Every picture of a frozen margarita makes me want to run to a happy hour. I don’t like frozen margaritas, mind you. But every time I see one on the page, I think “Boy, does that look good.” And I’m compelled to go order one.
There’s just something about food photography that always gets me. I’m so much more likely to order something off a menu when a colorful photo accompanies the choice. And don’t get me started on fast food adverts. We’ve all seen that ad for a juicy burger or steaming fresh pasta that makes us salivate. Hell, the amount of times I’ve seen a commercial for Olive Garden and changed dinner plans on the spot are too many count. Deep down, I know that in the handful of times I’ve visited Olive Garden over the past decade that I’ve been vaguely disappointed. But put that food on the screen and I’m transfixed, convinced that it will be the most delectable culinary experience of my life.
Which makes me wonder: How do they do that? How do they get me every time?
Simply put, good food photography is an art. It’s not easy to make food look delicious on the screen or page. We witness the end product, a tantalizing photo that triggers a sensory response. But behind the camera, there’s a whole team of people working to make that salad look as crisp, and refreshing as it is in our imaginations. And one of the most important people on that team is the food stylist.
The reality is that every major ad or cookbook recipe (that you’re going to completely ruin with your terrible cooking skills) looks amazing because of a talented stylist. Food stylists are the magicians of the food world — creating a world of perfection with a bag of hat tricks and an assortment of aces up their sleeves. It may not be real, but we’re delighted by the illusion.
In my quest to understand just how these photos could trick me every time, I talked to food stylist Hannah Canvasser about what her job actually is, how to become a food stylist, and the tricks behind those gorgeous food photos that make you so ravenously hungry (and why you probably don’t want to actually eat the food off the page!).