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Keep Meats and Seafood Fresh in Food Styling and Photography

Meat, poultry, and seafood are less temperamental than some other foods in food styling and food photography, but they can still cause some issues. When shooting these foods, a few problems can crop up that may put a dent in your shooting experience.

These proteins can dry out very quickly, particularly under hot lights. When shooting these foods, be sure to always have materials on hand to deal with this lack of moisture. Also, when proteins, particularly poultry items, are overcooked, a gelatinlike substance can flow from the bones. Keep your eyes peeled for this problem.

Keeping proteins from drying out

When working with proteins, you may have only a few minutes to shoot before your food starts looking less than fresh under the lights. After that, you’ll have to replenish the liquid content of the food, and water won’t do the trick.

To combat the foods from drying out, have the following liquids nearby:

  • Oils: A small dab or brush of oil can truly rejuvenate your tired proteins. Any oil will do — olive, canola, walnut, or even baby oil will do in a pinch. The oil moisturizes the proteins and gives them a lovely little shine (see the following figure).

  • Sauces: Spoon a little light sauce over your proteins. The sauce doesn’t have to be meant for the dish, but the look of the sauce complements the protein. Neutral color is better in this case. Remember that you’re just going for the moisture and shine of the sauce, not really the decorative aspects here.

    Seafood brushed with oil creates a juicy, appealing food image. [Credit: Focal length: 70mm, Shutte
    Credit: Focal length: 70mm, Shutter speed: 1/50 sec., Aperture: f/9.0, ISO value: 500
    Seafood brushed with oil creates a juicy, appealing food image.

Removing the goo: Dealing with meats that congeal

When working with poultry in particular, sometimes congealed goo suddenly appears on the skin, as shown in the following figure. If the protein is cooked very well and is standing for quite some time cooling off, the natural juices of the bird solidify and congeal. A bit of gelatinous goo isn’t a pretty look for a food photograph.

Poultry with congealed goo is far from appetizing. [Credit: Focal length: 32mm, Shutter speed: 1/12
Credit: Focal length: 32mm, Shutter speed: 1/125 sec., Aperture: f/5.6, ISO value: 400
Poultry with congealed goo is far from appetizing.

To address this problem, consider the following options:

  • Apply heat: Use a blowtorch to reheat and melt the goo. A hair dryer also works just fine in a pinch.

  • Remove and conceal: Remove the congealed juices by using a small utensil to scrape off the goo. Then brush the poultry with a little oil to smooth things out.

  • Switch it up: Substitute the old poultry with a newly heated portion. Having extras at the ready is always a great idea.

A culinary blowtorch can be your very best friend when working with meats. You can purchase this handy item at any gourmet cookware shop. Not only can you use a blowtorch to reheat your proteins to solve any congealing issues, but also you can add a lovely brown color to your meats. The browned meats translate nicely in a photograph.

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