Let’s face it, on any adventure, the food is as important as the other activities. Most of us are not on backpacking trips where freeze-dried or dehydrated food is the standard but rather we are there to experience the small part of the world we are visiting and food is an important part of that experience.
So, if food is an important portion of your trip, do you spend time trying to document experiences? Do you try to capture the moment and the feelings associated with you meal so you can make your friends at home jealous?
Treat the food you’re photographing as you would any other still life subject and ensure that it is well-lit. Natural light is an ideal way to light food, assuming you are near a window and it is not dark outside. You may need to “fill” using your strobe to eliminate harsh shadows. Remember you want some shadow because it gives the food height and makes it look interesting but harsh shadows may take away from the image. You can also use your napkin to reflect some light into these dark areas. Daylight helps to keep the food looking much more natural.
Pay attention not only to the arrangement of the food itself but to the context that you put it in. You may have to move some of the flatware or other plates to give the object more room and to put it in an interesting setting. Pay attention to the foreground and the background.
Food doesn’t keep its appetizing looks for long so as a photographer you’ll need to be well prepared and able to shoot quickly after it has been cooked before it melts, collapses, wilts and/or changes color. You are also probably eating with other hungry divers and adventurers and their patience will wear thin if you take too much time arranging the table and setting up your shot.
The way food is set out on the plate is as important as the way you photograph it. The chef or staff have probably prepared the plate to showcase the food the way they want it. This is called “plating” in the cooking world and presentation has become very important. However, in moving it from the kitchen to your table, things may have moved or to improve the lighting, you may find yourself acting as a food stylist. Some things to remember is, keep it simple, wipe away spills, and try for some height.
A mistake that many beginner food photographers make is taking shots that look down on a plate from directly above. While this can work in some circumstances – in most cases you’ll get a better shot by shooting from down close to plate level (or slightly above it). Don’t be afraid to push your chair back and get down low.
Really focusing in on just one part of the dish can be an effective way of highlighting the different elements of it. A mixture of shots can really add to your trip.
Having steam rising off your food can give it a “just cooked” feel. This is easier said than done but it goes hand-in-hand with the “be quick” hint above.
Adding photographs of your meals can add a more rounded dimension to your travel memories so remember to take your camera to dinner.