Shoe polish, Elmer’s® Glue, motor oilwhat could these three things possibly have in common?

All three are glorified examples of the complexities of food photography.

These delicious pancakes drizzled with warm, rich maple syrup? Toxic—considering that’s likely motor oil running down those flapjacks.

This immaculately grilled burger? Shoe-shined to perfection.

This appetizing bowl of yogurt? One sample and you’ll be back to preschool art class when you snuck a taste of glue.

But, why? Why put so much energy into “creating” fake food, when you could use the real thing?


I encountered this reality recently while shooting a series of cooking tutorial videos. It took more than six hours to shoot one thirty-second video. That’s a lot of time for your cereal to soak in souring milk.

So, why does it take so long to shoot something that’s not moving?


Let’s start with lighting. Good lighting is the most important component in high-quality photography.

Although opening a window to allow the sun to illuminate your place setting seems like a good idea, it’s not always realistic. With a six-hour shoot, you can never be sure when the sun might duck behind a cloud. Or worse, retire for the evening.

For efficiency, we use two to three different lights to provide balance, cast realistic shadows and simulate sunlight. Getting there takes time.


Then, you must consider props. You rarely see an image of food without a side dish or an impeccably placed utensil in the shot. Arranging your composition also takes time.

Hero Shot

Then, of course, there’s constructing the main dish—the main character, if you will. For one of our videos, we filmed chili from prep to consumption. Read as: combining ground pork, salsa, beans and other unattractive ingredients. Generating film-ready products often means three to four takes from two to three different angles. Translation: a lot of lens changes, a lot of camera setups and a lot of beans. Three to four takes from two to three angles for nine to 10 ingredients can take a few hours.

I realize this may sound absurd considering Instagram is overflowing with photographs of Sara’s awesome brunch and Garret’s delicious dinner.

Smartphones have empowered just about everyone to become a food photographer. However, there’s still a big difference between your iPhone® 8-megapixel camera and a 22-megapixel DSLR. See for yourself.

What do you think?

Published On: February 10th, 2015Categories: Brand Strategy and Development

C.O.nxt Insight.

Our team of subject matter experts focuses on food and agriculture—farm field to processing to entrée on a plate. We can help you build a new brand, protect an old one or target customers to foster sales. Let’s talk when the time is right to handle your next strategic marketing and communications challenge: Marcy Tessmann,


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