Food photography vs the real food

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Food photography vs the real food

I ran across this blog about the difference between food photographed for advertisements and the real food.  I hope you find it interesting too.

 

http://theonlinephotographer.typepad.com/the_online_photographer/2012/06/information-or-disguise.html

 

Included in the comments is this link, with additional illustrations and commentary.

 

http://www.alphaila.com/articles/failure/fast-food-false-advertising-vs-reality/

 

I really like looking at food pictures but have been extremely disappointed when I see the real food.  Once, at Carls Jr I believe, I actually took a food item back and complained that the picture looked appealing but my burger looked nothing like it.  I demanded a refund.  After the manager stopped laughing she gave me money and asked me to never return.

 

Has anyone else had this disappointment, and has anyone else actually complained about 'the real food"?

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Subway is a good example.  Yet another reason I prefer Quiznos.

 

There was a time, several years ago, where I picked up a little extra income as a "mystery shopper."  For one of the assignments, the client was a pizza-delivery chain.  I had to order a pizza, keep track of the time the delivery took, the attitude of the delivery person, and the temperature of the pizza AND take pictures of the whole pizza, a slice of the pizza and the whole pizza minus the slice.  Of course, the chain had no idea my order was actually an evaluation.  It was interesting to see that at least one chain was checking to not only service and taste but also how closely their delivered product matched the images they put forth.

 

For the record, in my evalutation, everything was spot on.  That was, however, one of the mystery-shopping jobs where the pay was just the reimbursement of the order but, hey, it was a free, delicious pizza.  LOL!

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Wisconsin Limey

How delicious does this look?

 

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@Limey,

 

Reminds me of college when I would survive on Polish hot dogs off the truck in the south side of Chicago.  One wid....

 

Dont ever remember diced tomatoes.  It usually included mustard, ketchup, onions, hot peppers, relish and sometimes pickles and sometimes fries.  ummm!

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Wisconsin Limey

Ketchup on a hot dog is a crime in Chicago!  Normally the tomato is a couple of wedges but this shop utilizes the diced toms prepped for burritos.  I can live with it, tastes the same.

 

The classic Chicago hot dog:

 

Poppy seed bun

All beef dog

Neon green pickle relish

Pickle wedge

Chopped white onion

Tomato wedges (2)

Sport peppers (2)  (pickled whole jalapenos)

Mustard

Celery salt

 

I order mine "Dragged through the garden" meaning everything on it!

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@ Limey, the picture looks great, but I'll bet it tastes even better! 

 

@ Brian, about a year ago I saw a show on food stylists and how they make photos of food look so beautiful.  It was interesting to see how much of what they do in inedible.  It's all about the appearance of the product but I'll take my hotdog without the petroleum jelly please.

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This is an interesting question: What's "real" and what's "fake"?
 

In some sense we are "deceived" all the time by manicured and styled photos and videos. At what point are you deceived? And what counts as deception?

 

Another classic example of reality vs. image is television cooking shows that cut to the finished product. Would the show be more "real" if the 8-hour roast episode was shot in real time?

 

A caller in an episode of America's Test Kitchen Radio Podcast asked how to correctly take the temp of meat because every FoodNetwork chef takes the meat out, plunges in the thermometer, and gets the perfect temp +/- 1 degree--every time. ATK explained that their process is completely different; they take the temp 30 minutes before the estimated finished time and take it in different spots and it's a much more laborious process than FoodNetwork chefs imply. Does the FoodNetwork lie because they never show scenes of putting in the roast in for a another 30 minutes because it's below temp?

 

Is this "deception" different from showing stylized hamburger? In both cases, it seems, reality is different from the image.

To get back to your point about the burger, the photos are of burgers. They aren't deceiving you. Imagine if you opened the box to find a lobster. That seems to me to be a lie. If the the burger in the picture has bacon, then your burger will have bacon; it might look different, but did they lie to you?

 

I'm reminded of Joseph Pine's talk on "What Consumers Want" where he discusses the concept of real vs. fake and what you say you are vs. what you are.
http://www.ted.com/talks/joseph_pine_on_what_consumers_want.html

 

McDonald's burgers are real-fakes. You get a real burger, but it's fake because it doesn't look like the picture. Contrast that with, say Chef Jacob's food which would be real-real. His photos probably look a lot like what you'll get from his kitchen.

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Thanks, Jason... interesting comments.

 

I don't know if I'm at the point where I think it is intentional deception or lies really is disappointing at times to see what the real product really looks like.   I've used the words "illustrative" and "idealized" before.

 

Speaking of TV mysteries.  Ever notice how in Iron Chef only one plate of each item is prepared... and then a minute later they have 4 or 5 plates of each?  How do they do that???

 

It really is fascinating to see the "behind the scenes" of both food photography and food TV.

 

Interestingly, I had just the opposite experience the other night.  Wife shows me a Chinese take-out menu that was richly illustrated with photos.  Each one of the photos looked like a slightly different type of dog vomit on a white plate.  We ordered a selection and were pleasantly surprised (even after being packaged in white cardboard containers and transported 3 miles) that the food both tasted good and looked better than the pictures.

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The Iron Chef America mystery was explained in “Food Network Unwrapped 2” on Food Network: http://www.foodnetwork.com/unwrapped/food-network-unwrapped-2/index.html I can’t remember all of the details, but there is some time at the end of the battle for these extra plates to be made.
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All the pictures that I take of my food are the exact same thing you would get at Stella. Usually we'll run a dish for at least 3-4 weeks before I shoot a completed video or just take plate up pictures for our private recipe catalog, but then again, I'm trying to achieve different end goals than a food stylist.

 

The photos that I shoot for the website are there to show a realistic representation of the actual dish you will be making. The only difference between the food in the photo and the food a guest orders is I don't have studio lights at every table.

 

I'm not against food styling as an art or as it is used in marketing food products. One of the worst things a business can do is over promise and under deliver, especially when it comes to something as intimate as food. McDonalds styling their burgers so I can see all the ingredients and then showing their product in the best light doesn't really bother me. Now if that burger cost $20 and was the size of a slider instead of what I thought the photograph was conveying, I'd probably feel ripped off and choose not go back.

 

Marketers and ad agencies can play all the games they want, but if they over promise and under deliver, especially on dollar for dollar value, then the companies they represent won't be around for long.

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Speaking of, check out all of my pics from my recent visit to stella! It's in another post called my visit to stella.

 

At any rate, I think you also have to consider the source. I don't really eat fast food with a few exceptions, but I do NOT eat at any of the big burger fast food places. I have to say though, considering most of the people who would go in their to eat, do they care about the hook in their cheek once they've settled for the bait? Once that commercial would make you want a Big Mac, does the person who is so drawn to McDonald's even think or reminisce about what that commercial burger looked like? I'm willing to bet that they can still see the commercial burger when they pull it out of the tiny box, especially when stoned at 2am.

 

Fast food photography lies have never really bothered me all that much. Food stylizing is just another weird art bastardization, NOT to be confused with food photography. Food photography generally has a minimal amount of styling, because it is more documentary of what a real restaurant will deliver and less likely to be in a multimillion dollar ad campaign where you are trying to shill 99 cent burgers.

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Like you, Dave, I eat at the big burger joints only occasionally... but my family eats at those places frequently.  For them, they know what they want/like before even deciding which fast food joint they want to eat at (exaggeration, of course... but that's how it appears to me).  I need to  peruse the menu (much to their annoyance) and I must admit that the photos influence me.  Actually, they influence me a lot because I generally don't like the food anyway so I'm always trying to hedge-my-bets and get something I won't gag on.  Even drunk I'd be doing the same thing... it would just take longer!

 

Now that you mention it... that's a good point.  There is a major difference between food styling and fast food ads.  I noticed but never thought about it so much until you mentioned it.  I'm OK with the methods of food styling so long as it represents for the most part what the actual dish will be like. But I'm also OK with fast food advertising "image creations"  if it reasonably represents what I'd get.  But, alas, we know that isn't likely to happen often.

 

I've noticed that some cookbooks tend to go overboard with styling.  I've cooked and cooked (and, yes, I know how to cook and bake) but could never get a result that looked the same as the picture.  I've been tempted to suggest to several authors that they include in errata that upon completion of the baking period... kitchen bouquet should be airbrushed on top and a blowtorch be gently applied to achieve the illustrated appearance.  Oh, and forget glazing pastry with apricot jam glaze... apply Vaseline Petroleum Jelly instead.  Ha ha ha.

 

BTW... Mr. Limey:  How much is that doggy in the window?  My mouth has been watering for days.  Here in LA there is no such thing as a decent Chicago Dog.  Even the best are poor imitations.  And that's coming from a guy who has only had a Chicago Dog or Italian Beef in the terminals at O'Hare.  I'm quite sure I still haven't had the real things!

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The whole idea really devolves down to branding and imprinting. It's not so much about giving you what they show you on the ads, as getting you in the door. There was a study about things like that with cigarettes, toothpaste, and other common household personal items. People tended to use what they always used as children. Which is why I'm all for ad free television for kids. Ads targetting adult men tend to use boobs, bikinis and anything macho, like riding a horse out in marlboro country or taking a stick of juicy fruit to get you moving while you're doing triple backflip somersaults while skiing. Ads targetting adult women tend to focus on glamour. Chanel no 5 and setting the world on fire anyone?

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I know you are right, Z, but I must be some sort of part-Klingon freak:  I want what I see when I see what I want.  Branding and image aren't logical to me if they appear different from reality.  cool

Wisconsin Limey

@Brian  That doggy can be yours for $2.84  

 

It might be a bit of a drive but this place might be worth it!  http://www.yelp.com/biz/fab-hot-dogs-reseda-4 I just saw it on DDD tonight.

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Fabs... yeah... been there several times: both the original location and the new location.  Looked great on DDD, huh.  Not so much in real life... at least that's my opinion.  I seem to be one of the few lone wolves who can tell the difference between DDD hype and the real world.  I'd rather pay for a flight to Chicago to spend $2.84 for a decent Chicago dog!  But thanks for the suggestion.

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That's very interesting. I've always wondered what went on to get those perfect pictures.  I've heard in the past that non food ingredients are often used, like thinned white glue in place of milk.  Does anyone know more about the use of non food items in culinary photography?

 

Lance

 

 

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