I had a bit of a gloomy afternoon yesterday, but – as so often happens – an unexpected delivery lifted my spirits.  I was appointed Food Blogger of the Month by Arniston Bay Wines; an unsolicited award, a campaign I didn’t know they were running and a nice consolation for my not winning the Pick n Pay ‘Eat Pray Love’ competition.

Food photography is a newish hobby of mine and I spend a lot of time searching the internet for tips from the professionals.  There are some techniques that I will never use; they strike me as being plain dishonest to the reader who will attempt to create the dish, only to get an end result that looks nothing like what they had seen in the cookbook.  (I won’t touch on the issue of wastage; so much food that has been tricked up with hairspray to look good and just ends up in the waste bin?  Get’s my goat, it does.)

I have lifted this list from the excellent and entertaining


Blowtorch, for browning the edges of raw hamburger patties, the goose-bumpy skins of nearly raw poultry, and hot dogs. (Caution: simmer hot dogs for a while before torching, unless your goal is an action shot of a pink-meat food explosion.)

Motor oil, as a stand-in for unphotogenic syrups.

Glycerin, along with various sizes of artist’s paintbrushes (to make seafood look like it was just caught that morning) and a misting bottle (to spritz lettuce salads, giving them that just-picked-and-rinsed look).

Cotton balls, which, when soaked and microwaved, perform quite nicely in creating the illusion of steaming-hot foods.

Spray deodorant, which gives grapes that desirable frosty veneer.

Hairspray, which can give (the appearance of) new life to a drying-out slab of cake.

Spray fabric protector, to prevent the motor-oil syrup from soaking into the pancake, which has bursting blueberries artfully pinned to it in an aesthetically pleasing, yet random, scattering (still hungry?).

Toothpicks, to hold unruly sandwiches together and tease out perfect crumbs from hot (wink wink) muffins.

Tweezers, for looping noodles in the stir fry and rearranging miniscule yet crucial crumbs.

Large syringe, to emulate the effect of a padded bra by squirting mashed potatoes under the skin of poultry before it is torch-cooked to give it a deliciously voluptuous appearance.

Brown shoe polish, so raw meat appears to be just-out-of-the-roaster succulent.

Smoke pellets or incense sticks, which can stand in for steam as long as they are lightly fanned so their smoke disperses, avoiding the appearance of a lit cigarette laying behind the pot pie.

White glue, used instead of milk for cereal photos and for pie repair (that would be the pie actually filled with mashed potatoes, where a serving-sized piece is cut out, with the resulting opening’s edges slathered with lemon custard or rhubarb-strawberry filling).

Paper towels, which, when artistically torn into blob shapes, can make gooey syrups stick to the top of ice cream, which may really be a concoction of powdered sugar and shortening.

Sturdy cardboard squares, used to make little raw (except for the blow-torched edges) ground beef-patty-platforms (with the help of the toothpicks) to keep the fatty patties from mooshing the frilly lettuce. A few strategically placed hat pins and voila! The world’s perfect hamburger. (Note: Bun selection is a critical part of the set-up process; photographers have been known to glue sesame seeds in too-bare spaces.)

And so I end this post a little more knowledgeable, but resolute: my photographs may continue to be mediocre, but they sure will be of real food that gets eaten by my family and friends.  With love, Cindy.


54 Comments Add yours

  1. thysleroux says:

    Not only will you become a bigger force in writing than any “supermarket competition” I envisage a “Cindy Taylor Cuisine Award” and event one day that spans the globe!
    (That was a positive comment, wasn’t it!)

    Anyway, I looked at Le Creuset goodies on Saturday, they’re heavy!

    1. theonlycin says:

      What a lovely thing to say, Thys, thank you.
      Yes, they are heavy and I don’t really need them anyway.

  2. leigh says:

    Bravo 🙂

  3. Tandy says:

    I am a foodie, not a photographer – and so my food too is edible!

  4. Supa says:

    It’s shocking what goes on, like you, I too will never be the best food photographer but our pics will be honest!

    1. theonlycin says:

      I was cross, but I’m over it now. No use making a fuss about it.

  5. Amy MacLeod says:

    Yeay for you, Cindy! I’d heard of some of these tricks, but what gross deception. I’m a purist in photography period. (more on that later) I won’t move a leaf. If I have to stand on my head, I will. I have been known to put my camera on “continuous” and walk along flower beds with camera dangling so it can do its magic in places I cannot see. The results are fun.

    However, I do let Picasa do its suggested lighting corrections. Guess I’m not a purist – more a naturalist.

    1. theonlycin says:

      I don’t know Picase, my ‘expertise’ in Photoshop extends as far as cropping and saving for the web 😀

  6. I am gobsmacked! I would much rather look at your the-real-thing-pics Cin, they are really nice as it is!

    1. theonlycin says:

      Thanks Leon, in die einde het een van die ‘klug’ die ding gewen.

  7. adeeyoyo says:

    Anyone who looks at boxes of yummy, fish fillets in crumbs or batter and compares the real thing would know this. In the picture the fish has flakes but the real thing is mashed fish, haha! Ad infinitum… Thanks Cin for lifting the lid off this ‘false/misleading advertising’. 😀

    1. theonlycin says:

      Don’t get me started on fish fingers … 😦

  8. Whilst there are millions starving we would rather waste good food to sell a lie to the public. How sick!
    I applaud you and honestly – I have never seen a picture of any of your dishes that has not looked absolutely delectable.
    Maybe you can teach these yobs a thing or two about food photography!!

    1. theonlycin says:

      My deepest thanks for your comment, Chris 🙂

  9. Rosemary says:

    I know a professional food photographer, he does work for all the Foodie magazines in South Africa. when I first met him, I laughed and said their photography is all smoke and mirrors – he said it’s actually not. To prove his point I was invited to a shoot – and everything was eaten afterwards. He did admit the only time they might “cheat” is with ice-cream on hot days. They use mash potato, as the ice-cream melts before they can photograph it. With the new technology available, where they can work with light and focus, they don’t need to “cheat” as much as before.
    Just my pennies worth!
    Well done, you got a great prize. I didn’t get anything, have to buy my own pots and movie tickets now!

    1. theonlycin says:

      Your entry was great, Rosemary.

  10. Yvette says:

    wow..It’s a sad thing that so much goes wasted..with the world how it is today…some people would do anything to get the perfect photo…mine will also never get into the “glossy” mags…they are what they are..and believe me who has the time for a “special” photo shoot when the food has to be on the table!

    1. theonlycin says:

      Well said, Yvette 🙂

  11. buttercup600 says:

    I applaud you and and all you do Cin and you are no ONE in my book 🙂 ..Lovies oxox

    1. theonlycin says:

      Thank, sweet buddy 🙂

  12. aardvarkian says:

    I know people who use these techniques not for food decoration but for personal decoration. Yes, it’s true.

    1. theonlycin says:

      hahaha … you know some very strange people 😉

  13. suzicate says:

    I’ll take your “mediocre” food photography over fake any day! Now, I know why my food never looks like what is in the cookbook! Thank you for letting me know it’s ok for my dishes to not look great, but still taste wonderful!

    1. theonlycin says:

      You keep cooking, suzicate 🙂

  14. klrs09 says:

    I love your food photos — they’re truthful and generally make me wish I was a tenth as artful as you when it comes to plating. Nice recipe for the fish cakes — not sure about sardines, though. We loved eating them as kids — dad would fork them into our mouths right out of the tin. As an adult I kind of learned to turn my nose up at them. I’m thinking I should give them a try, before substituting crab or tuna. Also, with all the leftover turkey in my fridge I could experiment with ‘turkey’ cakes. Thanks for the inspiration.

    1. theonlycin says:

      A really lovely comment, thanks so much 🙂

  15. nrhatch says:

    WARNING: When I post recipes, the photos are a LIE!!! I pilfer them from other sites on the internet rather than taking and posting my own photos.

    In my defense, once the food is ready, I want to eat it, not shoot it!

    Eats, Shoots, and Leaves . . . 🙂

    1. theonlycin says:

      LMAO, you funny lady 😀

    2. nrhatch says:

      I should put this disclaimer at the bottom of all my posted recipes. 😉

      1. theonlycin says:

        It will raise quite a few smiles 😀

  16. slpmartin says:

    Touching up and altering photos for public consumption even in the political realm sadly appears to be the trend.

    1. theonlycin says:

      It’s too sad 😦

  17. Liane says:

    Motor oil!… Cotton balls!… Glue!… GOOD HEAVENS!! Now even I am comforted… I share a bit of your feeling; sometimes I see something I’m interested in doing and when I’m done comparing it to the (seemingly) flawless ideas or images that I’ve looked at as a point of reference, education or inspiration – that I’ve aspired to – then I fail miserably in comparison and it sucks all the joy right out of it… overwhelmed with a sense of “not good enough”. But I’m learning to remember: “…MEANTIME, BACK AT THE RANCH…..” mmm

    1. theonlycin says:

      Don’t ever forget it 😉

  18. I’m with you, Cin! The real thing will always be more appetizing – even if I didn’t know those tricks. (I’d read about them a few years back and gagged a few times. Now whenever I see a food ad on TV or in print, I stop and wonder. . .).

    This brought to mind some photos our eldest took when he was in Japan of FAKE food. They use them in restaurant and grocery displays and these “sculptures” are absolutely extraordinary! Some of them were not just real looking – I would have been willing to take a few bites, and I bet those clever Japanese even flavored it so it would taste like the real thing, too! 😀

    1. theonlycin says:

      Oh my hat … I have seen some of the fake foods and they are, indeed, extraordinary!

  19. gospelwriter says:

    Eek! – what a list! May I say, just for the record, that I almost always find your photos of food appetizing, mouthwateringly so – even if it’s something I don’t ordinarily eat… An honest food blogger, you SO deserve that “Food blogger of the Month” award. Congratulations!

    1. theonlycin says:

      Thank you, gospelwriter 🙂

  20. Your photos always send me off to the fridge to rummage. They look like I’m sure they taste: fabulous.

  21. Tokeloshe says:


    It’s very interesting about the photography of food.

    I love your food photos, they don’t need to be “photo-shopped.”

    Keep up the good workd

    1. theonlycin says:

      Thanks for the compliment from a talented photographer like you, Tok 🙂

  22. Naomi says:

    Congrats Cin & thanks for that freaky list 🙂

    Can thankfully plead innocent on food photography, and certainly enjoy yours as is!

  23. Jamie Dedes says:

    Cin, I do believe in time you are going to get some serious attention to this blog. Really well done. And short and sweet does it.

    Cindy-pics are fab. No artifice needed.

    Real food for real people. Love –

    1. theonlycin says:

      You’re very kind, Jamie, thanks with love.

  24. Jamie Dedes says:

    Ah yes, I do remember this.

    I love what your daughter did. Do you remember being that age and having the same ideals and ragings at indignitives? So wonderful, huh?

    1. theonlycin says:

      Yes, quite wonderful 🙂

  25. I’m feeling quite nauseous, thinking about what gets called food! All my food pics are the genuine thing, and if there is steam showing in the pic, it’s because it’s really hot!

    Thanks for redirecting us to this interesting post 🙂

    1. theonlycin says:

      You’re most welcome 🙂

  26. Cool, thanks for sharing the interesting tips.

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