A food stylist reveals the secrets to a sexy burger photo


They say the camera makes you gain 10lbs, and that couldn't be more true in the world of food photography.

For decades, food stylists have been using specialized techniques to make deflated fast-food burgers look larger than life, and, in the process, they have helped make the average consumer much less camera-ready. To explore the secrets of the trade, we interviewed Delores Custer, an original gangster of gastronomy who has been styling food for 35 years, working with everyone from the James Beard Foundation to Julia Child in conditions as volatile as Mexican rain forests and Julia Child's kitchen.

Before we apply her wisdom to that super-sexy photo of a burger, there are a few things about the business that you should know. Most importantly, stylists are required to use the actual food ingredients depicted in the photo, but they go to crazy lengths to find the platonic ideals of those ingredients. That means digging through a bag of 500 buns to find a perfect one.

This ethical code keeps the truth in advertising, but does have a big loophole. If you're selling cereal, the milk doesn't have to be real. Only the primary product featured must comply to these standards, so those marshmallow Froot Loops are likely floating in a bed of Wildroot Hair Creme or sweet, delicious Elmer's Glue.

how to photograph a burger

Dan Gentile is a staff writer on Thrillist's national food and drink team. He will never look at a burger the same way again, but will happily eat them the same way again and again and again. Follow him to deceptively attractive photos at @Dannosphere.