If you always wondered how food photographers take a crummy little burger and turn it into a mouthwatering dish worthy of a commercial hero shot you might want to watch this video.
Food stylist Rishon Hanners from Alabama takes actual store-bought burgers, take them apart and with the help of a few tricks and some fresh vegetables make a burger that looks just like those you saw on those commercials.
Before we dive in a word of caution. Amongst food photographers (and food stylists) there are two factions – those who only use food grade “supplements” and those who will go to any length and use whatever they can find to get the job done (since we shoot a lot of food ourselves we consider ourselves as part of the first group and so there is at least one trick in this video that we will never use).
Getting the most out of your beef patty is critical – in this case, she used an existing beef patty but of course it is a much better idea to make one specifically for the shoot (which is larger and a little undercooked and than burn it). For this video, Hanners used an existing one and applied some cooking spray (after cleaning the beef patty) and then created some fake grill marks using a brush and shoe polish (this is the trick that we would not use – but there are other options that are used in the food industry and make results which are not that different such as soy source and date syrup).
Cheese is simple – melting it is typically done in the end and using a heat gun – just be sure that you use it on the cheese and nothing else (we have seen food stylists use just hot water to melt the cheese as well).
Using extra onions can give some volume to your burger – using cardboard, for example, might also do the trick although this might again be somewhat controversial). Lattice is another great way to add some volume to your burger and layered lattice is perfect for that. If you need to hold it down you can use a toothpick or T-pins. In a similar way, you can also use a long wood pick or chopstick to make the burger hold in place after you assemble everything (just cut the extra bit and place it in the back.
With the top bun, it is extremely important to make it look as appetizing as possible – a little cooking spray goes a long way. When everything is ready you want to add some ketchup and mayonnaise which you should do in very small quantities in the front in areas where you want them visible which you can do using disposable dropping pipettes.
The final thing that you can do is spray some mist of water on the lattice to make it look fresh (putting it in some cold water with ice before can also help). Just in case you want that steam look you can use a couple of tampons behind your burger after you put them in boiling water).
You can find many more videos on how to shoot food on our dedicated food photography sub-section here on LensVid.