The Making of a Food Photo


A couple of months ago, a friend forwarded an article on food photography from one of his advertising buddies. It included a video on the making of a McDonald's hamburger, which was about why the burger you buy doesn’t look like the one in the marketing photos.

The video took you inside the photo shoot production and showed a full staff of people that were part of the process. There was even one person that was JUST in charge of the buns. Racks and racks of sesame seed buns, insuring that they were all perfect. I took away some pointers and thanked the sender.   

Watching the video reminded me of a former employee who used to work for General Mill’s. He had arranged for a Minneapolis photographer and food stylist along with set assistants to photograph some food that I would prepare and ship. If we needed a hand model that what be extra. (Note to self: Add hand model to resume and charge a ridiculous amount of money.) I gasped at the price tag, especially since I was doing what I considered to be the “hard part” of the work. He informed me that this was nothing and that if this were General Mills they would need 35 people on set to get the Cheerio to drop into the milk just right. THIRTY-FIVE PEOPLE!

The photos were okay, and although I had taken snapshots of recipes that I had created (that were just awful), I thought to myself, “maybe with a little coaching, I could do this.” Shortly thereafter, I had the great pleasure of being introduced to Beatrice Peltre, an amazing chef, cookbook writer, blogger, and photographer. She is a ONE-WOMAN show. We hit it off right away and three weeks later she was in my kitchen working with me for a week on the do’s and dont's of food photography. It was an intense week. I learned a lot and we were also able to get some pretty good shots. It was also hard. 

Preparing food and photographing it is not my ‘’full time’’ job, but something I try to squeeze in when I can. And, every time I take a photo I learn something new - but mostly I have come to know it is all about the light. I have also developed my own style, particularly with buffalo meat photos, and I try to stay true to my main principles; that the food has to be real and look like, how it would if you made the recipe (well, maybe I use a few tricks, but not many). I also believe that for hire hand models are unnecessary, when there may be a perfectly good hardworking pair close by that would make the photo even more beautiful.

Once I'm in my creative groove, I do really enjoy it. Perhaps the biggest thing that I could live without is the mess that it creates and the clean up that follows. No flat surface is safe from becoming a food surface and all rooms depending on the light are open for access. The only bright spot during the clean up of the food photography mess, is that it is then finally okay to drink the stand in wine or beer models and of course the food!

Occasionally I will be asked what my favorite photo is, and my reply is always “my next photo” and then sometimes it isn’t.

I am always looking for new inspiration and so we are pleased to announce our second annual food photo contest.  More on that below.


If Jill's story gets you all inspired, you might want to enter our 2017 Wild Idea Food Photo contest with a chance to win one of three prizes totaling $600 in value!

Entering is easy. Just post your most mouth-watering photo of a dish featuring Wild Idea meat in the comments section of this post on Facebook. We’ll select the winners from the six photos that collect the most “likes” between now and the end of the contest.

See the prizes and official contest rules here.


  • Posted on by Jill

    Hi Joe. Yes, we did earlier in the month. You can find winners on our FB page here:

    You received an honorable mention for your great work! We will be adding a complimentary gift to your next order. Thanks for your contribution and for your support!

  • Posted on by Joe harvey

    Have you selected the winners for your photo contest yet? My wife and I love your company, your values, and the love that you have for the land and the people that work with you. Keep it up.
    Joe & Gigi

  • Posted on by Keith McKenna

    Good Morning. First things first. I love your blog, your company and everything that it stands for. I love the tall grass prairie. I love what you all are trying to do!
    I reside and work in Minneapolis. I have worked as a photographers assistant for all of 25 years. I helped out on a lot of food shoots. The work and expertise of a first rate food stylist is amazing. You seem to be a good student, as your food photos are warm and inviting and fresh.
    I believe an associate of mine was at your ranch last year to shoot photos of your operation. My friends name is Duane Lage. He was working with a photographer named Jim Henderson, from Minneapolis. I sure wish I were on that shoot, as I would love to meet you, and to again experience the only land where I truly feel alive in the world.
    The bible say’s that envy is a sin. If that is so, than I am as “guilty as sin”. For I truly envy the life you lead in the land that so inspires me toward hope for this country.
    Perhaps, someday, I will be able to call the prairie home, but for now I will have to be content to visit as often as I can, to breath the air and bathe in the light that is so special to the home of the bison.
    Thanks for all that you do. You inspire me in ways that you will never know!
    Health and happiness to you and yours, Keith.

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