A few weeks ago I attended a fun "Food Photography on Your Phone" session led by my favourite Dubai food photographer Sukaina Rajabali at GPP. In between a host of useful tips on how to get the best light, angles and set-ups, one slide in the presentation really hit home.
It simply said "Eat Your Food" - urging food photographers to stop stressing about styling the perfect looking shot and making sure every crumb is exactly where you want it to be, but rather to capture food in the moment. Raw. Messy. So delicious you couldn't wait long enough to actually take a picture without taking a bite out of it first!
As a serial food photographer while on holiday, Sukaina's advice on capturing food while you are in the process of eating it is something I completely relate to. Food photography on the go doesn't always give you the space or time to line up the perfect shot. You are often ravenous, have a party of fellow travelers who aren't ready to wait for you to take your pictures while their food turns cold, you need to wolf down your meal because you have a bus to catch... there are practical problems!
Also, half the fun - for me at the very least - is capturing the interaction between the food and the people making or eating it, the bustle of the marketplace, the lay of the table, the natural play of light and shadow on a dish. These elements aren't under your direct control - you often have to make do with what you've got.
Many of Sukaina's tips on taking great images of food on one's phone were directly relevant to travel food photography.
The basics like looking for great light, composition and the rule of thirds, and capturing photogenic textures, colours and points of interest all hold true.
But there were a few specific pointers that I thought would prove particularly helpful when trying to capture great food images on the fly.
Move away from the table
It may seem counter productive, but actually moving further away from the food could give you a more appetising picture, especially when photographing brown food and gravies in countries like India and elsewhere in Asia that don't stand up too well to the macro mode. The pulled out shot also allows you to incorporate interesting elements on the table - place settings, the furniture itself and so on that can really create a sense of place.
Fill the Frame
While focusing on individual plates and dishes can result in stunning images, capturing a table full of food has its own power and a multiplicity of dishes creates real impact when photographing certain cuisines such as Middle Eastern mezze, Chinese dim sum or a dessert platter. Filling the frame also works well when photographing busy market stalls offering a variety of colourful produce. So many things to eat, so little time!
See the Light
Sukaina pointed out that getting your food lit from one light source helps deepen and create interesting shadows. It's something most people do unconsciously when framing a great shot, but being aware of light sources can immensely improve the quality of your pictures - enhancing contrast and minimising distracting reflections caused by overhead lighting bouncing off shiny crockery and cutlery.
To Sukaina's expert tips, I will add my own - specifically on the topic of travel food photography.
Don't forget the People
Food - its sourcing, preparation, rituals and enjoyment - is a people-driven activity. Food exists solely to nourish and relish so make sure the people engaging in these activities are a part of the equation when taking photographs of food. As mentioned before, the interaction between people and plates is a fascinating one and an evergreen subject for the avid food photographer.
Follow the Process
The process of food production and preparation involves a whole load of implements and tools - they make incredibly interesting subjects. Hand presses, mass machinery, cooking and brewing utensils, special transportation - all fair game. Add to that the various stages through which the food itself passes through on its way to your mouth - bales, sludges, bunches, bundles, chopped up morsels of flesh and prettified parcels - and the world of food provides endless fodder for the hungry photographer.
Look for the Unexpected
Like all good travel photography, it's not about capturing the picture-perfect cliched postcard shot, it's about telling a story. Good travel food photography like all good photography captures moments in time and provides an entry point into a culture or an individual life. Look for the unexpected subject, the decisive moment a la Henri-Cartier Bresson and the stories that haven't been told a million times over.
And finally, put the camera away when it's finally time to tuck in!
What are your top travel food photography tips? I would love to hear them.
Named Best Blog for Food & Travel
Top 10 UAE Food Blogs in UAE