7 Foods That Always Look Unappetizing In Stock Photos

Sorry, but that's not any sort of pizza I want to eat.

As a participant in digital media, my workday is framed in stock photography. Much as I might enjoy taking my own pristine food photos, the quality of both my camera and the Chicago daylight doesn't always make that possible. In those cases, I turn to stock photography and trawl for the most delicious images the internet has to offer.


But here's the thing: Many of the foods featured in stock photos appear to be styled and snapped by people who have never encountered food in their lives. Far too often, the photos simply feel... off, somehow. Too shiny. Too plastic-looking. Starkly lit. Sparsely garnished or far too garnished. We deserve tastier imagery of these tasty foods. Here's a list of the top foods stock photographers never seem to get quite right.


I'm a Midwesterner, so I have a highly regionally specific image that comes to mind when I think great pizza: thin crust, tavern-cut square slices, hot giardiniera, shakers full of Parmesan and pepper flakes on the table. But casting aside that bias, the average person might think "pizza" and summon an image of a Domino's pepperoni pie, or a foldable NYC slice. All of these are preferable to what the Shutterstock and iStockphoto services of the world are able to provide.


Stock photography pizzas tend to look more like Lunchables Pizzas than anything you'd pay to have delivered to your house. Sparse shreds of unmelted mozzarella sprinkled atop unbroken square inches of plain tomato sauce. Waxen-looking basil sprigs. Suspiciously clean slices with no hint of ragged cheese strands at their edges. Or, conversely, excessively manufactured cheese pulls. It's not that a pizza like the above looks outright unappetizing, it's just that it looks like something you'd find exclusively at a pricey art museum cafe in Munich. It's time to stop making pizza look so glamorous and feature the genuine article in all its greasy, workaday glory.

Chicken wings

Pleasing though the color contrast may be, I feel like we must clarify to stock photographers that we do not eat chicken wings exclusively on slate surfaces. We simply don't. In fact, I don't think I've ever been served wings on a slate surface. I tend to eat off of white plates, like much of the global community.


Beyond the slate plates, though, wings in stock photos either look too buffaloed or not buffalo enough. The above photo is an example of the latter; the seasoning looks specific and unfamiliar. But the photos of hyperbuffaloed wings seem to have gone through too much editing, until their orange hue is nearly nuclear. Much like with pizza, it seems like what stock photo shoots miss is the one thing that would lend these dishes some verisimilitude: sloppiness. Let's see some grease on those fingers!


Look, I understand the aesthetic limitations of food photography. I know that certain visual shortcuts must be taken—a cube of butter on top of a stack of pancakes, for example, because spread butter wouldn't "read" on camera as butter. Still, in trying to convey salads at their most pristine, sans any goopy, glistening dressing, all these photoshoots manage to do is make these dry-ass salads look like the saddest rabbit food in the world.


And they're not! Salads are not. The best salads are nourishing and craveable, not slim pickings. But oh, those green leaves! Those candy-red cherry tomatoes! Those discs of unadorned cucumber! What photographer can resist the bright pops of color and robust texture of that melange?

No thank you.

As much as we love salads, though, they don't make all women this happy. Tone it down, ladies.

Mashed potatoes

A sprinkling of herbs atop one's mashed potatoes is common. Encouraged, even. But what's with all the stock photos that show a heaping bowl of mashed potatoes with a whole leafy sprig on top? I've never seen mashed potatoes served this way in my entire life.


Is this one of those things we can attribute to the fact that many stock photoshoots happen outside the United States and thus portray culinary conventions we've never seen or heard of? Or is it every food photographer's less-than-subtle solution for making beige, boring mashed potatoes pop on camera? Either way, Arbitrary Garnish Parsley feels pretty outdated by this point. It's time to embrace a future of more honest, unvarnished potato portrayal. Let them be beige! Let nothing but butter adorn them!

Scavenger hunt: count how many Shutterstock results for "mashed potatoes" could just as easily be the search results for "bowl of mayonnaise."


I cannot stress enough how much I yearn for coffee pictures to be more normal. Just be normal! We don't need you to be so sophisticated. Translation: Stop it with the coffee beans stylishly spilled around the coffee cup, already!!


Sometimes the perfect cup of coffee comes from a diner, or a gas station, or a hotel lobby. In such instances, the coffee is great because it's exactly what you need in that moment. But that coffee is inarguably 99% water. The gas station attendant presumably didn't scoop the beans fresh from a burlap sack before mortar-and-pestling them for that day's supply of drip.

Even the nicest cup I make at home can hardly be represented by these spilled-bean glamor shots. If that many beans are on my work surface, I'm going to tend to that first before pouring myself a cup. They're a disaster waiting to happen. I have googled "dog ate somewhere in the neighborhood of six coffee beans spilled on floor is that bad" enough times to know.


Beyond the inaccuracy of the Fancy Burlap Beans, however, is the fact that we just don't need these beans to know that we're looking at a cup of coffee. We'll know it's coffee just by looking at the contents of the cup. We promise. Now sweep up those beans before a terrier gets hurt.

Soft serve ice cream

Let me be clear: the inclusion of soft serve in this list is no one's fault. Photoshoots are synonymous with a toasty lighting setup, and ice cream melts under the harsh lights. This is particularly true with runny soft serve, which loses its beautiful ribbon-like swirls after .00001 seconds of heat exposure. How can a photographer be expected to capture the wonders of soft serve ice cream under such conditions?


The solution, it seems, is to photograph what I'd bet my life is actually buttercream frosting rather than soft serve ice cream. You can see it, can't you? How these ice cream cones look suspiciously similar to cupcakes? Aren't the swirls a little too crisp and sturdy-looking?

While that sort of sneaky swap might be a no-no in food advertising, stock photos aren't beholden to the rules that require the honest portrayal of a particular food item. I don't feel led astray by these frosting cones. I just want cupcakes now.


Say it with us: Finish the spaghetti in the pan with the sauce. Finish. The. Spaghetti. In. The. Pan. With. The. Sauce. FINISH THE SPAGHETTI IN THE PAN WITH THE SAUCE.

The above presentation of spaghetti—pale, congealed-looking noodles straining to uphold an unceremonious heap of ketchupy red sauce and oblong meatballs—is stressful to look at. How are you going to incorporate all that sauce without spilling everywhere? The plate affords no room for mixing! (Though I suppose if sauce and noodles were flung off the plate, they'd find good company among the detritus already scattered across the table. Get that cherry tomato off my spoon!)


The best spaghetti is cooked al dente, then added to the sauce along with some pasta water to finish it off. This helps the sauce incorporate into the noodles and offers better all-around texture. Stock photographers, are you taking note?