Last updated 4 January 2020
6 practical tips for taking great street food photos
Nothing showcases local culture better than street food. As a traveller, you might have taken photos of various local dishes, trying to make them look like those mouthwatering photos you see on food and travel blogs or magazines but to no avail. But there is a way to shoot beautiful pictures even with limited props and your travel camera. My latest purchase was a Panasonic Lumix DMC-G7 and I am loving it.
How can you do this? Check out the great tips below.
Assemble your own prop kit
Go for something light and compact since you’ll need to take this with you during your food hunts. Choose interesting spoons, forks, and bread knives—preferably made of wood and ceramic, which can add a touch of class to your photos. Avoid using plastic utensils as much as possible.
Other ideas include taking a tea cup and table napkin that is versatile enough to style with a variety of food items. A small chopping board or an interesting piece of wood can be used as a great base for the food.
Use your props to make your photos more engaging
Let’s say you are on a food tour in Bangkok and saw a vendor selling pad thai on the streets. Whilst it may look appetising, pad thai can appear bland in photos if it is not styled properly. This is the time to take out your kit and arrange the dish to make it more lively and interesting.
Add a human element to your photos
People will be drawn to your food photos if you include in the frame a hand getting a forkful of food. Alternatively, images of people holding food also make for great photos. It is easier for people to relate to images when the face of the subject is not in focus, or not shown at all. Incorporate these principles when shooting street food so that your audience can imagine themselves in the frame once they see your photos.
Respect the locals
One of the rules of street photography is to capture your subjects as candidly as possible. However, it is also proper etiquette (especially when visiting a foreign country) to ask permission before taking their photos in action. You never know what their rules and customs might be with regard to having their photos taken.
Just take award-winning photographer David Loftus for example. Despite his stature in the photography world, he still checks with his desired subject if it is okay to take their photo. He also makes it a point to build rapport with street food vendors by buying an item or two from what they are selling, before requesting to take a snap of their displays.
Timing is also important. Never take a photo of someone who is chewing. You can take a photo of that person before they begin to chew their food but never while they are eating. The images won’t show the person or the scene in the best light. Chances are, they might even find it rude that you took a picture of them whilst eating.
Use the right tools
Most food photographers use a macro lens to bring out the details of food and grab the viewer’s attention, but feel free to use whatever is most comfortable for you.
Make the most of what you have
Given that you can’t take many props with you when travelling, you’ll have to be resourceful in preparing for your photo shoot. Look for items that you come across when you are eating; sandwich wrappers, waxy cheese paper, cups and napkins could all be reused and provide some local context to your photos.
Look inside your bag and around you for what you can use, and you just might find a gem or two.
Once you got all these tips down pat, you will realise that street food photography is actually easy to master. Before you know it, taking tasteful street food photos will come naturally to you.
With these practical tips for taking great street food photos, you might actually get so good at it that you can find ways to make money as a photographer.