Guerrilla-Style Photography: Capturing Images of the Secret Menu at In-N-Out for D Magazine

Kevin Marple secret hotel room studio at the Holiday Inn Express in Marina del Rey.

D Magazine food photographer Kevin Marple traveled to LA to capture images we needed to compile “The Newbie’s Guide to In-N-Out.”  He returned with the pictures but he went through hamburger hell to get them. Here’s his story.

I’ve had art directors send me into some wild scenarios. And when D Magazine’s Creative Director Todd Johnson called and asked me if I could get to Southern California for a photo shoot, I said sure. In hindsight, I realize I should have asked a few more questions. At the time I didn’t know he was sending me into a private, secretive underworld. I just figured I get some time to hang in LA and shoot some burgers.

Like most of the population, I’d heard about In-N-Out but I didn’t really understand the hype. During a pre-production meeting, I got a briefing on my assignment.

Johnson wanted me to photograph burgers and some of the secret items on the In-N-Out Burger menu. Secret items on a fast food hamburger menu? I had a few questions. Like: How do I order them? What if they don’t have them? Do I have to learn a secret handshake or password?

Johnson explained that In-N-Out was very protective of their brand. They don’t allow photography in any of the restaurants or corporate headquarters. It was up to me to get to Southern California and figure out a covert plan of action to get the photos D wanted.

Jump for the whole bloody story.

First, I mapped out all of the In-N-Out locations in the L.A. area. Then I narrowed my search to sites with a hotel close by. The best combination happened to be in Marina Del Ray. Yes, I would have loved to have completed this operation at the Ritz-Carlton, but the Holiday Inn Express was only a half-mile from my mark.

When I arrived, I convinced the desk clerk to allow me a very early check-in so that I could have my “studio” set up by the time In-N-Out opened at 10:30AM. To avoid suspicion I had traveled light. My bag was filled with what I needed: a Canon Rebel T1i, a Canon 100mm Macro lens, 2 Canon 430EX Speedlites, and a Canon 580EX II Speedlite.

Plan 1.26a was to go to the nearest In-N-Out and order as many of the burger combinations I could safely carry to my room and bang out the whole shoot in one trip.

Wrong. I had to go back a second time. When I returned to the drive-thru, the clerk asked me if I’d been there earlier. When I said yes, he called a manager to do a “frequency check.” I felt like I’d just been pulled over by the F.B.I. They ran a check on my credit card number and noted that I’d made several significant purchases in a short period of time. They let me complete my order, but I was beginning to get paranoid. I felt like a criminal. So I did what anyone with a ATM card and a deadline to meet would do—I revised by attack plans and decided to go guerilla-style.

Scene of the crime.

I decided to mix my buys. Then next time I placed an order, I paid cash inside. When I returned to the hotel after my fourth trip, my paranoia multiplied. The clerks at the front desk were looking at me like I was some kind of pervert. For five hours they’d watched me carry in over 30 bags of In-N-Out burgers. I’m sure they though I was a single guy with a burger fetish.  I ran past the maid trolley, locked the door, and secured myself behind the Do Not Disturb sign.

I set the new burgers down and surveyed my room. It was a mess of bags, wrappers, napkins, and half-eaten burgers. I had to dodge bits of lettuce, onion, and the splatters of secret sauce on the floor to navigate across the room. Every inch of counter space was littered with stained gooey cheesy burger bags, boxes, and wrappers. The stench of seared, greasy meat would surely arouse suspicion soon. I felt guilty and seedy. How long before I checked the local porn rag to find a burger fluffer? The line between food porn and real porn was blurred.

Day one was also a blur. I spent 12 hours going back and forth and photographing burgers in various stages of undress. Each I drove to the restaurant, I purchased 10 of each item I needed to shoot and headed straight back to my “studio.” Once inside, I would dissect each burger and attempt to reconstruct a photographable double-double, triple double, or Animal-style fries.

I taped the curtains to conceal the flash of my camera. I had to work fast as the burgers don’t hold their poses for long. I jumped away from my camera every time I heard a noise in the hall. I burned endless images of melting cheese and oozing pink sauce to the brain of my memory card. That night I tossed and turned in a bed that reeked of grease.

I woke up in a panic. Not only was I behind in my assignment, I’d run out of trash receptacles. I decided to get smart. As I left, I located a clerk-free entrance to the hotel. I managed to repeat my “buys” without too much suspicion. Sometimes I had to step to the back of the line to avoid getting one of the staffers who had already filled one of my orders.

Gradually I got my images and got the hell out of LA.

I’m sure the cleaning staff is still talking about me. I left the room filled with evidence and feeling like a pervert. Every trash can and corner was crammed with bags of spoiling burgers and fries. Then there was the huge task of smuggling packets of secret sauce back to Dallas. For despite all of my efforts, not one shot was good enough for a magazine cover. My accomplice and favorite food stylist, Angela Yeung of Food NetworkChallenge: Food Magicians, was waiting for my return. She went to work in a real photography studio and recreated a romanticized interpretation of the 4×4 that graces the cover of D Magazine.

It will be a long time before I crave an In-N-Out Burger. And it will be a long time before I discuss them with the rabid fans who are eagerly awaiting its arrival in Dallas. I learned that a burger preference is a personal thing. And like politics, sex, and religion, you don’t discuss burgers at the dinner table.

25 comments on “Guerrilla-Style Photography: Capturing Images of the Secret Menu at In-N-Out for D Magazine

  1. You should have done the In-N-Out in Sacramento, with a Holiday Inn Express sharing the same parking lot!

    I guess Sacramento isn’t as nice a Marina Del Ray, though…

  2. I’ve heard alot about the In-N-Out Burger, never tried it. However, after reading this article I will definitely be trying it when they come to Dallas. Good job Kevin.

  3. This is the funniest thing I’ve ever read! Kevin Marple needs to write a book! Hilarious!

  4. This is fun! Love it! Awesome article, awesome cover shot, awesome behind the scenes blog from your best food photographer. More of this, please!

  5. I agree with rotibunni! We need more of “Behind the Scenes with Kevin Marple” blogs. I’m an avid reader of D Magazine and now knowing what it took to get the photos completed makes me appreciate the magazine (and the photographer) even more. I look forward to more photos (and hopefully blogs) from Kevin Marple in future magazine issues. Great job Kevin, this is fabulous!

  6. Pingback: In-N-Out Burgers Photographed Guerilla-Style for D Magazine Cover Story | FrontBurner

  7. This is hilarious! A “frequency check?” Really?! Who could have guessed the lengths Kevin had to go to in order to get these shots?! Great story! Keep ‘em coming!

  8. I have a solution to Kevins problems with trash baskets full of french fries and burgers……take me with him..I’ll eat the evidence, and be another unfamilar face inline to do some of the ordering.

  9. Once upon a time I found our attic full of pizza boxes and their remains–he’s been practicing for a long time–His Mom Good job on the blog article

  10. Marple’s photo of the uni risotto at Lucia is one of the most stunning photos I’ve ever seen in D Magazine. Great work.

  11. Pingback: Guerrilla-Style Photography: Capturing Images of the Secret Menu at In-N-Out … | Photography Farm | Photography News, Galleries, Phorography Tips, TV Videos

  12. I love this! Amazing read. I can just picture you carrying in all of those bags of burgers trying to not look suspicious …

  13. Great photographer, great guy, great read. What more could you want other than more.

  14. Great read, but there are 10 burger places in DFW that are better than in-n-out. VERY overrated.

  15. Geesh! You’d think the folks at the In N Out Burger would lay off the paranoia-inducing tactics. All you’re trying to do is sell more of their burgers…right?

  16. Pingback: In-N-Out Burger Secret Menu Photographs | SilberStudios

  17. There are definitely NOT 10 burger places in DFW better than In-N-Out Chris! You can’t overrate them – they use fresh beef, lettuce, tomato, and well, everything unlike Whataburger and the other dogmeat burger places out here.I’m talking Drive-Thru only by the way.