Can we really trust the images we see on fast food menus? Last year a man threatened to sue KFC for deforming a chicken sandwichand now Burger King is facing a lawsuit saying the Whoppers served are actually 35% smaller than those represented in advertisements, NBC News reporting. So what’s really going on behind the scenes of these fast food photoshoots? Do we use real burgers? And what are the best techniques to make food so delicious as possible while accurately conveying what the customer will receive? I contacted a professional food photographer for answers.
“I’ve worked for companies like Burger King, and they use real food,” says the photographer, who asked to remain anonymous; we’ll call him Jake. “But if you’re a consumer, I can see why [you’d] suppose that is wrong. That’s why photographers and stylists make a living. They can take the same ingredients and use light, style, and photograph the food in a way that it looks 100% better than what they get at fast food. »
Why should fast food be modified for photographs?
Even when trying to give the most accurate representation of a product, there are inevitable obstacles that can lead to some adjustments. Jake says time is the biggest challenge, mainly because the longer a food sits, the less fresh it will look.
“The food isn’t necessarily modified, but there are methods to ‘keep it fresh’,” says Jake. “An example would be adding water to vegetables using a spray bottle for the ‘freshness’ appearance.”
Timing is also an issue when it comes to presentingof-seasonal products in an advertisement. This encompasses aany product who could make a picture of it, not necessarily as the main product, but as what Jake calls a “flavor index”. In this case, a fake article can be created.
“Think of something like an apricot breakfast pastry,” he says. “Apricots are not necessarily available in December in Chicago. But a skilled artist could replicate a piece of fruit so precise you’d never tell.
It’s important to note, however, that in Jake’s experience, the main advertised product is never a replica. Photographers and food stylists no longer use mashed potatoes to look like ice cream so it doesn’t melt under photography lights – if ice cream is being sold, you’re looking at real ice cream.
“Major brand commercial customers do not allow product replacement,” says Jake. “The products must be filmed.”
How do photographers and food stylists get the most appetizing photo?
Throughout a photoshoot, food can be upgraded to look a little tastier, especially since things can dry out. For example, a food stylist can brush canola oil on a bun to rehydrate it and add shine.
“If your cheese is melting, a stylist probably adds a little steam to keep it gooey,” Jake says. “A super simple trick for something like pancakes with Maple syrup reduces the consistency of the syrup. Real maple syrup is very runny, so it will flow right out of a pancake. If the syrup is reduced to become thicker, it spreads more slowly, flows more slowly, and allows the photographer to catch the action at the perfect moment. If you want really nice water droplets on your lettuce or cold glass of beer, use a spray bottle and water. A matte spray on a pint glass of beer gives the appearance of a “cold” frosted mug.
And perspective matters, which is why a Whopper might look bigger in a Burger King commercial than in real life. “There’s a great understanding of lens choice, camera composition, prop choice, and prop sizing for better scale,” says Jake. “If you have a small product, choose an angle that makes your food heroic. If you use a macro lens, you can get so close to a product and really make it look bigger than it is in real life.
How consumers influence food advertising
During a photo shoot, hours are spent making sure the food is at its best – every piece of lettuce and every drop of mayonnaise in the right place. On a fast food assembly line, workers don’t have the luxury of devoting so much time and care to your burger; on top of that, the burger is wrapped and thrown in a bag, which will change the way the sandwich looks when you eat it. IIf you’re hoping to make money from a lawsuit, you’re out of luck: the food you see is basically the food you get.
“The days of motor oil on turkeys are long gone,” says Jake. “Fortunately, consumers have used their voice to hold brands to account. Often brands will have someone on set to ensure the right amount of product is used. The bigger the brand, the more speculation surrounds the product, so the more in tune they are to keep things legit.