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Brownies with oil for moist look Originals

Keeping it Real in the Kitchen and the Studio

By Christopher Kimball on December 11th 2013

For many years, food was photographed with the end goal being focused only on how it looked in the end. The drive for perfection was so sought after that food stylists would often use substitutes like a heavy frosting-like mixture to create ice cream, or spraying foods with stain-protecting spray to keep butter, gravy, or syrups from absorbing into the food. This type of practice is no longer common place in the industry. In fact, most food stylists and photographers have abandoned it all together, opting for authentic foods that are safe to be consumed after they are photographed.[simpleazon-image align=”left” asin=”B000G9OYX4″ locale=”us” height=”250″ src=”” width=”250″]

There are a lot of great tricks you can employ to make the food look fresher or extend your shooting time a little while still preserving the edibility of the food after the shoot. There is a push for authenticity in this field these days, and while only you can choose how you want to present yourself and the images you create, this really is a situation of giving the client what they want. If they want real, give them real.

[REWIND: Using Natural Light For Authentic Looking Food Photography]

Here are a couple of tips and tricks that I have picked up over the years:

  • Undercooking Meats – When you are working with meat, it is common to undercook the meat a bit so it does not dry out. When you put the meat on the plate, it will look juicy and tasty. Then, after you shoot it, you can throw it back in the oven to finish it.
  • Caramelizing Meats – If you need that crunchy, caramelized look on a steak or other meat, but under-cooking has made it hard to achieve, run a small kitchen torch over the surface until you get the desired look.
  • Fresh Vegetables – Rather than cooking veggies completely, blanch them by briefly submerging them in boiling water, then shock them in ice water. The colors will be amazing, and they will look much fresher on the plate.
  • Shine on Food – This one is simple. If you have something you want to appear shiny, brush a little bit of olive oil on to it just before you shoot it. It will look great, and again, the food remains edible.

These are only a couple of tips to get you started. Try them out and see what you think. The list is endless, and over time I will share more with you, so come back often and check for new ideas.

Brownies with oil for moist look

Brownies with just a light touch of oil on the top to ensure they were “moist”.

You may be surprised at how easy it is to make something look great with just a little bit of effort and using things you likely have in your cupboard already. Think outside the box and see what you can come up with.

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Christopher is a commercial and stock photographer based in Cocoa Beach, Florida. He specializes in shooting food, commercial real estate, and editorial projects related to food, sports, and products. His work has been featured in magazines, newspapers, and around the internet and his photography experience dates back some 30 years. Connect with Chris on social media or visit his website to see his work.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Jared Stewart

    Great tips!

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  2. Christopher Kimball

    Hi AJ. While I understand your point, I don’t agree. The point here is to use only the real product or those that will not render it in edible (which means it could not be served that way) but leaving a steak a but under for the shoot does not change it. You could finish cooking it after and eat it but it looks a little nicer on camera if it is slightly under.

    The point of the article is that you can do little things to improve the on camera look without using chemicals, inedible products, or blatantly falsifying something in the image.

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  3. AJ

    If a client is concerned about authenticity, I would assume they’d want the food to look its best prepared as it will actually be prepared (whether in a cookbook or restaurant website). All of these tips still manipulate the food in such a way that it is not how it would be served.

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