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Food photography magic: the tale of two pizzas

Left: Pizza prepared for photographer, Right: Pizza served

Left: Pizza prepared for photographer, Right: Pizza served

We first eat with our eyes, right? If it looks good, we want to eat it. We know it and restaurants know it.

Here’s how that fits into the restaurant review process. First, we start with multiple visits to the restaurant. Next, we ask our talented photographer Becky Stein to photograph three of the dishes we sampled.

So, of course, every restaurant will carefully craft each dish for its photo shoot. And, Becky has a few tricks up her sleeve to make any dish look better. Isn’t that what photographers do? They find just the right lighting or angle to make their subject really shine.

But, is there a limit to a photographer’s magic? Consider the photos of the two pizzas above. They were taken at a restaurant I recently reviewed. One is an iPhone snapshot of the pizza I was served (please excuse the bite out of the pizza). The other is the pizza prepared for Becky to photograph.

Same pizza? Clearly not.

I suppose there is a limit to a photographer’s magic.

–by Jenny Turknett, Food & More blog

– Jenny Turknett writes about Southern and Neighborhood Fare for the AJC Dining Team.

31 comments Add your comment

Wilton

September 2nd, 2011
2:15 pm

The pizza you were served looks nasty, for lack of a better word.

Bhorsoft

September 2nd, 2011
2:49 pm

Photog’s pizza looks yummy. Your pizza looks like Totino’s.

Jim R

September 2nd, 2011
2:50 pm

I once read that the diference between erotica and pornograhy is the lighting…maybe the same applies to food.

Mr. Ed

September 2nd, 2011
3:04 pm

Domino’s Pizza used screw guns to nail it’s pizza down to a cutting board and a specific hand model for “the cheese pull” during it’s prior commercials. All told over 150 people often worked for a 30 second clip of film.

Just me

September 2nd, 2011
3:07 pm

It has always disgusted me to see the difference between what food items look like in their ads and what you are actually served. It is one of the reasons I do not eat at fast food places, and am really choosy about restaurants. I really like a good pizza, too, and it is hard to find the same one prepared the same way, no matter where you buy it. So much depends on the preparer. And for delivery, it seems to depend on the time of day…order early and the toppings are skimpy, even though I pay for extra; order late night, and you may get the extra or you may not, depending on how busy they were, and what fresh toppings they have leftover. And many of the better chain restaurants are the same way. But then there isn’t very much truth in advertising when it comes to a lot of things. Take mascara, for instance. Doesn’t matter what the brand, all of them show their product on young models wearing long thick fake lashes. Same thing with anti-aging and other skin care products. The models in the ads are so young and their skin won’t need these products for years. And none of these companies respond to complaints, about this subject. I take that back…I have received coupons for a one topping, medium pizza, after complaining about my order online. Thing is, I always order the large deluxe or supreme. But my dogs are really happy as they love pizza, and they don’t care what it looks, or tastes, like.

Kirk

September 2nd, 2011
3:25 pm

I hope you send those photos to the boss at the pizza place.
They should be ashamed.

gooch

September 2nd, 2011
3:33 pm

Atlanta may have one or two good pizza places in the huge city. for the most part Atlanta is a big dude for pizza.

gooch

September 2nd, 2011
3:33 pm

Billie

September 2nd, 2011
3:34 pm

Funny, I thought the one you were served looked better. . . And I make a pretty mean from-scratch pizza myself, so I guess that just proves your original point!

Donald

September 2nd, 2011
3:34 pm

I’ve seen frozen pizzas that look better than what you were served.

BFS

September 2nd, 2011
4:03 pm

I once worked at a great local tex – mex chain. They had their test kitchen in our store and would bring their photographers in for menu pics and promotional shots. You would be shocked at some of the techiques used to make the dishes look appealing. Here are some of the items they used: hairspray, nail polish, spray-paint, artificial (plastic) veggies and several thousand dollars worth of lights and lighting effects.

And we had great food to start with!

Atlanta Native

September 2nd, 2011
4:03 pm

Left looks fresh made
Right looks like a frozen pizza from Trader Joe’s

I represented a food photographer and was amazed at what he could to.

george

September 2nd, 2011
4:06 pm

professional photographers take better pictures of brides, vacation and residential real estate, new and used automobiles, fashions, etc. than amateurs like me, even with a real cameria not an iphone. duh. that is why there are professional photographers. i have seen pictures from weddings i attended and then hardly recognized the bride in the official photographs. so what.

JimmyZ

September 2nd, 2011
4:28 pm

This brings up a huge concern for me. I am a photojournalist, and have been one for more than two decades. Rule number one is that we’re not allowed to doctor our photos. Ask any of your other photogs about this. It’s a basic tenet of our profession.

When I go on an assignment, I’m there to photograph exactly what is happening, and I do not, as a rule, give them a lot of wiggle room in that. What they’re doing is what I photograph, period.

Consider what would happen if your photographer were at an accident involving a city police car, and was told to only photograph the passenger side of the car because they didn’t want people to see how badly the drivers side was damaged. That would NOT fly, I can promise you, and this should not either.

Your photographers should either be showing the same food that comes out of the kitchen the majority of the time, or the cutlines should explicitly note that the image may not be a true representation of what diners could expect.

Think about it. Do your critics call ahead and tell them that you’ll be there at 7 with four other people just so they can be on their game? No, you go anonymously. Yet it’s okay to doctor the heck out of the food for the photos?

Robert

September 3rd, 2011
7:20 am

ditto to what JimmyZ said.

Mike

September 3rd, 2011
8:14 am

@Jenny Turknet – You say the pictures of those pizzas were taken at a restaurant you recently reviewed. Which picture did you use?

AdExec

September 3rd, 2011
12:50 pm

A crew of 150 for a pizza commercial? I don’t believe so, Mr. Ed.
That’s a feature film size crew.
You might want to stick with what you actually know.

Mr. Ed

September 3rd, 2011
2:36 pm

@AdExec

I cited an article published Jul. 8th, 2010 in The Huffington Post. The article was written by Micheal D. Ayers. If the information is a fabrication, it’s the article’s untruth. Not Mine.

Foster

September 3rd, 2011
4:40 pm

So what?! It’s just pizza, guys. Does the AJC actually pay you to write this “column”?

NoBigDeal

September 3rd, 2011
5:43 pm

Bottom line is most processed/grocery/restaurant food is actual crap. You’ll never get what you see, and truthfully, the customer doesn’t deserve it. Customers in today’s age are morons who get what is sold. Don’t like it? No one cares. Learn to cook at home and STFU.

Mel

September 3rd, 2011
7:24 pm

Are you implying in your article that your iphone is just as good as a professional camera?

Debbie

September 3rd, 2011
8:46 pm

Did it taste the same? That’s all that matters.

James

September 3rd, 2011
9:58 pm

@Mel – you think the only difference between those two pics is the camera?!

JimmyZ

September 4th, 2011
2:45 am

James, exactly! I’d much rather they use a semi decent Iphone photo of the ACTUAL food they were served instead of selling out to the restaurant and letting them fake it.
I just don’t understand why they feel the review has to be an honest look at what they got, yet they think it’s okay to fake the photo.
Again, that’s journalism 101…you don’t fake quotes, you don’t fake photos.

sansho1

September 4th, 2011
10:08 am

I’ve seen a lot of iPhone type photos on this blog, particularly to show a flawed dish. Kessler in particular does this all the time.

As for the staged shots, I’m of two minds. I agree that the quest for objectivity should rule the day. On the other hand, there’s a lot of food that doesn’t automatically translate to photography. Any closed-face sandwich, for instance, would not convey very well what is inside, unless it’s artfully arranged.

M.Johnson

September 4th, 2011
2:03 pm

@JimmyZ: Breathe for a minute. Maybe the air is too thin up on your soap box.

If you are a photojournalist, then you understand the difference between taking a photo of a car accident victim and calling someone to arrange a profile photo at their office. What you get in both instances will be very different.

If the reviewer takes too many shots of the food during a review, it gives away the fact that they are REVIEWING the food. Plus, that’s not the point of the visit. It’s about the food. That’s why they send the photographer afterwards. I’m guessing reviewers see Jenny’s photos before the story runs. This time around, it was different enough to warrant a mention.

I appreciate Jenny doing that.

M.Johnson

September 4th, 2011
2:05 pm

Sorry, I meant the reviewers see BECKY’s photos before the story runs.

PJ

September 4th, 2011
2:49 pm

Wow – I can’t believe the restaurant would pass that off as the same dish. I get that food styling is one thing & Ms. Stein is a talented photographer – but unless her camera has magic in it, those are not the same pizzas. I would be ready to show them the picture & say, “Wasn’t it supposed to look like that?”

Lisa

September 5th, 2011
10:26 am

When I’ve had professional photographers shoot my food, they always ask for extra stuff for their “staging.” Bits of red (chopped red pepper or tomato) some chiffonaded herbs. Sometimes extra browning for colour. And those touches do make for a better photo — along with a great camera. lighting and a pro behind the lens.

JimmyZ

September 6th, 2011
12:09 am

M Johnson, no soapbox here, just a strong sense of ethics. There are a couple of differences between what you mention and what I’m talking about.

If I’m asked to get a posed photo of someone, it will be a standard head and shoulders photo.
If I’m expected to show this person actually doing what they do, then the photo I submit will be exactly that. They’ll be doing what they do, as they do it, with no embellishment.

My problem is that these photos are not for a paid advertising profile, they’re appearing as part of news content, and, as such, standard photojournalism rules apply.
http://nppa.org/professional_development/business_practices/ethics.html

EJ

September 6th, 2011
8:26 am

I’ve had bylined news stories and features published in hundreds of publications and websites around the globe. If I do a profile of a world newsmaker, ethics would prevent you from shooting a posed environmental portrait, JimmyZ? After 25-plus years and working with dozens of fantastic shooters, this is news to me.