettuce of the salad.

I learned a lot from Jo Avila and he gave me an excuse to buy a new telephoto lens .  Thanks Jo and Pixie!!

Anton

32 thoughts on “Food Styling: Confidential. Know the Shocking Truth About the Food Shots!

  1. I don’t need to be tempted with fake food photos. I like your photos as it is, thank you. When I was still active in Food technology, taking ice cream photos were done by adding more gelatin to make it NOT melt with all those lights .

  2. Ramil, actually the salad and pasta itself aren’t made with fake materials. It’s just what’s put on it to enhance it’s appearance such as glycerine drops on lettuce leaves to resemble water drops because they hold their shape longer, and wet tissue mounds underneath to give the illusion of bulk (and to avoid more wastage of lettuce and pasta).
    It was so amusing to learn about the tricks of the trade, I’ve always wondered how they managed to keep all that ice from melting under the heat of the studio lights. The class made me appreciate the job of a food stylist and food photographer even more (almost as much as after our dinner wiht Lydia Go). It’s no easy task keeping the food looking fresh and crisp and fresh out of the oven after hours exposed to the elements and the lights.

  3. I agree with Nena, good to know what food stylists do to get us salivating over those photos. I appreciated the work they do a lot more, but don’t think it’s something I can do for a living(my hands are way too shaky to do more than prep food anyway).

  4. I’ve been to many many print and TV shoots involving food, so I’ve seen the tricks of the trade too. I know sauces are painted on and that grill marks are fake. Yet, when I browse through cookbooks and food magazines, I manage to forget all those and still find myself wanting to make/eat those – even as I know mine won’t look as pretty.
    It’s great that all the food shots in your blog are 100% authentic, and I respect your opinion, too. But I wouldn’t call food styling “lying.” These people make an honest living out of these skills (which include a solid background on food and everything related to it). While we may not agree with the tactics used to achieve the end result, let’s give them the respect they deserve.
    You obviously feel strongly about food styling, and I do too. We just happen to feel differently. πŸ™‚

  5. Right of the bat, my answer to your question (without looking at the one you provided) was “shrimp”. Nice class. Nice people in class. Nice teacher (knew Jo from college…atenista yan, Anton). So that’s why when you try to replicate the recipes they never come out looking the same…daya. Never mind, I’ll take a less than photogenic plate over a picture-perfect one any day πŸ™‚

  6. I’ve seen a behind a scene special about this way back then. It was Sharon Cuneta’s commercial for Alaska. She’s eating Halo-halo and they used rock salt or was it tawas(?) for the ice and other non edible stuff. They said that they used artificial stuff so it would last long under the heat of the light. But of course, they used the real thing when it comes to Sharon eating the stuff. Hehe.
    And I think, this kind of stuff are so well known in Japanese restaurants that they have workers that are specialized in this kind of job. Remember those food displays in Japanese restaurants?

  7. Hi, Anton,
    ‘Found it quite ironic that you wrote this blog denouncing all the evils of foodstyling soon after writing a blog extolling the virtues of THE Lydia Go to high heavens. =)
    Everyone is entitled to his/her own opinion, I suppose, so I hope you will indulge mine. =)
    While I commend you for your “natural food photography” (I actually think you’re really good at it), the reality of advertising photography necessitates that food be subjected to harsh lighting–as opposed to the natural light that all of us bloggers use for our blogs. Because some photos may also be magnified to billboard proportions, even the slightest imperfection (like a seemingly unnoticeable thumbmark) will show. That, I suppose, ought to explain why food layouts have to be subjected to “extra-ordinary” and “artificial” conditions. =)
    On another note, to equate the art of foodstyling with lying may be a bit too harsh, and quite honestly, a bit too unfair. “Enhancing food” as opposed to lying about it may be more apt. Think of it as FOOD MAKE-UP. Pretty much like a girl who spruces herself up before a big date or before a big night out of town. She does it to catch the guy’s attention–or, heck, even just to feel better about herself. Ultimately, it’s up to the guy to decide for himself if the girl is still worth his time once the make-up is off. In some cases, he may feel duped. In some cases, he may actually find himself lucky enough to get the real deal under all the “window-dressing”. Truth be told, in most cases, I think that one will at least find someone likeable and worth knowing–even if the “relationship” does not progress into a passionate, life-long romance.
    All told, despite all allegations to the contrary, the Filipinos are intelligent folks–especially when it comes to food. They know when they are being duped and will definitely stop buying once the “reality” of the food itself fails miserably against the expectation that has been set by the foodstyled recipe shot.
    I just thought I’d throw in my two-cents worth. Yes, on behalf of all the foodstylists out there–soem of whom I actually know. =)

  8. Hi, Anton,
    ‘Found it quite ironic that you wrote this blog denouncing all the evils of foodstyling soon after writing a blog extolling the virtues of THE Lydia Go to high heavens. =)
    Everyone is entitled to his/her own opinion, I suppose, so I hope you will indulge mine. =)
    While I commend you for your “natural food photography” (I actually think you’re really good at it), the reality of advertising photography necessitates that food be subjected to harsh lighting–as opposed to the natural light that all of us bloggers use for our blogs. Because some photos may also be magnified to billboard proportions, even the slightest imperfection (like a seemingly unnoticeable thumbmark) will show. That, I suppose, ought to explain why food layouts have to be subjected to “extra-ordinary” and “artificial” conditions. =)
    On another note, to equate the art of foodstyling with lying may be a bit too harsh, and quite honestly, a bit too unfair. “Enhancing food” as opposed to lying about it may be more apt. Think of it as FOOD MAKE-UP. Pretty much like a girl who spruces herself up before a big date or before a big night out of town. She does it to catch the guy’s attention–or, heck, even just to feel better about herself. Ultimately, it’s up to the guy to decide for himself if the girl is still worth his time once the make-up is off. In some cases, he may feel duped. In some cases, he may actually find himself lucky enough to get the real deal under all the “window-dressing”. Truth be told, in most cases, I think that one will at least find someone likeable and worth knowing–even if the “relationship” does not progress into a passionate, life-long romance.
    All told, despite all allegations to the contrary, the Filipinos are intelligent folks–especially when it comes to food. They know when they are being duped and will definitely stop buying once the “reality” of the food itself fails miserably against the expectation that has been set by the foodstyled recipe shot.
    I just thought I’d throw in my two-cents worth. Yes, on behalf of all the foodstylists out there–soem of whom I actually know. =)

  9. Hi, Anton,
    ‘Found it quite ironic that you wrote this blog denouncing all the evils of foodstyling soon after writing a blog extolling the virtues of THE Lydia Go to high heavens. =)
    Everyone is entitled to his/her own opinion, I suppose, so I hope you will indulge mine. =)
    While I commend you for your “natural food photography” (I actually think you’re really good at it), the reality of advertising photography necessitates that food be subjected to harsh lighting–as opposed to the natural light that all of us bloggers use for our blogs. Because some photos may also be magnified to billboard proportions, even the slightest imperfection (like a seemingly unnoticeable thumbmark) will show. That, I suppose, ought to explain why food layouts have to be subjected to “extra-ordinary” and “artificial” conditions. =)
    On another note, to equate the art of foodstyling with lying may be a bit too harsh, and quite honestly, a bit too unfair. “Enhancing food” as opposed to lying about it may be more apt. Think of it as FOOD MAKE-UP. Pretty much like a girl who spruces herself up before a big date or before a big night out of town. She does it to catch the guy’s attention–or, heck, even just to feel better about herself. Ultimately, it’s up to the guy to decide for himself if the girl is still worth his time once the make-up is off. In some cases, he may feel duped. In some cases, he may actually find himself lucky enough to get the real deal under all the “window-dressing”. Truth be told, in most cases, I think that one will at least find someone likeable and worth knowing–even if the “relationship” does not progress into a passionate, life-long romance.
    All told, despite all allegations to the contrary, the Filipinos are intelligent folks–especially when it comes to food. They know when they are being duped and will definitely stop buying once the “reality” of the food itself fails miserably against the expectation that has been set by the foodstyled recipe shot.
    I just thought I’d throw in my two-cents worth. Yes, on behalf of all the foodstylists out there–soem of whom I actually know. =)

  10. Judy — I respect food stylists and their profession. Maybe I overreact with the horror of seeing the behind the scenes. I never thought it would be that way. I knew that somehow it was staged but not to the level I expected.
    Probably it is like professional wrestling. When you knew that everything was scripted, I was shocked too. But after sometime, you get to accept it already. I guess it is good to be informed about it.
    Thanks for the comments and the discussion on this!

  11. I guess food styling is just like a porno flick. The participants are paid to do it with fake emotions in front of the camera, but it sure make the viewers to go for it.

  12. so you attended one by jo, eh?
    i know the number one rule in food photography: hire a food stylist πŸ™‚
    most of their shots do not obey the truth in advertising campaign πŸ™

  13. Judy and Toyang&Tweety have already explained a lot (and I’ve also left a long comment on MarketManila about the same topic), so I won’t repeat it. But to Anton and those who are similarly “disgusted” with what food stylists do, please try to understand that the kind of photography you do for blogs is VERY different from the kind professionals do for magazines, advertisements, etc. It is terribly unfair to say they are “lying” and being “deceitful.” You’d really have water drops on your salad, crispy skin on your chicken, or steam rising from your soup; but unless you use the proper tools, those natural things are difficult to capture in a consistent manner. It’s no more dishonest than an actor using a stuntman for the more dangerous scenes, or using special effects. Anton, you heard Lydia Go’s stories of how far she’d go to achieve a great food shot — it’s a science that most people have no idea about, but they nevertheless enjoy the results. What’s important is the final result — does the food look delicious; does it make you want to eat or cook it? And by the way, if the actual dish disappoints, it isn’t the fault of the stylist; it’s the restaurant or the recipe author you should blame. πŸ˜‰
    Oh, and I have to say, I think Bob’s analogy is hilarious! πŸ˜‰

  14. I think it’s sort of common knowledge that most food photographs that are on ads aren’t the real thing? XD Or is that just me? In any case, the quality of your food shots matches and even exceeds those of the fake ones πŸ™‚ So I think you don’t really need to “not be” a food stylist cause you’re already a “food photographer” ;P

  15. @ Toyang & Tweety — thanks for your opinion and since this is a blog, everyone is entitled to their own opinion. Just to think of it, you’re right it was quite ironic to have a post on Lydia and then this. I guess I expected that that food stylist job is to make the food beautiful and do whatever he/she can with the available resources to get the job done. It is just shocking for a non-advertising person to see it and to be taught on the “tricks” of the trade.
    I still admire the food stylist for what they do. On a personal level, I don’t think I can do what they do.
    @ katrina — well said Katrina. Nahimasmasan na ako, haha. It is good to know what really happens behind the scene. Basically, what you’re saying is that the End justify the Means?
    @ Tiffany — thanks Tiffany for the comment! I bloggers out there should start a new branch of food photography which focuses on all Edible materials and shooting the subject in its natural state….

  16. “Basically, what you’re saying is that the End justify the Means?”
    — Oh, I wouldn’t put it that way. πŸ˜‰ That implies that the means are wrong. As I said, food styling isn’t necessarily dishonest; it’s just a tool to achieve a desired effect which may not be possible otherwise. When you shoot food, Anton, it only takes a few minutes…then you eat it right away. When professionals shoot food, it can take the whole day. Few dishes can look good after hours under hot lights. And replacing the food every few minutes would be a shameful waste of food, don’t you think?
    “bloggers out there should start a new branch of food photography which focuses on all Edible materials”
    — As Becky of Yummy mag commented on MarketManila, food styling these days often uses real, edible food only. It’s just that sometimes, circumstances are such that it’s not possible, or extremely difficult (or wasteful), to do so. That’s when the artificial tools come in.

  17. I have styled food for three major food companies and I must say that I never used fake food in any of those shoots. Still, I feel this post was quite unsettling and disrespectful to the professionals (no, I’m NOT one). “Lying?” “Deceitful tactics?” A bit strong, Anton.

  18. Im quite disappointed with this post. I cannot beleive how closed minded you are Anton. Food stylists…lying?! what about makeup artists, cosmetic surgeons, fashion stylist etc…do you say theyre being dishonest too??

  19. First of all, I apologize to all the Food Stylist out there. It is wrong the generalize and there are some food stylists who follow their own ethical standard. Also, I overreacted. I should have followed Bob’s comment to treat it like a porno flick πŸ™‚
    One of my pet peeve, is seeing a food shot in a restaurant menu and once you see it served to you it is totally different. In the class that I attended, it was encouraged that the food should be totally different — to be more beautiful for what it really is, just to be able to sell. It is OK for the actual product to be so so as long as the food shot is great.
    Similarly for example, for Shampoo or Conditioner ads, Is it OK to use Hair Extensions to make the hair of the models beautiful? A lot of people will say YES to make the ad more beautiful.
    Becky is right that food stylist should use more Edible means to take a food shot. It is just in the training we attended that was not the case and it was emphasized that the food shots won’t be edible.
    Anton

  20. Hi Anton!
    In the states, food stylist are required to use all edible ingredients and real stuff too for shoots. But in our local advertising scene, the food stylist’s imagination is the limit to what he/she can do to make the Food look really appetizing. Most of the food shots that we do, specially the one’s for the fastfood industry use strict rules on the quantity of their products.
    Sample, If we are shooting pizza, all the veggies and meat there are counted or weigh so that there’s no reason for the customer to feel bad once they see the actual product served to them. But of course both the food stylist and the photographer makes sure that we show the best angle or most of the ingredients. πŸ™‚ There is still truth in advertising mate. Although we prop things up a bit. We still follow a lot of guidelines to be fare to the customers too.
    Oh and did i mention they are really paid well. πŸ™‚

  21. When we were younger, whenever we ask my mom to buy us something from the tv commercials or ads, she will tell us, it’s just good to look at but it’s not delicious. Sometimes, it is because of the cost-which is beyond her budget but sometimes, it’s really not good. Kaya ako hindi ako masyado na-eentice sa pictures or commercials. I rely on recommendations!

  22. oh lolz i always knew this about food shots in magazines and tv ads. we learned that in high school 2 years ago! and they don’t use mashed potatoes anymore according to our film teacher. that was something they used to do in the 90s πŸ™‚

  23. Hi Anton,
    My name is Ken and I own a bakeshop called Symphony Sweets and I am a food stylist/ food photographer too.
    I’ve read all the comments that you have posted in your defense and I understand how horrible you must have felt during your class with Jo Avila experiencing first-hand all the techniques in food styling. But didn’t you know you were attending “Food Styling” class? (-:
    That class presented you the realities of food styling but in defense of the magazine that I work for, FOOD Magazine, we never fake our final products. Take a look at 2 of the front covers that we made (Snow Cake: December 2007 and Triple Choco Cheesecake: February 2008 issues). They were certainly not faked. Just to give you an idea, for this photoshoot Chef Joey Prats, the pastry chef who wrote the article and conceptualized the cake prepared 5 real, freshly prepared whole cakes? Why? Because you need 1 as a stand-in, one for slicing, one for icing and 2 extras. In FOOD Magazine, we would like the readers to be able to replicate the real thing using the recipe presented. The only styling that we did was to make sure every inch of the cake was cleanly and strategically presented for the shot. Some magazines do fake them but NOT ALL.
    I am sure how you must have felt quite discomfited with all of the reactions that rushed off your feet. Kasi naman bumusina ka naman…
    Suffice it to say, you are entitled to your own opinion and yours is totally different from others’ so, you could have said it a little bit sweet… maybe the next around….
    Cheers!
    Ken
    Symphony Sweets Gourmet Desserts

  24. Despite your reaction to the profession, I am still interested to learn food styling, hehe. May i know when the next class will be and who I can reach for me to attend a session? πŸ˜€ I would appreciate a reply πŸ˜€

  25. hi anton! lahat ng ginagawa kong food at para sa photography, fresh ingredients gamit ko, i don’t really like doing it the fake way. anyways, if you wanna look at my photos at flickr and at multiply, please do. everything there is edible and fresh!
    πŸ™‚

  26. i want to noe the petroleum jelly is made for what purpose 1 ar???
    i am a culinary student…and a future chef…hope to get some information on this…thx

  27. Anton, please don’t be (for want of a better word) stupid. Food styling, like any other form or element of advertising, is an artform that requires some manipulation of the subject elements to achieve a desired effect or image. “Truth in advertising” does not refer to showing things the way they actually ARE in real life! Otherwise, we wouldn’t have need of makeup or lighting design, would we? Truth in advertising simply means that one means what he says and has the right stuff to back it up. If the photo of a pasta dish is perfectly styled for a billboard, then the restaurant advertising it better have a great pasta just like it in their menu! And have you ever seen a photo of a fish dish? It’s perfectly disgusting! But it doesn’t look disgusting in real life — so its the food stylist’s job to try to present that fish dish as well as he or she can in an ad or billboard photo, so that people will want to come to the restaurant to try the dish. If it means manipulating the light, or the way the scales shine, or how green the vegetables around it are, then that is what needs to be done. Again, its set design, and light design, and makeup. How would you like to see a theater play without any enhanced sets? Those are fake and don’t represent real life, and yet people praise set designers. Or an actress without makeup and teeth veneers? And yet the makeup artist wins awards (and so does the actress — sometimes!). Same with food styling. It is not meant to dupe people. It’s simply to create well-styled and properly done photos of food. Anyone with a camera or any kind of education would know that. By the way, I am not a food stylist nor do I know one. But your views on food styling were really kind of stupid and I just had to respond.

  28. That’s true! i had a chance of a life time working with The Great Mike Cheung way back 2008 we help for food styling a preparation etc for the shoot for monterey. and yes basically you can’t eat the foods because it simply messed up behind the camera. There’s a lot of tricks for them to remove without a trace. Now im planning to be a food photographer because of i was inspired by Mr. Mike’s creations.

  29. Sorry but this is not serious what you are writing here. I have done more than 70 recipes books and we always eat what i had in front of the camera. The only thing which is different is shots for advertising. The food is telling us the perspective and the light, there is no rules how to do it. Rules are bullshit, because every plate is different. When i shoot recipes for cookbooks, it has to look as natural as possible, otherwise it simply does not make sense because people at home canΒ΄t handle it.

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