Burger photography can be tough to pull off, but when you do, the results are stunning.
Getting a great burger shot is fifty percent styling, fifty percent photography.
Here are 10 tips to help you build a better burger and shoot it like a pro.
10. Shooting Burgers for Editorial Means More Creative Freedom
The first thing you must know is if you’re shooting a burger for advertising or editorial purposes.
Editorial photography is the kind of photography that appears in magazines and cookbooks.
In editorial photography , you have more creative freedom. The food looks more natural. There’s organic styling and elements like crumbs and drips that give an honest and candid feel to the shot.
When shooting burgers for editorial, you usually can choose the kind of bun and meat you want. You can construct it in the way you think will look best to support the messaging of that assignment.
In comparison, advertising photograph–such as that created for fast food chains–is expected to look perfect. Every element of the food needs to be prepared to exact specifications.
You must use the client’s ingredients. And you must build the burger in the exact order as the they do when making burgers for the public.
9. How to Choose Buns for Burger Photography
Finding a good hamburger bun can be a lot of work.
Food stylists on fast-food burger shoots will regularly go through 200 hamburger buns to find the right top and bottom. And then they’ll glue sesame seeds on individually with tweezers!
If you’re doing an editorial assignment, you can use a kaiser bun or another type of bread roll. The bread doesn’t have to look perfect. But it should look as attractive as possible to be appetising.
It’s best if the buns have not been pre-sliced so you can cut them into the thickness you prefer. Make sure that you have several buns to work with.
You can slice them to your specifications–for example, a thick top from one bun and a thick bottom from another.
You should also have replacements on hand if the ketchup or other sauces begin seeping into the bun.
8. Fatter Meat Looks Juicier in Food Photography
For editorial assignments or shots for your photography portfolio, buy meat that is not extra lean. The extra fat will make the burger appear nice and juicy.
The patty should be wider than the bun and thinner than you want in the end result because it will shrink and thicken.
Cook the meat with oil in a non-stick pan until it’s a little lighter than you desire for your shot. The meat will darken as it cools.
You can always selectively brown certain areas like the edges with a pastry torch.
To keep the meat patties ready for their moment in front of the camera, professional food stylists place them in a baking tray and cover them with cooking oil.
Or they cover the patties individually with plastic wrap so that any exposure to air won’t darken them further or dry them out.
When you’re ready to shoot your burger, be sure to brush it with some extra oil to keep it juicy looking.
7. Add Some Grill Marks to Make Your Burger More Realistic
Grill marks are a fantastic way to add something special to your burger patty.
If the burger is shot at eye level, you’ll need to exaggerate them slightly over the edge of the patty else they will not be visible.
Pro food stylists use an electric charcoal starter to carefully press grill marks on the patty.
Another trick is to use a pastry torch to heat a metal kebab skewer and then press it immediately into the patty. The skewers have to be very hot.
You can also use the flame of a gas stove to heat your skewer. An electric range will not provide the very high temperature that is required.
When making grill marks on your burger patty, be careful to place them an even distance away from each other. Try to make them as even as possible in terms of thickness.
6. How to Melt the Cheese for a Gooey Look
When you buy a burger from your favourite burger joint, the cheese will likely be placed on top of a hot hamburger patty so that it melts.
When you’re shooting burger photography, however, you’ll be working with meat at room temperature. You need to give the cheese a melted appearance.
If you’re shooting commercially for a fast-food chain, you will likely be supplied with the cheese that they use on their own burgers.
For other commissions, you might choose processed cheese or natural cheese. Each type of cheese responds differently to heat.
Natural cheese doesn’t melt as quickly as processed cheese.
You can dip the corner of processed cheese in boiling water or hold it momentarily over the steam of a kettle to get that melted look.
For natural cheese, you’ll need that trusty pastry torch. This is a staple in every food stylist’s kit.
One important tip when you’re styling the cheese for your burger is to compare the size of your cheese slice to your cooked burger patty.
If it’s too big, you may want to trim it a bit so it doesn’t end up engulfing the burger once it melts.
5. Add Veggies and Other Ingredients When Styling Your Burger
The fun part of a burger shoot is deciding what to put on your burger.
Depending on the assignment, you might simply use pickles, tomatoes, or lettuce on your burger.
Or you might really doctor it up with a variety of ingredients. These can range from onion rings to crumbled blue cheese.
Cut or prepare the items you would like to include. Lay them out on a baking tray to have on hand when you’re ready to place them on your burger.
When slicing tomatoes, use the thickness required and only use the slices from the middle for straight up and down edges. If you’re using two slices, cut one slightly on an angle. Place the two thinner edges on top of one another to create a flatter surface.
Burgers are usually shot at eye level. You don’t want to see any empty spaces in between the layers or toppings.
Lastly, wait until just before you shoot to add the sauces onto the edge of the bun. Use an eyedropper or squeeze bottle with a narrow tip.
This will allow the viewer to see what sauces are in the burger. It also looks more attractive and will prevent it from getting soggy quickly.
4. Choose Props and Backdrops Based on Your Food Story
When you choose backdrops and props for food photography, you should always pick the best items to go with your food story.
Your props and backdrops should look cohesive and make sense within the context of the image.
If you want your image to give the idea of a burger served in a pub, choose props that are more on the rustic side. Shoot your burger against a darker backdrop and surface.
Wooden cutting boards, vintage utensils with a patina and darker, natural linens support such a narrative.
The way you place your props also carries a lot of visual weight.
In the image below, I speared the knife through the burger to give my image a steakhouse vibe. I chose a wooden backdrop and surface for a rustic feel and monochromatic look.
I also placed a piece of burlap under my cutting board to add an extra layer of interest and complement my rustic theme.
3. Shoot Burgers at Eye Level or 45 Degrees to Entice the Viewer
Burgers are usually shot at eye level, especially in advertising photography.
In editorial photography, you’ll sometimes see them photographer from a 45-degree angle. The top is partially moved away so we can see the toppings.
Very seldom will you see a burger shot from above because all you’ll see is the bun.
In these kind of shots, there will usually be a lot of other elements in the frame, like toppings and fries, beverages etc. The focus is more on a narrative of building or serving a burger than the burger itself.
In food photography, you always want to choose the angle that will “sell” the food and highlight its best features. In the case of a burger, that is the height and layers.
This means shooting the burger straight-on or slightly below or above eye level.
Ordinarily, you would never shoot a food subject from below. In burger photography, having your camera slightly tilted up at your subject will make the burger look extra tall and imposing.
2. Zoom In to Highlight All the Layers of Your Burger
Burgers look best when they are shot close up.
How close you decide to get will again depend on your food story.
You may want to include some fries and a glass of beer or cola in your shot. This will require you to pull back a bit to give a sense of atmosphere.
If you’re just shooting the burger, getting closer will make it look larger-than-life and ready to eat.
Just be sure that you don’t get so close that the viewer doesn’t know exactly what they’re looking at.
1. Don’t Skip the Photoshop
Food photographers tend to do most of their editing in Lightroom and then move into Photoshop to finesse their images.
The perfect burger shot usually needs more post-production than other types of food photography. This requires some of the tools Photoshop offers and the ability to work with individual pixels.
Lightroom is a fantastic global editor. But there are certain types of edits it cannot do, like compositing and working in layers.
If you’re not an expert in Photoshop, that’s completely ok. You can get a lot of mileage out of the spot removal tool and the clone stamp. Use them to clean up any imperfections in your image.
If you’re a fairly adept user, you can hone in on various parts of your image. Work on the colourization, and dodge and burn to balance out the shadows and highlights.
Because a burger is a layered product, the various toppings can create shadows on one another. You need to deal with these in the editing process.
Burger photography can seem intimidating but it’s a lot of fun.
The proper styling techniques will make a big difference in your final result. So will choosing the right camera angle and perfecting the image in Photoshop.
Hopefully, these tips will give you the inspiration to create your own mouth-watering burger shots.