One of the reasons people love to take food photos during their travels is because cuisines differ so much around the world. Each destination you travel to will have its own culturally and visually interesting and diverse food offerings, and it is up to you how you want to capture that and express it through your images.
Often, street food stalls, delis, open markets and hole-in-the-wall restaurants are your best options for fantastic photography opportunities. As you walk around a locale, keep your eyes open for where the locals are eating and, when you find somewhere, show genuine interest and curiosity.
Whether you are the number 1 food photographer in Dubai or are setting off on your first trip with a new pocket camera in hand, the most important thing to remember is that food photography is about people and connections, and the best images convey that.
Here are five more tips for taking better food photos during your travels.
1. Lighting is key.
One of the most difficult parts of all types of photography is figuring out how to perfectly light your shot. It takes time and practice, but once you start realizing the dramatic effect that great lighting will have on your image, you won’t mind investing those few extra minutes.
One of the biggest mistakes people make when photographing food is directing their flash straight onto the plate in front of them. This creates a harsh light, which in turn washes out the colors and textures of the food and ruins the ambience that you are trying to convey. Flash can be helpful to fill-in the shadows and — if you must use it — try to bounce the flash off the ceiling rather than directly at the food.
More Lighting Tips:
- If you don’t have natural light, then a candle is your next best option.
- A white menu or plate can work well as a reflector.
- If you don’t have optimal light, you are better off just putting your camera away and savoring the moment and the tasty food.
2. Natural lighting is even better.
That being said, there is nothing better than naturally lighting your food photos. When shooting food photos in a restaurant, always sit at a window seat or at a table outside. When making reservations, make sure to request a naturally lit table and don’t hesitate to wait until one of these spots are open for you — sitting in a dark corner is not going to do your food photos any favors.
Similarly, sitting outside on a cafe’s patio or in an open, shaded park area is your best bet for bringing out the vibrancy and details of your dishes. Avoid bright sunshine as, again, this will be too harsh and will create strong shadows (this is where a fill-in flash can work).
More Natural Lighting Tips:
- While you can’t control the weather, cloudy days are actually the best for photographing food shots, as the soft, diffused light provides balanced light across the dish.
- Plan on eating an hour before the sun sets. This is known as the “golden hour” and is the time of day when the light is beautiful and soft.
3. Get creative with your composition.
Composition is the difference between a good food photo and a great food photo. For this reason, take an abundance of shots from a variety of viewpoints and angles. Remember that you are trying to show the viewer exactly what it felt like to sit there with the food in front of you. An individual dish may look better cropped tight and zoomed in, while an experienced food photographer in Dubai may consider taking an overhead shot of an epic, multi-dish spread.
The hero of the photo should be the main dish, so try to avoid cramming too much into the composition. Show some context in the image; which may mean placing a bottle with foreign text or script in the background, adding chopsticks next to the bowl, or capturing steam arising from the plate.
More Composition Tips:
- Photograph the dish as soon as it comes to the table. A freshly prepared dish looks far more appetizing than one that has already been attacked by your fork.
- If you are using secondary elements in the photo, use a wide aperture to blur them out.
- Unless you want to shoot a flat-lay style photo, shoot from an angle or at eye level, to give the dish a different perspective.
- Consider photographing the preparation of the dish ; just be aware of camera shakes in low-lit kitchens.
- Have your dining companions interact with the food with either their hands or utensils. This adds an extra spark of interest to the photo.
4. Notice the white balance.
A simple rule of thumb is that if no one thinks the food in your photo looks appetizing, it probably isn’t a great food photo. The mood and color temperature of your photo can have a lot to do with this and they are controlled by the white balance. White balance is often called “temperature” or “warmth” and refers to how blue or yellow an image is. The ideal white balance for an image would have the white elements of a photo show up as pure white.
For compact cameras and DSLRs, put the camera in a mode that will allow you to adjust the white balance settings, either Manual mode or Shutter or Aperture priority mode.
5. Get to know your camera — intimately.
Not specific to just shooting food, but the more you know your camera and how to use it, the more magic the two of you will be able to create together. In addition to knowing your white balance, experiment with depth of field. To reduce depth of field (meaning to reduce the portion of the photo in focus) you can do three things:
- Reduce the f-stop (open the aperture),
- Get closer to the subject you are photographing, and
- Increase the focal length (use the zoom).
If you want more of the image sharp, you will need a smaller aperture (higher f-number). For more blur, use a smaller aperture (lower f-number). Doing this will add depth and variation to your photos!
More Camera Tips
- Always shoot in RAW . This allows you to correct lighting issues and color casts in post-production. Just remember these are much larger files than regular JPEGs.
- Know your ISO. Your ISO is your camera sensor’s sensitivity to light. The higher the ISO, the darker the condition you’ll be able to shoot in without having to use the flash. However, as you increase the ISO, image noise increases and your images may begin to appear grainy.
Just because everyone (and their grandma) has a camera and a desire to shoot food photography, doesn’t mean it is easy! In order to capture great food photos, you need a mixture of some planning, creative flair to compose, and technical skill to get the camera to capture exactly what you want.
That being said, with lots of practice and a constant reminder of these tips, you will be well on your way to capturing vibrant and delicious looking food photos during your travels. Oh, and don’t forget to eat!
Barry Morgan is the creative force behind Barry Morgan Photography, his passions are
photography, food and family, although not always in that order. He believes you should love
what you do, to do exceptional work. Cooking was always a family affair in his home so
naturally once his passion for photography took root he was drawn to food photography. Barry
Morgan Photography now works with hundreds of clients, turning their tasty dishes into