Commercial food photographer tells us the truth behind those TikTok hacks

Jul 8, 2023

Alex Baker

Alex Baker is a portrait and lifestyle driven photographer based in Valencia, Spain. She works on a range of projects from commercial to fine art and has had work featured in publications such as The Daily Mail, Conde Nast Traveller and El Mundo, and has exhibited work across Europe

Commercial food photographer tells us the truth behind those TikTok hacks

Jul 8, 2023

Alex Baker

Alex Baker is a portrait and lifestyle driven photographer based in Valencia, Spain. She works on a range of projects from commercial to fine art and has had work featured in publications such as The Daily Mail, Conde Nast Traveller and El Mundo, and has exhibited work across Europe

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There are a lot of food photography tips on social media. A lot of them claim to show useful ‘hacks’, and some are quite informative, particularly behind-the-scenes lighting setups. Many, however, should probably just be viewed as entertainment. The information is often just plain incorrect.

Do commercial photographers really use PVA glue on cereal? And engine oil on pancakes? There are so many of these viral hacks that it’s difficult to know what’s right anymore. Luckily, in this video, commercial food and beverage photographer Scott Chouciño from Tin House Studio tells us how it’s really done.

Scott emphasizes how authenticity is incredibly important in commercial and advertising photography. It’s not just unethical to not show the actual thing you’re selling. It’s also illegal and goes against advertising standards in many countries. If you’re selling ice cream, you can’t substitute it for mash potato, for example. So let’s debunk these food photography myths.

PVA glue instead of milk – false

Milk is a commonly used element in food advertising, especially in cereal commercials. When shooting an advertisement for a specific milk brand, the exact milk used in the shoot is employed due to legal obligations. However, when the shoot revolves around a cereal brand, the milk is often a mixture of cream and milk.

This combination creates a slower pour, allowing photographers to capture the desired splash and movement. Additionally, milk’s distinct yellow tint enhances its whiteness, but contrary to popular belief, pouring PVA glue on cereal is not part of the process.

The Cheese-Pull Deception – true(ish)

The recent trend of cheese-pull on pizzas has caught the attention of many. However, the reality behind achieving that perfect cheese-pull is quite different from what styling hack videos might suggest. Instead of drilling a pizza onto a board, photographers often slice the pizza raw, cover it with a lattice of cheese, and then cook it.

This technique ensures that the cheese remains intact and stringy during the pull. It’s worth noting that the amount of cheese used corresponds to the advertised product’s specifications, creating an appealing visual without resorting to artificial substitutes.

Fake Ice – sometimes true, sometimes false

The use of fake ice in drink photography has been prevalent for many years. It serves as a practical solution for extended shoots, preventing the melting of ice due to hot lights and multiple takes. However, there has been a shift in the industry towards using real ice to achieve a more authentic appearance.

Photographers now employ techniques such as using a stunt glass during setup, replacing it quickly with the real glass filled with meticulously chiselled ice cubes. This method ensures that the desired shot can be captured before the ice starts melting, creating natural-looking condensation on the glass.

Mash potato Ice Cream – false

One of the most persistent misconceptions is the use of mashed potatoes or other substitutes for ice cream. However, when shooting for an actual ice cream brand, the featured product is, in fact, real ice cream. To prevent melting under the hot lights, photographers often double-freeze the ice cream, storing it in a deep freezer before bringing it on set.

This brief window of time allows them to capture the desired shot without the product turning into a droopy mess. The objective is to present the product as accurately as possible, sometimes even involving technicians from the brand to ensure the perfect ratios and presentation.

Engine oil on pancakes – absolutely false!

Lastly, let’s address the absurd notion of using motor oil as a substitute for syrup on pancakes. Apart from being incredibly dangerous due to its flammability, motor oil simply does not possess the same consistency or visual appeal as syrup. Pouring syrup on pancakes achieves the desired effect effortlessly without compromising safety or aesthetics.

It’s crucial to understand that these styling hacks serve no purpose in the professional advertising world and are simply baseless, says Scott.

While styling hacks may offer interesting ideas for amateur food photography or creative projects, they have no place in the realm of professional commercial advertising. Laws and regulations govern the industry to ensure truthful representations of food and drink products.

Professional food photographers and brands strive to maintain authenticity and honesty, delivering images that accurately depict the advertised items.

Have you ever tried to use engine oil on pancakes?

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Alex Baker

Alex Baker

Alex Baker is a portrait and lifestyle driven photographer based in Valencia, Spain. She works on a range of projects from commercial to fine art and has had work featured in publications such as The Daily Mail, Conde Nast Traveller and El Mundo, and has exhibited work across Europe

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