Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Ban "stock photos" from cookbooks, food magazines, etc.

This Gluten-Free Blog discussion will apply to more than just the gluten-free community today.  I have chosen a topic I feel is important to all us "foodies" and consumers in general: the widespread use of "stock photography" and how these photos are increasingly being displayed alongside recipe and food products in place of photos of the actual product or recipe-output.

Are you of the opinion that the use of "stock photos" in cookbooks, food magazines, menus, food blogs, food advertisements, and the like is tantamount to fraud when there exists, either subtly or strongly, the implication that the food-photos you are viewing are pictures of the actual food(s) you can create using an accompanying recipe, or are pictures that show a reasonable representation of the actual prepared food(s) that you will receive if you purchase the pictured product?

Well, I for one believe the widespread practice of using undisclosed "stock photos" should be banned for a variety of reasons, and I am not alone according to a recent article on NPR's website.  Consumers are getting annoyed by this misleading practice.

The NPR article discusses the case of a Vegan (foods) website and magazine caught using stock photography of non-vegan foods to accompany vegan recipes: with their being a clear implication that the pictures they used were demonstrating their vegan recipes in action.   CONTENT WARNING: NPR's site links to a blog (Quarrygirl) that "busted" the VegNews site/magazine, and that blog contains language not suitable for children.

Perhaps I should back up a bit and start by asking: are you familiar with the term "stock photos" and how such photos are used?  Put simply: stock photos are pictures of nearly anything and any subject matter that are for sale to anyone that wants them — especially pictures of things that looks really good and look like a professional performed the layout and photo shoot.  Sounds great, doesn't it?  Just buy a wonderful looking photo to fill your needs!  Sure saves time and effort of taking a great looking photo yourself.

But wait... what if you are telling everyone about this great new recipe you created and are unable (or unwilling) to take the time to snap a picture of your item; instead, you simply buy a picture of what you feel is an ideal representation of your food and then display that picture with your recipe and imply that what is pictured was the end result of you following that recipe to completion?  Well, to me, this is where a serious line has been crossed!

The practice of using "stock photos" has sadly become a "generally accepted" way many in the industry choose to save money, all the while diluting and diminishing the credibility of recipes and related work by those of us that really make the effort to acquire actual pictures of what it is our recipes produce.  I refuse to accept this practice as necessary in an age where digital photography has made the acquisition of high-quality images simpler and cheaper than ever before, nor will I accept this practice as ethically correct as I feel undisclosed use of stock-photography is a form of deception.  
For these reasons, the photos of all the desserts in our Wheat-Free and Gluten-Free Gourmet Desserts Recipes book are photos I took of the finished products that we baked ourselves and according to the recipes in the book.  And, the photos of recipes on this Gluten-Free Blog and on our Gluten-Free Recipes Library are also pictures of foods we baked, according to our gluten-free recipes.  The pictures across the header of this page: yes, they too are gluten-free foods we baked and took pictures of.
It really annoys me how prolific the use of "fake" pictures is these days (i.e., stock photos posing as a custom recipe's output or a product other than what is truly in the photo).  Why?   People have gotten to where they assume that everything they see is misleading, especially in our culture that seems more focused on what is "legal" versus what is "right".  Using stock photos is legal, though I believe a disclaimer should accompany such use if it is implied that the photo represents a product your are buying or the end-result of a recipe you are buying.  We are all used to television ads with that barely-readable print at the bottom disclaiming that all images shown were simulated, sequences were altered, etc.  I believe similar disclosure (though more legible) should appear with stock photos used as discussed herein.

Perhaps another question should be asked, especially of magazines and the like selling recipes and using stock-photos to represent the outcome of baking their recipes: if you are using stock photos, how do we (the readers) know you ever even baked the recipe in order to assess its merits (accuracy, taste, texture) and know it is worth presenting as something we will likely enjoy?  Or, are we to assume that while custom photography is "too expensive", somehow baking each and every recipe and assessing its merits is somehow affordable by comparison?  From my own experience, taking all the custom photos is time consuming, but no more so than creating and baking all our recipes. So, for this reason alone, I have substantial doubts that any place passing off stock photos to represent their recipe outcomes is really taking time to bake all their recipes either.  

Feel free to share your thoughts on whether you think stock-photos are misleading!


Anonymous said...

I saw this article on NPR, too, and it's very disconcerting. As an avid at-home cook, when I buy a cookbook or a food magazine I want the images I'm seeing to be accurate representations of the foods I'm being sold on. If the images being used are stock photos, I think there should be a very visible disclaimer indicating the fact so that consumers can decide for themselves whether they want to buy a corner-cutting, stock-imaged product or search elsewhere for higher quality cookbooks and other foodie items that provide accurate representations of their contents.

Sheri said...

Absolutely misleading. I agree with Anonymous above me that any cookbook, magazine, whatever should have a disclaimer.

You know, like the "objects in mirror are closer than they appear" printed on a vehicle's passenger-side mirror.

Heather said...

I totally agree! The recipe (and recipe maker) loses all integrity when the photos come "out of a can". Food photos accompanying recipes, and especially gluten-free recipes, should be legitimate. Nice post!

Anonymous said...

I agree. The whole point is showing food as
it actually turns out from the
ingredients combined or the actual product
Please do not offend your supporters.
There are lots of relatively inexpensive
cameras on the market and lots of blogs
filled with helpful photo tips.
Not so perfect can be beautiful too.
Have pride in your product that you have honestly
made and put out there.

Anonymous said...

I googled "fake food photos" and found this blog because I have been so upset about gluten-free cookbooks that obviously use stock photos of non GF foods. At first I thought we could bake delicious food that would come out looking (and tasting) like the accompanying photo, but I realized that these photos were not of the recipe featured, just a stock photo with totally unusable ingredients. I tried to contact the authors of these cookbooks to ask about the photos but they would not respond to my questions about the photos. It makes me mad!!

Mike Eberhart said...

7/28/2011 Anonymous,
I hear you! This is why we baked all our desserts and took all the photos ourselves... each dessert pictured in OUR Gluten-Free Dessert Recipes book is exactly what the recipe makes. And, I have the proof in all my original photos... photos that include scenes of our back-yard and other "props" we own that showed up in the photo-shoots :)

It truly is sad that we live in an age where all too often (perhaps most of the time) we are being misled visually and otherwise (in marketing hype especially). I am so sick of those tiny, nearly-unreadable-print footers on the TV that say things like (images simulated, sequences altered, what you see may not be an accurate representation of what you get, etc, etc, etc.) Accompany that with all the other legal-eze that lets company say thing like "unlimited" and then in small-unreadable-print say "NOT unlimited", and it is no wonder why things like stock-photos are pervasive in this culture.

I understand companies wanting to make their products appear appealing, but give me a break... take time to bake your foods, setup the lighting and "props", and take a picture. If we could do it on a low budget and get the results we did, there is no reason "big name" companies, authors, and publishers can not do the same (aside from their desire to save money at all costs).

Well, thanks for stopping by, and good luck getting a response from those people. m