Food Photography On The Go

Food Photography On The Go

Butternut Squash Soup at The Wood Tavern in Oakand, California.

I photograph a lot of my food. I love great food and good or great food photography. I consider myself to be an OK food photographer. I think I could be better if I had more of a controlled environment, ie: a studio, where I could control the plating, lighting, and background.

This doesn’t stop me though, from taking photos of my food out in the wild.

The Phone Camera:

The phone camera is your friend. I take a lot of my food images with my iPhone. Even the ones I might want to submit to the stock agency.

This gives me even less control than using my dSLR, because I can’t control the exposure, or settings. But it does do one good thing – well, semi-good thing – it’s not as conspicuous as pulling out the big girl camera to get the shot.

While having cell phones at the table can be annoying, people are more used to them these days. They aren’t as disruptive to the other diners as they used to be.

Have you ever been out to dinner at a really nice place and someone a few tables over pulls out their big dSLR to take a photo of their meal? Or gets up out of their seat and takes a few steps back to frame the food just so? Or stands on their chair to get that overhead shot? Annoying as hell.

So, if you have your dSLR with you at a great restaurant, read the room and use your discretion!

Natural Lighting:

I try to use natural lighting as much as possible when I shoot my food on the go.

If I know I want to shoot whatever it is that I ordered, and I have the choice of sitting inside or outside, I’ll sit outside. I think tables with canvas umbrellas are the bomb as they diffuse the light. Sitting in the shade also keeps strong sunlight from hitting the food.

Interior lighting in a restaurant can often create weirdly placed hot spots on food or odd shadows. Flash is even worse – never use your flash photographing food in the wild. An example of restaurant lighting hotspots is in the image above – which, of course, could be fixed in Photoshop.

Not All Food Is Image Worthy:

Unless you are shooting a series of food photographs – like when I was a rideshare driver in Northern California, I stopped a lot for tacos and photographed almost all of them – there is a lot of food that just isn’t image worthy.

It may be a great meal, but that just might not translate visually. I’m not saying don’t photograph it, I’m saying it may need to stay tucked in your own memory folder in your picture files. There is an amazing amount of unappetizing food photography out there on the internet.

Framing And Perspective:

Without giving a lecture on the Rule of Thirds, Rules Were Made To Be Broken, Three-Point Perspective, or Flow, consider your composition before shooting your food.

Some plates just call for the overhead shot. Others the side angle shot – often referred to as the three-quarters shot that includes a bit of the foreground/background. And some plates call for the serious straight on side shot that works great for food that has visible layers – like burgers, sandwiches, some desserts, etc.

Don’t overthink it though – if you can’t decide, capture one of each, or, move your camera over the food, until you catch the right angle. You’ll know it when you see it. I often take multiple images of dishes because I can’t decide which I like the best in the moment. I take them home and decide later.

Know Your Audience:

I want the audience for my photography to be as large as possible. I’m sure you do too.

But consider who it is you are pushing your images to. Vegetarians and Vegans in your social media feeds really aren’t interested in images of your steak, coq au vin, or, especially, veal.

I do send meat images – if I take them – to the stock agency, but I definitely don’t push them to my social media accounts. And raw meat just looks like murder on a plate, or a cutting board.


That’s all I’ve got for today. And of course, take all of my information with a grain of salt. If you’d like for me to go into more detail on one of these topics in a future post, let me know in the comments.

Kimberly Kradel

Artist, Writer, Photographer. Publisher of ARTIST-AT-LARGE.

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