Separating Glamour from Reality in Foodservice Photography

A Behind the Scenes Look at the Art of Food Photography

Food images in today’s advertisements and packaging are glamourized versions of the actual product. Professional food photography is truly an art and a collaborative effort, usually involving an art director, a photographer, a food stylist, a prop stylist and their assistants.

The goal of food photography is to help create the consumer expectation for the product and that requires the best possible image available. Beautifully shot food images will whet the customers’ appetite and entice them to buy or try something new.

The actual product may not look the exactly the same, but it still has all the same ingredients that are shown in the photograph. As noted recently by fast food giant McDonalds, “The burger at the restaurant is optimized for eating and the photo burger is optimized for looking delicious.”

After a customer asked Mcdonald’s, “Why does your food look different in the advertising than what is in the store?” Hope Bagozzi, McDonald’s Canada Director of Marketing, proceeds over the following three-and-half minutes to explain how and why this is done:

In the video, Begozzi demonstrates how a Quarter Pounder with Cheese is deconstructed and rebuilt by professional food stylists so that all the ingredients are visible. The onions and pickles are all hand placed. The mustard and catsup are put into place with a syringe. The resulting product looks fantastic. And every ingredient used in the shoot was an actually item used in the store. Once photographed, the picture of the burger is tweaked, digitally removing any blemishes.

Building your foodservice offering must follow a similar path. Product selection and pricing are critical for success. So is setting consumer expectations of your food. With food photography, the ingredients are deliberately and carefully placed so that each is visible in the most flattering way possible to the viewer. This enables you to let customers know what they’re getting. Using the same ingredients but arranging them to highlight the flavor and combination allows foodservice marketers to set consumer expectations.

Three Keys to Successful Foodservice Reimaging

Utilize Food Photography, Custom Fixtures and Menuboards to Realize ROI

A foodservice reimaging project is an ideal way to enhance your overall store appeal as well as to drive foodservice sales. Yet beyond changes in décor elements such as cabinetry and wall paper, retailers should consider what customers expect from preferred foodservice providers. Below are three components that can play a major role in enhancing consumers’ perception of a retailer’s foodservice offering.


Food Photography

Investing in new photography is a must for any foodservice reimaging project. For most leading QSRs, the key to effectively promoting food offerings is photography that makes the food look as good as it tastes. Beautifully shot food images whet the customers’ appetite and can entice them to buy or try something new.

Unique Fixtures

Incorporating custom industrial design elements for point of purchase graphics, product displays or shelving units is another key component for a successful foodservice reimaging project. Create impact and grab the customer’s attention with innovative kiosks or standees to clearly communicate and promote new fresh food offerings and special promotions.

Make sure the various industrial design elements utilized in store have a cohesive uniform look and blend with the store décor and brand. Invest in elements that will facilitate changes in menu and pricing. In addition, evaluate and take into consideration budget, shipping logistics, ease of installation, and every inch of the store to help maximize display space and sales.


Innovative Menu Systems

The menu system is one of the most critical components of a foodservice reimage project. If using digital menus, consider how display cabinets or graphics can make the menus fit store décor and look less like an appliance. If using traditional menus, consider how to make the menus blend with store décor and represent your foodservice brand.

Solidify your brand, create consistency across all stores and drive repeat business through a combination of food photography, unique fixtures and innovative menuboards for your next store reimaging project.

McDonald’s POP Advertising

GSP Investigates – What They Are Currently Doing

As the trend to expand foodservice operations and increase fresh food offerings at convenience stores continues, c-store retailers are finding themselves competing more and more with the QSR industry. Steven Cohen, GSP’s Vice President of Design Services, and some of his team members, visited some recently renovated McDonalds to take a look at their POP advertising, to see what types of signage they are using and what new trends or innovative techniques they have incorporated. Here’s the result of their findings.

1. The Arch
In the images below, notice how the well-known McDonald’s arch is represented on the storefront trim and in their graphics – a subtle way to imprint their brand on each promotional element.
The Arch The Arch The ArchThe Arch The Arch

2. Photography Use
The McDonalds signage and website incorporates professionally shot photographs that support their brand. The images are shot with minimal styling on white, color and location backgrounds. In each case the food is hero and impact is made, as demonstrated by their window graphics and menu signage.
Photography Use Photography Use
Photography Use Photography Use

3. Less is More
Instead of a lot of small signs, they utilize large simple messages, like the pictured standee highlighting the new CBO sandwich and key POP advertising signs on the windows.
Less is More Less is More

4. Shapes
Window banners are utilized to highlight product specials and big ideas. They avoid the ordinary rectangle, and use custom-branded shapes to capture the customer’s attention.
McDonalds Shapes McDonalds Shapes

5. Destinations
They have branded destinations for an enhanced consumer in-store experience.
McDonalds Destinations McDonalds Destinations

In summary, McDonalds uses a powerful graphic approach, professionally shot images and takes advantage of every opportunity to reinforce their brand. The result is a clear, easy to understand communication to their customers.

A Recipe For Perfection in Food Service Photography

Winning the Food Service Customer – Starts with Great Photography

Beautiful photos of tempting food choices don’t happen by accident. The client, art director, food stylist and photographer all play an important role in this collaborative effort. Good communication is key to keep all the parties informed. The client brings product insight and shares the specific goals and objectives of the food program. The art director helps to shape the marketing strategies and acts as liaison between the client and photographer, balancing the needs of both. The food stylist turns the product into art, making the food look more photogenic by creating the proper visual presentation. The photographer adds the technical knowledge, perfects the light, the focus and angles that capture the most appealing food texture, color and image possible.

What can you expect at a food photography shoot? Below are a few points that I feel are important to remember before embarking on one:

First of all it is not as easy as it looks, the simplest food shot make take hours to complete, this is a process that cannot be rushed if perfection is the goal.

Professional Quality – Attention to detail and the ability to convey quality and flavor will really make or break your food service program. There really is a difference between a “regular” all-purpose photographer and an experienced photographer that specializes in food services, so don’t compromise. A food photographer uses special lenses, mirrors, reflectors, techniques and photo equipment that the other won’t possess. You definitely don’t want the competition to beat you on this all-important element.

Image Intentions – Before shooting, it’s imperative to have a clear understanding of how you intend to use the food images. Will they be silhouetted on a menu board or other background? Tightly cropped or shown in an environmental shot? Do you need to leave room for copy in the photo or will it go underneath? Are you using a vertical, horizontal or square composition? It is important to know up front and very difficult to change after the fact. Just know that your art department will have a heck of a time trying to add background to a shot later if you change your mind.

Style Consistency – All items within the program should be shot in a similar style for the most pleasing presentation. For optimum results, utilize this best practice: Have all items shot by the same photographer at one shoot. Although it requires more upfront planning, in the long run, this will save time, keep you organized and also be the most cost-efficient method. Consider multiple uses for your photographs to stretch your dollar farther. How can you amortize the expense and reuse the images in future promotional efforts?

Set The Standard – A basic standards guide will help maintain the original intent for the photography. Communicate the project details with the team, including the number of shots, propping and background, mood you want to convey, even product usage. Agree on an estimate and schedule before the shoot begins. Know your “look” so that you don’t have to reshoot everything later to match a new look. Otherwise, a good photographer should ask plenty of questions and help compose a guide with you.

Product Truth – Yes, you want to tempt the eye and the palette with photos good enough to eat. However, despite the aesthetic appeal and colorful contrasts, you must also stay true to what the customer will actually purchase in store. If the product looks beautiful but it doesn’t look like what you sell, it will confuse your staff and customers alike. A good photographic team can make your item look as amazing as possible without over-styling. Don’t be surprised if the stylist asks you for or creates his own food “stand-in”– a replica of your product’s size, shape and surface texture for the photographer to test his lighting and composition until the hero item hits the set. NOTE: Some items should be left off the set as they may be delicious to the taste but will never photograph well. There’s nothing wrong with shooting those products in their packaging.

And, finally, clients usually say that they want their food photography to look natural. People have certain expectations about what “natural” looks like and it may vary from person to person–even between you and the photographer. Certain environments and background colors can make the food appear unnatural and unappealing. Natural also means the food may look better arranged in a more casual manner. (Perhaps all of the layers of your deli sandwich shouldn’t be perfectly aligned.) Allow your team some flexibility here to create settings that fit the food. Be open to new options but know that the ultimate decision is yours.