Recipe for Disaster? A food stylist's musings social media's unattainable standards.
Last week, a friend (actually, Max's adorable former preschool teacher) posted to Facebook a side-by-side comparison of her delightful attempt at making Candy Corn Rice Krispies Treats versus the Pinterest original. Her caption: "Success or Pinterest Fail?" She was clearly disappointed with her version even though they were super cute. What struck me though was how utterly perfect the Pinterest original was. It reminded me of a few of my own Pinterest "fails," (including these monster treats that I developed based off of this Pinterest original).
Whether its Pinterest, Facebook, Instagram or magazine covers you see at the supermarket, the general sense of never measuring up is something I suspect all of us struggle with (I sure do!). After mulling it over a bit, I wanted to offer A Few Simple Reasons A Pinterest Fail Isn't Your Fault, from a food stylist's point of view.
Normal electric lightbulbs give photographs a yellow cast. Bloggers and photographers never shoot anything under a regular lightbulb. We shoot in daylight, when the sun is hanging at just the right angle. Or…more likely, we use special daylight photography lighting. I have a mini-studio set up in my basement…although "mini studio" sounds far more glamorous than reality (I have a light stand and a bench and a white poster board set up in our storage room). These special lights give food a perfect, beautiful glow that you can't possibly replicate under your kitchen lights.
Going back to my friend's supposed Pinterest "fail" with her candy-corn shaped Rice Krispies Treats… What strikes me first about the Pinterest photo is just how white the white chocolate is. This isn't the normal creamy white of candy coating. It's brilliant white and it has definitely been retouched. And thats pretty common. Just think of all the filters available on Instagram and Facebook. Nobody wants to look at ugly food! Photographers have special software to make an image look its absolute best. We can make whites whiter, details sharper, colors more vibrant. But when it comes to recipes we're sharing with others, we also need to be careful not to make it SO perfect that no one will ever be able to replicate it at home. Its a balance!
You guys, how long do you think it took me to set up the image above? Like…hours. Seriously. HOURS. This doesn't come together quickly. It takes a ton of planning. I move stuff around. I swap out different linens and plates and platters and spoons. I wander the house looking for props. And, you know what? We hardly ever eat our real meals off of any of this stuff. Typically, we eat dinner, off of a set of ceramic plates that I bought at Sam's Club when I was in college. Our normal dinner table "linens" are paper towels. All this pretty stuff lives in the basement and only gets used for photographs.
Consider the source. Most large-scale magazines and cooking channels have a dedicated test kitchens that devote a great deal of time to testing and retesting recipes before publishing them. Thats a luxury that most bloggers don't have. Recipe development is something we focused on quite a bit in culinary school so I'm usually pretty good about testing and retesting before sharing a recipe but I've been known to make a mistake or just plan forget to write something down when I'm typing. I'm human and (as far as I know) most of the other bloggers out there are too. Mistakes can happen. The next time you print out something you found on Pinterest, consider the source carefully before proceeding and don't hesitate to email the blogger directly if you have a question. If they're like me…if you notice an error they'll be thankful you brought it to their attention (if its my recipe definitely bring it to mine!!).
Of course this issue goes well beyond food photography and recipes. I know I struggle all the time with how perfect everyone and everything seems on social media, magazines, HGTV and so on. A quick glance through Better Homes & Gardens has me in a state of panic over my flowerbeds, Real Simple gives me nightmares about my closets and drawers and Instagram has me feeling terrible that I'm not starting my day with sunrise yoga on a surf board in the Maldives followed by a green smoothie (#soblessed). Anyway, I just wanted to put it out there than none of us is perfect…we're holding ourselves up to impossible standards. We're good enough just as we are and thats okay.
Anyone else struggling with this lately?