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FuelBooks Holiday Tip: Get the Most from Your Food Photos, Even When on the Road

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Heading over the river and through the woods? Well, you've got to stop and eat at some point. If you want to capture your culinary journey on camera, Nicole S. Young, author of FuelBook Tips from a Pro: Travel Photography, has some tips for you.

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If food is very important to you in your travels, and you plan to photograph it, you need to do a little bit of planning before sitting down to eat your meal. The following tips will give you the best chances at beautiful food photography when dining during your travels:

  • Eat early. If you can manage to fit meals into your schedule at strange hours, then your food photographs will very likely turn out much better. For one thing, you’ll have more table options to choose from, and you’re less likely to feel rushed. Also, the waitstaff is more likely to have patience with you photographing your food.
  • Find the light. In order for food to look appetizing, you need beautiful light to photograph it with. For starters, try to find a seat near a window that has soft light coming through. If there are patios, the light will be good for photographing food—as long as you are in the shade. If you need any fill light, use a white napkin or menu to bounce light back into your food to fill in the shadows. I highly recommend against using any type of flash when photographing food (particularly an on-camera flash). This type of light is not pleasing to food photographs, and it’s also very likely to annoy your neighboring diners.
  • Schmooze with the staff. Before you start snapping away at your food, it’s always polite to ask permission first. There’s a pretty good chance the still will say “yes,” so for the most part, it’s just a formality. But that one little question can open up potential opportunities! If the mood is right, why not ask if you can step back into the kitchen and photograph the chef, or maybe just get some still-life shots of their setup in the back? The worst that can happen is that they say “no,” right?
  • Gear suggestions. If you are dining and photographing at the same time, then you will definitely want to bring a small, compact setup. For me this usually consists of one camera and one lens. I usually choose a macro lens so that I can get in close to my food without moving around too much. If you want to go all out, bring along a small piece of white cardboard to use as a fill card to bounce light back into the food. This way, you don’t have to rely on napkins or anything else that may or may not be on the table.
  • Camera setting tips. When photographing food, a creamy and blurry background is almost always a pleasing effect. If you have a lens in the focal range of 50 and 100mm, you can typically achieve this by setting your aperture between f/1.4 and f/8. A larger aperture also lets in a lot more light, allowing you to handhold your camera at a lower ISO. Be careful going too shallow on your depth of field, however, or you’ll lose a lot of detail in the food from the blur.
  • Canon 5D Mark III, 100mm macro lens, 1/180 sec at f/4.5, ISO 640

    Canon 5D Mark III, 100mm macro lens, 1/350 sec at f/5.6, ISO 400

    Canon 5D Mark III, 100mm macro lens, 1/125 sec at f/8, ISO 400

    Canon 5D Mark III, 100mm macro lens, 1/125 sec at f/5.6, ISO 1600

    As a foodie and food photographer, I love documenting my food, especially when it’s beautiful! All of these images were photographed on location during my travels to Australia with available light and minimal gear.

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