Most articles about food photography focus on creating mouthwatering images at home or at a studio. As such, fairly complete photo kits may be involved. Apart from a decent camera, a small lighting kit and a tripod are often suggested.
While traveling, expensive heavy equipment isn’t always the best option. But the lack of gear shouldn’t mean not being able to take food photos that will later make you drool with memories, invoking flavors and textures of far-away lands.
Food is one of the most immediate ways of experiencing a foreign culture. And food photography can be a great souvenir of delicious foodie moments lived abroad.
Alheira: a typical Portuguese sausage. Pretty servings tend to make pretty photos
Your Photo Kit
One of the most common ways to photograph food while traveling is with a phone. It’s quick, requires no set-up and it allows you to click and share an appetizing food photo before your meal actually starts getting cold.
Phone photos may not offer the highest quality for close-ups, and that’s why framing the food in an appetizing way can make a difference between a photo that looks dull and one that will catch foodies’ attention (see below more tips regarding framing).
If you can click with a DSLR, it can be even better than with a phone. Even if you do not have a variety of lenses like a pro, a DSLR will at least allow you to shoot on manual mode, playing around with different focus points in order to obtain creative results.
Colorful Indian thali photographed with an iPhone 4S, indoors at night
Follow The Light
There are no set rules when it comes to food photography – the more creative you dare to get, the better. But there are certainly some basics that don’t tend to help out if what you’re trying to obtain is an appetizing look. Flash, for example, is a big no-no. The excess light will make ingredients’ colors ugly, textures faded away and shadows will tend to appear.
For attractive photo results, try to make good use of natural light. If you’re at a restaurant, ask for a table by the window. If outdoors, look for a place with natural light but also with some shade – the strong light at the peak daylight hours of the day may be excessively harsh. Golden hour is always a good timing for photography, and food photos are no exception. Try walking by a food market at sunrise or sunset to obtain beautiful food shots with soft warm light.
Even fried insects can look yummy with the right lighting!
Framing & Drooling
The key to a good food photo tends to rely on the framing of the image. Anyone can click a photo of an already good-looking plate of food. But not everyone can make an image invoke the sense of taste, texture or even mood. To archive this, a careful photo composition is essential.
Experiment with different angles – depending on the looks of the food and its presentation, different approaches may work.
Shooting food from above tends to work when there are multiple elements on a table (like on the thali photo above). Dishes, sauces, utensils of a variety of colors will fill the frame and recreate the spirit of the meal. This tends to be one of the most successful ways of photographing food with phone cameras too.
Some food photos are enhanced when further context is included. For example, the fish fillet below doesn’t look extraordinary per se, but the surrounding views make it more appealing. At the end of the day, food photos aren’t only about the food in itself, but about the entire experience surrounding the foodie moment we are capturing. Same as a restaurant invests in dining room decoration and works towards creating a certain atmosphere for its clients, food photos should entice observers to crave an experience, a moment that transcends the edibles that are shown.
A fairly plain looking meal at an Amazon jungle lodge, made more interesting by including a little bit of lush green background
To include a background for the sake of context in your food shots, use a low aperture in your camera. This will highlight the object in the foreground (food) against a lighter background (context).
If you’re including some already existing accessories in your image, be ready to make quick adjustments. Sometimes, re-placing sauces, napkins or glasses in a particular way, may add a little personality to the shot.
Pho: Vietnamese noodle soup can be made to look even more appetizing by placing the utensils in the bowl
The utensils are almost like a call to action “‘let’s eat this!”
While some images work best with context, other foods may be best represented with extreme close-ups. If you think the surroundings don’t add anything positive to the image or, in fact, detract from its beauty, aim for an extreme close-up. Colors and textures will be shown in detail.
Exotic fruits of Ecuador up close
There are customary tricks that help enhancing food photos. Adding clear dressings, moisture or oil to food, particularly salads, will make things shine and stand-out.
You can also “mess up” your food by breaking a piece with the fork, cut a slice with a knife and leave the utensils on the place. Food isn’t supposed to be photograph as if in a museum – interacting with the food makes it look more real and relatable.
Use of spoon to show ingredients in Peruvian quinoa soup
A serving of chocolate infused rice in Ecuador made more visually appetizing by scattering the grains with a shiny fork
Play With Your Food
When processing your photos, don’t edit them too much. Food, whether raw or as a cooked dish, is supposed to look natural and edible. If you saturate your images too much, ingredients will look like plastic and this would definitely detract from the delectable qualities of your image.
If you think your food photos don’t look impressive individually, try assembling collages. Place together different moments related to the food item or moment you are trying to represent. Sometimes, one image might not be worth a thousands words, but a few images together can do the trick!
Photo collage of a wet market in the streets of Hong Kong
If you love traveling and taking food photos, I suggest joining food tours that will take you around local food markets. These are often outdoors, where the natural light, colorful characters and interestingly shaped ingredients get together to create the ideal conditions for memorable shots. Foodie trips can also lead you to tasting events, ideal to photograph different dishes in one given day, practicing while having fun.
Playful carrots vendor at La Vega Market in Santiago de Chile
Not all yummy food photographs well. Don’t stress too much if one of your pictures doesn’t actually do justice to one of the most memorable meals of your life. Sometimes, it’s the simple things that look the tastier in images.
Don’t be shy: experiment with your food shots! Food tends to have color and texture and these, along with imagination, are the main ingredients to take appetizing food photos while traveling!
Zara is a Portuguese blogger who quit her job in Dubai in 2011 to travel around the world with her husband Ashray, from India. They’re the team behind Backpack ME, a travel site that aims to share tips and ideas with people all over the place, inspiring them to go travel, no matter where they come from!
A&Z are East meets West and Backpack ME is all about a multicultural perspective on travel: http://www.bkpk.me
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