How the hamburgers you see in advertisements (and that you could not eat) are photographed
In the world of advertising everything is wonderful. The people are handsome, young, and athletic, the skies are blue, the cars are sparkling, and the streets are spotless. The food, of course, is also perfect, perhaps too much. We all know that reality is made up to show an unreal perfection, but that we usually accept. The case of hamburgers is especially curious when we discover how the ones we see in advertisements are photographed. Very appetizing, but not recommended to eat.
I'm not a regular at fast food restaurants, but I do like to look at the billboards of the big chains. And I have been able to verify that the hamburger you receive has little or nothing to do with that succulent piece that looked so good in the photo. Sometimes the clash with reality is so strong that you can be disappointed, although in general we know that it would be naive to expect a replica of the promotional image. But it is interesting to investigate a little in the tricks that professionals use to create those dreamy hamburgers in advertisements.
The difficulty of photographing a hamburger
Now that it is fashionable to share photos of food on social networks, we all know that it is not easy to capture true quality snapshots. And much less improvised at the moment, without taking care of the composition or with bad lighting. Whoever has also ventured to share a recipe on a blog, will have verified that if there are professionals in gastronomic photography, it is because it is not a simple job. There are dishes that lend themselves more to capture, and others, such as hamburgers, which greatly complicate the photographer's task.
The problem with hamburgers, hot dogs and sandwiches is that they are made up of layers of different ingredients with different natures, creating a flimsy and delicate structure. Sauces, melted cheeses and others cause spillage of liquids and viscous substances that do not exactly help the aesthetics of the composition. Although sometimes an image with drips can be more appealing, but in advertising it is tried to be avoided.
In photography we want everything to be seen, and to do so with balance and harmony, keeping each ingredient its own and desirable identity. When you combine soft bread, sauces, cut raw ingredients, other cooked and hot ... it is not easy to create the perfect photograph. The thing is more complicated considering that the work behind the camera is long and meticulous, you have to spend a good time chasing the image you are looking for. And food does not remain unchanged, that's why there are some tricks.
The portrait of the perfect burger, but inedible
Any standard hamburger starts with the bun. No matter what type of bread is used, it has to be absolutely perfect. The stylist's work begins by searching among dozens of different breads until he finds the best, that perfectly round, without wrinkles, without bumps, fluffy and with all its seeds. You will already know that this first step is not easy at all, since the tender rolls are very delicate, and there are not usually two alike.
If you find the perfect bun, with its flawless compost crown and a uniform golden color, you may need to add some extra sesame seeds; stick a few more with glue using precision tweezers, and voila. In addition, these breads usually come pre-cut, causing the edges of the top to stick out. It is not pretty for the photo, so you have to cut them out with scissors. The bread can be toasted a little or left as is, always handling it with extreme delicacy.
Before forming the hamburger, the structure and order of the ingredients will have been planned. It depends on the customer or what you want to highlight, but the usual thing is to start with the meat directly on the bread or on lettuce, and the cheese is placed on it. It is important that the burger is cold so that the cheese does not start to melt too quickly; first it is assembled and then there will be time to give the final finish.
As for the meat, to make it look juicy and freshly cooked, it is usual to add a dark touch to the edges with diluted coffee or some ink of the right color. The shine that makes us salivate is also applied afterwards, with some oil that is not always edible, even bitumen or varnish is used. Sometimes the meat is only "cooked" on the outside or in the edible layer, leaving what does not look raw, inedible.
The rest of the ingredients should complement the hamburger without taking away the role of the meat and without creating an absurd tower that collapses. They must also stand out, they must be visible in a balanced way. That is why they are usually placed around the edge, using pins or thumbtacks to hold them if there is a danger of falling. Lettuce slides easily and a very common trick is to "stick" it with mashed potatoes or some industrial preparation.
As for the cheese, you want to give the appearance of a freshly made hamburger, so it should be slightly melted, but without staining or warping. There are several common methods to achieve this: heating a metal spatula to give it a little heat, applying hot steam with a blow dryer or paint stripper, etc. It is also common to paint it with some inedible oil to lengthen that bright and appetizing appearance. Sometimes plastic is used directly.
Finishing touches of sauce, ketchup and other slimy substances are applied last, only on the parts to be seen.They are not always the same that are later offered in restaurants, because the best texture and color are sought, for which no dyes are spared. To avoid creating a chaotic mess of dripping sauce, it is always added with a syringe or similar. Finally, the final details are applied by digital editing.
Tricks that we can apply at home
These typical assets commonly used in advertising make the food in the photos inedible. In addition, hamburgers endure long sessions under the lights, at temperatures that are not recommended to maintain food safety. It would not be a good idea to try to eat anything that served as a template for an advertisement.
However, we can apply some professional tricks at home to make our hamburger photos more appetizing. As we saw in the video that McDonald’s shared a while ago, you can use the same ingredients that are going to be served but make them look better. If a hamburger plate does not look good, it is usually due to the logistics of the restaurant itself: you have to work quickly and there is no time to find the perfect bread or untouched lettuce.
At home we can take the trouble to prepare the best ingredients and assemble the burgers with care. If we want to take a good photograph, we have to find the best angle and mount everything based on that unique point of view. That is, the hamburger should be tilted a little so that the ingredients of the filling stand out, and these should be placed protruding from one side. One tip: choose a large tomato instead of mounting several slices. To make it look better, a cut can be applied in the part that is not going to be seen, so we can open it and increase its diameter facing the photo.
We do not want to expose our food too long to room temperature or light, so it is better to have all the photographic equipment and possible props assembled before forming the hamburger. And then we can eat it to our liking, adding more sauce or melting the cheese as we normally would. It may not be the most photogenic, but it certainly is the tastiest.
We know that the photos in the ads do not correspond to reality but we let ourselves be attracted by them. Or do we prefer an advertising that reflects 100% reality? I can't help but think of those somewhat seedy bars that keep horrible photos of combo plates as a teaser - or warning - usually faded to curl the curl. They are authentic but not at all appetizing. At the other extreme we see ads that seek so much perfection that they end up being totally unreal. Couldn't you get somewhere in between?
Photos | iStock, Burger King, McDonald's
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