food-photography-tricks

13 Unbelievable Food Photography Tricks and Secrets Revealed

Ever wondered how some photographs of food look so delicious... perhaps even too good to be true? This fun article explores how photographers fake the shot.

By Ana Mireles

Ever wondered how some photographs of food look so delicious… perhaps even too good to be true? Well, maybe they are.

Photographing food isn’t easy, and it’s even harder to photograph food in a way that makes the viewer’s mouth water.

That’s why the top food photographers enlist the help of stylists with various tricks and hacks up their sleeves.

In this article, we’ll pull back the curtains on some of the food industry’s biggest secrets when it comes to getting the best photos.

13 Food Photography Tricks and Secrets Revealed!

 

1. Fake ice cream with realistic drips

 

Ice cream is one of the most ‘hacked’ foods in the industry. This is because it melts quickly (especially under photography lighting!), so having a long-lasting version that looks just as good is essential when taking photos.

There are a few different recipes to make fake ice cream. The easiest one requires you to substitute ice cream with mashed potatoes, then, add some food coloring depending on the flavour of the ice cream that you want to mimic.

Another recipe is to mix frosting with some powdered sugar. Using this base, you can create ice scoops.

How about those drips of melting ice cream that look so delicious? Just use some Elmer’s glue!

Remember that photographers can do this for editorial photography but never for a commercial shot.

(If you’re advertising a specific brand of ice cream, you need to use actual real ice cream.)

2. Stretchy pizza cheese – glue or no glue?

Credit: Nicolas Perondi

First, let’s start with a trick of the trade when it comes to getting the most mouth-watering melted cheese look on your pizza shots.

If you want to stay as natural as possible with your food photography, you need to start by using the right cheese.

For any stringy melt shot, you’ll want to use mozzarella cheese. According to food photographer Joanie Simon, the ultimate cheese for a cheese pull is part-skim mozzarella. 

But what about some other tips for getting the perfect ‘lifted pizza’ shot like the one above?

You need to cut the crust beforehand for the cheese pull on a pizza. After cooking the pizza, you need to cut the cheese as well. Then, push it back together while it’s still hot.

This way, it will melt again with the rest to create the string. However, thanks to the pre-cut, it won’t offer so much resistance.

Now you need to slowly pull up and away. Remember that you have just one shot at the perfect cheese pull per pizza. 

And now for the nasty hack that will give you a nice cheesy slice pull on a pizza… brace yourself.

You’ve probably already seen this food hack on TikTok or Instagram – mix melted mozzarella with some glue and put it on the edges of the pre-cut slice.

Then, when you pull it out, you’ll have tons of sticky strings attached to the pizza…. just don’t eat the pizza after the photo shoot if you use this food trick!

3. Fluffy pancakes and the perfect stack

Credit: Vlada Karpovich

Flat pancakes aren’t very inviting, regardless of how delicious they might taste. You need fluffy pancakes that hold up on a tall stack. 

Let’s start with how to get a fluffier real pancake.

Instead of using just milk for the batter, use half milk and half yoghurt. This will make the pancakes rise even more when you’re cooking. Plus, they’ll taste yummier too!

Now, let’s move on to the stack, and it’s time for some food-hackery!

In between each pancake, put a cardboard circle. It should be thick cardboard – like the kind used in packing boxes. Make sure the diameter is about an inch smaller than the pancakes – this way, the cardboard won’t show. 

At the end of the photoshoot, remember to take out the cardboard before you eat your pancakes… unless you like them chewy, of course :p

4. Long-lasting frosting and condensation drops 

 

On a hot summer day, you see a drink with condensation drops, and you know it’s cold. This immediately makes you want to drink it, right? 

That’s why commercial drinks need this frosty look. Not only does it look more natural, but also mouth-watering. Unfortunately, the condensation drops in real life melt very quickly. 

So, you can create a liquid that’s half water and half glycerin. Then, use a small spritzer to spay it on the bottle or the glass. For a more detailed look, you can use wax or matting spray to fake the frosting. 

While we’re on the topic of faking cold drinks, did you know that food photographers use fake ice?

Fake ice can be made out of resin or acrylic, but it’s pretty expensive. Using fake ice means that food photographers can be sure about the shape and transparency of the ice in their drink photos.

More importantly, of course, the ‘ice’ won’t melt or water down the drink, altering its color.

5. Keep fresh vegetables looking fresh

Credit: Pixabay

Needless to say, you’ll need to use the freshest vegetables you can find for the best food photography results.

Go to the local market the morning of the photoshoot and hand-pick your produce. 

To keep herbs and vegetables fresh, you should spritz them with water often. You can keep the droplets at the time of the photo if you want to give the viewer that extra clue that says ‘freshness’.

You can use the same mixture of water and glycerin used for cold drinks. 

6. The perfect beer foam head

Credit: Elevate

Is your beer head flattening too quickly? Just add salt! That simple trick will make the beer foam rise and look picture-perfect.

There’s no need to use nasty hacks like adding soap. What is important is that you do some experimenting first. Get to know how the beer reacts to understand how much salt you need.

Also, different salts will create different reactions, as will different types of beer. So, bring the salt with you to the photo shoot and use the one you know. 

If you’re not looking for a hack but a more professional solution, you can buy something called Foam Booster for a super frothy effect. It can be a little expensive, but it’s worth it if you’re doing this professionally. 

7. Steaming-hot photography? Take your pick from the many, many hacks

Credit: Pixabay

There are so many hacks to photograph steamy-hot food and drinks that I couldn’t choose only one.

Instead, I’ll give you a list of the most popular – then, you can pick the one that’s easier for you to source and adapt to your shot. 

  • Tampons damped in boiling water.
  • Incense.
  • Cigarettes.
  • Electronic cigarettes.
  • Clothing iron with steam spritzer.
  • Steam gun.
  • Hydrochloric acid and ammonia. Be very careful using these chemicals and never drink or eat what you photographed if you use this hack.

8. Accent Flavor Enhancer is a must-have

Credit: Nicole Harris

Accent flavor enhancer is a product designed to enhance a food’s flavor.

Why would you care about the flavor of food you’re only meant to photograph? Well, you don’t. 

Accent flavor enhancer is nothing else than monosodium glutamate. This chemical prevents food from oxidizing, meaning no more wilting or brown lettuces!

So, when you need to photograph fruit or vegetables that get brown as soon as you cut them, you can use this hack. 

9. Does the perfect hamburger exist?

Credit: Ilya Mashkov

Yes, more often than not, the hamburgers you see in pictures are real.

However, they take about 20 minutes to half an hour to build by an experienced food stylist. 

These food magicians choose each ingredient so that it is perfect. Then, place each element carefully – often using a lot of pins, skewers, and those round cardboard discs we saw earlier.

Some other tricks of the trade include melting the cheese in place with a heat gun or brushing some oil in the meat to make it shine. 

The moral of the story? Never take a bite out of a perfect-looking hamburger on a photography set!

10. Got milk?

Credit: Pixabay

Most of the time, the milk you see in a cereal photograph is actually glue. For one thing, the glue has a brighter white than actual milk.

However, this could be an easy fix in Photoshop, so why do stylists still prefer glue over actual milk?

The most important reason that glue works better than milk is that the cereal (or whatever other food the milk is photographed with) won’t absorb it so fast. This way, you’ll have crunchier and crisper -looking cereal for longer. 

This is another food hack that leaves food inedible after the shot!

11. Perfect soup and garnish… but how does it float?

Credit: Foodie Factor

Let’s say you don’t have enough soup to entirely fill your chosen bowl, how do you get the shot?

If you want to use less soup yet have a full bowl, this is the secret: Before pouring the soup, place a ramekin or a smaller bowl upside-down inside the soup bowl.

This will also help keep any garnishes perfectly arranged on top of the soup.  

12. Fake drinks still taste ok

Credit: Gustavo Borges

The drinks in food photography are very often fake. This is mainly to help keep down the budget of a photoshoot since as most of us know, the cost of alcoholic drinks quickly adds up!

Using fake drinks is also useful for film and theatre, where the performers might end up drunk after a few takes!

You can add Kitchen Bouquet or Worcester Sauce to water if you want to create whiskey, bourbon, or any other brown spirits. Another technique is to use tea or burnt sugar with water. 

For champagne, use sparkling water with food coloring. And for white wine? You can use diluted lime juice or white grape juice. Red wine can be done with cranberry juice.

You can find many fake drink recipes online depending on the drink that you need. Just remember: if you’re advertising a brand for commercial photography, you have to use the real drink. 

13. Bountiful feast… or is it just a filler? 

Credit: Melanie Dompierre

For some food photographs, the minimal gourmet look is wonderful. Others need a bountiful feast… but do you really need to use all that food?

No, especially if you have to use a hack that will make it inedible. You don’t want to be wasting food, so when you need a brimming or overflowing plate, you can fill most of it with some dough.

Simply mix flour and water to make enough dough to fill your dish. Then, cover it with the real dish on top. 

Who knows – putting this dish in the oven may actually produce something tasty!

Did You Enjoy These Tricks Advertisers Use to Make Food Look Delicious?!

There you have it – a few behind the scene tricks to make your food photography look mouth-watering. 

As I mentioned at the beginning, most experienced food photographers and stylists don’t really see any ‘nasty’ hacks.

Instead, they spend a lot of time looking for the perfect-looking ingredients. They also have a team of stylists dedicated to making food look its best. 

Andrew Scrivani is a very successful food photographer. As an ethical guideline and an integral part of his photography style, he never uses fake food.

He does, however, have an excellent team working with him. At a workshop, I once heard him say that he has a stylist specializing in a swirl made with whipped cream and similar products. 

That gives you an idea of how much time and dedication there is behind a picture-perfect dish. However, we don’t always have those resources at hand – that’s when these food photography hacks come in handy. 

I hope this list was helpful and you can use it to keep improving your food photography. If you know of any other food photo hacks or tricks, please share them with us in the comments. 

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Shotkit Writer & Camera Gear Reviewer

Ana Mireles is a Mexican researcher that specializes in photography and communications for the arts and culture sector.

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