Food and travel often go together. After all, food is one of the key elements of a destination and can really make us fall in love with a place. The great thing about photographing food for travel photographers is that it provides a great opportunity to capture unique photos without taking up too much of their time. But capturing food out of a studio can sometimes be a challenge. Follow these 6 tips to help you capture great food photos on your travels.
Pause for a minute
The first mistake that amateur photographers often make when photographing food, is that they rush to capture the image. The trick to good food photos is a careful setup and composition. If you know what you are photographing, then start to have a think about your composition before the dish even arrives at your table. Are you going to capture the whole plate? Or are going to zoom in to just a small part of it? Will you photograph it at eye level or from a slightly elevated position? All these decisions will have an impact on the final look of the photo.
This means that by the time your dish has arrived on the table you will have a rough idea of how you will frame your shot. But rather than snapping away, just pause for a minute and really look at the dish and evaluate if what you had envisioned would work. If the answer is yes, then start photographing it. If not re-evaluate and re-frame your shot.
Is there enough light?
Often the biggest challenge when photographing food is the available light. This is especially problematic in restaurants where there is usually low light. The best way to get around this issue is to either sit near a window or sit outside where natural daylight can provide the light needed to capture the photo.
If that isn’t possible then it usually means you will have to raise your ISO enough to allow you to capture the photo at a fast-enough shutter speed to avoid camera shake. But raising your ISO will mean additional noise in the image and if there is too much the image will look to grainy and not sharp.
The only other option is to use a tripod. Clearly sometimes this won’t be possible in busy restaurants so you may want to invest in a small desk tripod (like a Gorillapod) that you can set up on the table. This will allow you to be able to capture photos at low ISO and slow shutter speeds. Just make sure that the tripod you are buying can take the weight of the camera that you are using.
Avoid the flash
Every single person at some point in their life has probably taken a photo of a dish in front of them using a flash. You know what happens next. When you look at the photo afterwards, it looks washed out and not very appealing. The problem with using a flash directly onto a food dish is that not only does it wash out the dish in front of you, but it also disturbs the natural ambient of the location you are in.
The best light for photographing food outside of a studio is to use natural daylight. If it happens to be an overcast day, then that is even better. On an overcast or cloudy day, you get a soft even light across the plate which means minimal shadows and highlights which give a pleasing result by making the ingredients in dish pop out. Even on sunny days you would be better off finding somewhere with cover to take the photo rather than photographing in sunlight.
If you find yourself with no other option but to use the flash on your camera, don’t point it directly at the dish. Instead try to bounce off a surface such a wall or ceiling.
Think of the whole picture
It’s always worth remembering that when photographing food, the actual dish needs to be the hero of the shot. So always try to keep the composition simple. This means paying attention to things like the background and even the surface that the dish is sitting on. But sometimes you’ll have elements on the table or in the background that can be incorporated into the shot to provide a good secondary point of focus. For example, is there an interesting table cloth on table? Or can you add a glass of wine to the frame to give it more context? Even sometimes a knife and fork when positioned well on a plate can really enhance the photo.
The key is to ensure that you have thought about it and it has been incorporated carefully and on purpose.
There are no hard and fast rules for what settings you use when capturing food photos. As every situation is different by offering its own challenges and opportunities, you need to be able to adapt your settings for each scenario accordingly.
Usually your first consideration will be the available light and how that impacts your shutter speed. This is so you can be sure that you use a shutter speed that will be fast enough to avoid camera shake (blurred photos). How slow you can go with your shutter speed depends on how steady you can hold the camera. This is something you should test at home so that you know for future reference.
Basically, the more light that is available to more options you will have with things like depth of field and ISO settings needed. As a starting point, aim for a shutter speed of around 1/100 sec with a pretty shallow depth of field (i.e. f-5.6) and go from there.
Whilst it’s always good to pause for a minute before your start, keep in mind that food can quickly deteriorate. Imagine a bowl of ice cream on hot day outside. Before long it will start to melt and once that happens it will stop being as photogenic as when it first arrived at the table. So, once your plate has arrived and you have taken a quick pause to evaluate, make sure you work quickly.
Food photographs should be a must on any travel photographer’s shot list of a destination. It is such a huge part of our experience of a location and if done well can have wonderful results. Not only will it give you a good variety in your portfolio, but it will also often add to the story of that location.
Photo credits: Kav Dadfar – All rights reserved. No usage without permission.