Food as seen on television and billboard ads almost always looks delectable and perfect in its presentation. A lesson to learn here, however, is that food photography is as much an art of deception as it is of presentation. In fact, what you see in food photographs is oftentimes not at all edible. Real food will whither and look unflattering under studio lights, so photographers often conjure inventive substitutes to look like the real thing.
Special effects companies, such as Trengrove in New York City, sell fake ice cubes made of sculpted acrylic, plastic or pyrex glass for the purpose of studio and photo shoots. These fake (and therefore obviously non-melting) ice cubes can often be found floating in drinks or put on display. Also, ice powder is also commonly used with water added to make a slushy solution. This slushy solution often sticks to drink glasses and beer bottles as moisture.
Sauces and Moisture
Motor oil is often used as a substitute for dark syrups. So when a picture depicts chocolate syrup drizzled over ice cream, it is almost always motor oil being poured over either dyed mashed potatoes, bananas or scoops of lard cleverly sculpted to appear like ice cream. White glue will often be used for lightly colored sauces and to imitate milk.
Glycerin, a toxic substance, is used often to add moisture to lots of various foods to make them look appealing and fresh. It may be painted over seafood, for example, to make it appear as if it's freshly caught, or sprayed over "freshly rinsed" salad greens. Spray deodorant is also used to give a frosted veneer to various food.
According to Pixiq, a blowtorch is often applied to fake steaks and meats in order to brown the edges. Brown shoe polish is applied to meat surfaces for a fresh, out-of-the-oven appearance. Cardboard squares may also be used for small platforms so the meat gets center-stage and does not mix in with other ingredients on the plate. Incense sticks, smoked pellets, or even a smoking cigarette will often be used behind the meat to make it look "piping hot."
Real alcohol is rarely used in a studio, but non-alcoholic substitutes often are. Apple juice or tea may stand in as bourbon; champagne depicted on television shows, movies, or advertisements may be ginger ale.
Food photographers can produce the illusion of a larger portion size just enough to remain in good standing with the Truth in Advertising laws. They may cut a back portion of a burger and open it to appear larger before the camera. Different camera angles and zooms may make the product look larger than it really is.
Jane McDonaugh has been a professional writer and editor since 2010, with expertise in literature, television, film and humor. She is a freelance reader for Author Solutions Film and has held many other positions in television and film production. McDonaugh holds a Bachelor of Arts in television production and English from Emerson College.