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How To: Photograph Food on Your Travels

by September 2010 - last edited January 2013 by Moderator

For many people food is a highlight of their travels, and a number of us choose a destination in part because of the cuisine. We don't just head to Morocco for the souks, India for the Taj Mahal or Thailand for the Grand Palace in Bangkok; we go for tagine, curry or Pad Thai. But while we're stuffing our faces how can we make sure we come away with decent pictures of our culinary adventures?

 

Vegetables for sale in the market, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Vegetables for sale in the market, Chiang Mai, Thailand

 

 

Immersion

Predictably, one of the most important things is to immerse yourself in food. Not in a kinky fetish way - although that could lead to some interesting niche photographs - but by making sure that you see, eat and experience as much food as possible. Make sure you eat local as well: there's no point in coming back with endless pictures of pizza if you have been on holiday in South East Asia. You have to be adventurous with food and try as many local delicacies as possible.

 

Lunchtimes are often better than dinner, as you'll be able to eat alfresco and take your pictures by daylight, rather than by the artificial light inside a restaurant.

 

Preparing a large dish at a roadside stall in front of the Jama Masijd, Delhi, India

Preparing a large dish at a roadside stall in front of the Jama Masijd, Delhi, India

 

Make sure that you don't just eat in restaurants. Many countries have a wide range of street food, where you can eat on roadside stalls or small eateries. Not only will you be experiencing a more authentic local cuisine, but you'll be able to shoot in daylight, and often the food is cooked in front of you. You have little chance of talking your way into the kitchen of a restaurant, but at a roadside eatery you can often talk to the cook, and photograph your food being prepared.

 

Go local

Camel head at a camel meat stall, Fes, Morocco

Camel head at a camel meat stall, Fes, Morocco

 

Many parts of the world have a characteristic local dish, or even an exotic local snack. Do your research before you go, and be prepared to try something a little strange: guinea pig in Peru; barbecued rat in Laos or scorpion in Cambodia.

Don't just concentrate on the finished dish, head to markets to photograph the ingredients. You might find piles of brightly coloured fruit and vegetables, live fish or even a camel's head! Markets are also great places to take portraits and find snack stalls selling instant tasty food that’s great to try and perfect to photograph.

 

Get Close

If you want to get a good close-up, you might have to use a macro lens. This will allow you to focus closer than a normal lens, but they can be relatively expensive. A macro lens will open up a whole new world of creative possibilities though, allowing you to fill the frame with even the smallest subject. This is one time when using a compact camera can be an advantage:  most of these will have some sort of macro mode and will let you photograph far closer than the kit lens that comes with a DSLR.

 

 

Roast Guinea Pigs for sale, in the Valley of the Incas, Peru

Roast Guinea Pigs for sale, in the Valley of the Incas, Peru

 

 

Context

Compositionally, try to experiment with a mixture of close-ups (a plate of food) and wider shots that show the restaurant, or local environment. Often photographing something obliquely from an angle will let you have a completely different background that could say a lot more about the subject. For instance, if you are eating at a roadside stall in India, shoot from an angle that will show the food, with rickshaws passing by on the bustling street in the background to show your delicacies in context.

 

 

Sticky sweets for sale in the backstreets of Fes, Morocco

Sticky sweets for sale in the backstreets of Fes, Morocco

 

All photos by Steve Davey. Header image:Close up of colourful roadside dish at Fatehpur Sikri, Uttar Pradesh, India.

Learn travel photography with Steve Davey in some of the most photogenic parts of the world. See http://www.bettertravelphotography.com/phototours Do you have any food shooting advice of your own?  Lets us know in the comments below.


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Steve Davey