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Photoshopped Food

Julia Bainbridge
Food Editor
May 6, 2014

Kate Winslet, Beyoncé, Lena Dunham. All three of these famous women have been part of Photoshopping scandals, in which their curves, their skin tones, or their imperfections have been tweaked—even removed—way beyond reality. Can we say the same thing for chicken, pasta, and steak? Yes. Is it a problem?

"I make it very clear to clients that I’m a photographer, not a digital artist," says Melissa Hom, a food photographer based in New York City. “I can’t fabricate items that don’t exist or turn back time and make an overcooked steak look medium-rare.”

"I try to have the image as real as possible and get closest to the ideal picture in the camera," she continues. "Restaurants and chefs in New York City are of the highest pedigree and make real food that looks amazing. However, dust, fingerprints, chipped glassware, et cetera happen."

John von Pamer shot the photographs in the Fifty Shades of Chicken cookbook in a studio due to time constraints.  “You lose the magic of natural light, which can’t be replicated,” he says. So “the first thing is you are trying to light it to make it look as good as possible. You’re using bounce cards, you’re using something to cut the light…” Plus “the food stylist is so important for making those kinds of things happen in terms of the color of meat or the texture of fat.”

His point: a lot of the magic happens pre-Photoshop. But such editing tools certainly have a place in making a beautiful image—especially when you’re dealing with a quick turnaround. “’For Fifty Shades of Chicken,’ I shot the full book in four days and turned in all the hi-res [files] the following week, says von Pamer. He used Capture One largely to brighten images, to deepen the contrast, and to bring certain portions of an image into focus. In the photo gallery below, you can read more about how both Hom and von Pamer tweaked their original photographs. 

The use of Photoshop in the case of celebrities’ bodies is a problem that hasn’t quite been solved yet. One the one hand, these magazines are aspirational; why shouldn’t these women look like extraterrestrial goddesses? On the other hand, it sets an unrealistic expectation of beauty and a massive weight on the shoulders of America’s young women. So what about the Case of Chicken? Do beyond-perfect representations of food inspire or frustrate home cooks? That’s for you to decide. 

1 / 10
"I brightened and warmed the image overall," says von Pamer. "And I added tone to the wood surface and background so the sandwiches would pop."

2 / 10
"I dodged and burned for contrast and so that the steam reads better," says von Pamer. "I also removed a small piece of cutlery in lower lefthand corner."

3 / 10
Ten shots with different focus points make up the image. “The small section of each image that had the sharpest focus was used and then they combined to make the final image," says von Pamer.

4 / 10
"Again, I used focus comp for a fully sharp image," says von Pamer. "I also added a black band at the bottom to emphasize the shape of the plate and ground the image."

5 / 10
"Dust in the camera and on the table were cleaned up," says Hom. "The table originally read as too warm, and was adjusted. The wine stem was tilted because of the perspective" and was straightened.

6 / 10
This sauce "was photographed on clear plexi, which scuffs easily and tends to be a dust magnet," says Hom. "It was corrected for blemishes, smudges, color, and contrast."

7 / 10
"I brightened and warmed overall," says von Pamer. "I also retouched scratches on tray, smoothed the linen and added some texture."

8 / 10
"I brightened the image and added a bit of contrast, darkening the shadows to make the chicken pop," says von Pamer.

9 / 10
"This was fixed for greater brightness and contrast, chives were borrowed from images in the same sequence to make the chive rain more abundant, and arm hair was trimmed," says Hom.

10 / 10
"The tip of the duck breast fell off during cooking and it had a scorch mark, which was reconstructed, says Hom. "The perspective was corrected to have a straight wine glass and colors were tweaked."