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How to Take Great Food Photos When Travelling

If you’re a food lover like me, you’ll agree that it’s one of the best things about travelling (and life in general!). A new destination equals a new delicious adventure, and while I aim to try to remember my dining highlights abroad, a photo does a much better job.

As a professional travel photographer, I’ve been capturing images of world cuisines for over a decade now and have learnt a few tricks in my time. Food photography is actually a lot trickier than most people think. Granted, you can just whip out your phone and hope for the best, it doesn’t always turn out great every time. So to help you document your gourmet travel adventures, I've shared some of my top tips:

Turn off your flash

Flashes are great for freezing action and illuminating faces in darkness, but rarely ideal for photographing food.

Food photos taken using flash often lack finesse. They can cause glaring reflections on the shiny surfaces of ceramics and cutlery. They tend to cast deep shadows that contrast harshly with the food you want to showcase. Put simply, it’s best to simply turn your flash off.

Vary your angles and photograph from above

Images of gourmet cuisine are often photographed from directly above the table rather than from the perspective of a diner. Most of the food images you see in magazines are the result of careful planning by food stylists. They think about everything in the frame—from the texture of a table’s surface to the shapes and colours of accessories, such as the salt cellar and pepper pot.

While you might not be a professional food stylist, don’t be afraid to stand up and photograph directly down onto your food. Try to do so quickly though as heat rising from food can cause condensation to fog your lens.

Think about the composition

You’re mum might have told you not to play with your food, but for the sake of a great photo I think it’s okay.  When taking your photo, be sure to take your time and check all four corners of the frame before releasing the shutter. Wine glasses, half-eaten bread rolls and even your own shadow can detract from your final image. Make sure there’s nothing in the frame you don’t want to be there – even if it means moving a rogue vegetable in the process.


When possible, make use of natural light

Natural light often helps food to look its most appealing so I usually request a table by a window rather than in the centre of a restaurant. Better yet, if you’re dining at a restaurant with outdoor seating, opt for the al fresco option for ideal lighting.

If you’re really committed to getting that shot, I find it’s helpful to be open with waiters about my quest to capture outstanding food images. Often people are willing to go that extra mile to help. I’ve found that people usually appreciate seeing the photos that they help to create. It doesn’t take much effort to share a photo via email or to tag a restaurant in social media posts.

Choose local delicacies

You don’t need to dine in high-end restaurants to create outstanding food photos. Some of my favourite food photos have been taken at unpretentious restaurants and traditional.

Even the dishes that you see on the menus of Greek, Italian and French restaurants close to home tend to look different when they are cooked in their region of origin. Details such as crockery and cutlery plus traditional methods of preparation tend to give the food a more authentic appearance.

Don’t just focus on your plate

The obvious opportunity may be to photograph just the food on your plate, but it’s also worth keeping your eyes open for opportunities to photograph people preparing food or dining in a traditional setting. A good portrait, showing a local person handling food can be just as effective in documenting both the cuisine and the soul of a destination.

I always like to ensure that people are happy to be photographed. Even in countries where I don’t speak the language I find that showing people my camera before I use it is an easy way of checking whether or not it’s okay to take their picture.

Add a splash of colour to your shot

While you’re in local shops or markets, keep your eyes open for accessories that can add a dash of colour and character to your food images. I often think about the colour wheel, and how contrasting colours, such as purple and orange, can be used to create powerful images.

Colourful bowls, serviettes and drinks coasters can add to the overall effect of your food photos. They items you buy as props don’t need to cost a lot. You can keep them as souvenirs or give them away as gifts when you return home.

Take your food photography to another level on our USA Big Eats holiday itinerary. 

Written by Stuart Forster

I’m a travel writer and professional photographer based in the north-east of England. I love exploring the world to experience the soul of destinations and capture snapshots representing the places I visit. Have a travel recommendation for me? Tweet me @stuartforster.

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